Lugdunum, Gaul, Western Roman Empire
Kingdom of the Burgundians
|Venerated in||Catholic Church|
Gaius Sollius Modestus Apollinaris Sidonius, better known as Sidonius Apollinaris (5 November of an unknown year, c. 430 – 481/490 AD), was a poet, diplomat, and bishop. Sidonius is "the single most important surviving author from fifth-century Gaul" according to Eric Goldberg. He was one of four Gallo-Roman aristocrats of the fifth- to sixth-century whose letters survive in quantity; the others are Ruricius, bishop of Limoges (died 507), Alcimus Ecdicius Avitus, bishop of Vienne (died 518) and Magnus Felix Ennodius of Arles, bishop of Ticinum (died 534). All of them were linked in the tightly bound aristocratic Gallo-Roman network that provided the bishops of Catholic Gaul. His feast day is 21 August.
Sidonius was born in Lugdunum (modern Lyon). His father, whose name is unknown, was Prefect of Gaul under Valentinian III (Sidonius recalls with pride being present with his father at the installation of Astyrius as consul for the year 449.) Sidonius' grandfather was Praetorian Prefect of Gaul sometime prior to 409 and a friend of his successor Decimus Rusticus. Sidonius may be a descendant of another Apollinaris who was Prefect of Gaul under Constantine II between 337 and 340.
Sidonius married Papianilla, the daughter of Emperor Avitus, around 452. This union produced one son, Apollinaris, and at least two daughters, Severina and Roscia, whom Sidonius mentions in his letters. A daughter Alcima is mentioned much later by Gregory of Tours, and Theodor Mommsen speculated that Alcima may be another name for one of his other daughters. His known acquaintances include bishop Faustus of Riez and his theological adversary Claudianus Mamertus; his life and friendships put him in the center of 5th-century Roman affairs.
In 457 Majorian deprived Avitus of the empire and seized the city of Lyons; Sidonius fell into his hands. However, the reputation of Sidonius's learning led Majorian to treat him with the greatest respect. In return Sidonius composed a panegyric in his honour (as he had previously done for Avitus), which won for him a statue at Rome and the title of comes. In 467 or 468 the emperor Anthemius rewarded him for the panegyric which he had written in honour of him by raising him to the post of Urban Prefect of Rome, which he held until 469, and afterwards to the dignity of Patrician and Senator. In 470 or 472, he was elected to succeed Eparchius in the bishopric of Averna (Clermont).
When the Goths captured Clermont in 474 he was imprisoned, as he had taken an active part in its defense, but he was afterwards released from captivity by Euric, king of the Goths, and continued to serve as bishop until his death.
Sidonius's relations have been traced over several generations as a narrative of a family's fortunes, from the prominence of his paternal grandfather's time into later decline in the 6th century under the Franks. Sidonius's son Apollinaris, who was a correspondent of Ruricius of Limoges, commanded a unit raised in Auvergne on the losing side of the decisive Battle of Vouille, and also was bishop of Clermont for four months until he died. Sidonius's grandson Arcadius, on hearing a rumor that the Frankish king Theuderic I had died, betrayed Clermont to Childebert I, only to abandon his wife and mother when Theuderic appeared; his other appearance in the history of Gregory of Tours is as a servant of king Childebert.Gregory of Tours speaks of Sidonius as a man who could celebrate Mass from memory (without a sacramentary) and give unprepared speeches without any hesitation.
Sidonius was still living in 481. He was dead before 490, when his successor as bishop, Aprunculus, died. His date of death was 21 or 23 August.
His extant works are his Panegyrics on different emperors (in which he draws largely upon Statius, Ausonius and Claudian), which document several important political events. Carmen 7 is a panegyric to his father-in-law Avitus on his inauguration as emperor. Carmen 5 is a panegyric to Majorian, which offers evidence that Sidonius was able to overcome the natural suspicion and hostility towards the man who was responsible for the death of his father-in-law. Carmen 2 is a panegyric to the emperor Anthemius, part of Sidonius' efforts to be appointed Urban Prefect of Rome; several samples of occasional verse; and nine books of Letters, about which W.B. Anderson notes, "Whatever one may think about their style and diction, the letters of Sidonius are an invaluable source of information on many aspects of the life of his time." While very stilted in diction, these Letters reveal Sidonius as a man of genial temper, fond of good living and of pleasure. A letter of Sidonius's addressed to Riothamus, "King of the Brittones" (c. 470) is of particular interest, since it provides evidence that a king or military leader with ties to Britain lived around the time frame of King Arthur. An English translation of his poetry and letters by W.B. Anderson, with accompanying Latin text, have been published by the Loeb Classical Library (volume 1, containing his poems and books 1-2 of his letters, 1939; remainder of letters, 1965). Among his lost works, is the one on Apollonius of Tyana.
Although Sidonius' works may have been published in part during his lifetime (5th century), there is no textual evidence of this and all manuscripts can be traced back to a single archetype, which is estimated as dating to roughly the 7th century. The oldest witness dates to the 9th century and is likely a fourth-generation copy. Although the archetype contained poems, they were omitted in most copies, and most extant manuscripts contain only his letters, often jumbled together with a garbled transcription of another writer, Ausonius. Most of the work on textual variants was done by Christian Lütjohannin the 1870s, but Lütjohann died prematurely before he had developed the stemmatics, which are crucial for reconstructing Sidonius' idiosyncratic Latin. Lütjohann's work is published in the 1887 Monumenta Germaniae Historica with inferior stemmatics provided by other scholars. Franz Dolveck provided a partial new stemma, including only those editions complete with poetry, in 2020.