Sidonius’ poetry was praised in his own day by those who were obliged to do so. We need not feel such obligation today. But even bad Roman poetry sometimes deserves a commentary. Unfortunately, Sidonius’ carmina 10 and 11, which are certainly bad, do not deserve one.
Perhaps best known for his letters, Sidonius is often mined as a valuable source of information about fifth-century Gaul. While strong interest in both his letters and his place among the Gallic aristocracy endures, his poetry has also begun to receive increasing scholarly attention. Within the past few years, for instance, Sidonius’ poems have been translated into Spanish for the first time 1 and examined within their social and historical context.2 To add to this necessarily brief list is the work of Stefania Filosini. The author of the present book has chosen to focus her attention on carmina 10 and 11, the first poem a preface and the second an epithalamium for Ruricius, eventual Bishop of Limoges, and Hiberia. Filosini’s edition, translation, and commentary are at home with recent scholarship that seeks to appreciate Sidonius’ poetry as a product of its time: an exercise in late antique learning and preciosity.
Filosini’s book is divided into three main sections: an introduction (pp. 11-56), the text and translation (pp. 57-70), and a commentary (pp. 71-236). She concludes with a ten-page summary of the book in English, a bibliography, and two indices: one of words and notable items, and the other of passages from other works.
Filosini introduces the epithalamium in three parts: the date/dedicatees, the genre, and Sidonius’ literary models. Concerning the problematic dating of the poem, previous scholars have argued for a terminus ante quem ranging from 461/2 to 472. Filosini departs from them, arguing that, for the later date, Sidonius would have had neither the time nor the inclination to compose an epithalamium at that point in his career. She argues also for a terminus ante quem of 460, because Sidonius stated in that year that he wanted to step away from the strict forms of the epithalamic genre in carm. 14. Filosini speculates that Sidonius would have come to this decision after he had already written an epithalamium according to the standards set forth by his predecessors.
Next, Filosini outlines the genre of epithalamia, detailing the influence of Statius and Claudian in its evolution. In addition to these two, she also proposes the influence of Ovid (specifically the Phaethon episode of Met. 2.1-303), citing Sidonius’ familiarity with the myth in carm. 7 and 15. While it is no longer a surprise that later Latin authors read Ovid, this is an original observation.
The text itself, Filosini states, is not a new edition, but is based on Luetjohann’s text from the MGH AA 8 (1887). She departs from L.’s text a handful of times in carm. 11, which she lists on p. 51, and the changes are explained in the commentary proper. For instance, she explains why the Maleam in 11.5 ( atque recurrentem ructatum ad rauca Maleam) posed such difficulty for previous scholars and editors. She adopts Ceccarelli’s emendation Maleae. 3 Elsewhere, Filosini preserves Sidonius’ faithfulness to Greek prosody over Luetjohann’s text; for example, she changes Aethiopus to Aethīops (line 18), cuius…gŏrytus to cui…gōrytus (line 56). Filosini also makes a more substantial change in line 112 ( aere et in liquido non solvitur orbita tractu) and replaces non solvitur with dissolvitur, an improvement that clarifies the meaning of the sentence.
At the close of her introduction are two tables: the first (pp. 52-5), juxtaposing the epithalamic themes in carm. 11 with his other epithalamium for Polemius and Araneola ( carm. 15), Statius’ epithalamium for Stella and Violentilla ( silv. 1.2), and Claudian’s epithalamia for Honorius and Maria (carm. 9-10) and Palladius and Celerina ( carm. min. 25). The second table (p. 56) compares the description of Venus’ palace with the description of the Sun’s palace in Ovid. Both tables are useful and help to clarify Sidonius’ relationship with his predecessors. The similarities in both order and content between Ovid and our poet especially help to prove Filosini’s argument.
Filosini’s prose translation is, for the most part, ad verbum and reliable. For example, nova gaudia porto/ felicis praedae in carm. 11.61-62 is translated as “ti porto la nuova gioia di una felice conquista” (p. 65). She intends, however, for her translation to act as a preliminary commentary on the text, anticipating what she will separately discuss in greater detail, rendering parts of the translation ad sensum, where profecit studio spatium (11.14) is rendered “la natura trasse giovamento da un impengo appassionato” (p. 61). While not problematic, the overall effect of the translation is one of a patchwork.
Filosini states that her commentary will be largely linguistic and stylistic, focusing on individual words and phrases. These features are noted and explained well and Sidonius’ particular poetic abilities, such as they are, are fully appreciated. But who is the audience for this commentary? The answer is not entirely clear. For instance, Filosini assumes that the reader knows enough about poetry in general to mention prosody and hemistichs without explanation, but feels it necessary to point out that Pallas is an epithet for Athena (pp. 85-86). She also lists many iuncturae; while they can be helpful in our understanding of any text, their particular usefulness or meaning in this commentary eludes the reviewer. For instance, Filosini notes that the expression veniens de gurgite ( carm. 10.7) occurs also in Dracontius, although he uses the noun in a different way (p. 86). It would have been interesting to read why this is worthy of note, if, indeed, it is.
Where Filosini excels is in the moments when she contextualizes and analyzes the overall meaning and import of the sections of the poem. For example, her exegesis on Venus’ palace (pp. 113-24) and Sidonius’ debt to Ovid is convincing, and her enthusiasm for the poem shines through more clearly than in her commentary. In these sections, Sidonius’ attempts at originality are noted as well. On carm.11.47-60, also, Filosini compares Sidonius’ version of the return of Cupid to Venus’ palace with similar scenes in Statius and Claudian. For instance, Venus’ head droops in drowsiness, a Sidonian innovation; Filosini sums up nicely how this particular detail is indicative of Sidonius’ poesy, writing that, “il procedimento analitico e la tendenza del Nostro a isolare singoli particolari sono evidenti tanto nel dissolversi delle indicazioni spaziali e/o temporali, quanto nella scelta di un primo piano, che rinuncia sia alla fugace notazione psicologica di Stazio, sia a quel tocco di sensualità conferito alla raffigurazione di Claudiano dal sottolineato abbandono della dea” (p. 158).
Overall, those interested in Sidonius’ poetry and Latin epithalamia will find things of value peppered throughout this book. Filosini ably observes and analyzes Sidonius’ skill and relationship with his predecessors, and a reader can certainly appreciate the ways in which this commentary is serviceable. As for his poetry, Sidonius himself admits that qui non ingenio, fors placuit genio ( carm. 10.20) and, unfortunately, no commentary can make an appraisal of his own talent, even if in a show of false modesty, ring any less true.
1. Lobato, J.H. 2015. Sidonio Apolinar. Poemas: Edición bilingüe: introducción, traducción y notas, col. Letras Universales, Madrid: Cátedra.
2. Poignault, R. and A. Stoehr-Monjou, eds. 2014. Présence de Sidoine Apollinaire. Clermont-Ferrand: Centre de Recherches A. Piganiol. See also van Waarden, J.A. and G. Kelly, eds. 2013. New Approaches to Sidonius Apollinaris. Late Antique History and Religion 7. Leuven: Peeters.
3. Ceccarelli, L. 2009. “Nota a Sidonio Apollinare, Carm. 11, 5,” Rivista di filología e di istruzione classica 137 (1-2): 171-177. As for a very minor error, the reviewer notes Filosini’s decision to retain the MSS Aethīops in carm. 11.18 over Luetjohann’s Aethiopus. Filosini argues that Sidonius remains faithful to Greek prosody, but cites instances in other poems where the adjective is Aethĭops ( carm. 2.92; 5.35; 7.75). The unambiguous concolor Aethĭopi near the end of the poem is addressed in Filosini’s commentary neither on line 18 (p. 129) nor line 106 (p.214).