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date: 30 September 2020

Summary and Keywords

Sidonius Apollinaris, c. 430–c. 485 ce, Gallo-Roman aristocrat, poet and letter writer, civil servant, and bishop, is one of the most distinct voices to survive from Late Antiquity as an eyewitness of the end of Roman power in the West. Born in Lyon to a family of high-ranking Gallo-Roman administrators, he became a leading resident of the Auvergne through his marriage. In the 450s and 460s, he delivered poetic panegyrics to three emperors: his father-in-law Avitus, Majorian, and Anthemius, voicing Gallic, and especially Auvergnat, interests. His other poetic output consists of occasional verse, celebrating moments of high-profile aristocratic, and Christian life. He put out a carefully crafted collection of his selected letters in nine books against the foil of his personal and contemporary history, including significant elements like his early career, culminating in the urban prefecture in Rome (468/469), lettered leisure in the company of sophisticated friends on Gallic estates, and the turning of the scales that made him into bishop of his hometown Clermont, in vain opposing the onset of the Visigoths and having to put up with the final withdrawal of Roman authority from Gaul (475/476). After a period of exile, he was reinstated as bishop under Visigothic sovereignty. His career is typical for the kind of aristocratic bishop that emerged in Gaul as imperial career opportunities vanished, social distinction being transferred to office holding in the Church, and a distinguished ascetic lifestyle.

His works are a sustained effort, against all odds, to maintain a high standard of Roman culture and language, in constant interaction with the whole of Roman literature. He was much admired and imitated by posterity, well into the Renaissance, for his resounding prose style. A prime example of Late Antiquity literary artistry as well as a treasure trove of knowledge of his times, his work is a continuing source of fascination.

Keywords: Sidonius Apollinaris, Late Antiquity, epistolography, panegyrics, occasional poetry, urban prefect, bishop

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