Friday 29 October 2021

A textual and onomastic problem in Sidonius

In modern editions, Sidonius’ letter 2.4 is addressed to an otherwise unknown Sagittarius, who is asked to accept the friendship of Sidonius’ protégé Proiectus (also otherwise unknown) as the latter seeks to make an advantageous marriage with a girl of good family for whom Sidonius’ addressee has some sort of role of guardianship following her father’s death. But editions up to that of Lütjohann in 1887 had the letter addressed not Sidonius Sagittario suo salutem but Sidonius Syagrio suo salutem. Syagrius (or to be precise Siagrius) is the reading of the family of manuscripts from which the first edition of 1474 derived. Sagit(t)arius appeared in the majority of the manuscripts picked out by Lütjohann. 

How to weigh up the contradictory evidence of the manuscripts? Dolveck’s reconstruction of the tradition is essentially bipartite, with the above-mentioned family, known as α, on the one side, and the remaining manuscripts (for the letters) divided into several subgroups on the other side (δ). See the following simplified stemma, containing both the manuscripts that Dolveck recommends using and those which have been used by previous editors, based on one drawn by Giulia Marolla:*
On the right hand side of the stemma, P, L, T, N, V, R, and M all have Sagittario. But the apparatuses of Lütjohann and Loyen rightly show F as having Siargio. F is a representative of the English family, and a quick look at other, in fact more reliable, members of that family confirm that the family’s reading was Siagrio. That family, important for the poems, is rather low on the stemma for the letters, descended from a hyparchetype that Dolveck calls ν. Two other descendants of that same hyparchetype that I have checked, the Leipzig MS and Paris Lat. 2782, also have Siagrio. The quick rule of thumb that agreement between α and part of the δ side should give the reading of the archetype does not really work here, however. It looks like both ζ and δ itself had Sagittario, so Siagrio should be an innovation within this corner of the stemma. 

There are then two possibilities: one is that Dolveck’s reconstruction of the tradition is at error at this point, the other (more likely) is the presence of contamination. Although contamination is not otherwise visible between the α family and ν, one point that is worth making is that it might happen more easily with the address formulae, ‘Sidonius greets his friend x’, than with other parts of the text. Sometimes scribes left these greetings unfinished to be completed later by the rubricator (this is the case, for example, with Parisinus Latinus 2782, a descendent of ν on which the name is left out but the reminder to the rubricator appears in small writing on the very edge of the page). If it was decided to fill in an unrubricated copy that did not have such a note, and a copy that was not the original exemplar happened to be available, you would have the capacity for the name Syagrius to be introduced from the α-family. 

If the supposition of contamination is right, we are left with two different names on the two sides of a bipartite tradition. How to decide? 

First, onomastics. The name Sagittarius (archer) is certainly not impossible, but there is not another one attested in either of the first two volumes of PLRE, and I have not found it epigraphically: it appears only as a description of archers in the army (and there not a name) or as a sign of the Zodiac. But it does appear a century after Sidonius, for an obnoxious and militaristic bishop of Gap described by Gregory of Tours. Syagrius is not a common name but it was the name of two consuls in 381 and 382, of a correspondent of Sidonius (Ep. 5.5 and 8.8) descended from one of them, and of a warlord in northern Gaul in the same period. Could this be Sidonius’ friend addressed in the two later letters? The addressee of letter 2.4 is certainly important enough to be the noble Syagrius (there’s reference to the celeberrimam disciplinam of his house). We have learned from Joop van Waarden to be alert to the various pronouns used in Sidonius’ letters, not as a direct equivalent of the tu vos distinction of later Romance languages but as something rather more subtle and complex: in this context we should note that, as with Syagrius, Sidonius uses the tu form for the addressee of 2.4, and though the letter does not seem to exhibit as much familiarity as the other two, that could be attributed to the genre of the recommendation letter. One might wonder if the addressee does not feel older than Syagrius – particularly as the letters in book two tend to be earlier than those in the later books – but it would not actually be surprising if a younger aristocrat were placed in a position akin to guardianship, since he had more chance of living longer to carry out his role. 

And which was likelier to be corrupted into the other? Any reader of Sidonius will come across the name Syagrius, referring either to his friend (Ep. 5.5, 8.8) or to the friend’s distinguished great grandfather (Ep. 1.7.4, 5.17.4, 7.12.1). One of those mentions had already occurred in the previous book, so it is not impossible that it might have sprung to a scribe’s mind in conscious or unconscious response to a name that looked like a description rather than a name. On the other hand, one might think that it was likelier for the unusual name to be corrupted into a not uncommon noun: could Siagrius have been misread as an abbreviation Sag’arius

I don’t have a solution to this onomastic and textual problem (though you may guess that I tip slightly towards Syagrius). But I do think that (for example) the entries for both Syagrius and Sagittarius in PLRE and similar standard works should have mentioned the sheer uncertainty. We need to look at critical apparatuses, and they need in turn to be reliable. 

*I do not give manuscript sigla here, but they are all standard ones except that: V = Vat. Lat. 1661 (and not Vat. Lat. 1783 , here Vt); S = Paris, IRHT Collection Privée 347 (ex-Schøyen collection), B = London, BL, Royal 4 B. IV, Leip = Leipzig, UB Rep. I 48

Monday 19 April 2021

Sidonius Companion ctd, and two afterthoughts

On Joop van Waarden's Sidonius website, there is currently a celebration of the anniversary of the Edinburgh Companion to Sidonius Apollinaris. There is a 40% discount on the admittedly steep price available until the end of April; there are links to free versions of Franz Dolveck's chapter on the manuscript tradition and Filomena Giannotti on modern reception (open here and go to the Resources tab); there is also a new section called Companion Ctd. It has a list of errata and addenda to the Companion, plus some details of reviews. I have also written a couple of longer supplements to my chapters in the Companion. 

The first of these is a supplement to my chapter 3, on 'Dating the Works of Sidonius' -- though in fact it has little to do with dating as such. In the chapter I reconstructed from manuscripts the transmitted titles of the works, something that the editions have been cavalier and imprecise about, but I did not give the evidence. So here is a refined edition of the paratexts to Sidonius' poems, based on a full consultation of the manuscripts. I am going to explore this subject in more depth at a paper in Siena in June (let's hope really Siena in June, because Siena by zoom does not have the same allure). I hope that it will be useful for scholars working on the poems. 

Secondly, in Joop van Waarden's and my chapter on Sidonius' prose rhythm, I argued that Sidonius is fond of a predominantly metrical form of clausulation (he doesn't always use it; there are accentual elements; but it is predominantly metrical). But I did not illustrate the clausulation of the passage that I used as an initial basis for my arguments. So I publish a clausulated version of Sidonius' letter 2.2.1-10, with a few additional remarks.

PS supplements to and discussions of points in the Edinburgh Companion are welcome on the Companion Ctd: please write to Joop van Waarden or myself.

Monday 12 April 2021

Surges of Interest

There is a cliché in academic book reviews that always makes my eyes roll and my lips curl upwards a little. It is the moment when the reviewer talks of the current boom of studies on Ptolemy’s Geography, the burgeoning field of Italian farmhouse excavation reports, the explosion of scholarship in Roman provincial dress, exciting times for students of Flavian epic, a surge of interest in late antique epigram. It is of course perfectly understandable, and I have done it myself. The reviewer wants to be positive about the dynamism of the reviewed work’s subfield, which is probably also the reviewer’s subfield, and explain to relative outsiders – who are after all far more likely to read the review than the book – why they should be interested. The reviewer can also contextualise the work at hand by paying compliments to their friends and, sometimes, lamenting the inadequacy of those who aren’t. If the review is not entirely positive, it at least balances out some of the negatives with a vague optimism. It is not just reviewers: authors do this in their introductions all the time (again I have done it myself).

Of course, the subfield may really be burgeoning and the times exciting: it is the frequency of the commonplace that makes it amusing. Perhaps we don’t hear this from those in the more stagnant subfields (in that case, the rhetoric switches to that of the ‘strangely neglected topic’); perhaps an all-round increase in scholarly production has made lots of people feel that their subfield is booming. At any rate, there are ways of measuring the warmth of allegedly hot topics with relative ease, using the search functions of the digital version of Marouzeau’s Année Philologique, at least when it comes to authors (authors are probably easier than excavation reports or dress studies because they’ll be reliably and consistently tagged in online databases). This weekend I decided to indulge a curiosity I have had for a while and spend a little time looking for statistics of boom and bust in some of the authors that interest me. Another thing that prompted me to do this was an amusing but endless series of e-mails about the multilingualism of Classical scholarship on the Liverpool Classicists mailing-list, prompting much secondary comment on social media (the best take I have seen is this one); in any case, I thought it would be interesting to look at the linguistic breakdown of scholarly booms. 

I’m looking at Ammianus Marcellinus and Sidonius: late antiquity is one of the explosion sites. In a review a couple of years ago of Jenkins’ bibliography of Ammianus, I recalled E.A. Thompson’s reflection in the introduction of The Historical Work of Ammianus Marcellinus that for every reader of his author, there were probably a thousand readers of Sallust, Livy or Tacitus. I said then that this was probably never true, commenting on the ‘great deal of attention’ since and especially in the last 30 years. At any rate, I decided that those same three earlier Roman historians would serve as good comparanda for Ammianus, and interesting in themselves, and that Ammianus was a good comparandum for Sidonius (Sidonius differs from the others in that his verse as well as his prose survives). Here is my first table, of publications, excluding reviews, on the five authors per decade (which I count from 1 to 10, so the 1930s are 1931 to 1940). The green line indicates the overall publication trend in Classics – the total entries in Année Philologique divided by 500.

Since L’Année Philologique was launched in 1924, the 1920s is three years short, giving an artificial sense of a low base. Thereafter one can see a dip in the 1940s, no doubt the effect of war, and thereafter a steady increase in both total Classical scholarship and these authors, to a level between two to three times larger than pre-war. The decade from 2011 is also under-represented, since no 2020 publications and only some 2018 and 2019 ones have been registered (some items of mine from 2018 are not yet recorded); others from earlier in the decade may also be less likely to have been added. It will be interesting to see in a few years from now whether 2011-2020 really does mark a decline or just a stabilisation. (For the exact numbers and some qualifications on the data, see the appendix at the end of this post).

We can see that Tacitus has always been the most popular of the four historians and Livy has always second. That is perhaps understandable given the range of their works – Livy in seven Oxford volumes and Tacitus with five works in three volumes. Tacitus’ lead over Livy can be explained both by the virtually unanimous admiration for the former’s stylistic and intellectual brilliance and the latter’s limitations as a factual historical source. Sallust, bolstered slightly by pseudonymous works, was long placed third, but Ammianus, who began a long way behind, drew close to Sallust in the 1960s, overtook him in the 1990s, and has not relinquished his small lead. Sidonius until the 1980s exemplifies the marginal place of late antique authors, long behind Ammianus, but there really has been a boom in this case, so that in the last decade he has overtaken both Sallust and Ammianus. Once the 26 chapters of the Edinburgh Companion to Sidonius are added to the list for 2020, the lead may be even longer. I am very glad that Sidonius has his moment in the sun (though I hope Ammianus catches up next decade).

Let’s look at the same information in a slightly different way, this time looking at each author as a proportion of overall scholarly production per decade recorded in L'Année Philologique.

This has the advantage of smoothing out the unevenness caused by incomplete data in the first and last decades. It shows that interest in the three earlier historians has remained roughly at parity, with Livy becoming proportionately more and Sallust less popular; the growth of interest in Ammianus is proportionately almost fourfold and Sidonius well over tenfold. It also suggests, interestingly, that the percentage of scholarship on the historians grew in the 1940s – even if scholarship overall declined. Is this a wartime effect? (I have written elsewhere on the relevance of Sidonius in Second World War France, though there is no significant growth in interest in that period).

So there really has by any standards been a boom in interest in late antique authors! Let us break down the details of this further, by language. Here are publications on Ammianus per decade by language:


Publications are predominantly Germanophone before the war (and German-speaking scholars briefly take the lead again in the 1960s). Other than that the expansion is driven by growth in Anglophone and Italian scholarship, through French is not insignificant. Still, even now less than half the total items are in English. The apparent decline in languages other than English in the last decade will probably be mitigated when all the publications of 2018-2020 are listed, though the decline of German is stark. The growth of Spanish is also notable, though this is distorted by the fact that APh barely records Spanish-language scholarship before 1990. Looking in granular detail at the last decade, one finds that several Spanish and some Italian scholars are also writing articles in English (I originally looked to see if the decline of German reflected German scholars writing in English, but it seems that Ammianus is as much out of fashion in Germany-speaking lands as he is experiencing one of those ‘surges of interest’ in Spain). The most predominant ‘other’ language over the last century (after the canonical four plus Spanish) was Latin (29 items); there are a handful of items each in Dutch, Afrikaans, Czech, Russian, and Croatian.

Here is the pattern for Sidonius.

Scholarly production is limited and piecemeal from the 1920s to the 1970s, though for understandable reasons French is usually the lead language. The notable story is the growth of Italian scholarship. Franca Ela Consolino’s ‘Codice retorico’ (1974) and Isabella Gualandri’s Furtiva lectio (1979) are normally seen as the foundations for modern literary scholarship on Sidonius, but it is not until the 1990s that Italian takes the lead. In the last, highly productive decade of Sidonius scholarship, French is currently in second place, and English third.


A few thoughts. First of all, and unsurprisingly, sometimes scholarship really does boom/ surge/ explode. National trends or trends within a single academic culture can lead the way. Second, I do not propose here to get into the quarrels on the Classicists’ list, but this much seems clear: it may be that more and more classical scholarship will be written in English in the coming years, but it is very far from evident that this will inevitably be the case.


Some caveats on the source information. L'Année Philologique is not comprehensive and omits many works (a comparison with Jenkins’ Ammianus bibliography or with the bibliography on would be revealing here). The lack of Spanish works before 1990 seems implausible, for example. It has some deliberate omissions (introductions of edited books are not listed as separate articles, even if they are lengthy and significant contributions). Especially in the last decades of the twentieth century, the tagging of languages is not reliable (as shown here) and so I compiled my own lists; in more recent years, 9 works on Ammianus whose titles begin with Latin elements have been miscatalogued as being in Latin (I have not reallocated them in the tables above). In the older entries there are some doublets, mostly in the case of monographs that were in two or more successive issues because new reviews had appeared since the last issue. For reasons I could not understand, the same search sometimes produced marginally different results (numbers different by one or two), but not to an extent that made a serious difference.

For tables giving figures for the charts above, see here.


Friday 26 March 2021

A variation on prose rhythm: verse in prose

One of the hobbies of Latinists – nearly as common as finding acrostics in poetry, but healthier and more plausible – is finding scraps of Latin verse in the midst of prose. I don’t mean quotations, but bits of prose that scan like lines or part lines of poetry, which in the complex quantitative metres of Latin is a lot harder than, say, an accidental pentameter in English (‘To boldly go where none has gone before’, as Star Trek didn't say). Notoriously the first line of Tacitus’ Annals is a rather awkward hexameter (I use macrons and breves for long and short syllables – scansion fonts are too complicated):

            Ūrbēm / Rōm(am) ā / prīncĭpĭ/ō // rēg/ēs hăbŭ/ērĕ

            The city of Rome from the beginning was governed by kings…

This is a theme of historical writing, as Sallust’s Jugurtha similarly began with a hexameter, in this case a spondeiazon:      

            Bēllūm / scrīptū/rūs // sūm / quōd pŏpŭ/lūs Rō/mānŭs…

            I am about to write the war that the Roman people…

And Livy’s massive history with most of a hexameter:

            Fāctū/rūsn(e) ŏpĕ/raē // prĕtĭ/ūm sīm / si…

            Whether I would be doing something worthwhile if…

And it is indicative, perhaps, of historiographical pretensions that the first emperor began the inscription of his deeds, the Res Gestae, with a hexameter (still metrical for most of the second line, indeed):

            Rērūm / gēstā/rūm // dīu/(i) Aūgūs/tī quĭbŭs / ōrbĕm

            tērrā/r(um) īmpĕrĭ/ō // pŏpŭ/lī Rō/mānī…  

Of the deeds achieved by the defied Augustus in which [he subdued] the world to the power of the Roman people

Recently, Tony Woodman (‘Numerosus Horatius?’, CQ 69 (2019), 911-12) spotted that another Augustan prose inscription, that commemorating the Secular Games of 17 bc (CIL 6.32323 = ILS 5050), referred to the poet Horace’s Carmen saeculare in metre – not the sapphics in which it was written, but another of his favoured metres, the first Asclepiad:

            cārmēn / cōmpŏsŭīt // Quīntŭs Hŏrā/tĭūs 


            The poem was composed by Q. Horatius Flaccus 

Today I was discussing with colleagues software to scan prose and identify prose rhythm – a rather different matter, not least since Latin prose rhythm normally shuns poetic metres, and has less fixed rules. Still, electronic searches could identify many more instances of verse fragments in prose. In any case, the discussion inspires me to jot down a couple of other cases of verse in prose that I have spotted over the years.

In Seneca’s Apocolocyntosis 9, a proposal is made in the Olympian senate to accept the recently deified Claudius as a god: 

censeo uti divus Claudius ex hac die deus sit, ita uti ante eum qui optimo iure factus sit, eamque rem ād Mĕtă/mōrphō/sīs // Ŏvĭd/(i) ādĭcĭ/ēndăm

I propose that the deified Claudius from this day be a god, just as anybody before him who has been made one with full rights, and that this matter be added to Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

The jesting reference to Ovid’s epic of unnatural transformations is matched by the figure of the prose turning into the last five feet of a hexameter (scanning adicio, as is common, as adjicio).

Half a century later, in Tacitus’ Histories, the historian pronounces a notorious judgment on the emperor Galba (Hist. 1.54):

            …omnium consensu ‘căpāx / īmpĕrĭ/ī nĭs/(i) īmpĕr/āssĕt’.           

            By general consent capable of imperial rule – if he had never reigned.

This is a phalaecian hendecasyllable. In Tacitus’ day the first two syllables of the metre were normally both long, but its greatest Latin practitioner Catullus had allowed one of the two to be short. It is tempting to wonder whether we might not be dealing with a quotation from a poem.

Tacitus, though a famous orator, is not usually seen as an adherent of conventional prose rhythm – that is of the artistic rhythms at ends of clauses, differing from those of verse, that were imported from Greek into Roman oratory in the late republican period, and that spread into many other genres. History-writing, at least up to Tacitus, is not thought to be one of those genres. However, the recent article of Tom Keeline and Tyler Kirby, ‘Auceps syllabarum’, in Journal of Roman Studies 109 (2019), 161-204, uses electronic searching to look systematically at metrical prose rhythm across a great number of early imperial authors. While Tacitus shuns conventional artistic rhythms in the Annals and in most of the Histories, his Dialogue on orators has a statistically significant number of them, unsurprisingly for a famous orator; so does the Germania and the speeches in both the Agricola and the Histories. Keeline and Kirby do not find the Agricola outside the speeches significantly clausulated.

But there are dangers of looking statistically for prose rhythm, rather than reading the text. The rhetorical preface of the Agricola does read to me as clausulated, none less than the last phrase of the first paragraph: tam saeua et infesta uirtutibus tempora, so savage and hostile to virtues were the times. Not just the conventional clausula of the double cretic (long short long), but four cretics in a row:

            Tam / saēu(a) ĕt īn/fēstă uīr/tūtĭbūs/ tēmpŏră.

Tacitus spoke of fifteen years of literary silence under Domitian. This blog has been silent for a shorter period, of about a year, under circumstances trying for most of us. In any case, things will get better, and I will try to add further posts, extending this series on prose rhythm, in the coming weeks.