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Sidonius Apollinaris, Letters. Tr. O.M. Dalton (1915) pp. i- vii; Title page and preface















IT is somewhat remarkable that the complete letters of Sidonius have never been translated into English. Though their style is often tiresome, though many of them seem at first sight to add little of moment to the sum of existing knowledge, yet the nine books, regarded as a whole, are still in many ways the richest source of information on Roman provincial life during the last years of the Empire in the West. And as a whole they should be read. Even the best selection is liable to omit what is really necessary for a full comprehension of the author and his view of life; omissions which singly appear unimportant have a cumulative power in creating false ideas; they distort the perspective, confuse the values, and invert the relative significance of parts. Where a writer's work does not crush by bulk, or enervate by dullness, it is generally best to let the whole produce its due organic effect, unmarred by the subtractions of an editor. In the present case, the bulk is not excessive, for there are not much more than a hundred letters; and the dull places are easily escaped by every bonus arbiter et artifex lector 1, experienced in the process of winnowing grain from chaff. |iv 

If the question of rendering the whole or part were the only trouble with which he had to contend, the translator of Sidonius might rid himself of all anxiety. But he must always be haunted by doubts as to his success in conveying in every case the sense of a confessedly difficult writer, often ambiguous in phrase, and sometimes recalling to the tired mind that creature of the sea which conceals itself at will in a cloud of its own ink. I cannot hope to have avoided error where scholars of eminence have admitted their uncertainties;2 and there are yet many passages the true sense of which lies beyond my divination.

It would have been possible indefinitely to expand the notes at the end of volume ii; but they have been purposely abridged, that Sidonius may speak for himself with as little interruption as possible. A general, knowledge in the reader of Roman history and mythology has been assumed; for instance, notes are not inserted to explain who Sulla or Julius Caesar were; Aganippe and Hippocrene are not defined; nor is the legend of Triptolemus related at length. Philological discussions have been omitted, and explanations confined to points essential to the comprehension of the text; it seemed more convenient that the Introduction should give in a consecutive form many facts which notes could only have given in isolation; and I have endeavoured in this part of the book to supply an abstract of the conditions obtaining in |v southern Gaul as they are revealed to us in the Letters. Biographical matter is also for the most part removed from the notes; an alphabetic list of correspondents, friends and contemporaries, whose names occur in the Letters, will be found on p. clx, with such cardinal facts in their history as have been ascertained. Names of places have been rendered, as a rule, by their modern equivalents, which seem to make the geography more immediately intelligible, especially to those acquainted with central and southern France. Where an ancient form is consecrated by general use, or seems demanded by the nature of the context, it has been purposely retained.

Like every other writer on Sidonius, I must express deep obligations to the earlier scholars who have edited the Letters, or described the period with which they are concerned, from Savaron and Sirmond, to Chaix, Fertig, and Mommsen, to Germain, Baret, Hodgkin, and Dill. To the learned Jesuit Sirmond, who edited Sidonius with an erudition worthy of the century of Ducange, and to the Abbé Chaix, whose long and careful study is indispensable to every student, the debt is greatest of all. The edition of Grégoire and Collombet has sometimes received adverse criticism; but though compelled to differ from many of their renderings, I have often found their volumes useful, and consulted them with advantage. For the literary and local history of Gaul in the fifth century, the monumental Histoire littéraire de la France of the Benedictines remains indispensable; the same may be said of Tillemont's sixteenth volume. Nor should |vi any writer occupied with the Gaul of Sidonius' day forget the work of Fauriel, of Amédée Thierry and Ampère. Sir W. Dill's sketch of Roman life in the fifth century has constantly rendered invaluable service. Though frequently consulting the text of Lütjohann in the great edition in Vol. VII of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, I have mainly used that of Mohr in the Teubner Series; thanks are due to Messrs. B. G. Teubner & Co. for courteously permitting the use of their edition.

Something has been said in the Introduction on the style of Sidonius (p. cxxi), enough perhaps to indicate the problems which it presents to the interpreter. I have endeavoured to keep in mind the sane view ot Dryden, that the translator's first duty is to grasp the sense as thoroughly as possible, in order that it may flow naturally into a new expression, and escape 'tedious transfusion' by copying word for word. A literal transfusion of Sidonius at his worst would be tedious indeed; it would defeat its own end, since we read him for his meaning, and no longer for his Latinity. I have felt it necessary to render his antitheses, and reproduce his puns wherever translation is reasonably possible; but where there is no obvious English equivalent for a gratuitous and pointless contrast, I have often spared my readers, not going out of the way to accentuate what may be fairly called his curiosa infelicitas, his love of puerile dexterity. Fortunately, however, he does not always go on stilts, and many letters, especially those written later in life, move simply, from starting-point to goal. His 'style' is not always with him; |vii it is indeed somewhat of a theatrical costume, and separable from his real self. When a busy life compelled him to be direct, he wrote without pretence, and can be translated in the same unpretentious manner. To all admirers of his character, the use of this stylus rusticans is a real relief; were he always tricked out in his finery, he would inspire in the world of letters the same amused contempt which the elderly fop Germanicus aroused among his less affected neighbours at Chantelle (IV. xiii).

I am indebted to my colleague Mr. G. F. Hill for very kindly reading through the proofs.

British Museum, 

[Footnotes have been renumbered and moved to the end]

1. 1 II. ii. 19.

2. 1 Ceterum non tam emendatoris indigere Sidonium quam interpretis in dies magis me perspexisse libere profiteor (Mohr, Praefatio, p. vii).

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