115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Unde Progressis Ad Rubiconem Ventum: Sidonius Apollinaris and the Topography of Historical Memory

Madeleine St. Marie, University of California, Riverside

This paper investigates a description of Sidonius Apollinaris's (1.5) journey from Lyon in Gaul to the city of Rome. By combining vivid descriptions of places associated with a "traditional" Roman past with the Christian topographical present, Sidonius demonstrates that his audience back in Gaul unproblematically combined classical Roman history with Christian beliefs. 


Before he became bishop of Augustonemetum (present-day Clermont-Ferrand) in the Auvergne region of Gaul, Sidonius Apollinaris was a highly-regarded Gallic writer and panegyricist. While in Rome to deliver a panegyric on behalf of the newly installed emperor Anthemius in 467 CE, Sidonius sent a series of letters to friends back in Gaul recounting his travels to and time spent in the Eternal City. In one of the letters (Sid. App. Ep. 1.5), Sidonius spends considerable time recounting his trip from Lyon to Rome at the request of his friend, Heronius. Known for his particularly lavish and effusive style of writing, Sidonius's prose meanders as he recounts the various, famous places he saw and traveled through, claiming Heronius thought "it would be a pleasure...to have a more faithful account from those who have seen them with their own eyes." (1.5.1) Sidonius combines notices of the cities, rivers, and historical sites that guided him to Rome. Notably, his vision of the Italian landscape recalls both the historical past by invoking Caesar (1.5.5) and the Carthaginians (1.5.6), as well as the Christian present as represented by the extramural shinres devoted to Sts. Paul and Peter (1.5.9) before arriving, exhausted and ill, in Rome. 

This paper will argue that Sidonius's account of his trip to Rome functions as a pilgrimage narrative, allowing those back in Gaul who would have access to the letter the ability to view the landscape in their minds. As an educated Roman, Sidonius would have been taught literary devices to "evoke the unseen" so that vivid descriptions would come alive for the reader, unable to make the journey themselves. (Frank, 2000; 16). The rhetorical landscape that Sidonius builds in his letter connects the "viewer" to a historical and sacred landscape meaningful to a Roman Christian audience. Sidonius's construction of this landscape brings together historical memory to reaffirm the Roman identity of people living in the Gallic provinces during a period of political instability at the top levels of imperial leadership. by combing elements of Roman historical memory with Christian topography, Sidonius demonstrates that elite understandings of a traditionally "Roman" identity and its historical foundation were not at odds with Christianity. 

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