Sources for Medieval Christian Liturgy
Sidonius Apollinaris, Letter to Eriphius
(Letters Book 5 no. 17)

Translated by O.M. Dalton, The Letters of Sidonius, vol. 2, (Oxford, 1915): 71-74.

Sidonius to his own Eriphius, greetings.

You are the same man, still, my dear Eriphius; the pleasures of the chase, the amenities of town or country are never allowed to lure you so far that in your hour the charm of letters will not win you back. That devotion it is which bids you tolerate even me, whom you are good enough to describe as redolent of the Muses. If you were in a frivolous mood when you wrote so, you jest at my expense; if in sober earnest, your regard for me has blinded your eyes, for it needs no demonstration to prove your judgement at fault. Really, you go much too far when you use of me expression hardly appropriate to a Homer or a Virgil. I leave these kindly exaggerations, and pass to the proper subject of this letter.

You bid me send you the verses which I was weak enough to compose at the request of your most distinguished father-in-law, who understands the art of so living with his fellows as to command or obey with equal ease. Blame yourself if words run away with me, and I relate an insignificant event at greater length than it deserves; you insist on a picture of the scene and all that occurred, since your illness prevented you from being with us.

We had assembled at the tomb of S. Justus; the annual procession before daylight was over, attended by a vast crowd of both sexes which even that great church could not hold with all its cincture of galleries. After Vigils were ended, chanted alternately by the monks and clerics, the congregation separated; we could not go far off, as we had to be at hand for the next service at Tierce [sic], when the priests were to celebrate the Mass. We felt oppressed by the crowding in a confined space, and by the great number of lights which had been brought in. It was still almost summer, and the night was so sultry that it suffocated us, imprisoned as we were in that steaming atmosphere; only the first freshness of autumn dawn brought some welcome relief.

Groups of the different classes dispersed in various directions, the principal citizens assembling at the monument of Syagrius, which is hardly a bowshot from the church. Some of us sat down under an old vine, the stems of which were trained trellis-wise and covered with leaves and drooping fronds; other sat on the grass odorous with the scent of flowers. The talk was enlivened with amusing jests and pleasantries; above all (and what a blessed thing it was!), there was not a word about officials or taxes, not an informer among us to betray, not a syllable worth betrayal. Everyone was free to tell any story worth relating and of a proper tenor; it was a most appreciative audience; the vein of gaiety was not allowed to spoil the distinct relation of each tale.

After a time, we felt a certain slackness through keeping still so long, and we voted for some more active amusement. We soon split into two groups, according to our ages: one shouted for the ball, the other for the board-game, both of which were to be had. I was the leader of the ball- players; you know that book and ball are my twin companions. In the other group, the chief figure was our brother Domnicius, that most engaging and attractive of men: there he was, rattling some dice which he had got hold of, as if he sounded a trumpet-call to play. The rest of us had a great game with a party of students, doing our best at the healthful exercise with limbs which sedentary occupations made much too stiff for running.

And now the illustrious Filimatius sturdily flung himself into the squadrons of the players, like Virgil's hero 'daring to set his hand to the task of youth'; he had been a splendid player himself in his younger years. But over and over again he was forced from his position among the stationary players by the shock of some runner from the middle, and driven into the midfield where the ball flew past him, or was thrown over his head; and he failed to intercept or parry it. More than once he fell prone and had to pick himself up from such collapses as best he could; naturally he was the first to withdraw from the stress of the game in a state of internal inflammation, out of breath from exercise and suffering sharp pains in the side from the swollen fibres of his liver.

Thereupon I left off too. It was done from delicacy; if I stopped at the same time, my brother would be spared a felling of mortification at being so exhausted. Well, while we were sitting down, he found himself in such a perspiration that he called for water to bathe his face. They brought it, with a shaggy towel which had been washed after yesterday's use, and had been swinging on a line worked by a pulley near the doors of the porter's lodge. A Filimatius was leisurely drying his cheeks, he said: 'I wish you would dictate a pair of couplets in honour of a cloth which has done me such a noble turn.' 'Very well,' I replied. 'But you must get my name in,' he rejoined. I said that there would be no difficulty in that. 'Dictate away, then.'

'I would have you know,' I said, 'that the Muses are upset if I frequent their company before witnesses.' At this he burst out in his explosive but delightful way (you know his ardent nature, and what an inexhaustible flow of wit he has): 'Beware, my lord Sollius! Apollo may be still more upset if you tempt his pupils to secret interviews all alone.' You can imagine the applause aroused by a retort as neat as it was instantaneous. I wasted no more time, but called up his secretary, who was at hand with his tablets, and dictated the following epigram:

Mane nouo seu cum feruentia balnea poscunt seu cum uenatu frons calefacta madet,
hoc foueat pulcher faciem Philomathius udam, migret ut in bibulum uellus ab ore liquor.

(At dawn, or when the seething bath invites, or when the hot chase beads the brow, may goodly Filimatius with this cloth cherish his face till all the perspiration flows into the thirsty fleece.)

Our good friend Epiphanius the secretary had hardly taken down the lines, when they came to tell us that our time was up, and that the bishop was leaving his retreat; we therefore rose to go. You must not be too critical of verses written thus to order. It is another matter with the longer poem which some time ago you two asked me to write in a hyperbolical and figured style on the man who bore good fortune ill. I shall send it off tomorrow for your private revision. If you both approve of it, you can then publish it under your auspices; if you condemn, you can tear it up and forgive me as best you can.