Monday, April 18, 2011


Patrizia Mascoli, Gli Apollinari: per la storia di una famiglia tardoantica. Quaderni di "Invigilata lucernis" 39. Bari: Edipuglia, 2010. Pp. 162. ISBN 9788872286135. €24.00 (pb).

Reviewed by John Henderson, King's College, Cambridge (

Version at BMCR home site

This handsome book will do no harm. A showcase of nineteen spruce Latin epistles plus a couple of stodgy excerpts from Gregory of Tours, with the easy-on-the eyesight texts yoked to decent facing translations. The ensemble is organized so as to track through the rising fortunes and supportive dynamics of the family pivoting around Sidonius Apollinaris down through three generations. Eleven epistles are from Sid himself, including the substantial compositions 2.2, to Domitius and 8.6, to Namatius along with 1.3, 2.12, 3.12-13, 4.12, 5.9, 5.11, 5.16, 9.1 (from Loyen). Writing back are notelets from Avitus (Epistles 24, 36, 43, 51-52 Peiper) and Ruricius (Epistles 2.26-27, 2.41 Demeulenare). The extracts from Gregory are from the Glory of the Martyrs 44 and 64 Krusch.

Mascoli's introduction starts from Sid's father Apollinaris 'the Elder', promoted to a praetorian prefecture by a usurper in the Gallic Empire. In restoring his vandalized tomb with a brand new epitaph, his son proudly formulates the family values of aristocratic idology: the tried triad of public service, patriotic self-denial, devotion to Rome as source of the classical culture of Christendom. The father's end is unrecorded (perhaps violent). Sid secured a praetorian prefecture too, this time 'legitimately', from Avitus, soon-to-be his father-in-law and then short-lived emperor, from a family multiply alloyed and allied with the Apollinares. Sid's son Apollinaris the Younger gets used by pa as so much canvas to paint his protreptic on, and pen another self-portrait for the clan. Sid sends junior a caricature negative exemplum dubbed 'Gnatho' for the purpose (3.13), and tells friend Potentinus that he slots in as positive exemplum for the kid (5.11). And we are to catch the two of them at it, too: there they were reading the Hecyra à deux, with Epitrepontes kept handy (4.12). All grown up and episcopal, junior is still positioned as his father's keeper (Ruricius 2.26-27); and even his miracle story in Gregory will have him rescued by faith back over the Alps from Milan and...home (GM44). The women are carefully slotted into the family escutcheon: imperially connected mother; a spotless cousin; the better half, Papianilla, domiciled in a different town; a daughter, two daughters, or make that three? worry over. Last on record, this girl/one of these girls, along with daughter-in-law Placidina, committed a blunder that called for miraculous retrieval by another Avitus, another Bishop (GM64). These paragons of classical morality are counters in the gentilician self-promotion stakes when they are not invisibled in pudibund pudicity. Not surprisingly, other family members beyond Sid's immediate household blur from blood 'brothers' into metaphorical fraternity. In this book, the lot of them stick together and hang on tight. If they don't deserve criticism, well they're certainly not going to get it on this outing.

As a gateway to the criss-crossing epistolography available from within this network of friends, Gallo-Roman, and countrymen, and beyond, Mascoli's modest libellus is useful as a winsome invitation to read the texts rather than have the story served up second-hand by historians. She gives no hint of awareness of the literary finesse awaiting acclamation in the urbane compilation of their collections; but that is not her business here. Now that the time of epistoliterarity is come, someone will soon put this right. Really.

Introduzione: pp. 7-47
I. Le radice e l'oblio: i primi Apollinari: pp. 9-22
II. La dignità e l'intrigo: Apollinare il Giovane: pp. 23-33
III. Il fascino quieto:della moralità: i personaggi femminili: pp. 35-45
IV. La memoria negata: gli altri familiari: pp. 47-48
Fonti: pp. 50-143
Bibliografia: pp. 147-162

1 comment:

  1. For someone interested but not fully initiated into the field of late antiquity, I'm frustrated that the reviewer never provided dates for the epistolary corpus. Really!


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