Competing at Otium:A Juxtaposed Reading of Sidonius's Baths
Sidonius engages in competitive aristocratic display by inviting the reader to compare the magnificence of the baths at his villa, Avitacum, with the extravagance of Pontius Leontius's baths, and contrast them with the shoddy makeshift bath of his uncles, Apollinaris and Ferreolus. Competition interacts with the thematic unity of Sidonius's second book of letters and manifests in Sidonius's three descriptions of Avitacum's baths in Ep. 2.2 and Carm. 18 and 19. Direct contrast to the baths of his uncles, informed by the conception of juxtaposition, shows how Sidonius uses his baths to display his paideia and political importance, something which his uncles' bath is unable to do for its owners. The conclusion offers a socio-historical rationale for the juxtaposition of the baths by presenting the epistolary dynamic as evidence of Sidonius's embrace of his wife's family, from which he inherited Avitacum.
Competitive display is abundant in Sidonius's letters. A short survey, limited to the letters in book one, may suffice. In Ep. 1.2.7–8 Sidonius, installed as an ambassador at the Visigothic court, describes losing a game of backgammon to the Visigothic king Theodoric II but only so that he may win the more important diplomatic game. In the next letter Sidonius makes no apologies for his political ambition and describes the intense competition that surrounds the attainment of political offices. An individual "who passed over his detractors" (qui transit derogantes) may find those he recently looked up to, now looking up at him;1 rivals abound, as Gallo-Roman aristocrats strive to outdo one another.2 Barbs, even those made in jest, are answered with interest; Candidianus should think twice about mocking Sidonius for being [End Page 117] delayed in Rome given that his native Caesena is as hot as an oven, and his current residency is in mosquito infested Ravenna.3 In Ep. 1.9.2–6 Sidonius recounts how he made some politically astute moves, which result in him being asked to write a panegyric for Anthemius, which in turn leads to Sidonius's appointment as the prefect of the city. Reading Sidonius's modesty claims naively risks devaluing the heightened display such claims carry, given that the letters which convey them were arranged and circulated. So, for example, in that letter, Sidonius makes a show of trying to tone down somewhat the competitive display of his own achievements by presenting himself as a boastful soldier from Roman comedy, but this may also be read as revealing Sidonius's self-awareness regarding his tone, nor does it ultimately stop Sidonius from encouraging his addressee Heronius to heap praise on his eloquence.4 The book concludes with a rhapsodic challenge from the emperor Majorian, which Sidonius meets to rich applause.5
Sidonius Apollinaris's world was clearly highly competitive, and in this regard otium was no exception.6 In Ep. 5.17, Sidonius describes how he and his friends relaxed at a celebration at a church in Lyon: "The listening was competitive; accordingly each story was carefully formed, in that each was intermingled with delight.7 After a while of this it seemed a good idea to those of us weakened by otium to go and do something."8 The competition changes. The older men pick up the dice, the younger men play ball, led by Sidonius, the preeminent player (or so he tell us).9 Eventually fatigued by all their running around the ball players stop and another competition follows as Sidonius finds himself answering a rhapsodic challenge with a spontaneous composition.10 Each of these competitions—the initial story-telling, the ball game, the dice match, and the verse challenge—was organized spontaneously [End Page 118] when elites had gathered to enjoy otium, and so spontaneity protected them somewhat from the adverse consequences of aristocratic competition, embarrassment (verecundia), and jealousy (invidia). More organized competitions could be carefully arranged so as to minimize these emotions. In Ep. 9.13, Sidonius describes how this could take place in another verse compositional game, but this time the rules involve handicapping each player differently to avoid direct comparisons:11
There was only a delay while types of meter were allocated by lot. For it was decided, out of shared kindness, even though the subject matter for the writing was going to be the same for everyone writing, the poems of each individual would not be in the same meter, so that none of us, who spoke worse than the others, would be bitten at first by embarrassment, and then by jealousy.12
Sidonius's advice to his addressee Tonantius is to read his poem cum totus otio indulseris (when you are completely immersed in leisure time) so his critical faculty and inclination might be more lenient towards Sidonius's composition, produced under metrical confinement.13 Even as the rules inhibit a direct comparison between compositions on the basis of meter and Sidonius makes a show of restraining his competitive instincts in the interest of collegiality, a competitive undercurrent may still be detected, given that Sidonius's handicap was likely the most severe; few other examples of Latin anacreontic verse are extant.14 [End Page 119]
Aristocratic display demanded that otium be shared with others, and so hospitium could equally project an elite's status vis-à-vis his fellow aristocrats. In Ep. 8.12, for example, Sidonius tried to induce Trygetius to visit him. Seafood is a major part of the attraction:
come with your inland adviser to defeat and subjugate these gourmands with the equipment of the Médoc [that is, oysters].15 Here the fish of the Adour lords over the mullets of the Garonne; her horde of cheap crabs is defeated by the forces of Bayonne lobsters.16
The competitive edge to hospitium may be detected in the battle language that he uses to describe Trygetius's efforts, even as Sidonius maintains a playful tone; Médoc oysters will be the weapon of choice as Trygetius and his inland advisor wage war and try to defeat the local gourmands.17
Baths were a key attraction and so became another way for elites to compete with one another.18 This was not unique to Late Antiquity. In Ep. 86 Seneca noted how baths had become a part of the gratuitous display of wealth and influence which he is so careful to avoid19 by contrasting the small and dark bath of Scipio Africanus to the practice of Seneca's wealthy contemporaries.20 His aim is not to pit his wealth against others, but in distinguishing [End Page 120] his values from others, Seneca draws attention to how baths could be used in this competitive display, as each individual tries to judge their position relative to their wealthy rivals.
This article examines Sidonius's descriptions of baths. It argues that Sidonius engages in competitive aristocratic display by inviting the reader to compare the magnificence of the baths at his villa, Avitacum, with the extravagance of Pontius Leontius's baths, and to contrast them with the shoddy makeshift bath of Sidonius's uncles, Apollinaris and Ferreolus. It begins by examining Sidonius's description of the bathing complex at Avitacum in Ep. 2.2 and Carm. 18 and 19. A comparison between Avitacum's baths and those of Pontius Leontius's burgus (fortified villa) shows that Sidonius's baths could stand up to strong competition. Consideration of the baths of Apollinaris and Ferreolus enables the juxtaposed reading of their baths against Sidonius's. This juxtaposition is then linked to how Sidonius uses his baths to display his paideia and political importance, something which his uncles' bath is unable to do for its owners. The conclusion offers a socio-historical rationale for the juxtaposition of the baths by presenting the epistolary dynamic as evidence of Sidonius's embrace of his wife's family, from which he inherited the estate.
The Baths at Avitacum (Ep. 2.2.4–9, Carm. 18 and 19)
In one of the longest letters in the collection Sidonius's extends an invitation to Domitius, who is stuck sweating away in the city while he teaches through the summer.21 The letter is an extensive description of the estate and grounds which uses a wide variety of allusions to Latin literature, especially the villa letters of Sidonius's major epistolary model, Pliny the Younger.22 Sidonius restrains his competitive instincts from targeting Pliny through much of the letter until at its end Pliny's villa epistles come directly into view:
… forgive me, because my somewhat overly detailed letter has gone past its required brevity, as it carefully explored the entire grounds of the estate, but even then it has not covered everything to avoid boredom. So, the good judge and skilled reader will determine that it is not a big letter, which describes the space, but a big villa, which is described spaciously.23 [End Page 121]
Epistolary brevity is a key generic principle.24 Sidonius's model is Pliny's second villa letter:
I should long since have been afraid of boring you, had I not set out in this letter to take you with me round every corner of my estate … It is not the letter containing the description which is large, but rather the villa which is described.25
Sidonius's letter is approximately half the length of Pliny's main villa letter, and so he has outdone Pliny, describing his villa while still conforming to the conventions of brevity. Sidonius does not concede that Pliny's villa was bigger than his—Pliny's letter describes his entire estate (omnes angulos), while Sidonius has been selective, exploring it all but not in every detail (totum rurum sitis … nec cuncta). Thus the imagined space of Sidonius's villa can still stand up against the size of Pliny's villa, even as Sidonius has definitely won the epistolary contest, leaving Pliny's letter to appear overly long and at risk of being boring. In case the reader misses the point Sidonius's metaliterary reflection explicitly models how a critical reader will recognize exactly how well he has done.
Over a quarter of Ep. 2.2 is devoted to Sidonius's baths. The bath house he describes is not complete—at least according to the classical expectation of the rooms that should be included—but it is clearly a large and impressive part of the house and is technologically advanced.26 A furnace, fueled by cut logs that roll down the hill into the flames, heats the hot bath after which water is conveyed through has a system of pipes, which are shaped at the end into lions' heads.27 The piscina was sizeable.28 Sidonius seems to have been particularly proud of the height of the complex and its roof. [End Page 122]
In both Ep. 2.2 and Carm. 18, Sidonius involves the baths at Avitacum in direct comparisons. The first focuses on the cold room. He states: "[The cold room] rivals without impudence the pools built by public works" ([frigidaria] piscinas publicis operibus extructas non impudenter aemularetur).29 Sidonius's comparison of his baths to a public building alludes to Pliny's description of his villa's baths: "Then there is the cool room of the bath, which is spacious and large … here is a covered arcade which extends nearly as far as that of a public building" (Inde balinei cella frigidaria spatiosa et effusa …  Hinc cryptoporticus prope publici operis extenditur).30 Both cold rooms are spacious, but whereas Pliny refrains from the full comparison between his cryptoporticus and those of a public building, Sidonius does not.
The second direct comparison focuses on the roof: "The roof rises, a rival to the cone of Baiae, and the apex shines equally with an elevated tip."31 The domed roof over Sidonius's baths at Avitacum was apparently just as impressive as the conum Baianum. This remark probably refers to the so-called temple of Diana at Baiae, which is one of the largest domed structures still standing from antiquity.32 The grandiose comparative framework that Sidonius creates for the baths add to the impression that they make on the reader.33
Sidonius's bathing complex at Avitacum is described as a significant building with a large roof, walls and windows, various rooms, and technological advancements that make it efficient and desirable. By celebrating his baths in poetry and prose, Sidonius underlines their importance and draws attention to his status as the master of the estate and owner of the baths.
Pontius Leontius's Baths (Carm. 22)
In Carm. 22 Sidonius praises the fortified villa (burgus) of Pontius Leontius. As Consolino and Kaufmann have shown, the poem is elevated in tone, and invokes the style of Statius's Thebaid alongside explicit references to his Silvae, [End Page 123] four of which are explicitly mentioned alongside Horace's Ars Poetica in the prose sphragis.34 The poem begins with an address to the reader: "Whoever you are, who looks at such a home without praise on their lips, you are looked at too: your desire reverberates without a sound, as your silence screams that you are quietly jealous."35 In many respects Pontius's house is bigger and better than Sidonius's, but it is worth bearing in mind that a burgus was closer in scale to a medieval castle than a traditional Roman villa, so when Sidonius alludes to his description of Pontius's burgus in his villa letter, he is making a powerful claim as to the status and size of his own home. Three common features may be detected, each of which is supported by precise lexical similarities. The first pertains to the marble that is in Pontius's burgus and Avitacum which (together with Sidonius's description of marble in his panegyric to Majorian) draw on Statius's description of marble at the baths of Claudius Etruscus in the Silvae.36 The second relates to the presence of boats in the water. Pontius's baths connect to a nearby river which, when it swells, produces a torrent that sends boats into the bath, and "plays with them with a funny kind of shipwreck" (iocoso / ludit naufragio).37 Sidonius uses a similar phrase, "the pleasant shipwrecks of the players" (iucunda ludentum naufragia), to describe the clashing of boats on his villa's lake as they try to race around a turning post in a manner explicitly reminiscent of the Trojans' boat races in Aeneid 5.38 The third connection is a possible further link between both baths. Sidonius explains how Pontius's baths are used seasonally:
A summer portico opens up from here on to the icy North; there the heat that leaves the winter baths is harmless and softens the spot according to the time of year; and so this part is rather well suited to the cold, because what leaves the mouth of the Lion is barely able to ward off the ferocity of the Lyconian Bear.39 [End Page 124]
The phrase ora Leonis may have a double meaning, referring not only to the Leo constellation and it symbolism for the summer heat,40 but also to pipes of water, which, like the pipes in Sidonius's villa, could well have ended in lion heads.
The similarities between Sidonius's description of his villa and Pontius's burgus bring both texts and dwellings into dialogue with one another.41 Sidonius's estate does not come off badly from this comparison, which is telling, given that Pontius's property was a more extensive type of building.
Apollinaris and Secundus's "Bath" (Ep. 2.9.8-9)
Sidonius begins Ep. 2.9 by apologizing to the addressee Donidius, a vir spectabilis and friend, for being delayed in his journey to Nemausus (modern Nîmes).42 The letter explains that the hospitality of his uncles43 has detained him, as he journeys through Gaul, probably moving, as he suggests elsewhere, from one friend's house to the next.44 He frames the letter as a discussion of dulcia,45 which it is, but competition is still an undercurrent to Sidonius's detailed account of the hospitality that he has enjoyed as each uncle has competed to see who can feed him first: "And so every morning there would be a pleasing contest from the outset between the two groups over their guest, as to which kitchen would be the first to steam with my breakfast."46 The atmosphere is pleasant, Sidonius says, but his language does not diminish the implication that hospitium could be competitive.
Neither villa has a permanent bath: "Both hosts had baths that were under construction, neither were in use."47 A makeshift hot tub is put together:
a trench was hastily dug close to the spring or river, into which a mound of stones, which happened to be heated, would be submerged, once the ditch was covered by a cave woven out of flexible hazel twigs into the shape of a [End Page 125] semi-sphere, as it started to get hot, covers made out of hair were thrown on the open spaces of the branches so that they would grow dark, the light completely shut out, and the ditch would keep in the rising steam, which is formed by pouring hot water onto the burning rocks.48
The nearby river functions as a de facto cold room:49
Once our sweat had poured out, enough to have pleased us, we would submerge ourselves into the hot waters where its warm relaxation erased our stress then we would become strengthened by the cold water of the spring or well or the abundant flow of the river.50
Scholarship has been divided as to what to make of these baths.51 Percival viewed the baths as an "attempt to laugh away the world's problems" which "gives a positive impression of a flourishing establishment."52 Presumably, aristocrats had other motivations for enjoying a bath in the 460s than trying to induce collective amnesia as to the political situation. Makeshift baths at best indicate that the establishment is trying to provide the level of hospitium expected by innovatively using their natural surrounds. Hutchings considered the temporary baths "an acceptable alternative" to permanent baths, based on the enjoyment they provide to the bathers, and while Sidonius clearly states that everyone had a good time, mitigating factors—including heavy drinking—seem to have been involved.53 Lucht claimed that the temporary baths [End Page 126] could amount to a display of wealth as they highlight that both of Sidonius's uncles could afford to renovate their permanent baths.54 This is overly generous; Sidonius's phrase in opere falls short of indicating that the baths are being improved but merely indicates that work is being done. This work could very well have been repair rather than renovation. Each of these scholarly approaches fundamentally prioritizes the text at the level of the individual letter. Recent studies in Latin epistolography by Gibson and Morello have shown that epistolary texts may be read profitably at the level of the book or the collection.55 When the baths in Ep. 2.9 are read in dialogue with the those at Avitacum, a different picture emerges, one which reveals how baths contributed to aristocratic competition in mid to late fifth-century Gaul.
Juxtaposing the Baths (Ep. 2.2 and 2.9)
When an epistolary author arranges letters into books and circulates them, as in Sidonius's case, they go some way towards suggesting connections between individual letters and groups of letters to the reader. These connections pose a similar hermeneutic challenge to reading collections of epigrams, which are similar to letters in that they have addressees, tend to be short, and cover an eclectic range of topics. Recently, Fitzgerald has used the term juxtaposition to describe how two or more epigrams may be read in dialogue with each other:
[Juxtaposition indicates] a sequence of short but highly closed poems … [it] suggests both closeness and separation … it is always deniable … [does] not necessarily imply intention … We may fail to notice; we may notice but choose to ignore; we may smile wryly; or we may seek an underlying structural rationale.56
The position of Ep. 2.2 and 2.9 suggests their juxtaposition; if the fourteen letters of book two were to be divided in half, Ep. 2.2 and 2.9 would mirror each other's position, as the second letter of each respective half. If the letters are juxtaposed, their descriptions of baths form a clear contrast. At Avitacum, the baths are permanent, have multiple large rooms, are technologically advanced (being both plumbed and heated by a kiln that is fueled almost automatically), they are furnished with chairs, made out of marble, and exhibit clear design features, including windows and polished white walls.57 In contrast, [End Page 127] the bath that Apollinaris and Ferreolus offer is temporary, has a single room (not counting the river that acts as a de facto frigidarium), uses rudimentary technology, has no furnishing, is made out of sticks and heated rocks, and lacks any features that are specifically linked to their construction, although they do have some aesthetic merits, if minimalist rustic charm counts.58
This physical contrast is augmented by the different modes of description Sidonius uses in each epistle. His description of Avitacum is hodotic, as Sidonius takes the reader on a tour of his house, almost like a modern realtor guiding prospective buyers.59 This approach adds to the feeling of permanency that Sidonius conveys throughout the epistle, which acts as a guidebook that seems to advertise and highlight what will always be there.
Sidonius's description of staying with his uncles is autoptic and focalized through his perspective.60 This is perhaps to be expected, given that Sidonius is describing his own experience. In the description of the baths, the autoptic mode becomes blurred by generalizing features. The aspect of the imperfect tense (fodiebatur, operiebatur) allows for the repetition of the bath building process, the adverb forte suggests an air of casual spontaneity and lack of certainty, which is supported by Sidonius's frequent use of the conjunction aut, which repeatedly confuses the source of the water.61 Is it a spring (fons) or a river (fluvium) which supplies the bath? And where does the cold water come from—the spring (fons), the well (puteale), or the river (fluvium)? This lack of clarity highlights the effort involved every time Apollinaris and Ferreolus would like to take a bath: they must locate a new source of water, heat rocks, dig a trench, arrange sticks into a hut, and then, and only then, may they enjoy their bath.
The Bath as Locus for Paideia and Politics (Ep. 2.2 and 2.9)
Scholars have long wondered why Sidonius's villa epistle does not include a library, especially as he was clearly highly educated, prided himself on being so, and appears always ready to remind others of his paideia.62 This wonderment stems in part from comparison with the library Sidonius describes in [End Page 128] Ep. 2.9, in which Augustine is found next to Varro, and Horace alongside Prudentius.63 Sidonius segues from the books on the shelf to the learned conversation that ensued, as he and the others pondered why Origen was banned, and compared favorably the translation of his Adamantius by Rufinus to Apuleius's use of Platonic and Ciceronian philosophy.64
The absence of a library in Sidonius's villa description does not correspond to an absence of writing. After Sidonius's allusive anti-ecphrastic catalogue of images, he describes what does adorn the polished white concrete of the bath's interior:65 "Nothing will be found etched on these pages, which it is more holy not to have seen. Only a few little verses will delay the new reader, striking the right balance, since there will be no desire to reread them nor boredom from reading them through."66 The verses described here are written on the walls, described as paginis, a word which is typically used in prior Latin literature to refer to pages.67 Dark, in his analysis of the historicity of Sidonius's villa, notes that writing on walls is unusual in villas historically and geographically comparable with Avitacum.68 In a sense, by writing on the walls, Sidonius has made the parietes into paginae, but the remark also resonates with significance about his own writing endeavors, given Sidonius's repeated concerns to avoid engendering fastidium in his epistolary readers.69 The writing of poetry onto the walls of the baths turns the baths into a learned space. The atmosphere of Sidonius's uncles' baths is very different. Drinking and jokes dominate, as Sidonius and the others while away their afternoon, far removed from the stress and intrigue of imperial politics.70 [End Page 129]
The end of the description of the baths at Avitacum subtly gestures to Sidonius's political importance. Water is conveyed from the hill into the pool:
Into this pool a stream is lured from the brow of the mountain and drawn around in channels curving along the outer sides of the bathing pool, six protruding pipes with heads like lions pour it out, to those who rashly have entered [the pool] these pipes will conjure the image of real rows of teeth, genuine anger in their eyes, and undoubted manes on their necks.71
Pipes that end with lion heads were common in the ancient world, but the features that Sidonius ascribes to them and the detail that he provides of the guests' reaction to the lion heads invest them with symbolic importance, especially given that lion heads were typically used to represent power and often appeared on thrones.72 Sidonius links the function of the lion heads to the potential for intrigue:
Here if a crowd of the household or visitors surrounds the master, the mutual exchange of voices is not intelligible on account of the roar of the falling stream, so people are melded into each other's ear; in this way, public speech, burdened by this strange sound takes on a ridiculous sense of secrecy.73
Littlewood sees the function of these lion head's as "amusing and almost laudable" in their ability to force guests to appear to be gossiping.74 More plausibly, Hindermann argues that the falling of the water inhibits speech, and thus contravenes the expectation in a locus amoenus that the sounds, including the sound of water, should be discreet.75 Sidonius's comments have a political dimension, if read against the events of the proceeding decade or so. During that period Avitus, Sidonius's father-in-law, had ascended to the purple on the back of Gallic and Visigothic support and then been killed, probably owing to a coalition of political forces centered in Rome, and a conspiracy had also [End Page 130] taken place in Gaul, the so-called Marcellan conspiracy.76 The political fervor in Gaul had been so intense in the mid to late 450s that, as soon as Majorian had established himself as the successor to Avitus, he travelled to Gaul to remedy the situation.77 Sidonius's lions are a subtle reminder of his political importance as a Gallo-Roman aristocrat, who is well connected, surrounded by a crowd of guests, each of whom is afforded the privacy to whisper in secret in his baths, safe from being overheard by the deafening roar of the pipes. The idea that guests could conspire in Sidonius's baths is nowhere near as ridiculous as Sidonius pretends.
Conclusion: Competitive Self-Fashioning
In the social and political upheaval of late antique Gaul, otium was a privilege for the very few, the real elite, who seem or at least represent themselves in these moments as being unaffected by prevailing uncertainty and instability. In Sidonius's magnificent villa description, for example, there are no barbarians, no signs of anything amiss, as he enjoys and celebrates with his friends the traditional otium of the Roman aristocracy, safely ensconced in a continuum of his own making that extends from Rome's past glory as the cultural, economic, and political hegemon of the Mediterranean world.78
Every letter in Sidonius's collection fashions his persona in one way or another. This is especially important for his villa letter, given the connection between villa and character made in the ancient world. Newlands notes the symbiotic display of architecture and literature in building ecphrases. As she states: "Roman rhetorical discourse frequently correlated a person's literary style with his character; in turn, architectural ecphrasis correlated a resplendent style with a resplendent house."79 Sidonius's villa epistle is a permanent display of his literary style, status, and wealth, more permanent than the villa itself, which is enhanced by his description of his magnificent baths. In contrast Apollinaris and Ferreolus's villas are permanently without proper, working baths.
Aristocratic self-fashioning does not take place in a social vacuum but develops relative to the prestige and achievements of other elite individuals. [End Page 131] Sidonius's letters abound in such achievements, as he carefully congratulates his friends on their successes, especially new secular offices. This praise of others reflects well on Sidonius's own persona which develops from that of a successful secular aristocrat in the first two books into the cultured piety of a bishop. Criticism, even implied criticism, functions similarly. When Sidonius castigates Eutropius for spending too much time on his farm and not enough time serving the Romans state, Sidonius's own service looms large in the background.80 Later in the collection, when Sidonius appears to apologize to Ferreolus for not sending him a letter earlier in book seven, he reminds Ferreolus that mere secular aristocrats must come after clergy, which is a barely concealed barb at Ferreolus's failure to hold ecclesiastical rank.81 Again Sidonius, by then the bishop of Clermont, excels in the competitive posturing of his life's achievements against someone who once outranked him.
Sidonius's description of his uncles' baths is not outwardly critical, but when it is read alongside Sidonius's endless self-fashioning and the intense competition of the Gallo-Roman aristocracy, an "underlying structural rationale" emerges as to why Sidonius provides these makeshift baths with such detail: their bath makes Avitacum's even more impressive and so augment Sidonius's status as a wealthy Gallo-Roman aristocrat, wealthier than both his paternal uncles.
The juxtaposition of the baths in Ep. 2.2 and 2.9 sets Sidonius's wealth, inherited through his wife, against the more limited wealth of his paternal uncles. The comparison between the two sources of inherited wealth begins Avitacum's description (Ep. 2.2.3): "We are at Avitacum, this is the name of the estate, which, since it was my wife's, is sweeter to me than my father's estate: this is the harmony I have with my family, God willing, unless you fear some sort of bewitchment."82 This conspicuous mention of the estate's name is mnemonic of a connection to Papianilla's father, Avitus, either directly, or indirectly, if the estate was named after one of Avitus's ancestors who was also called Avitus.83 The comparison to Sidonius's estate inherited from his father warrants consideration, given how rarely Sidonius's father features [End Page 132] in the collection, such that scholarship can only conjecture that his name was Apollinaris. There is no evidence as to what Sidonius's side of the family thought of his marriage to Papianilla, but there must have been some consternation when the reign of her father, the Emperor Avitus, suddenly ended in late 456 in circumstances that remain unclear in the sources. Sidonius inherited Avitacum from his wife's family—when is again unclear; it may have been a wedding present, or part of Avitus's deceased estate—and so his display of wealth and status as the grateful heir to Avitacum may be read metaphorically as a display of his ties to his wife's family, a covert effort at preserving Avitus's memory, that validates his decision (to the Apollinares of Lyon and others) to marry into the Aviti.84
Outwardly Sidonius's villa epistle, and the description of the baths, is not political, but even an apolitical stance is also a political position of sorts. In Seneca's letter collection, for example, repeated reference to his elderly age underlines his retirement from the Neronian court, and stresses that he is not a threat to the emperor's political agenda.85 Sidonius's relaxing baths are similarly disarming; the cut and thrust of imperial politics seem but a distant memory, yet the baths are also a safe space for the master of Avitacum to mull over politics in the secrecy guaranteed by the roar of the lions' heads.
. I am grateful to Henriette Harich-Schwarzbauer and Judith Hindermann for the invitation to present this research in Basel, and to the audience's criticism and suggestions. I would also like to thank Dawn LaValle Norman and Sigrid Mratschek for their suggestions.
1. Sid. Ap. Ep. 1.3.1.
2. Sid. Ap. Ep. 1.4.1.
3. Sid. Ap. Ep. 1.8.2.
4. Sid. Ap. Ep. 1.9.8.
5. Sid. Ap. Ep. 1.11.15. See Mratschek in this volume.
6. For the competitiveness of the aristocracy in Late Antiquity, see Brown 1982, 138 ("by frequent victories in intense competition … the athlete summed up the average late Roman"); and for Gaul in particular, see Van Dam 1985, 208. Mathisen 1979 analyses an example of Gallo-Roman competition for ecclesiastical rank which is comparable to the situation that Sidonius describes in Ep. 7.9.
7. For the use of narratio qualified by distincta, compare Cic. De or. 2.80.328. The situation that Sidonius describes is comparable to Sid. Ap. Ep. 2.9.6 where the conversation over lunch involves the structured telling of short stories in sets of two.
8. Sid. Ap. Ep. 5.17.5: Audiebatur ambitiosissime; nec erat idcirco non distincta narratio, quia laetitia permixta. inter haec otio diu marcidis aliquid agere visum. The edition is Lütjohann 1876 (MGH [AA] 8). All translations are my own, but borrowings from others' efforts will be readily discernible.
9. Sid. Ap. Ep. 5.17.6. See Schwitter 2015, 72–77 for a detailed analysis of the ball scene.
10. Sid. Ap. Ep. 5.17.7–10.
11. For discussion of this passage, see Schwitter in this volume.
12. Sid. Ap. Ep. 9.13.5: Id morae tantum, dum genera metrorum sorte partimur. placuit namque pro caritate collegii, licet omnibus eadem scribendi materia existeret, non uno tamen epigram-mata singulorum genere proferri, ne quispiam nostrum, qui ceteris dixisset exilius, verecundia primum, post morderetur invidia. Compare Sid. Ap. Ep. 5.7.3, where he criticizes others for being jealous towards those retired from government service. The competition Sidonius outlines is similar to the last cycle of Lactantius's Symposium XII sapientum which, unlike the other cycles, is polymetrical, but each poem treats a different theme.
13. The preface to Auson. Carm. 16 may be the model for Sidonius's remarks: "And so I sent these frivolities to you so that when you are doing nothing, you may read them, and so that you not do nothing at all, defend them" (Misi itaque ad te haec frivola … ut, cum agis nihil, haec legas et, ne nihil agas, defendas). For a recent study of Sidonius's use of Ausonius, see Furbetta 2018, 349–66. Sidonius's reference to verses as otiositates at Ep. 2.10.3 is a gentle reminder of the close connection between otium and paideia. See Hindermann in this volume.
14. In addition to the meter, Sidonius's verses exhibit other features associated with anacreontics, including the setting at a drinking festivity, cataloguing and repeated anaphora of date at Ep. 9.13.5. at lines 82–85, which is equivalent to the repetition of δότε in Greek examples of this meter (for which see Rosenmeyer 1992, 78.) For this passage, see Condorelli 2013, 129–30. Mathisen and Shanzer 2001, 103 argue that Sidonius tried to restrain his competitive instincts for the purposes of collegiality. They cite Sid. Ap. Ep. 9.13.4–5, analyzed below, as their sole example of this trend but do not consider the competitive underpinning of Sidonius's composition of anacreontics, given that that likely represented the hardest metrical handicap of the competitors.
15. Oysters feature in Paul. Nol. Carm. 2.6–10 as a gift for Gestatius, and in Ausonius Ep. 14.1–4 (ed. Green, OCT) who makes explicit reference to Médoc oysters; for discussion, see Mratschek 2002, 188–89, 208.
16. Sid. Ap. Ep. 8.12.7: Veni cum mediterraneo instructu ad debellandos subiugandosque istos Medulicae supellectilis epulones. Hic Aturricus piscis Garumnicis mugilibus insultet; hic ad copias Lapurdensium lucustarum cedat vilium turba cancrorum. See also Sid. Ap. Ep. 2.9.10, where Sidonius uses praeteritio to avoid detailing the feasting that has taken place at his uncles' estates. For discussion of Sidonius's attitude to fasting and feasting, see Shanzer 2001, 220–21.
17. Compare Symm. Ep. 1.7.1.
18. The defining feature of a villa was its baths, for which see Balmelle 2001, 178. Dark 2005, 337, cites Ausonius Ep. 14.1–5 as a description of a house without a bath and notes that Ausonius does not term the dwelling a villa. Percival 1997, 287, notes the prominence of Sidonius's bath description to the villa letter, as "a central and essential feature." For the importance of baths in Vandal North Africa in the fifth and sixth centuries, see Miles 2005, 310–11.
19. Whether Seneca completely avoided such displays is contested, given that his description of his own villa (Ep. 12) asserts the continuity of his family's wealth since his childhood, for which see Hanaghan 2019, 27.
20. Sen. Ep. 86.6: "A man thinks himself poor and filthy unless his walls shine with large, costly mirrors, unless his Alexandrian marbles are offset by Numidian mosaics" (Pauper sibi videtur ac sordidus nisi parietes magnis et pretiosis orbibus refulserunt, nisi Alexandrina marmora Numidicis crustis distincta sunt). For a recent analysis of this letter, including the baths, see Rimmel 2013, 1–20. Roberts 2011–2012, 113, analyzes Seneca's contrast of the marble set against the mosaics. For the beginning of this trend, see Blanco 2007, 189. Stat. Silv. 1.5.37–41 and Mart. 6.42.11–14 describe the visual effect of the different kinds of marble in the baths of Claudius Etruscus; for discussion, see Mratschek 1993, 188–89.
23. Sid. Ap. Ep. 2.20: … daturus hinc veniam, quod brevitatem sibi debitam paulo scrupulosior epistula excessit, dum totum ruris situm sollicita rimatur; quae tamen summovendi fastidii studio nec cuncta perstrinxit. quapropter bonus arbiter et artifex lector non paginam, quae spatia describit, sed villam, quae spatiosa describitur, grandem pronuntiabunt.
24. Sidonius also addresses the topos of brevitas at the end of his second villa-letter, Ep. 2.9.10, and in his poetry, for example, Carm. 22.5 (see Consolino, forthcoming). The excuse for exceeding the prescribed length is part of the topos as well; see Van Waarden 2010, 187.
25. Plin. Ep. 5.6.41, 44: Vitassem iam dudum ne viderer argutior, nisi proposuissem omnes angulos tecum epistula circumire …  non epistula quae describit sed villa quae describitur magna est.
26. Thébert 2003, 108 note 100; Hanaghan 2019, 25. This judgment regarding the baths' completion is based on the comparison of Sidonius's baths to classical exempla, such as Pliny's, rather than the more immediate comparison (and far more rudimentary) baths of his uncles' in Ep. 2.9, discussed below. Cam 2003, 148, notes the correct proportion of the baths.
28. Sid. Ap. Ep. 2.2.8 notes that the piscina has a capacity of twenty thousand modii. A modius contains eight liters. Busch 1999, 75 note 88 calculates that twenty thousand modii are approximately one hundred seventy-five cubic meters and so estimates the dimensions of Sidonius's pool at one hundred square meters (assuming a depth of one meter and seventy-five centimeters). See also Balmelle 2001, 178–79.
29. Sid. Ap. Ep. 2.2.5.
30. Plin. Ep. 2.17.11, 16.
31. Sid. Ap. Carm. 18.3–4: Aemula Baiano tolluntur culmina cono / parque cothurnato vertice fulget apex.
32. Three further comparisons follow in the poem; a nearby brook is bubblier than the Gaurus (lines 5–6), the lake that borders the villa outdoes the Lucrine (7–8), and its fish outshine Campanian sea-urchins by being both red and spikey (9–11), which is consistent with the fish species found in Lac d'Aydat today, two of which have prominent red highlights on their fins and, in the case of perca fluviatilis, prominent dorsal spikes; see Hanaghan 2019, 44. Use of Baiae as a point of comparison also appears in Sid. Ap. Ep. 5.14.1; see also Auson. Mos. 346.
33. Sidonius's rhetoric has failed to impress several modern critics. Hutchings 2009, 69, considered Avitacum "small in comparison to many of the palatial villas of Italy." Dark 2005, 333, considered Sidonius's bath description as "typical [for] Late Roman-period private baths, of the sort that are often found attached to high-status rural domestic buildings throughout the northwest Roman provinces and locally."
35. Sid. Ap. Carm. 22.9–11: Quisque tamen tantos non laudans ore penates / inspicis, inspiceris: resonat sine voce voluntas, / nam tua te tacitum livere silentia clamant. Delhey 1993, 65, notes the emphasis created by the use of the poetic plural silentia. The juxtaposition of Lact. Sap. 142 (De laude horti) and Sap. 143 (De interno livore) speaks to the jealously grandiose descriptions that space may engender; for analysis of each poem, see Friedrich 2002, 350-82. Compare Auson. De herediolo 17–18, where Ausonius flips the ability of readers to infer his status from his villa back onto their ability to know themselves.
36. Stat. Silv. 1.5.34–41; compare Sid. Ap. Carm 5.34–39, 22.137–41; Ep. 2.2.7.
37. Sid. Ap. Carm. 22.133–34.
39. Sid. Ap. Carm. 22.179–83: Porticus ad gelidos patet hinc aestiva triones; / hinc calor innocuus thermis hiemalibus exit / atque locum tempus mollit; quippe illa rigori / pars est apta magis; nam quod fugit ora Leonis, / inde Lycaoniae rabiem male sustinet Ursae.
42. See Sid. Ap. Ep. 3.5.1–3. Sidonius puns on Donidius's rank as a vir spectabilis in Ep. 6.5.1: "the revered Donidius worthy of being counted among the most spectacular" (venerabilis Donidius dignus inter spectatissimos quosque numerari).
43. See Hindermann in this volume.
44. Sid. Ap. Ep. 1.5.1–2.
45. Sid. Ap. 2.9.1: "I am replying with the reasons for my rather late return nor do I delay to explain my delay, since what delights me also delights you" (reddo causas reditus tardioris nec moras meas prodere moror, quia quae mihi dulcia sunt tibi quoque).
46. Sid. Ap. Ep. 2.9.3: Igitur mane cotidiano partibus super hospite prima et grata contentio, quaenam potissimum anterius edulibus nostris culina fumaret.
47. Sid. Ap. Ep. 2.9.8: Balneas habebat in opere uterque hospes, in usu neuter.
48. Sid. Ap. Ep. 2.9.8: Vicina fonti aut fluvio raptim scrobis fodiebatur, in quam forte cum lapidum cumulus ambustus demitteretur, antro in hemisphaerii formam corylis flexilibus intexto fossa inardescens operiebatur, sic tamen, ut superiectis cilicum velis patentia intervalla virgarum lumine excluso tenebrarentur, vaporem repulsura salientem, qui undae ferventis aspergine flammatis silicibus excuditur.
49. Auson. Mos. 341–42 similarly describes over-heated bathers jumping straight into the river, but in that case they have the option of foregoing the piscinae.
50. Sid. Ap. Ep. 2.9.9: Quo [sudore], prout libuisset, effuso coctilibus aquis ingerebamur harumque fotu cruditatem nostram tergente resoluti aut fontano deinceps frigore putealique aut fluviali copia solidabamur.
51. Pavlovski 1973, 51, labelled them a "crude steambath" but does not offer any further analysis. The suggestion that the baths are not working because barbarians broke them is untenable. There is no evidence that this happened, and barbarians in any case liked to bathe, if Priscus's description of Atilla's practice can be taken as a guide (Prisc. fr. 8). Attila's baths were arguably better than Sidonius's uncles, given that it was a permanent enclosure, large, and made from imported stone.
53. Hutchings 2009, 71. Sidonius limits his description of excessive drinking to his attendants and slaves prior to the bath being built; see Sid. Ap. Ep. 2.9.8: "But when the booze gang made up of my attendants and household slaves had momentarily paused their drinking—their heads overpowered by hospitable bowls refilled to excess …" (sed cum vel pauxillulum bibere desisset assecularum meorum famulorumque turba conpotrix, quorum cerebris hospitales craterae nimium immersae dominabantur …). This seemingly offhand remark provides an important context for the convivial atmosphere that surrounded the use of these makeshift baths.
56. Fitzgerald 2016, 5.
57. Sid. Ap. Ep. 2.2.4–9.
58. Sid. Ap. Ep. 2.9.8–9.
59. Sid. Ap. Ep. 2.2.3–4 begins with the scenery to the south and west. This is followed by fifteen demonstratives in the remainder of the letter as Sidonius guides the reader through the villa (at 4 hinc; 5 hinc; 6 hic; 8 huic, huc, hanc; 9 hic, hinc; 10 haec; 11 haec, hoc, hac; 13 hoc; 14 hic; 18 hunc). Visser 2014, 31, prioritizes Domitius (the addressee) as the target for these directions, but they obviously also apply to the implied reader.
60. Sid. Ap. Ep. 2.9. The first person occurs extensively in the letter.
63. Sid. Ap. Ep. 2.9.4–5.
64. Sid. Ap. Ep. 2.9.5.
65. In that catalogue, Sidonius stresses that the walls were not adorned with nudes at Ep. 2.2.6. According to Fowden 2004, 59–60, the absence of nudes was relatively unusual for a Late Antique bathhouse; see also Dunbabin 1989, 9. Maguire 1999, 247–48, provides some examples from the archaeological record of the removal of figures from mosaics to suggest the pervasiveness of Sidonius's "puritanical viewpoint" regarding nude images.
66. Sid. Ap. Ep. 2.2.7: Nihil illis paginis impressum reperietur, quod non vidisse sit sanctius. pauci tamen versiculi lectorem adventicium remorabuntur minime improbo temperamento, quia eos nec relegisse desiderio est nec perlegisse fastidio.
67. TLL 10.1.91.1–10 in the entry for "pagina" lists the architectural uses of the noun. Four authors are cited, three of whom are late antique, namely Sidonius, Palladius, Paulinus of Nola, and Pliny the Elder. The verses Sidonius alludes to could very well be Carm. 18 De balneis villae suae and 19 De piscina sua; see Mondin 2008, 399, and Hindermann in this volume.
69. For example, Sid. Ap. Ep. 2.2.20, analyzed below, Ep. 7.18.4, and Ep. 8.16.3. At Ep. 5.2, Sidonius demands that Nymphidius return a book that he loaned to him since sufficient time had passed for him to have enjoyed it: "If it displeased you, it should have prompted boredom by now" (si displicuit, debuit movere fastidium).
70. Sid. Ap. Ep. 2.9.9: "there we wiled away our time with witty conversation and jests" (hic nobis trahebantur horae non absque sermonibus salsis iocularibusque).
71. Sid. Ap. Ep. 2.2.9: In hanc ergo piscinam fluvium de supercilio montis elicitum canalibusque circumactis per exteriora natatoriae latera curvatum sex fistulae prominentes leonum simulatis capitibus effundunt, quae temere ingressis veras dentium crates, meros oculorum furores, certas cervicum iubas imaginabuntur.
73. Sid. Ap. Ep. 2.2.9: Hic si dominum seu domestica seu hospitalis turba circumstet, quia prae strepitu caduci fluminis mutuae vocum vices minus intelleguntur, in aurem sibi populus conflabatur; ita sonitu pressus alieno ridiculum adfectat publicus sermo secretum.
75. Hindermann, forthcoming, cites Plin. Ep. 5.6.23 in support of her interpretation. Sidonius seems to have outdone Pliny again by including the water feature which Pliny notes his villa lacks at Ep. 2.17.25.
76. Joh. Ant. fr. 202 is the most detailed source for Avitus's death. See also Hyd. Lem. 176 (183), Vict. Tonn. s.a. 456 and Addit. ad Prosp. Haun. 1383; for discussion, see Mathisen 1985, 326–35. Exactly what this conspiracy involved remains unclear given the limitations of the evidence.
78. Hanchey 2013, 171–72, describes Cicero's conception of otium as "an ideal grounded in the reality of the past … a transtemporal space where his own private activity can be identified with the stability of the Republic." The absence of any explicit reference to the geopolitical concerns of the mid- to late fifth century in Sidonius's villa epistle is broadly comparable.
80. Sid. Ap. Ep. 1.6. See Hindermann in this volume, who analyzes the same dynamic in Sidonius's Ep. 5.14.1 and 8.8 and compares it to Pliny's Ep. 7.3.
81. Sid. Ap. Ep. 7.12.
82. Sid. Ap. Ep. 2.2.3: Avitaci sumus, nomen hoc praedio, quod, quia uxorium, patrio mihi dulcius: haec mihi cum meis praesule deo, nisi quid tu fascinum verere, concordia. Sidonius jokes that his praise of his wife's family might be mistaken as magically induced hyperbole.
83. Compare Symm. Ep. 1, which similarly is set in a villa that he inherited from his wife's family; for discussion, see Salzman and Roberts 2011, 5. The memory of Avitus also looms in the opening letter of the second book of Sidonius's letter, addressed to Avitus's son, Ecdicius (Papianilla's brother); see Hindermann, forthcoming.