“The Last Sign of Nobility”: How to Flatter Your Favorite Classicists

Sidonius, Letters 7.2

“Most learned man, I believe that I might commit a sin against learning if I procrastinate at all in offering you praise for fending off the end of all literature. When it has already been buried, you are celebrated as its reviver, its agent, and its guardian. Throughout Gaul in this tempest of wars, Latin works have gained safe harbor because you are their teacher even as Latin arms have endured disaster.

For this reason our peers and posterity should unanimously and with enthusiasm claim you as a second Demosthenes, a second Cicero, here with statues—if it is allowed—and there with portraits because your teaching has so shaped them and trained them that, even though they remain surrounded by an unconquerable and still foreign people, they safeguard the signs of their ancient birthright. For as the signs of dignity—the ways in which every noble person used to be separated from the base—become more distant the only remaining sign of nobility after this will be a literary education.

But the advantages from your teaching demand thanks from me beyond others because I am trying to compose something which people in the future might read. For a crowd of competent readers will always come from your school and your lectures. Farewell.”

  1. Credidi me, vir peritissime, nefas in studia committere, si distulissem prosequi laudibus quod aboleri tu litteras distulisti, quarum quodammodo iam sepultarum suscitator fautor assertor concelebraris, teque per Gallias uno magistro sub hac tempestate bellorum Latina tenuerunt ora portum, cum pertulerint arma naufragium. 2. debent igitur vel aequaevi vel posteri nostri universatim ferventibus votis alterum te ut Demosthenen, alterum ut Tullium nunc statuis, si liceat, consecrare, nunc imaginibus, qui te docente formati institutique iam sinu in medio sic gentis invictae, quod tamen alienae, natalium1vetustorum signa retinebunt: nam iam remotis gradibus dignitatum, per quas solebat ultimo a quoque summus quisque discerni, solum erit posthac nobilitatis indicium litteras nosse. 3. nos vero ceteros supra doctrinae tuae beneficia constringunt, quibus aliquid scribere assuetis quodque venturi legere possint elaborantibus saltim de tua schola seu magisterio competens lectorum turba proveniet. vale.

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