Day 228 – Ken here (T)(4-27-2010)
(DEF II, v.3, ch.36 pp.360-370)(pages read: 1460)
We continue on with
Gibbon gives a long description of Theodoric, King of the Visigoths in mid-chapter 37, but pulls back from giving a complete physical description – merely noting the horse-breeder (or in the case of the Romans – slave-breeder) mentality of examining every physical attribute possible. It was embarrassing to Gibbon. It would be even more interesting to see if Sidonius gives as detailled a description of well-bred Roman Senators when requested – maybe he only gave us all the dirt on Theodoric because, after all, Theodoric was a Visigoth, and not a Roman. Maybe Theodoric didn’t care. At any rate, I’m sure Sidonius’s description sounds much better in the original elegant, terse Latin, than in 18th century English.
Still, Gibbon’s reluctance is interesting, at least to me. Gibbon, obviously does not consider it proper to list the blow-by-blow anatomical character of a gentleman. I imagine Sidonius had much less of a fear of the human body than did Gibbon. Of course, Sidonius was bathing (probably daily, often in public – this was the Later Roman Empire after all) every day, and Gibbon (probably) thought the frequent immersion of his corporal mass into water un-civilized at best, and un-healthy at worst. So not much chance to see another human body out of clothes for Gibbon, but a lot of chances for Sidonius I’m sure.
I wonder if Gibbon ever saw another human being naked? I’m sure the nakedness of one person before another brought up all kinds of male dominance anxiety. It probably activated the same male dominance/submission attitudes as passive and active same-sex acts: i.e. a dominant male was not passive but active, and a dominant male (I’m thinking) would be the one in clothes, not the naked one. Sidonius probably shared the first attitude with Gibbon, but not the second. Anyways… on with Gibbon and Sidonius.
By the majesty of his appearance, Theodoric would command the respect of those who are ignorant of his merit; and although he is born a prince, his merit would dignify a private station. He is of a middle stature, his body appears rather plump than fat, and in his well-proportioned limbs agility is united with muscular strength. (18)
and from the footnote:
I have suppressed, in this portrait of Theodoric, several minute circumstances and technical phrases, which could be tolerable, or indeed intelligible, to those only who, like the contemporaries of Sidonius, had frequented the markets where naked slaves were exposed to sale (Dubos, Hist. Critique, tom. i. p. 404).
(DEF II, v.3, ch.37, p.365, fn.18)
and the full text of the letter in question (from here) Sidonius’ Letters II,section 1 (to his brother Agricola, On a description of Theodoric)
You have often begged a description of Theodoric the Gothic king, whose gentle breeding fame commends to every nation; you want him in his quantity and quality, in his person, and the manner of his existence. I gladly accede, as far as the limits of my page allow, and highly approve so fine and ingenuous a curiosity.
Well, he is a man worth knowing, even by those who cannot enjoy his close acquaintance, so happily have Providence and Nature joined to endow him with the perfect gifts of fortune; his way of life is such that not even the envy which lies in wait for kings can rob him of his proper praise.
And first as to his person. He is well set up, in height above the average man, but below the giant. His head is round, with curled hair retreating somewhat from brow to crown. His nervous neck is free from disfiguring knots. The eyebrows are bushy and arched; when the lids droop, the lashes reach almost half-way down the cheeks. The upper ears are buried under overlying locks, after the fashion of his race. The nose is finely aquiline; the lips are thin and not enlarged by undue distension of the mouth.
Every day the hair springing from his nostrils is cut back; that on the face springs thick from the hollow of the temples, but the razor has not yet come upon his cheek, and his barber is assiduous in eradicating the rich growth on the lower part of the face. Chin, throat, and neck are full, but not fat, and all of fair complexion; seen close, their colour is fresh as that of youth; they often flush, but from modesty, and not from anger.
His shoulders are smooth, the upper- and forearms strong and hard; hands broad, breast prominent; waist receding. The spine dividing the broad expanse of back does not project, and you can see the springing of the ribs; the sides swell with salient muscle, the well-girt flanks are full of vigour. His thighs are like hard horn; the knee-joints firm and masculine; the knees themselves the comeliest and least wrinkled in the world. A full ankle supports the leg, and the foot is small to bear such mighty limbs.
Yes, you have to say Sidonius is thorough, and yes, you can almost see Sidonius’s hand testing the “knee-joints” for their firmness and masculinity.