Bits of Gibbon (Vol. Chap. XI)

This line about the Gallic emperor Postumus tickled me.  It’s like a line from a song by The Fall.

He was slain at Cologne, by a conspiracy of jealous husbands

Bits of Gibbon (Vol. 1 Chap. 13)

When Britain was thus dismembered from the empire its importance was sensibly felt and its loss sincerely lamented.  The Romans celebrated, and perhaps magnified, the extent of that noble island, provided on every side with convenient harbours; the temperature of the climate, and the fertility of the soil, alike adapted for the production of corn or of vines; the valuable minerals with which it abounded; its rich pastures covered with innumerable flocks, and its woods free with wild beasts or venomous serpents.  Above all, they regretted the large amount of the revenue of Britain, whilst they confessed that such a province well deserved to become the seat of an independent monarchy.

In this passage, Gibbon seems to get a bit carried away with some of the panegyrics written after the recovery of Britain from the rebellion of Carausius.  He occasionally has a tendency to get a little bit patriotic and play up his home in a way that jars with the rest of the narrative.

It’s a good thing everyone has stopped over-estimating the importance of Britain!

Bits of Gibbon (Vol. 1 Chap. 8)

This bit just seemed worth noting for when he covers Christianity on detail later.

But there are some remarkable instances, in which Zoroaster lays aside the prophet, assumes the legislator, and discovers a liberal concern for private and public happiness, seldom to be found among the grovelling or visionary schemes of superstition. Fasting and celibacy, the common means of purchasing the Divine favour, he condemns with abhorrence as a criminal rejection of the best gifts of Providence.

Bits of Gibbon (Vol. 1 Chap. 6)

There a footnote among the discussion of the Caledonian war of Septimius Severus.

That the Caracul of Ossian is the Caracalla of the Roman History is… not without difficulty. In the Caledonian war, the son of Severus was known only by the appellation of Antoninus; and it may seem strange that the Highland bard should describe him by a nickname, invented four years afterwards, scarcely used by the Romans till after the death of that emperor, and seldom employed by the most ancient historians.

Quite.  Almost as if Ossian was made up at a (much) later date.

Bits of Gibbon (Vol. 1 Chap. 2)

As part of my read through The Decline & Fall, here’s a quote that sums up Roman attitudes to religion rather succinctly, but may say even more about the English Enlightenment.

The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful. And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord.

 

Bits of Gibbon (Vol. 1 Ch. 1)

I’ve been reading through Edward Gibbon’s classic Decline And Fall.  It’s quite a task, and early days yet, but I came across a few lines here and there I liked and wanted to share.  The 18th century historian Gibbon has been long since been superseded by later scholarship, but he is still well worth reading for his snippy style.  I like that he offered well read, but occasionally very opinionated judgements throughout – right from chapter one, as the quote below shows.

After a war of about forty years, undertaken by the most stupid, maintained by the most dissolute, and terminated by the most timid of all the emperors, the far greater part of the island submitted to the Roman yoke.

Claudius, Nero and Domitian by the way.

Post 46: Iggy Pop on Edward Gibbon

Iggy Pop has recently been presenting a show on BBC Radio 6. He’s actually been doing this for a few months now, but I listen to the radio so little nowadays that I’ve only noticed this week. He’s got a very eclectic taste in music (in a good way) and his shows are well worth listening to. The most recent at time of writing – “Here Come The Germans” – has a great mix of classic krautrock like La Dusseldorf, more recent stuff like Rammstein and older tunes from Bertolt Brecht. There’s even some Wagner in there. They can be found, on the BBC website at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03yblbx. He is also soon to deliver the John Peel Lecture

Anyway … I also happened to stumble upon a short piece of writing by Iggy on the importance of Edward Gibbon to his life and outlook. It’s short and pretty succinct, but well worth spending thirty seconds or so reading. The point that particularly resonated with me was number 2:

“I learn much about the way our society really works, because the system-origins – military, religious, political, colonial, agricultural, financial – are all there to be scrutinized in their infancy. I have gained perspective.”

It’s one of the things I enjoy most about history (not just Rome, but it does stand out as shining examples of this), the way one can see the modern world built up on what had been before – slowly adding complexity, correcting the mistakes, often making more mistakes in the process. As well as his show on BBC, Iggy is soon to deliver John Peel Lecture on the concept of free music in a capitalist society. I’m not sure if he’ll take much from Gibbon on that one, but I am sure that it’ll be an interesting talk nonetheless.

I’ll leave this post with his final comment: one that would be a good tagline for a history blog,

“I urge anyone who wants life on earth to really come alive for them to enjoy the beautiful ancestral ancient world.”