Who's Edward Gibbon?
So I'm in the pub enjoying a Christmas drink. And someone who's just moved into the area is asking people where the best pubs are. But he also wants to recommend. So he says, "I like the pub in Fletching; do you know Fletching?" And I say, "Sure, where Edward Gibbon's buried." And he looks blank. So I mention The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but he's still in the dark. This man isn't someone from a video-games generation; he's got white hair. But he's never heard of this "damned thick square book". Can you credit it?
Now I think Gibbon, like many 18th-century people, had an over-rosy view of the Romans. This is partly why he wrote the thing: to him they weren't Christian, and thus perhaps more "rational". And he wouldn't have had a sense, as someone like Nietzsche would have, of just how much even in that rejection he was keeping of the Christian worldview. (This is perhaps why Gibbon pitches his tent on the relatively peaceful Antonines.)
I think William Morris imaginatively speaking nailed what the Romans were about in The House of the Wolfings
And Caesar, these days, would qualify as a war-criminal for what he did in Gaul.
Nevertheless, you don't have to approve of Gibbon's viewpoint to know of him -- and of the cultural and historical impact of his work. I'd imagined some knowledge of him, however superficial, was part of living in an English-speaking society. Surely even the film Gladiator - tripe as it is - with that old drunkard Richard Harris as a rather cuddly Marcus Aurelius draws on a Gibbonian view of the Antonines. But I was mistaken I guess.
Last edited by Lewis; 12-24-2012 at 06:01 AM.