Monday, November 30, 2009

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Part II

Why Part II? Well, the library didn't have part I on audiobook, so I just jumped in on Part II. I can see why so many people talk about this book -- it is full of fascinatingly lurid details of the murderers, scoundrels, and prostitutes that brought the Roman Empire to ruin. I don't think any other book can boast having the words "pusillanimous" and "rapine" appear so many times in a single text.

The other thing that is notable about this book is the love and care with which Gibbon treats his subject. He is not objective at all, but he is very personal and present throughout the book, happy to step in and offer his opinions about what is true and what is not, and about how those who erred in ruling Rome could have made wiser decisions. It is clear that Gibbon spent the better part of his life on this text, and his personal tone makes it feel alive, though it was written over two hundred years ago. I love how he ends it, so humbly. I used the same trick in my book:

The historian may applaud the importance and variety of his subject; but while he is conscious of his own imperfections, he must often accuse the deficiency of his materials. It was among the ruins of the Capitol that I first conceived the idea of a work which has amused and exercised near twenty years of my life, and which, however inadequate to my own wishes, I finally delivere to the curiosity and candor of the public.

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