More Time To Read War and Peace (or, Gibbon in a Nutshell)
August 16, 2004 9:37 PM   Subscribe

Teach Yourself the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in 24 Hours. "our desires and our possessions are the strongest fetters of despotism." Is a pithy Gibbon a more palatable one?
posted by weston (14 comments total)
yup. "There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify the evils, of the present times." Chapter 31

Is it worth reading?
posted by amberglow at 10:04 PM on August 16, 2004

I like this one:

"Such, indeed, is the policy of civil war: severely to remember injuries, and to forget the most important services. Revenge is profitable, gratitude is expensive."

I feel like I could apply it to dating, or international relations, or Miguel's recent Metatalk thread.
posted by weston at 10:10 PM on August 16, 2004

Here's a favourite –
”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 if you think that criticism of colonialism is a recent thing, here's Gibbon, writing in the 1780s:

”Sixty thousand blacks are annually embarked from the coast of Guinea, never to return to their native country; but they are embarked in chains: and this constant emigration, which, in the space of two centuries, might have furnished armies to overrun the globe, accuses the guilt of Europe and the weakness of Africa.”
posted by Termite at 11:44 PM on August 16, 2004

One of the most precious books I own is the three-volume Allen Lane hardcover edition of Gibbon's Decline and Fall, edited by David Womersley. The design and typesetting of those books is unbelievable.

Is it worth reading?

Yes, yes, yes. The key to Gibbon, if you can manage it, is continuous reading. If you read for a few days and then put it down for something else you'll lose the thread of his narrative. But Gibbon is a fantastic storyteller, and he turned the use of the footnote into a fine art--his notes are sometimes as elaborate as David Foster Wallace's in Infinite Jest, and they are filled with offhand jokes and cynical comments.

Favorite parts--chapter 15, on the rise of Christianity, and his leisurely, in-depth character studies of Constantine and Julian in Volume 2.
posted by Prospero at 3:26 AM on August 17, 2004

I'll look for a used one--thanks : >
posted by amberglow at 5:55 AM on August 17, 2004

Prospero, I agree with you on the criticality of continuous immersion in Gibbon's world. You need to catch on to the padding and persistent cadence of his prose and get it rolling in your mind's ear. Once you turn away, you get no reinforcement from modern letters, which move at an entirely different pace. As a writer, Gibbon is inferior to his contemporary (and non-friend) Samuel Johnson, and tends to overuse the rule of three. You may not wish "The Decline and Fall" were longer, but you will be sorry when its over.
posted by Faze at 8:46 AM on August 17, 2004


Basically it is a copy of an article from the introduction of an earlier edition and is interesting.
posted by stbalbach at 12:26 PM on August 17, 2004

I'll look for a used one

Volume 1 is here: Volumes 2-6 are etext # 891-895. This is the HTML version; the plain text version is etext #731-736.
posted by anewc2 at 3:01 PM on August 17, 2004

I'm just finishing the condensed version.
It's absolutely amazing. When I started it I kept reading these little blurbs explaining what was being left out, but I had to stop because I wanted to read them too.

All the stuff about not stopping is true.

I'm not throughly read, but Decline seems to me to be one of the most quotable books evar.

"But the resistance of the garrison informed the barbarians that in the attack of regular fortifications the efforts of unskilled courage are seldom effectual. Their general acknowledged his error, raised the seige, declared that he was "at peace with stone walls" and revenged his disapointment on the adjacent country."
posted by kid_twist at 3:13 PM on August 17, 2004

thanks anewc2 : >
posted by amberglow at 4:05 PM on August 17, 2004

Another damned thick square post! Always tippy-type-type, eh Mr Weston?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:09 PM on August 17, 2004

Also, it's funny that you find him so quotable. I'm sure it was Macaulay who said there could be no finer exercise for a schoolboy than to turn a page of it into English. (I love his style too but extended reading gives me a mental sensation akin to having eaten a great deal of dark squidgy fruit cake.)
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:24 PM on August 17, 2004

"There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify the evils, of the present times."

Only in recent days. Previous centuries have had much more appreciation for their present advantages, and much less emphasis on their failings. These days people have zero appreciation for anything decent, and are all full of paranoia, negativity, and bile. But it wasn't always so.
posted by scarabic at 10:04 PM on August 17, 2004

scarabic, I can't tell if you're doing intentional MetaIrony or accidentally illustrating
posted by weston at 3:12 AM on August 19, 2004 [1 favorite]

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