edward gibbon's "the decline & fall of the roman empire": C/D?

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i finally bought this tonight (ok, an abridged modern library edition, which still weighs out at over 1,000 pages), after being intrigued by this sample chapter:

The tender respect of Augustus for a free constitution which he had destroyed, can only be explained by an attentive consideration of the character of that subtle tyrant. A cool head, an unfeeling heart, and a cowardly disposition, prompted him at the age of nineteen to assume the mask of hypocrisy, which he never afterwards laid aside. . . . His virtues, and even his vices, were artificial; and according to the various dictates of his interest, he was at first the enemy, and at last the father, of the Roman world. When he framed the artful system of the Imperial authority, his moderation was inspired by his fears. He wished to deceive the people by an image of civil liberty, and the armies by an image of civil government.

i can't think of many descriptions of politicians i've read that were half as good as that. has anyone here read the rest?

J.D. (Justyn Dillingham), Friday, 25 August 2006 01:51 (thirteen years ago) link

If that tickled you, you will be in hog heaven reading Gibbon. That bit you quoted is absolutely typical of him. He is classic through and through. The late chapters on Byzantium are probably much curtailed in your abridgement, but that's OK.

The Byzantines can get very wearing, since it seems they couldn't stop plotting against each other, killing, poisoning, stabbing, rioting and dissimulating long enough to let you catch your breath, so eventually they all begin to run together into one blobby mess of criminality and cunning.

Aimless (Aimless), Friday, 25 August 2006 03:11 (thirteen years ago) link

Does your version have the footnotes? The footnotes are classic (and apparently are important in the history of footnotes -- I started reading Gibbon based on descriptions of his footnotes in that book about the history of footnotes, and then put down the history of footnotes book and still haven't picked it back up).

Anyway in theory I am slowly working my way through an abridged version (the Penguin, which has the footnotes and only has complete chapters and which does have a lot of the Byzantine stuff, not that I'm nearly that far into it).

Casuistry (Chris P), Friday, 25 August 2006 06:38 (thirteen years ago) link

I am reading the complete thing right now. It is taking some considerable time. Gibbon is a fucking AWESOME writer, but I have to read some of his sentences 3 or 4 times to parse them, and I'm well versed in 18th century prose. I love it when he brings the lols and the Christian-baiting though.

Pier Paolo Semolina (noodle vague), Saturday, 26 August 2006 12:42 (thirteen years ago) link

sadly my version omits all the footnotes - i might go back someday and read the whole thing, i suppose.

J.D. (Justyn Dillingham), Saturday, 26 August 2006 18:42 (thirteen years ago) link

The edition I'm reading is late Victorian and has extra footnotes by the editors. Mostly bitching about the Christian-baiting.

Pier Paolo Semolina (noodle vague), Saturday, 26 August 2006 19:16 (thirteen years ago) link

I had started to read the full thing, and then got bogged down. Then I read someone suggesting that you start with an abridged version, and then dip your way through it -- that the chapters are somewhat stand-alone-able, that the structure allows for a lot of "infill" reading, and that it's the sort of thing you'd want to pick up every so often over many many years. So that's how I'm approaching it now.

The extra footnotes in the full Modern Library version were also nice -- I kinda miss them in this version.

Casuistry (Chris P), Saturday, 26 August 2006 20:22 (thirteen years ago) link

I read Macaulay's History of England that way: started with the Penguin abridgement and then had to read the full thing.

Pier Paolo Semolina (noodle vague), Saturday, 26 August 2006 21:25 (thirteen years ago) link

four years pass...

I've been loving this for months (don't expect to finish it soon). His descriptions of the reigns of Diocletian and Julian are masterpieces of narrative and insight -- no wonder Gore Vidal wrote a novel on Julian.

raging hetero lifechill (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 18 October 2010 01:02 (nine years ago) link

Where does Gibbon start things off, then? I didn't realise it went as far back as Augustus.

thomp, Monday, 18 October 2010 15:13 (nine years ago) link

He officially starts with Commodus I think - maybe Marcus Aurelius - but there's a chapter or 2 of "the story so far" filling in.

3 saucers of synthesizer (Noodle Vague), Monday, 18 October 2010 15:15 (nine years ago) link

Like the book is about "decline" but he needs to compare and contrast what the undeclining Empire was first.

3 saucers of synthesizer (Noodle Vague), Monday, 18 October 2010 15:16 (nine years ago) link

oh that makes sense

thomp, Monday, 18 October 2010 16:12 (nine years ago) link

i think at least one other ilxor has read the whole thing

thomp, Monday, 18 October 2010 16:14 (nine years ago) link

It doesn't really go back to Augustus (or trad fun guys, Nero, Calig etc): it's the empire of 2nd Cent AD - rule of 'the Antonines' (Nerva -> Marcus Aurelius) - that he uses for his 'look at this nice, peaceful, prosperous, strong Empire' opening chapters. Commodus is, yes, where, as he puts it in ch. iv, 'shit got real'.

portrait of velleity (woof), Monday, 18 October 2010 16:27 (nine years ago) link

Alfred, what edition do you have?

markers, Monday, 18 October 2010 16:32 (nine years ago) link

Modern Library edition with the Daniel Boorstin introduction.

raging hetero lifechill (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 18 October 2010 16:34 (nine years ago) link

yeah! see, that's the one I wanted to buy but I can only find this abridged version on Amazon

http://www.amazon.com/Decline-Empire-Modern-Library-Classics/dp/0375758119/

markers, Monday, 18 October 2010 16:36 (nine years ago) link

I've got the abridged. The advice upthread about the abridged editions is solid.

raging hetero lifechill (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 18 October 2010 16:37 (nine years ago) link

one of my crazy friends is runnign an online book club where they are reading through the unabridged Gibbon.

The New Dirty Vicar, Monday, 18 October 2010 16:40 (nine years ago) link

They'll finish it just in time to watch the American empire finish its decline.

raging hetero lifechill (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 18 October 2010 16:41 (nine years ago) link

haven't read the whole thing but i used to pick it up during my college library job and read random chapters. always surprisingly entertaining.

bows don't kill people, arrows do (Jordan), Monday, 18 October 2010 17:11 (nine years ago) link

Thread sent me off to reread. So far, so very great: Commodus killing giraffes and hundreds of lions, eastern decadence of Elagabalus, brutish Maximin, the army killing an emperor every ten minutes or so, Gibbon's digressions and character portraits, & always bringing the style. It's just the best book ever.

Anyone read any William Robertson, the Scottish historian usually seen as source for G's style? Think I might run up or borrow a copy of his Charles V.

portrait of velleity (woof), Thursday, 21 October 2010 13:50 (nine years ago) link

i gave up on the footnote-less modern library version because it wasn't clear what gibbon had researched and what was conjecture.

my sex drew back into itself tight and dry (abanana), Thursday, 21 October 2010 18:42 (nine years ago) link

yah the one to get is david wormesley's edition in penguin classics. that's got all the annotations you need.

henri grenouille (Frogman Henry), Thursday, 21 October 2010 21:11 (nine years ago) link

I have some old 6-volume edition on the shelf. I read it all many years ago, I can't remember a single thing about it I'm ashamed to admit, but I did enjoy it a lot (I must have, otherwise I wouldn't have got past vol1 I guess) This is making me think abiout cracking it open again.

Pashmina, Thursday, 21 October 2010 21:18 (nine years ago) link

I read it in a 6-vol Victorian edition ('Bohn's English Library'); it isn't pretty, but does have epic, befuddling footnotes in which a couple of scholars called Wenck and Guizot argue with Gibbon, separately, and then a further editor steps in on top of that and tries to sort things out based on the 19th-century late-classical-studies state-of-play. I want to get a decent copy of d. womersley's edition (improved text, modern scholarship, less assumption of classical background, better perspective on c 18th stuff), but I'd miss the Gibbon/Wenck/Guizot/'ED' donnybrooks.

portrait of velleity (woof), Thursday, 21 October 2010 21:36 (nine years ago) link

ten months pass...

Do I attempt this? I am thinking that it could be a reason to finally get a kindle (see also: Tolstoy) because the copy at the library is lolhueg.

Jay-Z ft. Kanye 'Big Hat Club (Spiritual Big Hat Club Jazz Remix)' (a hoy hoy), Monday, 5 September 2011 13:27 (eight years ago) link

it's fucking enormous yes, our library copy runs to about 8 big volumes.

it's worth it imo, tho a good abridged edition might be a wise intro.

Frogbs (Pray Like Aretha Franklin (in Whiteface)) (Noodle Vague), Monday, 5 September 2011 13:29 (eight years ago) link

i guess

abridged version i saw on amazon is still 1000+ pages so i'm thinking fuck it, its going to be ridiculous either way

Jay-Z ft. Kanye 'Big Hat Club (Spiritual Big Hat Club Jazz Remix)' (a hoy hoy), Monday, 5 September 2011 13:35 (eight years ago) link

i think that's the one i got. it's well worth it.

sonderangerbot, Monday, 5 September 2011 13:39 (eight years ago) link

the only thing that's tempted me to get a Kindle - altho no fucking way until they're a lot cheaper - is availability of large volume 18th and 19th century books free online that are total gits to carry around irl

Frogbs (Pray Like Aretha Franklin (in Whiteface)) (Noodle Vague), Monday, 5 September 2011 13:42 (eight years ago) link

such as this!

Jay-Z ft. Kanye 'Big Hat Club (Spiritual Big Hat Club Jazz Remix)' (a hoy hoy), Monday, 5 September 2011 13:44 (eight years ago) link

it is def worth it. it's one of the greatest books - all-time top 5 prose style, great narrative, G the best of guides - sceptical, penetrating, humane. One of the great enlightenment books, one of the great histories: actual wisdom therein.

you don't exist in the database (woof), Monday, 5 September 2011 14:04 (eight years ago) link

I've been reading it piecemeal since 2010. Not once does the momentum wane.

Anakin Ska Walker (AKA Skarth Vader) (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 5 September 2011 14:17 (eight years ago) link

glad to hear it. i got "a short introduction to the roman empire" in a 2nd hand shop for a £1 but it was not worth it in anyway. it jumped around and didn't make any narrative sense. otoh i got interested in the romans with dan carlins excellent podcast series 'death throes of the republic' although that was set about 200/300 years before this.

Jay-Z ft. Kanye 'Big Hat Club (Spiritual Big Hat Club Jazz Remix)' (a hoy hoy), Monday, 5 September 2011 14:21 (eight years ago) link

it's actually not that great as an intro to Roman history - it starts after all the famous imperial stuff (Caesar Augustus, Claudius, Nero) is over (and assumes its audience knows its way around that iirc); but the title hides the fact that you do get Attila, Genghis Khan, Charlemagne, rise of Islam, Crusades etc etc.

you don't exist in the database (woof), Monday, 5 September 2011 14:34 (eight years ago) link

u can't rely on all of Gibbon's history tbf, he wrote a long time ago and didn't have the sources available to later historians, never mind advances in archaeology. but one of the amazing things about DaF is how much of his interpretation remains valid and useful.

that said, many modern historians of the Roman Empire don't really hold with a model of decline and fall, or with the notion of outside invaders "destroying" the thing, as i understand it. you can make a good case that the Empire didn't end at all in lots of meaningful ways.

Frogbs (Pray Like Aretha Franklin (in Whiteface)) (Noodle Vague), Monday, 5 September 2011 14:37 (eight years ago) link

how big is the gap between the end of 'the twelve caesars' and the start of this

thomp, Monday, 5 September 2011 14:40 (eight years ago) link

virtually non iirc

Frogbs (Pray Like Aretha Franklin (in Whiteface)) (Noodle Vague), Monday, 5 September 2011 14:42 (eight years ago) link

Domitian is last of 12 Caesars. okay, maybe about 40 or 50 years not really covered in DaF

Frogbs (Pray Like Aretha Franklin (in Whiteface)) (Noodle Vague), Monday, 5 September 2011 14:43 (eight years ago) link

the old penguin 'lives of the later caesars' seems to cover the gap. my housemate has borrowed my copy of gibbon, i am going to wait for him to finish it first. this will probably give me enough time to catch up on that and reread suetonius

thomp, Monday, 5 September 2011 14:47 (eight years ago) link

yeah, almost none - the set-up chapters sort of cover the nerva-antonine period immediately after the 12 Caesars, though the detailed narrative really kicks in after that.

you don't exist in the database (woof), Monday, 5 September 2011 14:51 (eight years ago) link

I don't really mind it not being of great historical value, more that it seemed like a time of great history and characters, if that makes sense?

Jay-Z ft. Kanye 'Big Hat Club (Spiritual Big Hat Club Jazz Remix)' (a hoy hoy), Monday, 5 September 2011 14:52 (eight years ago) link

definitely, tho the characters get blurry at times. but don't get me wrong, Gibbon is still v. valuable and influential as history too.

placeholder for weak pun (Noodle Vague), Monday, 5 September 2011 14:57 (eight years ago) link

also, gifted anti-christian troll.

you don't exist in the database (woof), Monday, 5 September 2011 15:15 (eight years ago) link

one year passes...

downloaded vol 1 free today, started it this morning. The writing is great and the whole thing appeals to my little boy fantasies.

michael bolton's reckless daughter (Hurting 2), Monday, 15 October 2012 15:30 (seven years ago) link

wow this sounds great. and you can download it for free? how's the format that that comes in?

Know how Roo feel (LocalGarda), Thursday, 18 October 2012 14:34 (seven years ago) link

this book is so fucking good it almost depresses me

difficult listening hour, Thursday, 18 October 2012 16:49 (seven years ago) link

stop making me want to read it again! i do want to. maybe get a different edition, be a good excuse.

a pass-agg to indier (Noodle Vague), Thursday, 18 October 2012 16:55 (seven years ago) link

except it makes you a little sad that Gibbon hasn't written the history of the whole world

a pass-agg to indier (Noodle Vague), Thursday, 18 October 2012 16:55 (seven years ago) link

the format is fine - got it through ibooks. I've taken to reading on my iphone, which most people find weird, but I like because it's very easy to read on the subway or in bed, and I don't have to carry anything extra.

the writing is fantastic. some of the underlying ideology is kind of o_O but it can be read with a grain of salt. I'm also assuming it's not the most perfectly accurate history ever written and I'm reading it more for the narrative and overall enjoyment.

michael bolton's reckless daughter (Hurting 2), Thursday, 18 October 2012 16:56 (seven years ago) link

Like when he just effuses about how pleased all of the subjects were with their roman overlords I assume some exaggeration. Also there's a very anti-populist/elitist bent to some of it.

michael bolton's reckless daughter (Hurting 2), Thursday, 18 October 2012 16:57 (seven years ago) link

i've only gotten through a little more than 200 pages of it but it is really really great -- every time i pick it up i pretty much don't want to do anything else but read it. i wish i had a cork-lined room i could retreat to or something.

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Thursday, 18 October 2012 18:14 (seven years ago) link

the Commodus section shows what a hash Ridley Scott made out of it in Gladiator; reality proved far more gruesome.

the ones that I'm near most: fellow outcasts and ilxors (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 18 October 2012 18:15 (seven years ago) link

might have to break my spending freeze to buy this

Know how Roo feel (LocalGarda), Friday, 19 October 2012 09:03 (seven years ago) link

have any of you guys read the whole thing? i just have that modern library edit, and it's still like 1200 pages.

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Friday, 19 October 2012 18:43 (seven years ago) link

i have this disgustingly gorgeous three-volume unabridged hardcover with giant two-page reproductions of the "original etchings" but nah i have not read anywhere close to the whole thing, partly cuz i can't take it anywhere. i think i said on some other thread that it can only be read on a plinth. but the kindle editions i got were pale, pale, pale imitations.

difficult listening hour, Friday, 19 October 2012 18:46 (seven years ago) link

Iirc, I petered out in Byzantium around 900 or 1000 AD.

Aimless, Friday, 19 October 2012 18:46 (seven years ago) link

(it's from one of my annual holiday-season raids on the bookshelves in my parents' basement, lest anyone think i am not buying ramen w pennies)

difficult listening hour, Friday, 19 October 2012 18:47 (seven years ago) link

(also i don't mean to be snotty about the kindle editions, being able to pull any version of gibbon out of the fucking AIR for NOTHING is literally the main thing our civilization has going for it)

difficult listening hour, Friday, 19 October 2012 18:49 (seven years ago) link

Iirc, I petered out in Byzantium around 900 or 1000 AD.

― Aimless, Friday, October 19, 2012 1:46 PM (12 minutes ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

so did byzantium iirc

goole, Friday, 19 October 2012 18:59 (seven years ago) link

four years pass...

I've Storified my (plentiful) tweets on what I found noteworthy in Gibbon: wisdom, humour, elegance, prejudice https://t.co/SODaFPUfZ1

— Josh Spero (@joshspero) April 27, 2017

𝔠𝔞𝔢𝔨 (caek), Saturday, 20 May 2017 18:33 (three years ago) link

this is the way gibbons intended it to be read

flopson, Saturday, 20 May 2017 18:52 (three years ago) link

this is probably the best book ever

The Remoans of the May (Noodle Vague), Saturday, 20 May 2017 19:17 (three years ago) link

three months pass...

Yearly reminder to read Gibbon

xyzzzz__, Monday, 4 September 2017 20:52 (two years ago) link

two years pass...

it's actually not that great as an intro to Roman history - it starts after all the famous imperial stuff (Caesar Augustus, Claudius, Nero) is over (and assumes its audience knows its way around that iirc); but the title hides the fact that you do get Attila, Genghis Khan, Charlemagne, rise of Islam, Crusades etc etc.

― you don't exist in the database (woof), Monday, 5 September 2011 bookmarkflaglink

Is it worth reading Suetonius before starting on this btw?

xyzzzz__, Monday, 25 May 2020 13:56 (one month ago) link

neither of them are the most accurate things to read as history in 2020, both of them are the best things to read as entertainment, you certainly *could* read Suetonius first but then there's 600-odd years of Roman history before the Caesars so it's still not the whole empire. i think the Decline makes sense on its own, Gibbon sets out his terms at the beginning and in the title.

Children of Bo-Dom (Noodle Vague), Monday, 25 May 2020 14:02 (one month ago) link

Got it, Ty.

xyzzzz__, Monday, 25 May 2020 14:03 (one month ago) link


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