Maarten Maartensz:    Philosophical Dictionary | Filosofisch Woordenboek                      

 G - Gibbon, Edward

Gibbon, Edward: English historian, 1737-194, author of "Decline and Fall of the Roman Republic".

The best way to learn what human beings are, have been, and may be, in majority, minority and individually, is to read history, notably by great historians like Gibbon.

I highly recommend reading Gibbon - who also wrote a very fine and candid autobiography - and extend this recommendation to reading the whole "Decline and Fall", which I do because I myself made the initial mistake to read a selection from him in some 1000 pages, which was very fine, but lacked a lot that was equally fine, notably many of Gibbon's fine satirical footnotes, like

'I have somewhere heard or read the frank confession of a Benedictine abbot: "My vow of poverty has given me a hundred thousands crowns a year; my vow of obedience has raised me to the rank of a sovereign prince." I forget the consequence of his vow of chastity.'

(Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chapter XXXVIII, note 57).

All of it is great literature as well as great history, and it is also philosophically excellent, notable in the (in)famous chapters 15 and 16 of the first volume that is concerned with rise, contents and popularity of Christianity, and discusses these from a thoroughly sceptical point of view, and sometimes with fine humor or sarcasm.

He also discusses Mohammed and the Islam - in fact, his history discusses the Roman Empire from around 0 tot 1454, with the fall of Constantinople - that also did not much impress him, and if his critiques of Christianity and Islam were to be published even today by a living author, such an author would court troubles of many kinds. Indeed, it is fair to say that some of this is - in part due to the inherent absurdities of his subjects - of a Monty Pyhonesque humoristic quality, sharpened by Gibbon's stately ironical style and great mind.

There are many condensations and editions. The original edition was in 6 volumes; I saw one in seven and owe one in three fat volumes; and last time I checked there was good progress on the internet with supplying a complete edition.


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 Original: Mar 10, 2009                                                Last edited: 12 December 2011.   Top