Edward Gibbon the Historian
Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is a historical work that is more than two hundred years old, and yet it’s popularity continues to remain strong among the educated public. This masterpiece has been called “The greatest history that has ever been published” (Miller 1). The value of this work and its reliability have been exhaustibly questioned, praised and criticized. So what is it that draws people to read his work? Gibbon introduces The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as “the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous” (Gibbon, 83). Maybe it is our curiosity, maybe we are seeking a glimpse into that period in time, or maybe Gibbon’s work really is a timeless masterpiece that can be enjoyed by anyone who can appreciate his creative representation, and retelling of the events and characters of that time. A historian’s job is to examine historical events and human activity from a distance, the goal in this is to give them the almost third party objectivity that those who are directly involved in the events would not be able to have. This is no small task, human nature always seems to lean towards subjectivity, we are quick to judge and form our own opinions, and it is quite difficult to look back on events from such a great distance in time, and not have at least some subjectivity. The distance in time also limits available information, limiting its scope and almost forcing in some subjectivity. Over time facts sometimes fade, and stories are told and re-told, a historian weaves tales from the past, based on their own investigations and curiosity to understand it. Gibbon’s masterpiece is exactly that, a representation of the authors own curiosity and interests. Gibbon like most humans, perceived reality from his own position in life, as an oxford scholar, and heir to a great estate and finally an officer in the militia (Parenti, 14), this...
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