October Books 9) Edward Gibbon and Empire, eds. Rosamond McKitterick & Roland Quinault

As you know, Bob, I spent a lot of time reading The Decline and Fall of he Roman Empire a few years back, and it certainly made me a Gibbon fan. This is a collection of essays from a conference commemorating the 200th anniversary of his death, in 1994, concentrating on the second half of the great work. Most of them are solid contributions, acknowledging Gibbon’s pioneering genius on a particular topic, noting also his flaws, and updating us on how scholarship has moved on since. There were a few that stood out for me.

  • Anthony Bryer, writing on Gibbon and the later Byzantine Empire, treats us to an entertaining stream of consciousness (“When I am introduced at wine and cheese parties as a Byzantinist, people still ask me whether we have yet overcome the bad press given by Gibbon, before turning on their heel”) and ends with a quote from Iggy Pop.
  • Rosamund McKittrick, one of the editors, looks at the eighteenth century’s ideas about the period Gibbon was writing about before he started publishig, which takes her into a fascinating exploration of musical theatre. (Did you know that “Rule Britannia” was originally the closing number of an opera about King Alfred?)
  • And the other editor, Roland Quinault, looks at Gibbon’s direct influence on Winston Churchill, which is one of those things that once pointed out seems pretty obvious – not just the rhetorical technique, but also certain political themes, including Churchill’s concept of European unity which was surely inspired by Gibbon’s General Observations.

Well worth getting hold of for us Gibbon fans.