The Smile of a Philosophic Historian

in Playing the Fool

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print December 2009 | ISBN: 9780226473154
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226473178 | DOI:
The Smile of a Philosophic Historian

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In his celebrated History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon characterizes himself as a “philosophic historian.” The book is an account of relentless decay and decline, interrupted only by delusions of recovery. Yet it is more of an astonishing re-creation of the vibrancy and rich variety of human life, its barbarity and nobility, its blind subjection to barely perceived impersonal forces and to singularly willful men and women. Through the 3,000 pages of the Decline and Fall, Gibbon offers a stunning account of the progress of the Christian religion, the Roman persecutions of the first Christians, and the theological history of the doctrine of the Incarnation. Gibbon demonstrates his remarkable ability to assess a condition or situation from the perspective of a people living in the past somewhere, and then reassess matters from his own modern standpoint. This is evident in Chapter 2 of the Decline and Fall, “Of the Union and Internal Prosperity of the Roman Empire, in the Age of the Antonines.”

Keywords: Edward Gibbon; philosophic historian; religion; Christians; persecutions; Roman Empire; history; Incarnation; decay

Chapter.  10896 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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