This really is the big one! It is impossible to do justice to this book in a single blog post but it is also impossible to ignore it. My solution is to review individual chapters in their own right. I don’t know how many I will do, maybe not many and probably not all, but I will see how it goes.
The book really is one of those books that changed the way the world was seen when it came out, and changes the way you see the world when you read it. It was started in 1776 and not completed until 1789. From reading it you learn much about ancient Rome, but you also learn a lot about the attitudes of eighteenth century England. In turn, this also gives you some insight into our own time.
For example for me I was struck by a footnote – I can’t remember where it comes in the book. It is too long to thumb through to find it. Gibbon mentions that the Romans had got hold of giraffes for the games in the Coliseum. I was amazed to think that Rome not only traded with central Africa, but could actually purchase and transport substantially sized livestock. Getting a giraffe from Africa to Italy would be a pretty major undertaking even today.
It is also clear from the way he writes it that he is unaware that giraffes have long necks. It is amazing to think that only just over two hundred years ago one of the most educated men in England didn’t know what a giraffe looked like! Oh how we take for granted our modern levels of education, and how rarely we remember what a truly privileged time it is we live in.