On this day in 1737 historian, Edward Gibbon was born. He is chiefly remembered for his amazing ‘History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ which set a high standard for history writing.
His insistence on the use of source materials whenever possible and his epigrammatic and ironic style makes his work still valuable and enjoyable today and some of his insights into the decline of great powers seem uncomfortably relevant, such as:“The five marks of the Roman decaying culture: Concern with displaying affluence instead of building wealth; Obsession with sex and perversions of sex; Art becomes freakish and sensationalistic instead of creative and original; Widening disparity between very rich and very poor; Increased demand to live off the state.”
This poem is by Thomas Macaulay from ‘Lays of Ancient Rome’, on the start of the Roman Empire:
Lars Porsena of Clusium
By the Nine Gods he swore
That the great house of Tarquin
Should suffer wrong no more.
By the Nine Gods he swore it,
And named a trysting day,
And bade his messengers ride forth,
East and west and south and north,
To summon his array.
East and west and south and north
The messengers ride fast,
And tower and town and cottage
Have heard the trumpet’s blast.
Shame on the false Etruscan
Who lingers in his home,
When Porsena of Clusium
Is on the march for Rome.
Today I will try to learn from the lessons of history.