Edward Gibbon and The Golden Age of the Antonines
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire appears to offer a paean to the civilised society of the Antonines. But Gibbon, as A. Lentin reveals, was well aware that it bestowed 'the benefits of order' without the 'blessing of freedom'.
“Lo, a classic is born,” exclaimed Horace Walpole in 1776, on the appearance of volume one of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire ; since when the classical qualities that make it a “classic” have been tirelessly admired and enjoyed: its epic scope and sweep, bridging twelve hundred years of history, and describing what Gibbon, in his opening paragraph, calls “a revolution which will ever be remembered, and is still felt, by the nations of the earth”; its monumental style, with echoes of the rounded periods of Cicero and the pointed antitheses of Tacitus. As a literary masterpiece and a mirror of eighteenth-century attitudes towards the ancient world, The Decline and Fall , as a contemporary said, “can only perish with the language itself.”
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