The Collapse of Rome

This from one of the many brilliant passages in Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Vol. 1 (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1993):

… but if we except the inimitable Lucian, this age of indolence passed away without having produced a single writer of original genius, or who excelled in the arts of elegant composition. The authority of Plato and Aristotle, of Zeno and Epicurus still reigned in the schools; and their systems, transmitted with blind deference from one generation of disciples to another, precluded every generous attempt to exercise the powers, or enlarge the limits, of the human mind. The beauties of the poets and orators, instead of kindling a fire like their own, inspired only cold and servile imitations: or if any ventured to deviate from those models, they deviated at the same time from good sense and propriety. On the revival of letters, the youthful vigour of the imagination, after a long repose, national emulation, a new religion, new languages, and a new world, called forth the genius of Europe. But the provincials of Rime, trained by uniform artificial foreign education, were engaged in a very unequal competition with those bold ancients, who, by expressing their genuine feelings in their native tongue, had already occupied every place of honour. The name of Poet was almost forgotten; that of Orator was usurped by the sophists. A cloud of critics, of compilers, of commentators, darkened the face of learning, and the decline of genius was soon followed by the corruption of taste.

The time period Gibbon is speaking of here is the successive reigns of Hadrian and Antoninus as Emperors of Rome (117-161 A.D.). This period is often noted as the pinnacle of Roman Empire. These were the good days, so to speak; the days of decadence and luxury.

Gibbon’s point? The Roman Empire crumbled from within long before the barbarian tribes from the north kicked in the door.

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