Roman Values – Being a Funky Gibbon

I’m being rather classical of late. I’m not only learning Greek but immersing myself in Roman culture; first, with the DVDs of I, Claudius and secondly with a Mary Beard miniseries about ordinary Roman citizens. Then the other day I got sufficiently inspired to order a copy of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. We studied Gibbon for his prose style during A-level English so I am looking forward to experiencing that again, though God alone knows how long it will take: I’ve been waiting a fortnight already for Reni Eddo-Lodge and the book on how to argue with an atheist. It’s very frustrating. OH frightened me somewhat by asking if I had ordered all thirty volumes of Gibbon; fortunately I’d just ordered the one volume which I assume is some kind of digest. (According to the Guardian review linked above, there are only six volumes – so now I’m totally confused.)

It’s been a fairly typical lockdown weekend. I decline to open myself up just yet as I’m daily more convinced that we are heading for a second spike in infections and that things are being opened up too early. I understand the arguments for doing so, but surely no economic motives can outweigh the fact that lives may be at stake. So I’m continuing more or less as I have been; though every time I go out it gets harder to socially distance.

I’ve been trying to compare the Roman Empire with ours. In many ways they’re very similar: we both told ourselves we were civilising the world and that we had a right to invade other countries. We both kept slaves, though arguably Roman slavery was better in that it wasn’t always a life sentence; slaves could be and often were freed and could reach fairly high positions in society. You could also argue that the Romans were more liberal in that they allowed for freedom of religion: conquered races were allowed to continue worshiping their own gods so long as that didn’t interfere with the running of the Empire. We, on the other hand, insisted on converting all subjugated people to Christianity. Another point in the Romans’ favour is that they respected courage and defiance in their enemies.

But of course the most interesting period of Roman history is the era of the decline and fall; and I shall probably write more about this in due course once I’ve studied Gibbon. If it ever arrives…


Kirk out