It was technology that made me do it.
I was listening to Mike Duncan’s 155-part podcast series, the History of Rome <link to follow> while I worked out, which prompted me to pick up Edward Gibbons’ History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire – Volume 1. (Well, I didn’t actually pick it up: I read it as a daily download from DailyLit.com <you guessed it, link to come).
It’s filled with sections like the following:
The provinces were protected by his presence from the inroads of the barbarians, who either dreaded or experienced his active valor. After a signal victory over the Franks and Alemanni, several of their princes were exposed by his order to the wild beasts in the amphitheatre of Treves, and the people seem to have enjoyed the spectacle, without discovering, in such a treatment of royal captives, any thing that was repugnant to the laws of nations or of humanity.
Gibbon was referring to Constantine, the Roman emperor in charge of Gaul, at a time when the empire was split more or less amicably, Gibbons tells us, between six co-rulers. I still find that hard to believe (and I haven’t gotten to Mike Duncan’s segment on this period), but what I wondered was whether or not my students could make their way all the way to the repugnant part and still understand it.
That’s unfair to my students, though, since they haven’t had much experience with turgid bits like his first sentence above. They have the benefit of pithier writing in so many venues today.
Let’s save consideration of the true value of today’s pithy writing for another space, but it’s fair to ask whether we can readily – or willingly – make our way through Gibbons. Is technology going to keep his work alive long after any of us can make sense of it?