Barbarism and Religion: The Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon, 1737-1764 - Vol. 1

By J. G. A. Pocock | Go to book overview

Introduction

This volume, and its successor, are the first of a number of studies which I hope to publish with Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire at their centre. At times (though not in this volume) my focus will be on the text of that great work, and at others on texts to which it makes allusion that supply contexts in which passages of the Decline and Fall may usefully be read. This widening of focus is intended to lead to a portrayal of the writing of history and other intellectual activities in the setting of the eighteenth century, in which larger context both Gibbon's history and his life as a historian may be situated, so that we understand the Decline and Fall as an artefact of its age and culture. At the end of the twentieth century, there are still specialists in some of the many fields which Gibbon studied who can examine and even evaluate his performances in them, treating him as a contemporary and equal who may be paid the compliment of criticism;1 but the work I am presenting here has the different objective stated in the preceding sentence. Barbarism and Religion is not a contribution to the historiography of the Roman empire, but to that of European culture in the eighteenth century.

It has been a long time in the making, and I wish to summarise its history here, partly because to do so will enable me to begin discharging many debts of gratitude, but more because it may help the reader to understand the character of the work presented. It was in the Piazza Paganica at Rome, in the month of January 1976, that the idea of writing a book withthe present title first started to my mind. I had been invited to a conference2 sponsored by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Enciclopedia Italiana, to mark both the bicentennial of Gibbon's first volume 1976 was a year of many bicentennials– and the sesquimillennial of the deposition of Romulus Augustulus, last

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1
McKitterick and Quinault, 1997.
2
Its proceedings were published as Bowersock, Clive and Graubard, 1977; see also Rovigatti, 1980.

-1-

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