From Gibbon to Auden: Essays on the Classical Tradition

From Gibbon to Auden: Essays on the Classical Tradition

From Gibbon to Auden: Essays on the Classical Tradition

From Gibbon to Auden: Essays on the Classical Tradition

Synopsis

For several decades G. W. Bowersock has been one of our leading historians of the classical world. This volume collects seventeen of his essays, each illustrating how the classical past has captured the imagination of some of the greatest figures in modern historiography and literature. The essays here range across three centuries, the eighteenth to the twentieth, and are divided chronologically.

The great Enlightenment historian Edward Gibbon is in large part the unifying force of this collection as he appears prominently in the first four essays, beginning with Bowersock's engaging introduction to the methods and genius behind The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.Gibbon's profound influence is revealed in subsequent essays on Jacob Burckhardt, the nineteenth-century scholar famous for his history of the Italian Renaissance but whose work on late antiquity is only now being fully appreciated; the modern Greek poet Constantine Cavafy, whose annotations on Gibbon's Decline and Fall tell us much about his own historical poems; and finally W. H. Auden, whose poem and little known essay "The Fall of Rome" were, in quirky ways, tributes to Gibbon. The collection reprints Auden's poem and essay in full.

The result is a rich survey of the early modern and modern uses of the classical past by one of its most important contemporary commentators.

Excerpt

The seventeen essays that comprise this volume have their roots in more specialized studies on the ancient world and its history. They not only reflect my own personal interests and areas of competence but exemplify a firm belief that classical antiquity has been consistently important in modern thought and literature, and that it continues to be important today. the essays collected here range across three centuries, the eighteenth to the twentieth, and are divided chronologically. But they have an internal coherence that arises from the research that engendered them.

It would hardly be surprising for a historian of the Roman Empire to turn to Gibbon. From my earliest work, on the Augustan empire, the Decline and Fall has provided a standard of historical interpretation and exposition that remains as extraordinary today as it was when it was written. the papers I have devoted to Gibbon span three decades, and two other eighteenth-century pieces, included here, are closely connected with them—one on Suetonius and Samuel Johnson, and the other on the discoveries at Herculaneum and Pompeii. Samuel Johnson showed little interest in Gibbon, and Gibbon showed little interest in Campanian archaeology. Yet Johnson set a new standard for biography in European literature, and he did so under the influence of a master classical biographer, who was a contemporary of Plutarch. and the discoveries in the vicinity of Naples had an enormous impact on eighteenth-century art and thought, particularly through the British Dilettanti. Biography and archaeology have much occupied me in the past, and that is how I came to these topics. I dare to hope that the papers on Suetonius and Pompeii will deepen the presentation of the eighteenth-century’s interest in the Roman world.

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