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Edward Gibbon and the Shape of History$
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Charlotte Roberts

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780198704836

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198704836.001.0001

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‘To Unite the Most Distant Revolutions’

‘To Unite the Most Distant Revolutions’

Inheritance in the Second and Third Volumes of the Decline and Fall

(p.84) 3 ‘To Unite the Most Distant Revolutions’
Edward Gibbon and the Shape of History

Charlotte Roberts

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines Edward Gibbon’s treatment of the idea of inheritance in the second and third volumes of the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The corruption of this period of history is indicated by the incests and filicides of the imperial line; the unsuccessful attempts made by the Emperor Constantine and his successors to maintain a link with ancient Rome, and the heresies and schisms that hamper the triumph of Christianity. At a narrative level, the standards of logical argument and proportionate causal reasoning are threatened by analogy, accidental linguistic congruence, and miraculous events that defy explanation. This is a disorienting shift for Gibbon’s reader, schooled in the confident irony of the first volume of the Decline and Fall. The confusion is deliberate, and is used by Gibbon to share some of the difficulties he faces as a historian of this period with his reader.

Keywords:   Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall, history, volume two, volume three, inheritance, Constantine, Arianism, Athanasius, keep Constantine [see abstract], replace ‘Arianism’, and ‘Athanasius’, with ‘Christianity’, and ‘heresy’, irony

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