Several weeks ago I wrote in this space that I had downloaded "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" and was resolved to read all of it unless it bored me terribly. I am, according to my Kindle, 16% of the way through its six volumes and continue to find it fascinating. I promised you a progress report from time to time and this is one.
The early chapters recount what we know or think we know about the late emperors. Did you know there were four emperors at one time, and six at another time? And that to some extent they actually worked together for awhile? They also formed alliances by marrying off sons and daughters to each other's families. Indeed, I begin to suspect that the author of "Games of Thrones" got many of his best ideas from the history of Ancient Rome.
Now I am into the first chapters where Gibbon describes the early history of Christianity, which occurred during and within the Roman Empire. I knew before starting on his history that Gibbon took a cynical view of organized religion, did not spare Christianity, and in turn was not spared by his own critics. The version of his magnum opus that I am reading has footnotes not only by Gibbon himself but by several subsequent editors, and up to now these later editors have intruded from time to time to say Gibbon was wrong about something or to defend Gibbon against such a charge by one of the other commentators. But these comments have multiplied as Gibbon turns his attention to religion, and it becomes clear that many people have devoted a lot of effort to debunk Gibbon in defense of the Christian church, or, having read the debunkings, to debunk the debunkers. I'm reading the footnotes as carefully as the original text, focusing a journalist's eye on factual citations as opposed to mere debating.
Last night it struck me that this was - familiar - somehow. And on reflection I realized that this open debating of what was originally asserted reminds me of Wikipedia.