Day 745 – Ken here (M)(9-26-2011)
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.48, pp.01-30)(pages read: 2060)
So, we begin the last, lonely trek (we can see the end now) of the Gibbonian trail – although to be truthful we are only 2/3 done, and then there ARE personal letters he appended to DETRACT his DETRACTORS. But that is a significant distance (in time and pulp) in the future – we have probably at least 6-8 months left of STEADY reading – I’m sure there will be interruptions – so we’re safely in Gibbon through at least the end of Summer 2012 – quite a ways off.
Gibbon’s Chapter 48 is a STRANGE ONE. He will FLY through 600 years of history in 70 pages (because he’s Gibbon and HE CAN and because it’s BYZANTINE and TRASH to him), starting out with some liberal doses of BYZANTINE BASHING – knowing historical winks and elegant literary lace handkerchief waves to all his fellow philosophes and Enlightenment cronies showing his painfully good taste in matters Greek and Byzantine (he HATES them)). Along the way he will be explaining why he will NOT BE WRITING EIGHT (8) MORE VOLUMES OF HISTORY about the Romans (which he would have to do, were he to take as much time with the “Greek” or “Low(er)” Empire as he did with the 400 period year period (280-630)).
In what is a calculated insult to these next 600 years of Byzantine, Greek history, I was shocked to see Gibbon write Chapter 48 WITHOUT A SINGLE FOOTNOTE – in essence FOOTNOTE-LESS – which makes it, from a historical perspective pretty worthless. I hadn’t realized how much I’d come to depend on his footnotes to see WHERE AND ON WHAT BASIS he was getting all these STRONG OPINIONS from. The opinions continue, the facts backing them up however DO NOT.
Onto Chapter 48, Book 5, Volume 3 of the Decline and Fall…
***** W A R N I N G W A R N I N G W A R N I N G *****
***** The Following is Yet Another Rant *****
I know, I know, you’re getting tired of hearing me say this, but it bears repeating OFTEN and LOUDLY. WE ARE NOT THE WINNERS of the religious wars of Late Antiquity – either of the Catholics or the Greek Orthodox East or the many National Churches that sprang up outside of Roman control in Asia, Egypt, Persia, India, China, etc. If you consider yourself a Christian today – repeat these words as you read the history of Rome, Eastern Rome, and the Middle Ages.
WE ARE HERETICS. WE WOULD BE EXILED, TORN LIMB FROM LIMB, STRIPPED OF OUR PROPERTY, PROBABLY IMPRISONED, POSSIBLE KILLED were we alive and “practicing” our faith during the time periods we are studying.
Why do I (repeatedly and boringly) say this?
Because, ignorance is bliss, and history is the opposite of ignorance – so EXPECT TO BE UPSET, CONSTANTLY, and ALL THE TIME if you’re engaging your brain while you’re reading history.
All the heresies, the orthodoxies, the catholic pronouncements, the councils, the faiths and creeds have little or nothing to do with what people think of today as “Christianity.” WE ARE HERETICS in the eyes of the past and would be punished for it by whatever civil government was in control – the Empire, the Bulgarians, whomever – we wouldn’t have survived.
I only say this, because GIBBON, and EVERY OTHER HISTORICALLY IGNORANT person writing about these times CONTINUE TO USE the words Heresy, Catholics, etc as if they were referring to Late Roman AND 21st cent people all in one breath. IT IS NOT TRUE. WE ARE NOT THE children of the WINNERS – the Catholics, the Orthodox – WE WOULD BE PUNISHED for what we believe today.
The Councils, the Creeds, the Bishops, the Faith were entirely different for them. Their worldview was much narrower – why? – because the empire hadn’t FALLEN YET for them – there was, to them, still the possibility of Universal Christian Empire under a Universal Christian Emperor who would look after the Universal Christian Church as God intended him to do so.
One state, one church, one faith – as God intended.
The word Catholic itself means Universal. It was an adjective, not a proper noun at this time. It was much simpler. Heresy is much easier to define when the emperor is making laws about it. By definition, we, not being Roman citizens live outside the Universal Church and the Universal State.
So… be suspicious, and afraid, very afraid whenever you read a historian who praises “Orthodox” “Catholic” emperors and states and decisions and people and wars and creeds and beliefs AS IF HE WERE WRITING TO YOU, AN ORTHODOX WOMAN OR MAN, PROUD OF BEING STILL AFTER 15 CENTURIES ORTHODOX, or Catholic, or Christian. It is not true. It is a lie.
Thus endeth the sermon for today… (I’m SURE I’ll be circling back to this point later – it just drives me crazy – don’t bother reading it if it all seems vaguely familiar – it probably is)
It is a well-known fact, among Late Antique & Eastern Roman historians that like Rodney Dangerfield, the Eastern Roman Empire gets NO RESPECT. This is not a recent development, it has been this way since the Renaissance, when anything much past the age of Caesar (approx 30 BCE) was considered medieval, gothic, and therefor barbaric. This has actually only changed significantly in the last 20 or 30 years, to the point that you can actually STUDY and CALL YOURSELF an Eastern Roman historian now, without falling all over yourself apologizing for your deviant interests and the decayed state of the Roman Empire during its last 800 years. The Enlightenment, 18th cent. Gibbon is no exception.
Here in the 1st chapter, not only does he give the obligatory Enlightenment SERMON on the disintegrating, depraved moral evolution of the empire under the Greeks and the Orthodox
This from Gibbon:
Should I persevere in the same course, should I observe the same measure, a prolix and slender thread would be spun through many a volume, nor would the patient reader find an adequate reward of instruction or amusement. At every step, as we sink deeper in the decline and fall of the Eastern empire, the annals of each succeeding reign would impose a more ungrateful and melancholy task.
These annals must continue to repeat a tedious and uniform tale of weakness and misery; the natural connection of causes and events would be broken by frequent and hasty transitions, and a minute accumulation of circumstances must destroy the light and effect of those general pictures which compose the use and ornament of a remote history. From the time of Heraclius, the Byzantine theatre is contracted and darkened: the line of empire, which had been defined by the laws of Justinian and the arms of Belisarius, recedes on all sides from our view; the Roman name, the proper subject of our inquiries, is reduced to a narrow corner of Europe, to the lonely suburbs of Constantinople; and the fate of the Greek empire has been compared to that of the Rhine, which loses itself in the sands, before its waters can mingle with the ocean. The scale of dominion is diminished to our view by the distance of time and place; nor is the loss of external splendour compensated by the nobler gifts of virtue and genius.
(DEF III, bk.5, ch.48, pp.23)
Gibbon contrasts the Greeks of the 400’s BCE with the Greek Empire and finds the latter wanting:
The freemen of antiquity might repeat with generous enthusiasm the sentence of Homer, “that on the first day of his servitude, the captive is deprived of one half of his manly virtue.” But the poet had only seen the effects of civil or domestic slavery, nor could he foretell that the second moiety of manhood must be annihilated by the spiritual despotism which shackles not only the actions, but even the thoughts, of the prostrate votary.
By this double yoke, the Greeks were oppressed under the successors of Heraclius; the tyrant, a law of eternal justice, was degraded by the vices of his subjects; and on the throne, in the camp, in the schools, we search, perhaps with fruitless diligence, the names and characters that may deserve to be rescued from oblivion.
Nor are the defects of the subject compensated by the skill and variety of the painters. Of a space of eight hundred years, the four first centuries are overspread with a cloud interrupted by some faint and broken rays of historic light: in the lives of the emperors, from Maurice to Alexius, Basil the Macedonian has alone been the theme of a separate work; and the absence, or loss, or imperfection of contemporary evidence, must be poorly supplied by the doubtful authority of more recent compilers.
The four last centuries are exempt from the reproach of penury; and with the Comnenian family, the historic muse of Constantinople again revives, but her apparel is gaudy, her motions are without elegance or grace. A succession of priests, or courtiers, treads in each other’s footsteps in the same path of servitude and superstition: their views are narrow, their judgment is feeble or corrupt; and we close the volume of copious barrenness, still ignorant of the causes of events, the characters of the actors, and the manners of the times which they celebrate or deplore.
The observation which has been applied to a man, may be extended to a whole people, that the energy of the sword is communicated to the pen; and it will be found by experience, that the tone of history will rise or fall with the spirit of the age.
(DEF III, bk.5, ch.48, pp.24)
Byzantium is important to Gibbon, because it OCCUPIED SPACE, like a forgotten (and bad) book on a well-used bookshelf. The Byzantines themselves are worthless, but because they EXISTED between more worthy subjects of study (Muslims, French, etc) one should at least know something about them, at least to better understand the “colonies and rising kingdoms” around her WHICH DO MAKE A DIFFERENCE to the human race.
Altogether, Gibbon’s description of the Eastern Empire is to me a very distasteful display.
From these considerations, I should have abandoned without regret the Greek slaves and their servile historians, had I not reflected that the fate of the Byzantine monarchy is passively connected with the most splendid and important revolutions which have changed the state of the world.
The space of the lost provinces was immediately replenished with new colonies and rising kingdoms: the active virtues of peace and war deserted from the vanquished to the victorious nations; and it is in their origin and conquests, in their religion and government, that we must explore the causes and effects of the decline and fall of the Eastern empire. Nor will this scope of narrative, the riches and variety of these materials, be incompatible with the unity of design and composition. As, in his daily prayers, the Mussulman of Fez or Delhi still turns his face towards the temple of Mecca, the historian’s eye shall be always fixed on the city of Constantinople. The excursive line may embrace the wilds of Arabia and Tartary, but the circle will be ultimately reduced to the decreasing limit of the Roman monarchy.
(DEF III, bk.5, ch.48, pp.25)