The Fantastic Quotes of Edward Gibbon

3 Feb
My man Eddie

My man Eddie

This is going to be a fun post.

I was an avid reader as a kid. It started with Mom teaching me to read with the slightly Eurocentric Dick and Jane.

The land that multiculturalism forgot

The land that multiculturalism forgot

Around grade 3, it turned to boys’ mysteries and adventures such as Brains Benton, adventures which I shared with the protagonist boys and treasure to this day.

Brains blows the Hardy Boys right out of the water!

Brains blows the Hardy Boys right out of the water!

Grade 5 saw me find H.G. Wells classic “The Time Machine” in my school library.

How to engage a grade 5 boy's mind!

How to engage a grade 5 boy’s mind!

By junior high school, it was golden age science fiction and epic fantasy. I still recall being enthralled by Tolkein’s “Silmarillion” in grade 9, and I rather enjoyed the Shakespeare comedies that we studied in high school English class, along with provocative science fiction such as simpler works by Ayn Rand.

The standard by which all epic fantasy is judged

The standard by which all epic fantasy is judged

When I hit university, what became important was the caliber of the writing and the mind behind the writing, more than the genre. I got into the Easten Press’s “100 Greatest Books” program before the 90s military pay freezes, the Canadian dollar tanking, and the cost of raising a family put an end to it. (If you’re into great books and great minds, you’ll probably enjoy jrbenjamin’s blog. I do.)

One additional set of books that I bought from Easton Press that I have never had the chance to fully read (got through most of Book One before the kids and the rest of life interfered) is Edward Gibbon‘s classic of the Enlightenment Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Worth their weight in gold

Worth their weight in gold

My goodness, but Gibbon had a beautiful mind. One is best advised to have a dictionary at hand when reading him.

Gibbon’s work will be a major foundational element in the sequel to my current book. To introduce him to you, I thought we would look at some of his more famous quotes. To make it fun, I am introducing a poll. It asks which Gibbon quote you like best. The results will form the basis of a new post.


52 Responses to “The Fantastic Quotes of Edward Gibbon”

  1. jrbenjamin February 3, 2014 at 3:49 pm #

    Fantastic post. I really appreciate the shout out as well.

    • navigator1965 February 3, 2014 at 4:17 pm #

      Thank you, jr. In terms of the shout out, I am merely giving credit where credit is due. Your blog is a treasure.

  2. suzjones February 3, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

    They’re all pretty good. One day people will be quoting you Dear Sir – or me! I’m happy with either 😉

    • navigator1965 February 3, 2014 at 4:20 pm #

      Quite right, Sue, but I fear if it’s me, they’ll be taking my name in vain as they quote me! };-)>

      I will be happy with either as well. I’d even be happy to share Total World Literary Domination 2014 with you. And Susan L. And Dotta R. And Charles. And Linda. And…

      The world’s a pretty big place, after all.

  3. Jo Bryant February 3, 2014 at 5:54 pm #

    I had a look at Easter press’s greatest books ever…hmmm…War and Peace. I have NEVER been able to get past page 10 before tossing it.

    • navigator1965 February 3, 2014 at 7:54 pm #

      Hello, Jo. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      I confess: haven’t read War and Peace either. I did make through Churchill’s history of the Second World War, all five or six volumes. Whew.

  4. LindaGHill February 3, 2014 at 7:11 pm #

    Nice post! I dragged out all my Tolkien the other day and yes, in honour of you, I will try The Silmarillion again. 😉

    • navigator1965 February 3, 2014 at 7:18 pm #

      Good for you, Linda! And thank you, as well. The Silmarillion is a challenge to read unless one has a fair bit of spare time on their hands, so good luck. It is a monumental achievement in the field of epic fantasy.

  5. KG February 3, 2014 at 8:03 pm #

    OMG… wonder! 🙂
    Very informative as usual. I loved all the quotes.

    • navigator1965 February 3, 2014 at 10:19 pm #

      I guess that does rather explain some things. };-)>

      I think his quotes may well be my favourites.

  6. yakinamac February 3, 2014 at 10:03 pm #

    Great quotes. Though, without wishing to sound shallow, having now seen Gibbon’s portrait, I think it’s as well he had a beautiful mind…

    • navigator1965 February 3, 2014 at 10:21 pm #

      Thanks, Yak.

      Gibbon was clearly anticipating a famine and was employing the bear-just-before-hibernation strategy. A wings and beer man well ahead of his time.

  7. shanuwater February 3, 2014 at 10:46 pm #

    Dick and Jane I held that book in my hands everyday, as a little black girl how those two images stand out in my mind. 😉

    • navigator1965 February 3, 2014 at 11:22 pm #

      Hi shanuw. Funny, I can remember reading these books with my Mom, and hearing the sentences (“See spot run. Run spot, run.”) but I have no memories of the books themselves, or the pictures.

      Strange how we remember different things. Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Susan Lattwein February 4, 2014 at 3:30 am #

    Perhaps I agree with, ‘The end comes when we no longer talk with ourselves. It is the end of genuine thinking and the beginning of the final loneliness,’ the most. To reflect is, after all, the best guard against history’s mistakes being repeated.
    You were a reader from early on, I see. God bless school librarians.

    • navigator1965 February 4, 2014 at 8:23 am #

      Amen to your thoughts on school librarians, Susan. I will be arguing in sequel that the Anglo-American empire is in the midst of the same decline and fall as befell the Roman Empire.

      As an example, I suggest the increasing political polarization in the US is an example of the quote that have chosen.

      We’ve started stopping talking with ourselves. I think I can explain why.

      • Susan Lattwein February 4, 2014 at 2:53 pm #

        Sounds intriguing. As the theme to Strike Back says, ‘This ain’t no place for no hero.’ History…..So many lessons!

  9. idiotwriter February 4, 2014 at 4:28 am #

    uuughhh – I want to write like THAT dude. Choose a quote – FANTASTIC idea Sir! Put the burden on the reader right…
    Um – yes – nope – I WILL try and decide — off to read them again. I want those books (cant remember the name and too lazy to scroll back up) I want this guys books and I want the Roman empire books (or is that the same chap??) and I want to go sit in a cave and read them all – and come out unshaven in skin and bone and bedraggled – with wisdom in my soul. I — YIP – I dig it. 😀

    • navigator1965 February 4, 2014 at 8:13 am #

      Ah, indecision! That’s why I included a “they’re all good” option at the end.

      I’m wondering what you’d look like with a beard. After coming out of the cave, that is. }:-)>

      • idiotwriter February 4, 2014 at 9:06 am #

        Fabulous I tell you – I will be fabulous! LOOK >> :D>>>

        • Mich-in-French February 5, 2014 at 2:28 pm #


        • idiotwriter February 5, 2014 at 3:52 pm #


  10. idiotwriter February 4, 2014 at 4:33 am #

    I made up my mind – click vote and then second guessed it :/ But I feel peace with the somehow suitable quote I chose for me – it inspired me a great deal to be fair. Second choice was the navigator one..OFCOURSE 😀

  11. bethbyrnes February 4, 2014 at 7:54 am #

    So many interesting works to read, so little time over one’s life. I like best the idea that mastery over oneself is the ultimate goal. Interesting and informative post.

    • navigator1965 February 4, 2014 at 8:16 am #

      How true, Beth. I could spend a lifetime reading, learning, and thinking. Writing too.

      Interesting choice. I can see the wisdom in your line of thought.

  12. LC Aggie Sith February 4, 2014 at 8:04 am #

    The end comes when we no longer talk with ourselves. It is the end of genuine thinking and the beginning of the final loneliness

    While not the quote for which I voted, it does give me a certain satisfaction to know that I have been right in speaking to my voices all along 😉

    • navigator1965 February 4, 2014 at 8:18 am #

      Ah, Madam Sith. A pleasure to have you comment here. Do say hello to those voices for me. };-)>

  13. Jami February 4, 2014 at 9:24 am #

    While I have never read Gibbon, I was just talking about books I loved in my own childhood with my running friend: Trixy Beldon, Nancy Drew and books like The Secret Garden, James and the Giant Peach and Indian in the Cupboard…oh and the Boxcar Children! I loved the idea of secret places, mystery and adventure…and things that were magically miniature! Thanks for allowing me to take a look back at the joy of childhood reading for the second time today, and thanks also for naming your personal faves, 1965. 🙂

    • navigator1965 February 4, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

      I remember James and the Giant Peach – we had a teacher read it to us in something like grade 3 or 4. Was that Roald Dahl?

      Yes, books open up a plethora of hidden world for imaginative young children to adventure in. Thanks in return for naming you favourites, Jami.

      Reading is such a joy.

  14. Dennis Cardiff February 5, 2014 at 11:02 am #

    Thanks for the memories. I have read many of these books. ~ Dennis

    • navigator1965 February 5, 2014 at 4:24 pm #

      You’re welcome, Dennis. It was a fun post, thinking back to those books which enthralled me and opened my mind to broader possibilities. Nice to see we shared a few of these.

  15. jennifer Windram February 5, 2014 at 12:46 pm #

    I liked them all, but I made a decision, because I am trying to be more decisive. Can’t wait to read the post.

    • navigator1965 February 5, 2014 at 4:25 pm #

      Thanks, Jennifer. I think it’s a fund concept for a post. Gibbon had an amazing command of language, and his quotes are in a league all of their own.

  16. Mich-in-French February 5, 2014 at 2:29 pm #

    Loved this post and for me – I like this quote a lot! For me today this one works – I make it a point never to argue with people for whose opinion I have no respect –
    merci for the fun read Nav

    • navigator1965 February 5, 2014 at 4:28 pm #

      Your are so welcome, dear Mich. You’ve picked one I suspect resonates with many people. I would say that you made a great choice, but they’re all great. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel, as they say in these parts.

      • Mich-in-French February 6, 2014 at 2:48 am #

        Indeedio! I have to sheepishly say never heard of Edward Gibbon – maybe I have been hiding in said fish barrel….

        • navigator1965 February 6, 2014 at 5:51 am #

          I think public education has declined since the baby boomer generation took control of it. Had it not been for Easten Press, I might not have either.

  17. Dugutigui February 8, 2014 at 8:01 am #

    Gibbon’s table talk (Gibbon’s footnotes) are peculiar, and in some case humorous. But his work is just part of the huge literature on state-making, contemporary and historic, that pays virtually no attention to its obverse: the history of deliberate and reactive statelessness.

    Until shortly before the common era, the very last 1 percent of human history, the social landscape consisted of elementary, self-governing, kinship units that might, occasionally, cooperate in hunting, feasting, skirmishing, trading, and peacemaking. It did not contain anything one could call a state.
    In other words, living in the absence of state structures has been the standard human condition.

    At a time when the state seems pervasive and inescapable, it is easy to forget that for much of history, living within or outside the state—or in an intermediate zone—was a choice, one that might be revised as the circumstances warranted. A wealthy and peaceful state center might attract a growing population that found its advantages rewarding. This, of course, fits the standard civilizational narrative of rude barbarians mesmerized by the prosperity made possible by the king’s peace and justice—a narrative shared by most of the world’s salvational religions.

    Innumerable archeological finds of state centers that briefly flourished and were then eclipsed by warfare, epidemics, famine, or ecological collapse, depict a long history of state formation and collapse rather than permanence, and for long periods people moved in and out of states, and “stateness” was, itself, often cyclical and reversible.

    This pattern of state-making and state-unmaking produced, over time, a periphery that was composed as much of refugees as of peoples who had never been state subjects. Much of the periphery of states became a zone of refuge or “shatter zone,” where the human shards of state formation and rivalry accumulated willy nilly, creating regions of bewildering ethnic and linguistic complexity. State expansion and collapse often had a ratchet effect as well, with fleeing subjects driving other peoples ahead of them seeking safety and new territory.

    The founding of agrarian states, then, was the contingent event that created a distinction, hence a dialectic, between a settled, state-governed population and a frontier penumbra of less governed or virtually autonomous peoples. Until at least the early nineteenth century, the difficulties of transportation, the state of military technology, and, above all, demographic realities placed sharp limits on the reach of even the most ambitious states.

    Only the modern state, in both its colonial and its independent guises, has had the resources to realize a project of rule that was a mere glint in the eye of its precolonial ancestor: namely to bring nonstate spaces and people to heel.

    What we know of the classical states such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome states, suggests that most of their subjects were formally unfree: slaves, captives, and their descendants. The enormous ungoverned periphery surrounding these minute states also represented a challenge and a threat. It was home to fugitive, mobile populations whose modes of subsistence—foraging, hunting, shifting cultivation, fishing, and pastoralism—were fundamentally intractable to state appropriation.

    The “empire’s task”, crudely put, is to devise an ideal “state space”: that is to say, an ideal space of appropriation. Insofar as the state depends on taxes or rents in the largest possible sense of the term (foodstuffs, corvée labor, soldiers, tribute, tradable goods, specie), the question becomes: what arrangements are most likely to guarantee the ruler a substantial and reliable surplus of manpower and grain at least cost?

    The principle of design must obviously hinge on the geographical concentration of the empires’ subjects and the fields they cultivate within easy reach of the state core. Such concentration is all the more imperative in premodern settings where the economics of oxcart or horse-cart travel set sharp limits to the distance over which it makes sense to ship grain. A team of oxen, for example, will have eaten the equivalent of the cartload of grain they are pulling before they have traveled 250 kilometers over flat terrain. The logic, albeit with different limits, is captured in an ancient Han proverb: “Do not make a grain sale over a thousand li”—415 kilometers. The non-grain producing elites, artisans, and specialists at the state’s core must, then, be fed by cultivators who are relatively near. Thus the empire’s core and its ruler must be defended and maintained, as well as fed, by a labor supply that is assembled relatively close at hand…

    So (sorry for the length of the comment, I cut off here…) the idea we have (and Gibbon worked on) about ancient empires, is just another fable we agreed upon 🙂

  18. KraftedKhaos March 12, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

    I was so torn between ‘I refuse to argue…’ and ‘The most worthless of mankind…’. They both spoke so clearly to me, in regard to the things I’ve been taking in lately, but I ultimately chose the latter, because it seems to me to be the more important of the two points. How quick we are to despise in others the very same faults we have within ourselves.

    Great post!

    • navigator1965 March 12, 2014 at 3:00 pm #

      Thanks, Krafted. I, too, like the one you chose. Ironically, I think what Gibbon was writing about but didn’t know it (the theory didn’t exist at the time) was a psychological defence known as narcissistic projection.

      Narcissists are excruciatingly sensitive to subconscious shame. When something evokes shame or threatens expose to it, narcissists will often relieve themselves of shame by “projecting” it onto another person. Pot calling the kettle black, false accusations, etc.

      It can be subtle, too, with innuendo and words left unspoken. Also plays to the narcissist’s sense of grandiosity, in that they need to better than you in a way, and thus they need you to be beneath them in certain ways.

      • KraftedKhaos March 12, 2014 at 3:10 pm #

        I’m honestly a little nervous to read your book… I bet I’m a narcissist. O.o

        • navigator1965 March 12, 2014 at 3:20 pm #

          I point out that narcissism should be viewed on a continuum as opposed to either being an is/isn’t question. Given that the vast majority of us have some imperfections in this regard, it may be worth having a read to see if any of this rings a bell or not.

          Since narcissism tends to be intergenerational, the book might offer insight into early childhood parental influences to some.

        • KraftedKhaos March 12, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

          Oh, there’s no doubt that my upbringing nudged me higher up the narcissism scale. But knowledge is power, right? Power to change, Power to grow, etc.

        • navigator1965 March 12, 2014 at 5:14 pm #

          Yes, there is the power to change. It can a bit difficult for narcissists, depending upon the severity, I suppose, as there tends to be a degree of self deception at play with narcissism.

          Also, to protect against their unconscious pain, narcissists can develop psychological defence mechanisms that they are unaware of. Others, too. It sometimes requires the assistance of a skilled therapist to negate the defence mechanisms and assist the their client in carefully and slowly coming to terms with the issues behind the narcissism.

          Also, a big caveat: I am not an accredited expert, not by any means. I merely interpret existing theory from the lens of my 19 year marriage to a woman who, unfortunately for both of us, was afflicted with narcissistic personality traits.

        • KraftedKhaos March 12, 2014 at 5:33 pm #

          I think all humans, save the very enlightened (Buddah, Jesus, Dhali Llama(sp?) for example), suffer from a fair amount of narcissism most of the time. Especially now, thanks to our ‘me me me’ society. But I’ll wait until I read your book to say more than that, because we may be talking about two different things, but using the same word 🙂

        • navigator1965 March 12, 2014 at 6:23 pm #

          No, I think you’re on the right track with the “me, me, me” society. The late Christopher Lasch wrote a modern classic in the field of social criticism entitled “The Culture of Narcissism.”

          I get into this in my 2nd book. The entire thesis–written in Harry Potter-simple English, and developed in what I hope continues to be a gripping, true narrative– logically develops to the social level, and its implications are rather profound, to say the least.

        • KraftedKhaos March 12, 2014 at 6:37 pm #

          Looks like I’m in for a highly educational and enlightening read. I honestly can’t wait 🙂


  1. OH to be a Bard | Idiot Writing - February 4, 2014

    […] Just YOU go try and choose out of these!! […]

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