Pliny, Gibbon and Voltaire on History
Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-04-22
Both seem to have a similar view of what gets turned into "History" (although that by Herodotos doesn’t deserve such criticism):
Because of a curious disease of the human mind, it pleases us to enshrine in history records of bloodshed and slaughter, so that those ignorant of the facts of the world may become acquainted with the crimes of mankind.– Pliny the Elder
Antoninus diffused order and tranquility over the greatest part of the earth. His reign is marked by the rare advantage of furnishing very few materials for history; which is, indeed, little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.– Gibbon, in praise of the Antonines (except Commodus!)
I like what I’ve read about Voltaire, although I’ve only delved deep into Candide.
En effet, l’histoire n’est que le tableau des crimes et des malheurs. –Voltaire "Ingenu"
Perhaps this is a valid comment for the tablod news media of modern times (and the broadsheets can be guilty too!).
These thoughts also tie in with the "Chinese Curse":
There can be little doubt that climate change, and the actions of today’s politicians, will make for "interesting" history, although it may take a new renaissance after the probable coming Fall for a new Gibbon to provide the analysis.
- I’ve noted elsewhere my liking for Herodotus, but on History itself, his philosophy can be captured by a single statement: "Circumstances rule men; men do not rule circumstances", and he starts with the environment as the determinant of History… something our modern politicians don’t understand!
- Herodotus and Gibbon are central to my post "The History Wars" (2006-11-02)