17 Life Lessons From Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”

Just read (some) of Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” via passages. Here are some takeaway points, and life lessons I learned:

1. Active valor

Have disciplined valor; active valor.

Valor, to be strong.

2. Hope is what makes us live

Roman slaves were even given hope; to one day achieve freedom:

Hope; the best comfort of our imperfect condition, was not denied to the Roman slave; and if he had any opportunity of rendering himself either useful or agreeable; he might very naturally expect that the diligence and fidelity of a few years would be rewarded with the inestimable gift of freedom.

3. Public benefits

Many works are erected at private expense; for public benefit.

4. Virtue

Virtue is the only good; vice is the only bad, and everything else is indifferent — Marcus Aurelius

5. Liberty above all

Love of liberty was the best treasure:

the love of liberty was the ruling passion; the enjoyment of it, their best treasure; the word that expressed that enjoyment the most pleasing to the ear.

6. On avarice

We desire riches; and seek it through commerce and industry, no longer alchemy

philosophy; banished the study of alchemy. but now, because we desire riches, we are content to seek riches with the humbler means of commerce and industry.

7. Hedonic adaptation

No matter how good or bad we have it; we will accustom to anything:

the human character; however it may be exalted or depressed by a temporary enthusiasm; will return by degrees to its proper and natural level, and will resume those passions that seem the most adapted to its present condition.

8. Great emperor

Great emperor Julian ‘sustained adversity with firmness; and prosperity with moderation.’

A great Roman emperor: makes no distinctions between his duties and his pleasures.

So remember: My pleasure is my duty; to help others

Labor and work hard to relieve the distress and relief the spirits of my subjects.

Virtue is happiness; happiness is virtue.

Neither steel nor fire can eradicate the erroneous opinions of the mind.

Keep all free and equal.

9. Man is man’s worst enemy

Even worse than nature:

the man has more to fear from the passions of his fellow-creatures than from the convulsions of the elements.

10. On learning from history

Emperor Theodosius, on reading history, to learn from past experiences:

history; which enlarged his experience; was his favorite study. the annals of Rome; in the long period of 1,100 years presented him a various and splendid picture of human life.

Lesson: Use past events to learn from, and change my own conduct. Be virtuous. More fortune I have, more virtuous I can be.

Prosperity should be met with moderation.

11. People prefer food over freedom

Ancient times; people prefer ‘the solid assurance of bread to the unsubstantial visions of liberty and greatness.’

To be a human is more than just eating bread; but to live greatly, and to pursue liberty and virtue.

12. The laws of nature

These idle disputants overlooked the invariable laws of nature; which have connected peace with innocence; plenty with industry; and safety with valor.

Remember these rules of nature:

  1. Innocence leads to peace
  2. Industry leads to plenty
  3. Valor leads to safety

“Poetic virtue”

13. Appreciate conveniences of life

We have it so much better than the ancients. Consider modern technology, internet, Amazon prime, etc:

The ancients were destitute of many of the conveniences of life which have been invented or improved by the progress of industry; and the plenty of glass and linen; diffused more real comforts among the modern nations of Europe// than the senators of Rome could derive from all the refinements of pompous or sensual luxury.

14. Avarice can never be tamed

We will always be hungry for more pleasures:

Avarice is an insatiate and universal passion; since the enjoyment of almost every object that can afford pleasure to the different tastes and tempers of mankind may be procured by the possession of wealth.

15. We depreciate the advantages

We forget the advantages; only focus on evils of our fellow humans:

There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify the evils, of the present times.

16. The laws of war

The laws of war:

  1. We know if we are always on the conquest of war, we will always gain permanent benefits from the enemy.
  2. We are always afraid of the retaliation of the enemy, so that is why we stay on the offensive and keep attacking them (first).

17. No glory lasts forever

Imagine all 60 past emperors and kings of Rome; how they ‘faintly dwell’ in our memory:

Our immortal reason survives and disdains the 60 phantoms of kings who have passed before our eyes; and faintly dwell in our remembrance

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