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Edward Gibbon and the Secret of Empire, or Scipio Africanus and the Savages of the South Pacific

Edward Gibbon and the Secret of Empire, or Scipio Africanus and the Savages of the South Pacific

Chapter:
(p.160) Eight Edward Gibbon and the Secret of Empire, or Scipio Africanus and the Savages of the South Pacific
Source:
The Conquest of Ruins
Author(s):
Julia Hell
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226588223.003.0009

The focus of this chapter is the analysis of Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The author situates Gibbon’s History in the context of the debates about British and European colonialism and Cook’s voyages to the South Pacific. With respect to the latter, she studies the portraits of Tahitian and Maori men whom Volney (Chapter 7) and Gibbon discuss in connection with their scenes of ruin contemplation. Gibbon meticulously restored the Roman stage-in-ruins. More importantly, he asked whether Europe’s emerging empires would suffer Rome’s fate. Singling out Gibbon’s “General Observations,” the author traces his rewriting of the Polybian scene. She argues that in the “Observations,” stadial theory assumes a katechontic role. Moreover, it is here that Gibbon reinvents the figure of the non-European barbarian.

Keywords:   Adam Smith, Edward Gibbon, Maori, Joshua Reynolds, stadial theory, Sydney Parkinson, James Cook, modern barbarian concept, lessons of empire

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