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Thread: Edward Gibbon, Joaquin Phoenix and Gladiator

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    Edward Gibbon, Joaquin Phoenix and Gladiator

    I was watching a DVD of Gladiator (Russell Crowe as heroic gladiator up against nasty Joaquin Phoenix as the Roman Emperor Commodus) and I thought to compare the account of Commodus in Edward Gibbon’s great history, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

    Gibbon is a wonderful stylist. Imagine Gladiator written by Jane Austen at her most feline with the gloves off and you’ll get the idea.

    In the movie, Commodus’ only sexual desire is a creepy one for his sister. Gibbon gives a different picture:

    “But every sentiment of virtue and humanity was extinct in the mind of Commodus. Whilst he thus abandoned the reins of empire to these unworthy favourites, he valued nothing in sovereign power, except the unbounded licence of indulging his sensual appetites. His hours were spent in a seraglio of three hundred beautiful women, and as many boys, of every rank, and of every province; and, wherever the arts of seduction proved ineffectual, the brutal lover had recourse to violence. The ancient historians have expatiated on these abandoned scenes of prostitution, which scorned every restraint of nature or modesty; but it would not be easy to translate their too faithful descriptions into the decency of modern language.”
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Voice of Chaos & Anarchy
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    That passage could make a movie by itself.

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    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    I love Gibbons, and do not understand those that dismiss his work as drivel. I often wonder what Shakespeare would have done with Decline and Fall if it was published 200 years earlier. He certainly would have used it as a strong source.
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    In the movie, Commodus only goes in as a gladiator in order to kill Russell Crowe (having stabbed him in the back first to give an unfair advantage).

    According to Gibbon, Commodus was a philistine who only wanted to be a sports hero and cheated to get applause (at least Nero had pretensions to culture).

    "the influence of a polite age, and the labour of an attentive education, had never been able to infuse into his rude and brutish mind the least tincture of learning; and he was the first of the Roman emperors totally devoid of taste for the pleasures of the understanding. Nero himself excelled, or affected to excel, in the elegant arts of music and poetry; nor should we despise his pursuits had he not converted the pleasing relaxation of a leisure hour into the serious business and ambition of his life. But Commodus, from his earliest infancy, discovered an aversion to whatever was rational or liberal, and a fond attachment to the amusements of the populace; the sports of the circus and amphitheatre, the combats of gladiators, and the hunting of wild beasts.

    ...The dens of the amphitheatre disgorged at once a hundred lions; a hundred darts from the unerring hand of Commodus laid them dead as they ran raging around the Arena. Neither the huge bulk of the elephant, nor the scaly hide of the rhinoceros, could defend them from his stroke. Ethiopia and India yielded their most extraordinary productions; and several animals were slain in the amphitheatre, which had been seen only in the representations of art, or perhaps of fancy. In all these exhibitions, the securest precautions were used to protect the person of the Roman Hercules from the desperate spring of any savage; who might possibly disregard the dignity of the emperor, and the sanctity of the god.

    But the meanest of the populace were affected with shame and indignation when they beheld their sovereign enter the lists as a gladiator, and glory in a profession which the laws and manners of the Romans had branded with the justest note of infamy."

    "Nero himself excelled, or affected to excel," Jane Austen couldn't have done a more snide innuendo.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    I forgot how semi-colon heavy that book is. God, what an interesting style - massive remark in wordy language, followed by a semi-colon with an elongated list of specifics and examples.

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    I was re-reading Pride and Prejudice last week, and I couldn't help to struck how both Gibbon and Austen use the word "rational" as a term of commendation and its absence as a sign of inadequacy: Commodus and Mrs Bennett being equally irrational. But my goodness, the difference between them!
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    Those writing during the Enlightenment really did extol reason as the greatest quality. The difference between the two authors is that Gibbon wrote his text in the vein of Enlightened philosophy - Austen tended to satirize such philosophy. You have to be careful when Austen starts writing about reason, and the virtue of rationality.
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

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