ancient Roman

Seeing Only Ourselves in the Past

One thing everybody knows about Rome is that it fell. Just why it did is still debated. Classicists can count 200-plus reasons for the dissolution—or evolution—of what was once the known world’s superpower. Fall, however, is a sexier word. It goes well with caricatures of Neronian debauchery fondly promoted in 19th century moralizing paintings or in movies like Fellini’s leering Satyricon. And it evokes that other Fall in a long-ago garden.     Taking cues from Gibbon, we graft decline onto fall and use it as a stick to beat ourselves. Continue Reading