By Peter Brown
With the mix of paintings and studying that's the hallmark of his paintings, Peter Brown right here examines how the sacred impinged upon the profane through the first Christian millennium.
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Additional info for Society and the Holy in Late Antiquity
Religious phenomena which the modern historian might regard in isolation as symptoms of irreversible changes in mentality are held by Gibbon in a network of checks and balances. If anything, the irrational rises to the surface less rapidly in Gibbon's narrative than in many modern treatments of the religious world of Late Antiquity. In his highly differentiated account of the Emperor Julian, for instance, Gibbon gives us something far more satisfying than the usual balance sheet of 'superstitious' and 'public-spirited': his portrait has the fascination of allowing us to see the tissue of reality giving and springing back under pressure from a world of dreams and visions, and so allows us to appreciate all the more fully how much of it had already given way among Julian's contemporaries: 'These sleeping or waking visions, the ordinary effects of abstinence and fasting, would almost degrade the Emperor to the level of an Egyptian monk.
39· Gihhol1'sjourtley, p. 194. 40. 'I do not know if he has rl'Rected sufliciently on the combined cllccts of despotic power and a sense of grandeur, treasures and the resolve to triulIlph over all obstacles. ' 'Sur la monarchie des Medes', Col/ected Works, Ill, 132 fT. ' 41 This statement has been used by modern historians as carte blanche for reducing the problem of the decline of the Roman Empire to manageable proportions. It has enabled them to direct attention to those developments in late Roman society that can be documented with reassuring precisionthe increasing weight of taxation and the rapid expansion, in the fourth century, of the governmental and ecclesiastical superstructure of the Empire.
4M 'In the life of Augustus, we behold the tyrant of the republic converted, almost by imperceptible degrees, into the father of his country and of humankind. In that of Constantine, we may contemplate a hero, who had long inspired his subjects with love 46. DF, chap. 13, p. 413· 48. DF, chap. 18, p. 217· 47. , p. 412. ' 49 From that time onward, Gibbon's eyes remain on the court. This is not because he was interested solely in politicians, nor because he regarded the court and its demands as the main cause of the decline of the Empire.
Society and the Holy in Late Antiquity by Peter Brown