Saturday, 28 August 2010

Funky Gibbon

Chapter 34 of the Decline and Fall:
Καὶ μεγέθεσιν ἐλεϕάντων, οἷς ίσον ἔργον διὰ σταχύων ἐλθεɩ̂ν, καὶ ϕάλαγγος [Ἐπιτάϕ. c. 125]. Rien n’est beau que le vrai; a maxim which should be inscribed on the desk of every rhetorician.
Very cool, and useful diagnostically: by this maxim, a beautiful lie (fiction, say) must embody a greater truth than the sum of its mendacity.

The next stage is to determine that John Keats read Gibbon, and that he derived his inspiration for the equivalence that concludes his most famous Ode from this nifty little proverb.

2 comments:

Chardonnay Chap said...

I'd be surprised if Keats hadn't read at least some of Gibbon. He was interested in classical antiquity ("Oft have I travelled in the antique lands..."); it was a book that well-read persons should have known at the time, and, of course, well-written, something which would have appealed to him. Besides, I think he'd have liked the title.

Very cool, and useful diagnostically: by this maxim, a beautiful lie (fiction, say) must embody a greater truth than the sum of its mendacity.

I'm not sure about the 'must' here. Not that I'm keen on 'should' either. What is a beautiful lie? Is Keats' "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" a story (in which case, clearly a lie) or simply an allegory and attempt to convey a feeling (in which case, not)? "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" fails to convey any truth at all, yet it's still a good book. Personally, I find Wilde much more convivial. " There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all."

Adam Roberts said...

It's likely he knew Gibbon, certainly; I'm not sure if there's any hard evidence -- whether he makes any actual reference to the Decline and Fall in his letters, say.

As it happens, I would challenge your assertion that 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland fails to convey any truth at all'. It seems to me that it is very true to the being-in-the-world of the imaginative child, more so than a 'realist' account of childhood could ever be.