Views & Reviews Between the Lines

Decline and ail

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 15 May 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:1135
  1. Theodore Dalrymple, writer and retired doctor

The part played in history by epidemic disease is now so obvious to us that it is strange that anyone, let alone the greatest scholar of his age (and one of the greatest of any age), Edward Gibbon, should have overlooked it.

In the famous 15th chapter of his The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the sceptical and ironical Gibbon asks what accounts for the rise of Christianity:

To this inquiry an obvious but unsatisfactory answer may be returned; that it was owing to the convincing evidence of the doctrine itself. But as truth and reason seldom find so favourable a reception in the world, and as the wisdom of Providence …

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