“Caesar Lives”: Iggy Pop reflects on the applicability of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

2016/12/03 § Leave a comment

In 1995, Classics Ireland (a classical studies and humanities journal) published Iggy Pop’s reflections on Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. 1

Pop opens his reflection with this:

In 1982, horrified by the meanness, tedium and depravity of my existence as I toured the American South playing rock and roll music and going crazy in public, I purchased an abridged copy of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Dero Saunders, Penguin). The grandeur of the subject appealed to me, as did the cameo illustration of Edward Gibbon, the author, on the front cover. He looked like a heavy dude.

I laughed aloud when I read this passage, as it struck me as so honest and forthright. It seems such an obvious thing to perceive, that it comes across as base and perhaps even simple – but of course, these words come from the pages of an established academic journal. Oh the delight!


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Pop describes his reading Decline and Fall while on tour. “I would read with pleasure around 4 am, with my drugs and whisky in cheap motels, savouring the clash of beliefs, personalities and values, played out on antiquity’s stage by crowds of the vulgar, led by huge archetypal characters.”

Standing in a “rotting mansion” in New Orleans, Pop was listening to a piece of music that conjured up all of the learning he’d experienced in reading. He then reflects on some of the ways he has profited from reading Gibbon’s magisterial work:

1     I feel a great comfort and relief knowing that there were others who lived and died and thought and fought so long ago; I feel less tyrannized by the present day.

2     I learn much about the way our society really works, because the system-origins – military, religious, political, colonial, agricultural, financial – are all there to be scrutinized in their infancy. I have gained perspective.

3     The language in which the book is written is rich and complete, as the language of today is not.

4     I find out how little I know.

5     I am inspired by the will and erudition which enabled Gibbon to complete a work of twenty-odd years. The guy stuck with things.

I urge anyone who wants life on earth to really come alive for them to enjoy the beautiful ancestral ancient world.

Well, Iggy Pop just exceeded every expectation I’ve ever had for him, and is now so much cooler in my book.

1 Iggy Pop, “Caesar Lives,” Classics Ireland, vol. 2 (1995) : 94-6.


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