I have begun to re-read Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I read it – as a young history nerd – the summer between high school and undergraduate, but have neglected it since then. It has become part of my “quarantine” reading. I was captivated by his pithy description of Roman religion, which he then unpacks over the next few pages:
The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful. And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord.Gibbon, Decline & Fall, vol. 1, chapter II (Everyman’s Library, p. 34)
The following pages offer elaborations, explanations, complications, and exceptions (this last one mostly in the footnotes) to these pithy generalizations.