David Timson reads Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
February 4, 2014
by Nicolas Soames
Exactly 250 years ago, Edward Gibbon sat on the Capitoline Hill looking over Rome and determined to write a history of the city. The idea expanded to the much larger scheme which became, arguably, the greatest single history in Western literature: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
It runs to some 1,500,000 words, covers the periods from the legacy of Augustus (died AD 14) to the fall of Constantinople in 1453, an immense span in terms of history and geography, matched by the magnificent language—famously grand sentences—and voluminous footnotes.
The momentous task of reading this for Naxos AudioBooks—the market leader in recording the classics—has been achieved by David Timson, a veteran of 1,000 BBC broadcasts and numerous audiobooks, including The Complete Sherlock Holmes, a 50-CD set.
The bare statistics are in themselves striking. Gibbon’s work runs in its entirety for 150 hours and encompasses 114 CDs but it has taken Timson, who also lectures on radio recording and other topics at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, over a year to complete the project.
When calculated overall, the actual reading took some 40 8-hour days in front of the microphone. But many more days and nights were spent on preparation: coming to grips with the magisterial prose, and, even more demanding, doing the research on the pronunciation of many thousands of obscure and ancient names of places, peoples, and concepts—in Greek, Latin, Chinese, Arabic and other languages. And then there was the selection of footnotes.
‘Reading The Decline and Fall has been the most challenging project of my life as an actor,’ said Timson, 63. ‘Gibbon was an outstanding scholar with a breadth of knowledge that is staggering, even today when historical research is so much easier. He has been superseded in some ways by subsequent archaeological and historical advances, but all historians still respect him—and he remains required reading for information on this period.’
It has never been out of print since it was first published—over a period of 13 years, from 1776–1789—but now it is having a new lease of life through the medium of audiobook. Other readers have attempted Gibbon, but this is the first time that a truly useful unabridged version has been undertaken, with Timson incorporating the key footnotes into the main narrative.
‘I want to give the listener the full Gibbon experience,’ said Timson, who spent months poring over the footnotes, selecting those which were not just academic references but which provided additional (and from time to time delightfully salacious) material.
‘Underpinning it all are Gibbon’s magnificent sentences,’ adds Timson. ‘Gibbon set a glorious style of historical writing that is still a joy to listen to today.’
Naxos AudioBooks is releasing The Decline and Fall in six volumes, as they originally appeared in Gibbon’s lifetime. They will be available both on CD and digital download.
Nicolas Soames, publisher at Naxos AudioBooks, commented: ‘With projects such as the unabridged Proust, unabridged Sherlock Holmes and unabridged Ulysses, we are accustomed to challenging tasks. David Timson’s unabridged Decline and Fall is another truly remarkable achievement.’
New and upcoming releases:
Volumes IV, V and VI will be released in summer and autumn 2015.
David Timson Biography & Discography