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The Celts: A History

The Celts: A History - Peter Berresford Ellis The final update: I've been meaning to add the last few excerpts I'd underlined, but yet another inaccuracy reared its head, like a teenager at the bit. My edition, "copyright 1998, 2003", but copyright the author 1988, seems to make no mention of discoveries from 1996 (mentioned in my [b:The Cut Throat Celts|2812512|The Cut Throat Celts (Horrible Histories)|Terry Deary|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348137972s/2812512.jpg|413020], copyright 1997), of Romans in Hibernia. The argument can be made, and has been, that there is difference between Romans invading vs. Romans merely visiting early Ireland, but, given that this book mentions Roman historical records, a discussion, at the very least of those 1996 discoveries would give the book more credit.

It may also be worth mentioning that this book is from the same publisher of [b:A Brief History of Infinity: The Quest to Think the Unthinkable|812261|A Brief History of Infinity The Quest to Think the Unthinkable|Brian Clegg|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348544465s/812261.jpg|798197], which has substantially worse problems of clarity and/or organization.

-- Livy, or Henri Hubert, "he" stated that Celtic expansion happened because the Celtic heartland had become overpopulated.
-- "the search for the magic cauldron of plenty...turned in the search for the Holy Grail"
-- "There are at least 25 identified Arthurian tales in Irish from the medieval period."
-- Fionn Mac Cumhail was always more popular as an Irish hero than Arthur.
-- Among several magic cauldrons was the cauldron of rebirth, "whereby the dead are put in and come out alive."
-- Kings of Thrace had Celtic names up to 192 BC.
-- Celts who crossed into Asia Minor settled in the central plain of today's Turkey, making their capital at Ankara
-- Celtic mercenaries often joined groups fighting Rome, but turned down large sums from Rome itself.
-- Celtic warriors for Ptolemy tried to take Egypt for themselves but were starved to death on an island in the Nile.
-- Viridomarus challenged Marcellus to single combat, in the Celtic style, and Marcellus not only accepted, but beat Viridomarus, whereby the Celtic army crumbled.
-- Celts of the Po Valley, unlike some mountain cousins, were not warlike.
-- Hannibal's army was over 50% Celtic in the Po Valley.
-- Flaminius had a Celtic chieftain who surrendered himself, slaughtered along with his family, to entertain his boyfriend.
-- Mithridates died at the hands of a Celt.
-- Celts and Dacians in today's Romania defeated the Romans, although some people believe the tribes Cimbri and Teutones, were Germans, not Celts
-- There appears to be no evidence of large-scale Celtic migration (to Ireland?) Rather, Celts appear to have fled to to Ireland from at least 5th century BC

Semi-final excerpts, from pg 120 onwards, before I foist this on some new victim bound by duty. Keep in mind that many facts may be accurate, but their analysis is suspect, as hinted at by a subtle contradiction in sequencing discussed in the comment section.

Update from pg 120 to end.

-- 4th century play to look up, by a Gaul, "Querolus", about a Celtic astrologer.
-- From the 11th century, Arabic cosmology displaced Ptolemy in europe.
-- Ellis wonders in passing whether ancient Celts were "a sea-going people."
-- Refers to a curragh as a "river vessel". To the degree that he is right, one of my ancestors is said to have drowned in the Atlantic using something similar.
-- "Early Irish texts speak of their ancestors arriving from the Iberian peninsula"
-- "Severed human heads abound" in Celtic coins.
-- "Celts used cross motifs as solar symbols, including the swastika-style cross which evolved into Brigit's cross"
-- Smiths were ranked with the "high intellectual caste of society."
-- Depiction of Celtic deity Cernunnos from AD 14-37 found beneath the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.
-- "Celts believed their origins lay with mother goddess, Danu, who fell from heaven and whose waters created the Danube. From there sprang he pantheon of gods known as The Children of Dau"
-- "Most of the major Celtic deities were in the form of a triune of gods and goddesses -- three aspects, three names, three faces, or three heads, very common to the Indo-European tradition"
-- A Gaulish Celt, Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers, in his great work "De Trinitate" defined the concept of the Holy Trinity for the first time.
-- "Nuada, ruler of the gods in Ireland, surrendered his rule to Lugh, master of all crafts and skills."
-- "The famous decapitation game in 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' has its origins in Celtic myth."
-- "The Celts celebrated birth with mourning for the death in the Otherworld, and regarded death with joy for birth in the Otherworld"
-- One Irish name for the Otherworld to the West, Hy-Breasail, Bresal's Island was considered so real that the first Portuguese explorer thought he'd discovered it and named it Brazil.
-- "The notion of Truth as the highest principle and sustaining power of creation pervaded all early Irish literature [Professor Miles Dillon]"
-- Celtic Christian theologian Pelagius argued against pre-ordained original sin without free will, as prescribed by Augustine of Hippo. The argument of Pelagius ultimately prevailed, although Pelagius is still considered a heretic and Augustine a saint.
-- Christian clerics, "eager to denigrate pagan beliefs of their ancestors", never describe a tradition of human sacrifice.
-- "Ireland was the only Celtic land to escape Roman conquest."
-- "The old gods and goddesses are defeated and are forced to retreat underground, becoming 'sidhe' or 'people of the hills', known in folklore as 'fairies'
-- "The great god of arts and crafts, Lugh, was demoted to 'Lugh chronain (stooping Lugh), Anglicised as 'leprechaun'".
-- Legends
-- Cycle of the Kings: Flaithius, "obviously a goddess of sovereignty...appeared as an ugly hag, with black skin and green teeth, demanding that Niall of the Nine Hostages and his companions have intercourse with her. Only Niall does so, whereupon she turns into a beautiful goddess"
-- Fenian Cycle too.
-- "This vibrant mythology is based on 150 stories, while a further 450 remain unedited and untranslated."
-- "Irish mythology seems to share a curious Mediterranean warmth with its fellow Indo-European cultures. The brooding blackness that permeates Nordic myth is not there."
-- "Death is never the conqueror...the Celts were one of the first cultures in Europe to evolve a doctrine of the immortality of the soul"
-- Interesting story of "Hanes Taliesin", a 6th century poet sometimes conflated with Merlin.
-- "only complete Celtic mythological texts are from insular Celts, not as much from Continental or Gaulish Celts."
-- Livy may have been a Celt whose histories were influenced by Celtic oral tales.

Here begins a first update which contains underlines not already in my GR updates, probably from page 162 onwards. Some of my comments in the review below may not be fair, since the shotgun organization went everywhere, often, while seldom hitting me.

1) Ellis, following the line of thought of one book he cites several times, spends a lot of time matching Sanskrit writings and practices with ancient Irish ones. This is most intriguing to me when he suggests that the intellectual castes and the leadership position of the Druids are based on the intellectual hierarchy in the Hindu Vedas.

-- Words in the Vedic laws of Manu are very similar (in written form) to the Celtic Brehon laws.

-- "Hindus and Celts worshipped sacred rivers and made votive offerings there." The Vedic myth of the mother goddess Danu may have become "Danuvius ... the first great Celtic sacred river", or more simply, the Danube.

-- "Celts have been painted as warlike, flamboyant, given to excess in alcohol and food and hardly more than high-spirited children."

-- "Only the Greeks, with the exception of those Greeks in Roman employment, tended to be unbiased commentators on the Celtic world."

-- "The earliest Celtic inscriptions occur in the Etruscan alphabet...none have so far been interpreted."

-- In the Christian era, "Irish took its place as Europe's third oldest literary language, after Greek and Latin"

-- [Benignus wrote] that "Patrick, in his missionary zeal, burnt 180 books of the Druids"

-- "Irish Christian sources are all fairly clear that books existed in Ireland before the coming of Christianity"

-- "The oldest surviving medical books in Irish date from the early 14th century and constitute the largest collection of medical manuscript literature, prior to 1800, in any one language."

-- West was the direction of the Celtic Otherworld. "The phrase 'To go west' was a euphemism for death in English.

-- Only one Celtic area has never matched the princely burials of the Continent, and that is Ireland.

-- The Romans ritually slaughtered up to 50 Celtic leaders at a time to celebrate various Roman triumphs. Ellis uses this as an example that Romans were as equally prone to human sacrifice as the Celts.

-- Caractus, the over-king of southern Britian, was taken by the Romans and somehow saved his family's life with his eloquence.

-- The two houses of the Ui Neill dynasty -- for now, a Prince in Portugal and a Marques in Spain -- can trace their lines back to Nial of the Nine Hostages, from AD 379-405.

-- "Many of the early Celtic (Christian) saints where Druids or children of Druids. The new religion became "the Celtic Church"

-- "Generally, the Celts were not interested in central authority and discipline...In modern times these attibutes are seen as laudable. In ancient times, they were the reason for the downfall of the Celtic peoples."

I've been browsing 3 books about the Celts, wildly different and some blending quite favourably into the imaginary. Dozens of underlines later in this particular bad compromise between fete and encyclopedia, I am slightly indifferent to its factual basis and utterly bored finding or reviewing what worked. To be honest, modern Ireland often has men who are more encyclopedic than colourful, which may explain why the oral tradition didn't produce a memorable history by the time the Christian era arrived. That's admitting, by Ellis's estimates, that some 2/3 of the ancient literature has never even been translated.

Ellis made one really strange organizational decision, probably predicated on his need to show that Celts were highly cultured, not the crazed warriors of Roman history, which appears to be the main pre-Christian history available. Ellis put the detailed history of Celtic wars, kings, and tribes at the end of the book. Then, possibly because the Romans were the ones finishing the stories, he stops short, absolutely every single time, of completing the stories, always as the really interesting details are starting.

The chapters preceding this have no similar sense of order. Tribes and eras hundreds of years apart are lumped together as "Celtic" if Ellis wants to show that they were good at one time or another at, say, farming.

It may also be a mistake to dwell almost entirely on the pre-Christian era. Christianity seems to have defined modern Celts almost as much as the Byzantine Orthodox era made the modern Greeks, not that I am asking for a treatment of theological questions in any way, just accomplishments once the Celts started writing down their own histories.

There really are some excellent and intriguing quotes, so I'll put them here soon, so none of us has to carry the whole book.