More thoughts on The Philosopher and the Druids

I just finished The Philosopher and the Druids. Something is sticking in my head. It tells of the famous Greek philosopher of the Stoic tradition’s journey through the Celtic countries and he writes about a funeral tradition of the Gauls of what is now France. He said that the people believed that when someone died they waited somewhere before reincarnating but when a person was cremated that everyone who wanted to communicate with their own dead would write a letter and put it on the funeral pyre so that the person being cremated would take the people’s letters with them to their dead. A sort of cosmic mail person.

Through most of Posidonious’ writings he is pointing out how strange some of the Gaul’s customs were but what he doesn’t point out as strange struck me, were all the people literate? If everyone is writing letters to the dead and their dead can read them then that is a very large literate population for those times, (around 90 BC)

I know that the Irish had universities in 600 AD that people from all over Europe sent their sons to for education that was allegedly better than that found in the rest of Europe. And I know that Scotland has always had a huge tradition of literacy. The English liked to portray William Wallace as a barbarian and country bumpkin who somehow managed to unite Scotland but he had been to universities in France so how big a barbarian could be have been, Mel Gibson’s idiot portrayal not withstanding?

And Posidonius writes that everyone , men, women and children wrote letters. Yes, they ran naked and screaming into battle and deafened the Romans with trumpets and screaming but that was to scare the bejebus out of the Romans and sometimes it actually worked.

The inscriptions from that time period were in Gaulish so they obviously had a written language that was accessible to all. How big a barbarian could you be if you can read and write? Yes, they practiced human sacrifice but was that really any different from Romans putting people in the arena to fight to the death? I don’t think so and I bet there were fewer sacrifices by the Gauls than deaths in the arenas that every city had for contests with captured slaves. Posidonius makes a point of saying that the Gauls kept far fewer slaves than the Romans did and this is at the end of the Republic before the Empire would really raise the ante.

So I’m still pondering what a Greek had to say about the Celts of Iberia and Gaul. And really wanting to do some genetic testing to find out what gene pool I swam in versus what I was told was family history. I also wish my brother was still alive because he was the last of his line.

5 thoughts on “More thoughts on The Philosopher and the Druids

  1. Really interesting observation. How DID the write letters to their ancestors if they were “illiterate”. All of the Graeco-Roman writers of that period cast EVERYONE in a “not as good as us” light. One thing that this tells us is that the Graeco-Roman writers valued literacy very highly. They also worked hard to protect their belief in their own superiority. Therefore, no matter HOW literate someone is, they are not going to be cast as literate by the Greeks.

    The word “barbarian” specifically means “not Greek” in much the same way as “gentile” meant “not Jewish” to the Jews. There is no reason for us today to cast a value judgement on any of them. Of course they Greeks thought they were superior to the Gauls. I am quite sure the Gauls felt the same way about the Greeks. Different cultures place differing values on different things, largely because each culture has different needs to insure their own survival.

    One could ask, if the Gauls were so literate, where are their great writings? We don’t have a collection of Rhine River Scrolls, for example, like we do from the Dead Sea.

    I think the answer comes with the climate. It is colder and damper once you leave the Mediterranean area. Paper, parchment, is harder to keep the further north you go. That doesn’t mean they didn’t use it, it was just a lot more work. Everything is more work. Having grown up in L.A. but lived for a number of years in Central New York, I can attest to that. Gaulic culture fit the climate of Gaul, just as Graeco-Roman culture fit it’s environment.

    Human sacrifice is not an indicator of inferiority, either. Everybody did it. It is about to go out of fashion at this time, but everyone did sacrifice, and humans were included. What was a Triumph if not a human sacrifice?

    Cool book. More and more I am wanting to read it!


    • Yes, dear I know exactly what barbarian means. Why do you always tell me things I learned long before you? And they gave many inscriptions on stone and a few years aga found a cache of them in wood. The only thing we will never find is druidic teaching.


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