The Philosopher and The Druids

The modern world is rightly fascinated by the ancient Celts˜art, music, mythology, religion, druids, and much more. But who were they and what can we really know about them? The truth may surprise you. The Celts were master artisans, gifted poets, and fearsome warriors that spread across Europe and into Asia in classical times.

Reviews:

Harper's Magazine (February 2006) by John Leonard:
Nonviolence was not only not an option, it was probably not even a concept among imperial Romans and tribal Celts with whom we spend a surprisingly amiable time in Philip Freeman's The Philosopher and the Druids: A Journey Among the Ancient Celts (Simon & Schuster, $25). Freeman, a classics scholar who teaches at Luther College in Iowa and visits at the Harvard Divinity School, has hitched his narrative wagon to those fragments that survive of a History scribbled down on fifty-two papyrus scrolls by a Syrian-born Greek philosopher and Stoic named Posidonius, who embarked by cargo ship in the first century B.C. to Rome, Cadiz, Massalia (Marseilles), and the wild interior of Gaul, where he would spend a couple of years eating meat, drinking wine, and taking ethnographic notes under the watchful gaze of the severed heads of the many enemies of his colorful hosts.

Booklist:
Sometime in the first century B.C., the Greek philosopher Posidonius traveled among the "barbaric" people known today as the Celts. His written account of that adventure is essentially lost, though fragments of it exist as citations by other ancient authors. Freeman set himself to reconstruct the route of Posidonius and to conjure, from other writings and from archaeological sources, what Posidonius would have experienced. In vivid, sometimes breezy language, Freeman describes the landscapes among which the Celtic tribes lived as well as their appearance and daily life. Most fascinating are his reconstructions of Celtic warfare and how a Greek stranger might have witnessed it, and his examination of the druidic religious faith of the Celts. This book, which fills a void in the academic literature, is written so clearly and compellingly that it should be a crossover hit with a general, popular readership as well.

- Patricia Monaghan

Library Journal:
Freeman (Classics, Luther College; St. Patrick of Ireland) aims to piece together the lost account of the first-century B.C.E. journey of the Stoic philosopher Posidonius from Rhodes into the wild Celtic northlands in Gaul (now parts of Spain and France). Along the way, Freeman describes Posidonius's education and training as well as the range of knowledge available to him about the Celts, skillfully quoting from many different ancient narratives with his own translations. Although the supposition in Rhodes had been that the Celts were a race of savages, Posidonius discovered that they were a complex and articulate society˜albeit one that practiced a ritual involving human sacrifice. The philosopher's account proved to be a valuable study of a people soon to be conquered by Julius Caesar. In examining ancient Celtic history and culture in tandem with Greek and Roman attitudes, Freeman has turned out an engrossing study that both students and lay readers will enjoy. Highly recommended for public and undergraduate collections.

- Robert Harbison, Western Kentucky Univ. Lib., Bowling Green

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