This chapter was rather interesting to me, and I enjoyed it. (The first for the book – it just feels less dry). It speaks of the classical writers, the two schools of writing, and what conclusions and biases come from their works. I’m beginning to learn some important source facts about the Druids, and I’m starting to be able to tease apart the facts from the fancy.
The first school is that of Poseidonius, a historian and philosopher whose works were the primary source for the first set of writers, including Caesar, who actually spent a fair amount of time observing the Celts as he conquered them in Gaul, as opposed to the other writers, apparently; they seem to merely reiterate what Poseidonius has to say, with little direct experience. The thing to remember about this first set of writers, other than they seem to draw most of their information from the same source, is that their mindset was ‘Hurrah for Rome! Everyone else is a barbarian lout, or worse, and must be conquered!’.
Writers of the Poseidonius school are, aside from Poseidonius himself ;), Timagenes, Julius Caesar, Diodorus Siculus, and Strabo. It is from these writers that we have the 3 classes of Druids: Druids, Bards and Vates. We also hear of the treatment of the Heads of the enemy, the belief of immortality, and the scope of Druid social power. We also get LOTS of justification for the conquering of Gaul and the Celts by Rome. It is from Caesar that we learn the term ‘Druid’ applies to all the intelligentsia as a class of people, and not just a priesthood, although what he describes points that way. Caesar also elaborates on the Celts’ refusal to write their teachings, and also upon how the Druids in Gaul were organized. Later writers owed much to Caesar; writers such as Pliny, who first tells us of Druids’ magic, the serpent’s egg and association with the Oak Grove in his Naturalis Historia.
The second school, Alexandrian, brings writers who create encyclopaedic works, collecting and arranging known information; they cite their sources heavily, and are more favorable to the Druids themselves. It is through these writers, too, that we learn of works that are now lost.
Dio Chrysostom, in his Oratio, begins to compare the Druids to Pythagoreans and the Brahmins of India. He speaks at length in his works about the Druids as political influence and upon their intellectual achievements. He, at least, has traveled widely and has actually met the Celts of Galatia; he isn’t just passing along second-hand information, as so many others seem to be.
This constitutes the base of our knowledge from classical sources, and a sadly biased one, at that.