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VIEW OF THE DRUIDS IN THE CLASSICAL WORLD

The Alexandrians had a profound interest in what they saw as the pure and simple wisdom of the Druids. Their view, like that propounded in the Book of Genesis, was that Man had fallen from Grace and that - developed society was deficient compared to the Golden Age of the past. They shared this opinion with many other thinkers of Classical antiquity, notably the eighth-century BC Greek poet Hesiod and the first-century AD Roman, Lucretius.

Early Classical Writers on the Druids

• Philosophers, as we may call them, and men learned in religious affairs are unusually honoured among them [the Gauls] and are called by them Druids. And it is a custom of theirs that no one should perform a sacrifice without a "philosopher"; for thank-offerings should be rendered to the gods, they say, by the hands of men who are experienced in the nature of the divine, and who speak, as it were, the language of the gods - Diodorus Siculus, Library of History V, 31,1-5 (1st cent. BC)

• It is in consonance with their savagery that they practice a unique impiety in their sacrifices – Diodorus Siculus V,31,3,32,6,

• Pomponius Mela called the Druids - Masters of Wisdom

• The druids in addition to natural philosophy, study also moral philosophy. The Druids are considered the most righteous of men – Strabo, Geography IV, 4,4 (1st cent. BC)

• Dio Crysostom (AD 40 – c. 100) speaks with respect for the intellectual powers of the Druids, comparing them to the Persian Magi, Indian Brahmins and other influential learned classes.

How reliable were classical writers on the Druids ?

• On the face of it, we should expect the earlier sources to be the most trustworthy, because they were written at, or just after, a time when Druids were still an active force. Posidonius visited Gaul, and Caesar spent nearly ten years there. Pliny, Lucan and Tacitus were all contemporary with the early imperial attempts to eradicate Druidism; but these earlier chroniclers of the Druids all had an agenda other than mere historical recording.

• The archetypal by stereotypical barbarian image is always present, to a greater or lesser extent. Stock characterization influences the descriptions of Celts and Druids. Certain phrases, which are apparently meaningful, have to be treated with skepticism. Thus Strabo's remark that the Druids were the most righteous of men is a stock Greek literary attribute for foreigners, and may possess no more profound meaning than that.

• The writers of the Posidonian and Alexandrian traditions may have been affected by the current philosophies of the Graeco-Roman world. So the druids were perhaps artificially credited with Stoic and Pythagorean thinking, and we have seen that the idealized Alexandrian portrait of the Noble Savage had a wider arena than its application\to Druidism.

• What is interesting is that Christian writers were sympathetic to pagan Druids.

Extracts from Exploring the World of the Druids by Miranda J. Green.


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