THE CELTS: The People Who Came Out of the Darkness by Gerhard Herm

THE CELTS: The People Who Came Out of the Darkness

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The Celts are among the most mysterious of Indo-European peoples and though Herm (The Phoenicians, 1975) uses both literary and archaeological sources, he is, by his own admission, only able to reconstruct ""an image of how their age saw them."" That image was not very flattering, since its creators--Posidonius, Diodorus, Strabo, Livy, and other cultivated Greco-Romans--saw one barbarian as much like another. Herm quotes at length their tales of blond, naked, head-hunting warriors swooping towards Rome in the 3rd and 4th centuries B.C., and though he admits that Roman scribes freely plagiarized each other, he is impressed with the similarities of their observations. His own portrait is a composite of the dubious literary sources and anything and everything archaeology may have to offer. The Ur-culture of the Volga commingled with the Bronze Age Megalithic builders of Europe, before the cataclysm of Atlantis which scattered and rearranged the tribes of Europe. Somehow Celtic culture when it finally emerged full-blown in La Tene also had acquired Scythian ornamentation and Pythagorean cosmology. It was crushed by the Romans on the continent by about 50 B.C. but survived in Ireland ""like a fly in amber"" well into the first millenium A.D. There are problems here, even apart from Herm's speculative eclecticism. Why, for example does Celtic art, so intricate and phantasmagoric, resemble Byzantine design and decoration? How to explain the marauding warrior-bards who overnight turned into the meekest of Christian hermits and saints? Stuart Piggott's The Druids is both a clearer and a more critical assessment of how much--or how little--we know of the people who at one time were dispersed from the Bosporus to the Po Valley.

Pub Date: April 19th, 1977
Publisher: St. Martin's