The Philosopher and The Druids: A Journey Among the Ancient Celts
By Phillip Freeman
I stumbled across this book while perusing a local used bookstore, and obviously had to buy it and find somewhere on my shelf to shove it. (I have a problem… don’t judge me.) I’ve always been a big fan of the fantasy genre, and if you’re a fantasy fan too, you know how often Druids show up in stories and legends alike. For me, these stoic peoples have always been of interest and something I wanted to learn more about. More often than not, the Druids are facing persecution or extinction in these stories, but what about the real Druids? What about their rise? What about the time in which they thrived? How did they fit into ancient Celtic society? In picking up this book, I was hoping to answer some of these questions floating around in my head.
In the early first century B.C., a Greek philosopher names Posidonius decided to travel across the land in search of the answers to these questions. Spreading wild during this time were rumors that the ancient Celts were cannibals and savages, and Posidonius wanted to find out for himself what the truth really is. In what turned out to be one of the greatest adventures of the ancient world, Posidonius traveled straight into the heart of Gaul where he took firsthand accounts of the customs, traditions, rituals, behavior, and social hierarchy of the ancient Celts. Upon returning home, Posidonius recorded his firsthand, objective accounts of these peoples into a book that became one of the most popular books of ancient times (it even influenced Julius Caesar!). The Philosopher and The Druids is a reinterpretation and expansion on the records that Posidonius kept of his observations and stories, which Freeman greatly researched and organized for the reader. In this book, the reader has a chance to learn about and witness the now gone way of life that the ancient Celts lived almost 2000 years ago.
Now, this book was highly interesting….sometimes. Let me just say that there is a lot of information in this book, which is only around 200 pages, and I only found some of it interesting. I’m the type of person where I either find things highly interesting, or not interesting at all, and this book was a perfect example of that. Now, luckily, this book is one in which you can easily skip around and either read chapters out of order or completely skip chapters, both of which I did. I started off reading from cover to cover, and found myself not paying attention to the words about halfway through the third chapter. I almost gave up on the book, but then decided to skip ahead to a chapter I knew I would enjoy, and was not disappointed. I learned so many interesting a cool things from this book! Here are a few of them:
- Ancient Celtic women had more power and respect than women in other cultures of that time, and were taller/stronger than most women (think Amazonian-sized).
- Often times, Celtic warriors would choose to fight naked as a huge “F-YOU” to their opponents to demonstrate their lack of fear and respect.
- The ancient Celts were spread all over what we now know as Europe (not just in the UK area) organized in different tribes who all had their own king.
- The term “stoic” comes from an ancient school of philosophy in which all of the students were taught to be completely logical thinkers that display zero emotion.
My recommendations: If you found any of these things interesting, read through some of the chapters of this book. Below is the list of chapters–I’ve crossed off the ones I didn’t find worth reading, and bolded the ones that were my favorites. Also, keep in mind that I didn’t read all of the chapters that are crossed off, so pick and choose what works for you if you decide to read this book.
- Tribes and Kings
- Warriors and Head-Hunting
After finishing this book, I found out that Freeman has written other books highlighting the lives of the ancient Celts, one of which is titled War, Women, and Druids, which perhaps would have been up my alley as far as topics go. Maybe try that one, if the whole “philosopher” part of this title doesn’t pull you in. I’ve also heard great things about Freeman’s Oh My Gods, which apparently is just as sassy as it sounds, and is on my library list!