Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Book Review: The Discovery of Middle Earth

by David Blake, Fiction Department, Central Library

The Discovery of Middle Earth
Graham Robb

We can experience a sense of vertigo when long-held assumptions are shown to be untrue. From the scraps of Celtic civilization that have landed in museums, the Celts seem interesting but fundamentally unknowable. With The Discovery of Middle Earth, historian Graham Robb knits together known archaeological remains into a new understanding of the sophistication, and strangeness, of this long extinct culture that thrived in Europe, from Turkey to Ireland, for a thousand years.

Although the Celts used writing for commerce, their culture was entirely oral, never written. The Druids, their priests, studied at university for 20 years memorizing Celtic lore. The location of their temples were places where our middle earth connects with the world above and the world below. Many archaeological remains of these temples are found in France, Great Britain, Ireland, and the rest of Europe. Moreover, many Christian churches were built atop Celtic Temples, as were many great cities: Milan and Bologna in Italy, for example. Think of these places as dots on the map of France and Europe. With The Discovery of Middle Earth, Robb connects the dots and makes new discoveries.

We have long known that the Celts communicated over long distances—hundreds of miles. They maintained a network of thousands of shouters, who relayed messages from one to the next, over the countryside, from one end of France to the other. Through this network of human telegraph lines, millions of people, spread out over hundreds of miles, would know of the movements of an invading army almost simultaneously. Now, through Robb, we know that Celtic temples and cities hundreds of miles apart were precisely located in relation to one another, on the holy pathways of the solar solstice and equinox, utilizing sophisticated Pythagorean mathematics.

It is common to believe that the Romans brought civilization to the savages of Western Europe. Now, as we learn more about the pre-Roman past, we regret the civilization the Romans destroyed as they exterminated the Druids one by one, much as ancient cultures, even today, are wiped out by modern civilization. One wonders whether today’s unwritten digital culture will be as elusive in the future. But, through Robb, we learn that the Celts of ancient France had good hygiene, were well dressed, and were ready to share their beds.

Some things haven’t changed.

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