Celts and the Classical World by David Rankin

Author: David Rankin

Publisher: Routledge (an imprint of Taylor & Francis Group)

Publishing History: First published in 1987 by Croom Helm Ltd, first published in paperback in 1996 by Routledge, the edition I am using for this review was published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2003.

ISBN: 0-203-75022-5 (Adobe eReader Format)

Synopsis: To observe the Celts through the eyes of the Greeks and Romans is the first aim of this book.

Review: The book is divided into fifteen chapters plus an appendix which covers the Romans and Ireland. It also has an extensive bibliography.

As a whole this book is pretty hard to rate and review. To me it was a mix of the book Heroic Age and a generic Celtic history book, but in an abridged form. It does however, look at a section of knowledge about the Celts that most people who study them tend to ignore OR not take into account for varies reasons and that is the Latin and Greek texts. The author takes the time to put the quotations from the Classical authors in the context of time and place and of the peoples around the Celts at the time and how these quotations could have been feasible in light of their contact with these peoples. He also looks at these texts in light of available archeological, and vernacular data where available.

But to tell you the truth I was a little bored at the beginning with all the repeated historical information. It seemed that the author was repeating the same data over and over but taking it from different perspectives or “eyes” each time. It was not until chapter ten that I started to wake up and then chapter twelve when I started to REALLY get interested. These final chapters talked about the Celtic Women, the druids and the Celtic religion and the different Celts (Galatians, Gauls and so on).

Of course the appendix was great and the bibliography is amazing.


5 thoughts on “Celts and the Classical World by David Rankin

  1. Dafydd says:

    I noticed that David Rankin has a similar essay in the Celtic World (1995 – edited by Miranda Green). It’s pretty interesting to see how the Celts were viewed by the Greeks and the Romans, especially how they tried to fit their descriptions into ‘barbarian’ stereotypes, or link them up with Classical religion (the claim that Hercules sprouted the Celts/Galatians through one of his sons).

    The only problem with this approach is that there isn’t much evidence to go on, which leads to repetition (as you’ve noted in your review). Another problem is that we have no Iron Age era Celtic descriptions of themselves so we are entirely dependent on Graeco-Roman accounts of the Celts, so the only way we can could ever get descriptions of the Celts is through these writers. You could never write a book on the Iron Age Celts seen through their own eyes as there is nothing to go on, sadly.

    • celticscholar says:

      I think if he just stuck to the essay it would have been great. Unfortunately, you can’t help but compare his book to John T. Koch’s…

  2. Dafydd says:

    Hi, sorry for the late reply. Did John T. Koch write a book specifically on Celtic interactions with the Classical World, or was it an essay? I can only seem to find his work on deciphering Tartessian script, or his study of the Medieval literary traditions of the Irish and Welsh. His massive 2,000 + paged Celtic Culture encyclopedia looks good though…although it’s very, very expensive (perhaps the most expensive single publication I’ve ever seen).

    • celticscholar says:

      If you can afford that encyclopedia get it, it is an amazing piece of work. I think you are talking about John T. Koch and John Carey’s great book The Heroic Age.

      • Dafydd says:

        I wish I could afford it, but it’s far outside my price range, unless I saved my money for sometime. I will probably get The Heroic Age sometime soon though, I find John T. Koch’s ideas about the origins of the Celts fascinating. I’d also like to see how they tie up with Irish and Welsh history and mythology.

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