There was no reason for the Greek world to be particularly concerned about the Celts in the years before and even decades after Alexander the Great. To any Greek, the Celts were just another race of distant barbarians. Traders might bring back stories of them, and occasionally a small group of Celtic warriors might appear among the mercenaries of a hired army, but they were no threat to civilized Greek folk going about their daily business.
Sometime during his early years in Rhodes, a daring notion first entered the mind of Posidonius. He had been taught by his Stoic professors that the world and all its people were part of a divine order. What better way to understand this order than a great journey of exploration? He knew that tribes still relatively uncorrupted by civilizing influences would be an important part of such a study. To be sure, this grand excursion would be the perfect opportunity to explore other subjects- astronomy, geology, and oceanography just to name a few- as well, but it was unspoiled human culture he most wanted to examine...The best possibility lay in the last place any reasonable Greek philosopher would want to go. In the distant west, beyond even the rule of Rome, lay the unknown land of the Celts.
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Philip Freeman is Qualley Professor of Classics at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and a former professor of classics at Washington University in St. Louis. He was selected as a visiting fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton for January 2012. He earned the first joint Ph.D. in classics and Celtic studies from Harvard University, and has been a visiting scholar at the Harvard Divinity School, the American Academy in Rome, and the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C. The author of several previous books including Alexander the Great, St. Patrick of Ireland and Julius Caesar, he lives with his family in Decorah, Iowa. Visit him at PhilipFreemanBooks.com.From Publishers Weekly:
Sometime during the first century B.C., the Greek Stoic philosopher Posidonius traveled north and west to see for himself the mysterious culture of the Celts, which he had read about in Herodotus, Plato and Aristotle. Although none of Posidonius' writings survive, Freeman, a professor of classics (St. Patrick of Ireland), sketchily recreates the philosopher's world out of the fragmentary writings of Polybius, Strabo and Caesar, using the philosopher's journey as a flimsy excuse to draw on his own noted expertise in Celtic history and culture. The speculative observations about Posidonius fill only two to three pages of each chapter; the bulk of the book records information about the ancient Celts that readers can find elsewhere, including in Freeman's earlier books. For example, we learn that Celtic feasts were often boasting contests between two tribes and that the Celts were fierce warriors who engaged in one-on-one combat, headhunters and religious people whose priests, the Druids, viewed the natural world as sacred. Posidonius was neither the first to discover all this nor the first to write about it for Hellenistic culture, and Freeman's bewildering book reveals little new on the subject. 8 pages of b&w illus. not seen by PW, 2 maps. (Jan.)
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