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The Celts: Uncovering the Mythic and Historic Origins of Western Culture, Jean Markale, Inner Traditions.

Western Civilization is usually traced back to its beginnings in the Greco-Roman world, and much of our language, religion, legal system, architecture and more does have its roots in ancient Greece and Rome. But the Celts, our pagan ancestors whose scattered artifacts can be found from England to Turkey and from Poland to Portugal, also had an enormous influence on the development of Western culture. Jean Markale argues that the Celts provided much of the West's mythic underpinning, its legends and songs and archetypes.

In this wide-ranging study of Celtic history and culture, Markale is both scholarly and, for the most part, readable--a rare accomplishment. He is also entertaining. His history of the Celts, from their mysterious appearance in central Europe until their conquest by the Romans, presents a wealth of fascinating detail about Celtic customs, religion, legends, and folkways.

Particularly entertaining is Markale's story of the Celtic invasion of ancient Greece in quest of the oracle at Delphi in the third or fourth century B.C. Although the essentially mythical outlook of the Celts led them on many such quests, the raid on Delphi was one of their most mystical excursions. Delphi was an infallible oracle said to be located at the center of the world, after all. It also held a stockpile of gold--a powerful symbol of the Celtic solar deity. The Celts' failed attempt at capturing Delphi is recounted in both Celtic and Greek legends. Markale deciphers the symbolic undercurrents in these tales in a deft and thorough manner, revealing connections to later tales of the Knights of the Round Table.

Whether speaking of the Celtic Christian church, the ancient poetry of the Irish, the Western notion of sacrifice, or the Celtic influence in modern times, Markale brings to bear an enormous knowledge of his subject. He draws upon sources in such diverse fields as folklore, religion, anthropology and psychology in an easy and assured manner, all the while rendering the complex in layman's terms.

An informative and wide-ranging study, Markale's The Celts offers an important look at a people whose contributions to Western culture continue to enrich our lives today.

--Thomas Wiloch