December 13, 2009


The Celtic Revolution by Simon Young: Tom Holland relishes The Celtic Revolution, one man’s quest to salvage the Celts from the realm of mist-shrouded romance (Tom Holland, 12/13/09, Daily Telegraph)

Young cites the latest trends in linguistics and archaeology, most of which suggest that there was indeed an entity which might be termed 'Celtica’. 'The Celts, in short,’ he declares robustly, 'did exist.’ That one established, he then goes on to trace their story. This is a massive project: one that transports readers through more than two millennia of history and well beyond the frontiers of Europe, into both the New World and Turkey.

Yet The Celtic Revolution is not a heavy book, nor even a long one. In it Young has forged his own distinctive path. Rather like a Grail knight in one of the Arthurian romances that he clearly loves so much, he is a man on a quest. His task: to solve three haunting riddles. Did the Celts pave the way for the Roman Empire? Did they save Christianity? and did they help to fashion the modern world?

It comes as no great surprise to find that Young’s answer to these questions – albeit somewhat tongue in cheek – is a threefold 'yes’. As with Chrétien de Troyes, however, it is not the arrival that matters so much as the manner of the journey. It is rare that such evident learning is worn with such lightness and sprezzatura. A book that manages to explain the complexities of Hellenistic power politics, the issues at stake at the Synod of Whitby, and the precise significance of Geoffrey of Monmouth, all in one coherent sweep, is a fair achievement in itself; but even more remarkable is the delicacy of touch which ensures that readers barely realise they have been educated at all.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 13, 2009 6:49 AM
blog comments powered by Disqus