Celtic Cultural Histories

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Cunliffe, Barry. The Celtic World. New York: St. Martins, 1993. ISBN 031209700X. Cunliffe offers a general survey with lots of background information on some of the most important Celtic sites in Europe. This is a good introduction to the ancient Celts and their descendants. I wrote a longer review as well.

Cunliffe, Barry. The Ancient Celts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. ISBN: 0198150105. I’ve posted a lengthy review here. Cunliffe is one of the leading European archaeologists, and specializes in early Bronze and Iron age. Some of his linguistic data is a bit out of date, but he offers a thorough exploration of the various Celtic migrations and of Celtic culture and history pre-and post-Roman empire. A good bibliography, and excellent maps, with a useful chronology.

Amazon catalog page for The Ancient Celts.

Amazon UK catalog page for The Ancient Celts.

Dillon, Myles, and Nora K. Chadwick. The Celtic Realms.
London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1972. 2nd ed. Some may regard this book as hopelessly outdated because much of the historical background is inaccurate, but it still serves as a useful survey of Celtic mythology, particularly Irish mythology, by two important scholars.

Ellis, Peter Berresford. Celt and Greek: Celts in the Hellenic World.London: Constable, 1997. This is a popular rather than a scholarly work. Ellis presents a survey of Greek, and some Roman, references to the Celts, placed in an historical context. There is a reasonable bibliography, but Ellis presents his personal theories and beliefs as generally held theories, or as facts. For instance, he states that the Arthurian round table is directly descended from the Gaulish practice, described by several classical authors, of sitting in a circle to eat. The descent of the roundtable from a Celtic cultural habit is by no means certain, however plausible it may seem. Ellis indulges in quite a bit of this sort of unsubstantiated assertion, much of it quite unsupported, but he does a good job of presenting the Greek texts in context.

Amazon catalog page for Celt and Greek: Celts in the Hellenic World

Amazon UK catalog page for Celt and Greek: Celts in the Hellenic World

Ford, Patrick. “The Blind, the Dumb and the Ugly: Aspects of Poets
and Their Craft in Early Ireland and Wales,” Cambridge Medieval
Celtic Studies
9. A super article about the role of the poet in
Celtic literature, and a good companion to Nagy, Wisdom of the
Outlaw.

Green, Miranda J. Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1992. ISBN 0500279756. A very useful compendium that goes beyond myth and legend. I wish that she had been more careful about distinguishing her opinion from scholarly concensus and fact, but she does provide a useful bibliography. Green always has super photographs of artifacts and related images as well.

Amazon catalog page for Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend

Amazon UK catalog page for Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend

Harbison, Peter. Pre-Christian Ireland: From the First Settlers to the Early Celts.New York: Thames and Hudson, 1988. ISBN 0500278091. The central concern for Harbison is Ireland, and Irish archaeology, but he does a thorough job of placing Irish Celtic history in context. A good readiable survey of early Irish archaeology from a leader in the field.

Amazon catalog page for Pre-Christian Ireland: From the First Settlers to the Early Celts
Amazon UK catalog page for Pre-Christian Ireland: From the First Settlers to the Early Celts

Koch, John T. and John Carey eds. The Celtic Heroic Age.
Malden, Massachustetts: Celtic Studies Publications, 1995. ISBN 0964244608. The sub-title describes the book: “Literary sources for ancient Celtic Europe and Early Ireland and Wales.” The work of two leading Celticists (though Koch is the prime mover), it discusses the Classical and Gaulish materials, as well as the literary materials of Wales and Ireland with a nod at Breton material. The text is thematically organized, and offers a good introduction to the cultural background of Irish and Welsh literature, and is particularly useful for its presentation of Classical texts. You can order the book directly from the publisher, using the link above.

Amazon catalog page for The Celtic Heroic Age

Kruta,V., O. Frey, Barry Raftery and M. Szabo. eds.) The Celts. Thames & Hudson: New York, 1991. This is the official catalog of the international Celtic exhibit at Venice in 1991. It’s a collection of papers by leading international scholars.

Amazon catalog page for The Celts

Mac Cana’s Celtic Mythology. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1991; ISBN 0872262421; repr. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1996. ISBN 0760701903. Every one should have this. A good overview of things Celtic, concentrating on the myths (both Irish and Welsh, with some discussion of the Gualish myths), with lots of lovely photographs of artifacts.

Matonis, A. T.E. and Daniel F. Melia. Celtic Language, Celtic Culture: A Festschrift for Eric P. Hamp. Van Nuys, CA: Ford and Baillie, 1990. This is a collection of mostly excellent essays by lots of Celticists, including Patrick Sims-Williams, “Some Celtic Otherworld Terms.”

MacKillop, James. Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0192801201. There are a lot of “dictionaries” of Celtic myth out there; I’ve decided to recommend this one. No, it’s not perfect, but the only real competition it has is from Miranda Green’s Dictionary. Green’s book, though I do like it for its lovely images, is a bit too idiosyncratic in some of Green’s personal interpretations, which are not always clearly presented as personal interpretations. Ideally, one would want both books, but MacKillop, who includes a bibliography as well as citations, is more likely to be reliable and good for the long term, and it’s far superior to that of Ellis, who is somewhat careless, frequently wrong, and doesn’t use citations.

Amazon catalog page for The Celts

Megaw, Ruth. Celtic Art: From its Beginnings to the Book of Kells. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1990. ISBN 0500275858. An affordable, attractive introduction to Celtic art from 700 B.C. to A.D. 700; hundreds of photos, a number in color.

Amazon catalog page for Celtic Art: From its Beginnings to the Book of Kells

Amazon UK catalog page for Celtic Art: From its Beginnings to the Book of Kells

Powell, T. G. E. The Celts. Thames and Hudson: New York, 1980. third ed. 1997. ISBN: 0500272751. A basic overview of Celtic history, via cultural artifacts, Classical references, and medieval texts.

Amazon catalog page for The Celts

Amazon UK catalog page for The Celts

Puhvel, Jaan. Comparative Mythology. Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins University Press, c1987. ISBN 0801839386. One of the most approachable surveys, in my opinion. Puhvel discusses Celtic myth in the context of Indo-European myths, via Dumézil.

Amazon catalog page for Comparative Mythology
Amazon UK catalog page for Comparative Mythology

Rees, Alwyn and Brinley. Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1961; repr. 1989. ISBN 0500270392. A super introduction and overview of the medieval Irish and Welsh literature, from a comparative Dumezielian (and occasionally quirky) point of view.

Amazon catalog page for Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales

Amazon UK catalog page for Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales

Ross, Anne, Ph.D. Everyday life of the Pagan Celts. London,
Batsford; New York, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1970. Series: Everyday life
series. An overview of early Celtic culture and history, one I
desperately want a copy of. This is one of those woefully-outdated-but-not-replaced sources in Celtic studies.

Ross, Anne. Pagan Celtic Britain. Chicago: Chicago Adademy Publishers, 1996. ISBN 0897334353. A good background source for archaeological and literary connections, though much of the archaeology is now less than current and needs to be checked against recent work.

Amazon catalog page for Pagan Celtic Britain
Amazon UK catalog page for Pagan Celtic Britain

Sjoestedt, M. L. Gods and Heroes of the Celts. 1949; translated by Myles Dillon. repr. Berkeley, CA: Turtle Press, 1990. ISBN 1851821791. A slim paperback, still considered a standard text, with some interesting observations. There’s much more to Sjoestedt than meets the eye; read carefully and thoughtfully.

Amazon catalog page for Gods and Heroes of the Celts
Amazon UK catalog page for Gods and Heroes of the Celts

J. Tierney, J. J. “The Celtic Ethnography of Posidonius'”
Proceedings of the Royal Irish Acadmy. Vol. 60 Section C, No.
5 (1960): 189-275. Dublin, Royal Irish Academy. Tierney presents most
of the Classical era Greco-Roman sources on the Celts, including the
less well-known ones, and places them in context.

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