the Celts

Borges, selected non-fictions, p. 458 – 463
the concept of an academy and the celts

In no other part of the world has literary life been organized in such a rigorous manner as among the Celtic nations, which I shall attempt to prove, or more exactly, recall. I spoke of the literature of the Celts: the term is vague. They inhabited, in antiquity, the territories that a remote future would call Portugal, Spain, France, the British Isles, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Lombardy, Bohemia, Bulgaria, and Croatia, as well as Galicia on the coast of the Black Sea; the Germans and the Romans displaced or subjected them after arduous wars. Then a remarkable thing happened. The true culture of the Germans reached its maximum and final flowering in Iceland, in the Ultima Thule of Latin cosmography,

where the nostalgia of a small group of fugitives rescued the ancient mythology and enriched the ancient rhetoric.

Celtic culture took refuge on another lost island, Ireland. We know little about the arts and letters of the Celts in Iberia or in Wales. Thanks to Caesar, Pliny, Diogenes Laertius, and Diodorus Siculus, we know that the Welsh were ruled by a theocracy, the Druids, who administered and executed the laws, declared war or proclaimed peace, had the power to depose the king, annually appointed magistrates, and were in charge of the education of the young and the ritual celebrations. They practiced astrology and taught that the soul is immortal.

In the Middle Ages, the conversion of the Celts to Christianity reduced the Druids to the category of sorcerers.

Beyond the heroic centuries, the mythological centuries,

there is an aspect of Celtic literature that particularly interests us, and that is the sea voyages…

I should say something about the meaning of landscape in Celtic poetry. Matthew Arnold, in his remarkable study of Celtic literature, says that the sense of nature, which is one of the virtues of English poetry, is derived from the Celts. I would day that the Germans also felt nature. Their world is, of course, quite different, because in ancient Germanic poetry, what is felt above all is the horror of nature; the swamps and the forests and the twilights are populated by monsters. In contrast, the Celts also understood nature as a living thing, but they felt that these supernatural presences could also be benign. The fantastic world of the Celts is a world of both angels and demons.

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