The Druids: Priests of the Ancient Celts

By Paul R. Lonigan | Go to book overview

1
IDENTIFYING THE DRUIDS

DRUIDS -- any discussion of the subject must include an attempt to explain the meaning of the term, for the very name occasions some dispute among Celticists. Pliny the Elder (1st cent. a.d.) in his Natural History (NH) offers the suggestion that, because of their reverence for the oak, the druidae may be so called from the Greek name for the tree -- drus ( NH XVI, 249). There are those, however, such as Pedersen ( 1909: 61) in the early part of this century, or Le Roux ( 1961: 12) decades later, who see dru- as an intensive combining with the rest of the name *wid- ("know," like English "wit") to denote "very wise."

Chadwick, in detail, ( 1966: 12 f) and Piggott ( 1975: 100) discuss the question. Chadwick concludes that the "oak" association is "more probable," but that the word's origin is "quite obscure." Piggott surmises (ibid.: 101) that tree association of this type would "be appropriate enough" considering the Celtic religion, its sanctuaries, and the forests of Europe Piggott (ibid.: 100) notes, interestingly, that Lucan ( 1st cent. A.D.) uses the form dryadae for "druids," possibly due to influence from the Greek word for "nymphs" (dryades in Latin). If so, it would go far to show that at least among Latin writers there was an accepted association be

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