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Nor was it for nothing that they performed this hazardous ceremony, since for this they were exempted from serving in the wars, as well as from the expense and trouble of several offices. They were called HIRPINS. Virgil, long before the time of Silius, introduces Aruns, one of that family, forming a design to kill Camilla, and thus praying for success to APOLLO.
“ O patron of Soracte's high abodes,
LEARNING.—It is strongly asserted, that the first settlers in Britain brought with them from Asia the scientific attainments as well as theological tenets, by which they, as a people or tribe, were distinguished; one of which was the alphabet, which Cadmus their countryman had invented ; and this accounts for the knowledge and use of Greek letters, as mentioned by Julius Cæsar. Hence it may be stated, that as the earliest inhabitants participated in the literature of Asia ; so the civilization of Britain, however it might have degenerated in succeeding ages, was coeval with the arrival of the first colony.
The Druids ranked high in literature and science. Diogenes Laertius assures us, (in his Prologue,) that they were the same, among the ancient Britons, with the Sophi, or Philosophers, among the Greeks; the Magi, among the Persians; the Gymnosophists and Brachmans,
a En. Lib. ii. ver. 785.
among the Indians; and the Chaldeans, among the Assyrians. The Druids studiously concealed their religious and philosophical principles and opinions from all but the members of their own society: they did not allow these to be committed to writing. In their seminaries, the professors delivered all their lectures to their pupils in verse; and a Druidical course of education, comprehending the whole circle of the sciences that were then taught, is said to have consisted of about 20,000 verses, and to have lasted, in some cases, 20
The scholars were obliged to commit all these verses to memory; and, when admitted into the seminaries, to take an oath of secrecy, in which they solemnly swore, that they would never reveal the mysteries they should learn there. The encyclopedia of the Druids, is supposed to contain natural philosophy, astronomy, astrology, arithmetic, geometry, geography, mechanics, medicine, anatomy, botany, pharmacy, and rhetoric. These Druidical academies were very much crowded with students; as many of the youth of the first families of Gaul came over to finish their education in this island, One of these academies was in the isle of Anglesea, the ancient Mona. Here is one place, which is still called Myfyrion, that is, the place of meditation or study ; another is called Caer-Edris, the City of Astronomers : and another Cerrig-Brudyn, the Astronomers' Circle. There is the village of Trer Driu, the Town of the Druid ; next to which is, Tre'r Beirdh, or Bards-town: as also, in another place, Maen-y-Druu, or the Druid's stone. In Merionethshire, there is Caer-Dreuin, or the City of the Druids. The pupils constantly resided with their teachers, and were strictly forbidden to converse with
any persons not belonging to their society, till they were regularly dismissed.
The authority of the Druids was very considerable. They took cognizance of all causes which came within their ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and so definitive was their judgment, that from their final determination there could be no appeal. In case any person pertinaciously refused to submit to their authority, he did thereby render himself liable to excommunication and outlawry; and from hence he was ranked among debased culprits, and shunned by the whole community, as a person infected with a contagious disease. And such was the extent of the disabilities to which he was reduced, that he could not bring an action, commence a suit in any case, or discharge the duties of any official situation in the commonwealth.
The professional engagements of the Druids being so numerous, and the official duties devolving on them so sacred and weighty, they were, as Cæsar informs us, exempted from all military enterprise and danger, as well as from the payment of taxes; and, also, that they enjoyed many important immunities. Notwithstanding the exemption from military prowess, they sometimes used their great interest with the people to prevent the effusion of human blood. Strabo
Strabo says, that they could stop armies when on the very point of engaging, and accommodate their differences, so as to effect a hearty reconciliation. Diodorus Siculus expresses himself to the same purpose, saying, that the people paid a great regard to their exhortations, not only in the affairs of peace, but even in war; and that being respected both by friends and foes, they would sometimes step in between two hostile armies, while standing with swords drawn and spears extended, ready to engage; and by their eloquence, as by an irresistible enchantment, would prevent the effusion of blood, and prevail on them to sheath their swords and be reconciled.
Besides the Druids, the Britons had also Druidesses, who assisted in the offices, and shared in the honours and emoluments of the priesthood. When Suetonius invaded the island of Anglesea, his soldiers were struck with terror at the strange appearance of a great number of these consecrated females, who ran about the ranks of the British army, like enraged furies, with their hair dishevelled, and flaming torches in their hands, imprecating the wrath of heaven on the invaders of their country. a
The Druidesses of Gaul and Britain are said to have been divided into three ranks or classes. Those of the first class had vowed perpetual virginity, and lived together in sisterhoods, very much sequestered from the world. They were great pretenders to divination, prophecy, and miracles; were highly admired by the people, who consulted them on all important occasions as infallible oracles. The second class consisted of certain devotees, who were indeed married, but spent the greatest part of their time in the company of the Druids, and in the offices of religion, conversing only occasionally with their husbands. The third class was the lowest, consisting of such as performed the most servile offices about the temples, the sacrifices, and the persons of the Druids.b
The British Druids were in the zenith of their power and glory, at the time the Romans, under Julius Cæsar, invaded this country, before Christ 55. The Romans, knowing that they could not establish their own authority, and secure the submission and obedience of the Britons, without destroying the authority and influence of the Druids, obliged their new subjects to build temples, erect statues, and to offer sacrifices, after the Roman manner ;
Strabo, l. 4. Diod. Sicul. 1. 5. Ammian. Marcellin. I. 15. • Gruttes. p. 62. Relig. de Gaul. 1. i. c. 27.
as well as deprive the Druids of all authority in civil matters, and showed them no mercy when found transgressing the laws, or concerned in any revolt : by these means their power was soon brought low. Many of them, however, fleeing before the face of persecution, retired into the isle of Anglesea ; but that isle becoming the chief seat of disaffection to the Roman government, and the asylum of all that were forming plots against it, Suetonius Paulinus, who was governor of Britain under Nero, A. D. 61, determined to subdue it, which he shortly accomplished. So many of the Druids perished on this occasion, and in the unfortunate revolt of the Britons under Boadicea, queen of the Iceni, which happened soon after, that they were never able, after this period, to make any considerable appearance in South Britain. Those, however, who would not submit to the Roman government, and comply with the new system of the idolatry and rites of the Romans, fled into Caledonia, Ireland, and the lesser British isles, where they maintained their authority and superstition long after their extermination in Gaul and South Britain. a Thus, as Mr. Southey remarks, when the Romans established themselves as conquerors in Britain, the authority of the Druids was destroyed, and one system of idolatry was exchanged for another, as far as Roman civilization extended.
* Rees's Cyclopedia, Article Druid.