Some kind of Druid dudes lifting the veil

My favorite podcast, In Our Time from the BBC, is back from hiatus, and there was much rejoicing. This week’s episode, “The Druids,” is so emblematic of the show that it’s almost a parody. It has history, it has religion, it has Pliny the Elder, and, mostly, it has Celts.

What’s refreshing about In Our Time is that its guests are always real experts on the topic at hand. They aren’t journalists on the interview circuit who happened onto a topic, went around interviewing people for a year, and then popped out a book. They’re professors and researchers who’ve spent their careers on the subject. With that kind of lineup you get two things: a depth of knowledge that shows even when skimming the surface of a subject, and a wealth of delightful and unselfconscious idiosyncrasies.

My favorite bit in this episode comes about 22 minutes in. One of the guests, the wonderfully named Miranda Aldhouse-Green, is discussing how the Romans moved across Britain to wipe out the Druids. Here she is, talking about the amphibious attack by the Roman general Paulinus on a Druid stronghold on the Isle of Anglesey:

They are met there by warriors and Druids and sort of fanatical, Fury-like women brandishing torches. And the druids are cursing. And their weaponry is words. We’re going back again to the oral tradition. Words. Word power. Satire.

Satire was apparently not quite enough to defeat a Roman legion, and the Druids on Anglesey were soundly thrashed. They should’ve included dramatic irony, puns, pathos, litotes. And sarcasm.

One cannot talk about Druids without mentioning Stonehenge, and there is a section of the program devoted to Stonehenge and how it’s been (mistakenly, for the most part) associated with the Druids. Similarly, one cannot—or at least I cannot—talk about Stonehenge without thinking of this: