LAST WORDS (part seven)
The stringing together of similar sounds in Celtic poetry is also typical, and again appears in later folklore. The Welsh story, "The Dream of Rhonabwy" satirizes the Druidic training of the bard by introducing, a number of riders, each with a horse of differing colour schemes, and each attired similarly, but with a number of variations in the colours of the armour, equipment, mantles, and gems. The author's point is that, owing to the great number of variations, no one could know the story without the aid of a book. Inadvertently, he exposes a Druidic tradition that originally was more than just a mnemonic device. Words of different meanings were united by the similarity of the sounds occurring within them.
While this provides cues to the memory, it is also a method of composition. The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas used this in his poetry, and also in his prose work. In "A Child's Christmas in Wales" he adapts the method by repeating certain words throughout, in much the same way that a painter introduces repetitions of colours throughout a painting to guide the eye and unify the composition.
The author of "The Dream of Rhonabwy" satirized the mnemonic content by repeating only the unchanging parts, leaving all of the variations different in sound as well as meaning. But without realizing it, he fell into a traditional form of Celtic composition. It is clear from this that, at time of the writing of this tale, many of the finer points of Celtic composition, as well as its religious or philosophic content, were already lost to the consciousness. The unconscious mind, however, retained these archetypes, and they reappear in even later works. It is important to understand that poets often express archetypes unknown to them consciously. The process of poetry has within it a mechanism that can tap the unconscious. This is perhaps more relevant to formal verse rather than free verse, the structure of the poetry itself giving its words a mantra-like quality.
Series Y displays considerable skill in the mechanical aspect of die engraving. Many of the products are really beautiful. Some of this is due to the fact that the blanks were at a higher temperature when they were struck than were the coins of Series X, and thus retain more of the reverse dies' detail. There is a certain cleverness exhibited in these coins that is not as noticeable in Series X, but this cleverness is restricted to a few good ideas, and perhaps does not deserve as much credit as the engraver of Series X, with his untiring modifications and his compositional skills. While the engraver of Series Y did not break any of the aesthetic rules, he did circumvent them in a clever, legalistic manner. It is possible that he was younger than the engraver of Series X, and had a more flippant attitude.
With the coins of Series Z, the cleverness of the other engravers is completely absent. Other than its few defining features, the coinage is almost totally derivative. Variations are few, when they occur; they are mainly on the obverse and are novelties, without any indication of deeper meaning. The die engraver of these coins is little more than a workman with no imagination. He follows, weakly, a tradition of originality, but there is no attempt to create an ongoing work that could be viewed as a piece of music; instead, he has started playing random notes at one end of the keyboard and worked his way to the other end without demonstrating anything more than this.
The differences in the working methods of the die engravers does not indicate a chronology in the series, but merely expresses the differences in personalities and skills among a few different people. Perhaps Viridovix may have taken little care in the hire of a skillful die engraver. Being more of a warrior, he might have been like the English king that hated painters and poets. We need not look too far into the decline of the art at that time. If we take all three issues as a whole we obtain a useful cross-section of the artistic abilities in that period, but at any time in history there are artists who express their time, those who express earlier traditions, and those who are ahead of their time.
There is a common thread than runs through the Coriosolite coinage: whether we are looking at the images from a purely artistic view, or in terms of their religious content, there is always the evolution of ideas and variations on themes. Neither concepts are purely human inventions, but are derived from nature. If I had to define the difference between Celtic art and classical art in one statement, I should say that classical art imitates and idealizes the forms of nature, while Celtic art imitates and idealizes the processes of nature.
I have come to look at the Coriosolite coinage as a kind of Rosetta stone for translating the Celtic aesthetic. There is much here left to do, as well as other regions to investigate, and more chronologies to compile. The Fates have conspired to leave us with so many of these examples of a local art, expressive of this aesthetic. The coins of other tribes often lack either the numbers or the varieties or both, but hopefully what is learned here will be applicable in part to other coinages.
As for other subjects, I cannot say. These methods of study may be quite workable for the artistic products of other culture and other times. In dealing with these artistic products of the past, we should never lose sight of the fact that all were made by human beings, and that, beyond the limitations of space and time, and the cultural differences that seem so alien, there are familiar aspects of the human condition that can be foundation for understanding. There are many accounts of the past that attempt to eliminate the people, and give the impression that the artifacts change by themselves, and that influence is entirely geographical, assuming that people copy nearby things in parrot fashion, without the need for any new image to harmonize with an already-existing ethos.
But ideas are not contagious diseases; people choose whether or not to adopt them. People also invent things: there are enough cases of simultaneous inventions, where there is no possibility of communication between the people concerned. If we find one example of an idea in two different places, we must take care to locate other examples before deciding we have an actual influence rather than similar conditions prompting similar responses.
Once it has been established that an idea has traveled from one place to another, then the question must be asked: Why? The answer of proximity is no answer. There must always be a reason, a cause for the transmission. An alien art form rarely transverse cultures unaffected. If two adjacent cultures, radically different in their artistic expressions, have the typical products of one culture existing within the territory of the other, this does not mean that one culture copied the other. Most likely the alien artifacts were brought their, or they were the products of immigrants or travelers.
Throughout this book I have attempted to draw as many parallels as possible between Celtic art and Celtic religion. The unifying principle has been the psychology. I have not dealt with much of the religion of the common man, nor with any Celtic gods irrelevant to the main topic. I did not want to weight the text with too many examples of a single idea, but have tried to present as many as I felt was needed in order to support each point. I have gone further than would normally be expected of a book about coins, and may have led many people through territories they would rather have avoided. This can not be helped. By separating ourselves from a natural sense of revelation, we are ill-equipped to study these coins. The designs found on Celtic coins are widely ignored by scholars more concerned with matters of economics, social structures, and the connection of issues of coinage with known historical events. This seems an arbitrary determination of what is important. Disagreements over how to study the subject, although inevitable, are unnecessary: no single approach is workable for this subject, owing to the diverse nature of its components.
My emphasis has been on the artistic and symbolic content, but I have attempted to include as much of the history, archaeology, and statistical analyses of the coins as possible, still retaining my own emphasis. I have had to stray into the apparently unrelated fields of poetry, physics, and psychology, knowing as I did so, that specialists in these fields would have much more to say about how their subject could be brought to bear on my topic. In recent years, physicists have found many similarities with their subject and eastern art and mysticism. I hope this book will encourage them to delve into Celtic art in the same spirit. I regret that I have been unable to include the subject of music in this study, but specialists in that field may have much to contribute, and where I have noticed some similarities between Celtic music and their other arts, musicologists may see firmer connections.
My main hope is that this book will inspire not only new research, but new kinds of research, and that my methods may be translatable, not simply to other series of Celtic coins, but also to other forms of ancient art.