I spent a bit of time last night “drunk on the well of the Muses,” as it were, because I ended up writing six poems total. Three of those you’ll see later this month; one you already saw yesterday, while the other two will be going in a book I’m working on right now, which–if the Fates are with me–shall be available perhaps as early as next week, but certainly no later than the end of this month. I’ll have some other publication news soon, with any luck–something I’ve contributed to has just come out, and as is my custom, I do not post about it until I have the book itself in my hands. So, watch for that!
But, given Hadrian’s connection with Zeus (particularly in Athens), and the observance of his death having occurred yesterday, I’d like to share something with you today that I recently found out about in relation to the great king of the Olympian gods.
Being that I’m into everything that I’m into, I’m always looking for ways in which my diverse polytheistic interests can intersect, not only practically and in my everyday life, but also historically. Since I’m such a promiscuous syncretist, these sorts of things interest me greatly. Roman Britain allows me to combine my classical Roman (and further afield) interests with the Insular Celtic realms; Romanized Gaul does as well, and the Greek colony of Massilia (modern Marseille) likewise allows a Gallo-Hellenic syncretistic possibility to emerge. But, one of the biggest desiderata in this realm is the Galatian people, who were an offshoot of the Gauls that settled in Asia Minor, and thus would have been interacting with Bithynians, Phrygians, and Thracians as well as more generally culturally Greek peoples. But, not an awful lot on them survives, much less on their religion.
I was recently reading a book by Philip Freeman called The Philosopher and the Druids: A Journey Among the Ancient Celts, and found it to be a very good introductory book on some of these topics. It follows the life of Posidonius, a first-century BCE Stoic philosopher who traveled amongst the Gauls and made a record of their ways. Unfortunately, his work does not survive to the present day, but he is quoted heavily in Diodorus Siculus, Strabo, and Athenaeus (who is, of course, an important source on Pancrates/Pachrates and Antinous!), and it is also likely that his work influenced the account of Julius Caesar in his records of the Gallic Wars. Freeman has a chapter on the Galatians, giving their very interesting history, and also a few references to some sources, which (after some looking and some help from a dear librarian friend!) will be the focus of the remainder of this post.
There is an inscription from the northern region of Galatia, dated to about 166 CE, which was during the reign of Marcus Aurelius. It is on a stele, and reads as follows:
With Good Fortune [Agatha Tyche]
who, from ancient times,
sacrifice in accordance
with their custom,
made a vow to
those in charge being…
Asklepios and Ammianus Lucius
in the year 191.
Of course, the Asklepios referred to here is a person, not the god; and, it should also be noted for those who aren’t aware of this, the system of dating used in the final line is not the BCE/CE system we are used to employing. The tribal name of the dedicants, though not entirely preserved, clearly indicates a Celtic linguistic form. From Freeman’s words on this source, I had expected it to be a bit more extensive, and to have included the names of more than one deity:
But traditions survived–in the second century A.D., at least some Galatians were still honoring gods with very Celtic names. One group near Ankara even set up an inscription in A.D. 166 proudly proclaiming that “from ancestral times, we have worshipped according to the ancient ways.”
In light of what the inscription actually says, however, that seems to be a bit debatable–the ancient Galatians, I’m quite sure, didn’t syncretize Zeus to their god Akreinenos. So, much could be said about ancient people’s self-understanding in religious terms, perhaps, by this inscription…Even in 166 CE, when they were still polytheists and polytheism was the religion of the day across Europe, some Celtic groups were engaging in some form of reconstructionism!
What can be said about Akreinenos, other than he was connected to Zeus in this interpretatio Graeca/Galatia? Unfortunately, nothing with my present state of info, and I somewhat doubt a great deal more could be said even with more info than I have. But nonetheless, another name comes to light and can be known for us today, and it is always a blessing to know the names of the gods who were once honored in diverse parts of the ancient world.
Therefore, in a mixed Hellenic-Gaulish fashion, may I say, Khaire Akreinene, ei Theoi kai Metheoi!