Esus

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Image of Esus on the Pillar of the Boatmen.

Esus or Hesus was a Gaulish god known from two monumental statues and a line in Lucan's Bellum civile.

Imagery[edit]

The two statues on which his name appears are the Pillar of the Boatmen from among the Parisii and a pillar from Trier among the Treveri. In both of these, Esus is portrayed cutting branches from trees with his axe. Esus is accompanied, on different panels of the Pillar of the Boatmen, by Tarvos Trigaranus (the ‘bull with three cranes’), Jupiter, Vulcan, and other gods.

Written sources[edit]

A well-known section in Lucan's Bellum civile talks about the gory sacrifices offered to a triad of Celtic deities: Teutates, Hesus (an aspirated form of Esus), and Taranis.[1] Among a pair of later commentators on Lucan's work, one identifies Teutates with Mercury and Esus with Mars. According to the Berne Commentary on Lucan, human victims were sacrificed to Esus by being tied to a tree and flailed.[2]

The Gallic medical writer Marcellus of Bordeaux may offer another textual reference to Esus in his De medicamentis, a compendium of pharmacological preparations written in Latin in the early 5th century and the sole source for several Celtic words. The work contains a magico-medical charm decipherable as Gaulish which appears to invoke the aid of Esus (spelled Aisus) in curing throat trouble.[3]

The given name "Esunertus" ("strength of Esus") occurs at least once as an epithet of Mercury on a dedicatory inscription.[4][5] It is possible that the Esuvii of Gaul, in the area of present-day Normandy, took their name from this deity.[6]

Interpretations[edit]

MacCulloch's assessment[edit]

John Arnott MacCulloch summarized the state of scholarly interpretations of Esus in 1911 as follows:

In Neo-Druidism[edit]

The 18th century Druidic revivalist Iolo Morgannwg identified Esus with Jesus on the strength of the similarity of their names. He also linked them both with Hu Gadarn, writing:

This identification is still made in certain Neo-Druidic circles. Modern scholars consider the resemblance between the names Esus and Jesus to be coincidental.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ M. Annaeus Lucanus (61-65 CE). Bellum civile I.445.
  2. ^ Mary Jones (2005). Jones' Celtic Encyclopedia
  3. ^ De medicamentis 15.106, p. 121 in Niedermann's edition; Gustav Must, “A Gaulish Incantation in Marcellus of Bordeaux,” Language 36 (1960) 193–197; Pierre-Yves Lambert, “Les formules de Marcellus de Bordeaux,” in La langue gauloise (Éditions Errance 2003), p.179, citing Léon Fleuriot, “Sur quelques textes gaulois,” Études celtiques 14 (1974) 57–66.
  4. ^ a b J. A. MacCulloch (1911). ‘Chapter III. The Gods of Gaul and the Continental Celts.’ The Religion of the Ancient Celts. New York: Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-42765-X.
  5. ^ Cf. also Mary Jones' "Examples of Interpretatio Romana"
  6. ^ Jan de Vries (1954). Keltische Religion. W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart. p.98. Cited here.
  7. ^ Iolo Morganwg (1862, ed. J. Williams Ab Ithel). The Barddas of Iolo Morganwg, Vol. I.

External links[edit]