Littell's Living Age/Volume 133/Issue 1720/The Celts

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From The Fireside.


The complexions of the Celts were fair and succulent, apparently from their northern climate, but attributed to their being always clothed except in battle, and to their long indulgence in bed during peace. From whatever cause, their bodies were remarkably white, compared with other nations. Their eyes were blue and large, but when enraged they darted fury, and having naturally a stern look, it is said to have then been awful. Their aspect must have been remarkable. Ammianus Marcellinus, himself a veteran soldier, who had often fought with these fierce nations, confesses that in the cast of their eyes there was something terrible. The women were very beautiful, and were as tall and courageous as the men. The beauty of Claudia Rufina, a British lady, is celebrated by Martial. Ammianus seems to represent the females as stronger than their husbands; but he probably means in domestic warfare only. They paid much attention to their persons, especially in Aquitain, where you could not see a woman, however poor, in foul and ragged clothes, as in other places. Small eyebrows were considered very beautiful among the ancient Caledonians, and some females received their names from this handsome feature. The teeth of the Celtæ were sound, and of a beautiful whiteness. This is observable in all their interments, where they are found to retain the enamel when every other part has gone to decay. The voice of the Celts was loud and terrible; and although they spoke little, even their ordinary words were dreadful. They had a terrible aspect, an awful and loud voice; their stern looks were sufficient to intimidate most people, and their bare appearance, when irritated, struck the beholder with terror and dismay. The "loud and sonorous voice" of the ancient Celts was inherited by the Caledonians, and was esteemed a qualification of some importance. When Fingal raised his voice, "Cromla answered around, the sons of the desert stood still, and the fishes of the troubled sea moved to the depths." Columba, when performing service in his church of Iona, is said to have been heard at the distance of a mile and a half. The Celtic nations spoke very little, and their language was dark and figurative: their manner of talking was solemn and mysterious, the ordinary words of most of them, as well when they were at peace as when they were irritated, being dreadful and full of menace. They were hyperbolical in their own praise, and spoke contemptuously of all others. "My pointed spear, my sharp sword, my glittering shield," said an old Celtic hero, "are my wealth and riches; with them I plough, with them I sow, and with them I make my wine: whoever dare not resist my pointed spear, my sharp sword, and my glittering shield, prostrates himself before, and adores me as his lord and his king."