Graham Robb has a theory. He says he’s discovered a geographical scheme devised by ancient druids and hidden from knowledge for two thousand years. All the tribal centers of the western Celts, he says, especially the Gauls, are located on very precisely drawn straight lines covering hundreds of miles and corresponding to the cardinal points of the compass and the direction of the sun at summer and winter solstices. His best evidence comes early on in The Discovery of Middle Earth: Mapping the Lost World of the Celts. A straight line run from the Sacred Promontory on the southwestern tip of Iberia (Farol do Cabo de São Vicente on Google maps) to the Matrona Pass in Switzerland, both places highly significant to their version of the myth of Hercules, runs through several ancient Celtic towns, and this line corresponds to the direction of the rising sun at summer solstice. From the Matrona pass, a line turned 90 degrees from the first cuts through another important Celtic center, and a line due north reaches a town where a hundred statues of Hercules have been found.
It’s all extremely interesting, and it’s just the kind of thing that I would like to be true. But I’ve come to the conclusion that the theory is a little crazy; the lines Robb stretches across Europe have started to look like the lines of red yarn that Hollywood conspiracy theorists trace across their bedrooms. My faith was first shaken when Robb explained that the odd geometry of Celtic foundations represents the construction of ellipses and show that the druids knew the sun moved in an ellipse. Sure, thanks to Kepler’s calculations, we now know that celestial orbits trace elliptical paths. But there’s no way anyone on standing on earth simply sees that. The heavens look like a sphere to our eyes, and the sun’s path against the background stars looks like a circle around that sphere. When Robb subsequently pointed out that many natural geographical features fall on the same lines by coincidence, I decided it may all well be a coincidence.
But then it’s hard to say what I think since the evidence is presented in such a strange, disorganized manner. Robb seems torn between following the order in which he came to his conclusions and following historical order. Every thirty pages or so, his Celts are migrating again, but the order in which he presents these migrations is so jumbled, I can’t get a coherent timeline out of it. Or consider the Mabinogion. About two-thirds of the way through the main text of the book, Robb identifies this title as a collection of Welsh tales first written down in the eleventh century, and yet he refers to it twice earlier, as if the reader should know the book. (I didn’t.) At least, I thought he mentioned it twice, although I can’t find the references now. Now Robb has me searching his book for lines connecting the disjointed material. Maybe if I looked hard enough I’d find a hidden pattern.