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Classical references

The site maintains a list of all know classical references of relevance to Wicca or issues of interest to Wicca.

The works of Caesar are not fully covered here because they are vast and refer mainly to the conquest rather than culture of Britian. Also the Twelve tasks of Hercules are not covered because of their scope. The main authors of relevance are Hesiod, Plutarch, Diodorus and Pliny

Diodorus Siculus

Opposite that part of Gaul which borders on the ocean, and directly across from the Hercynian forests, reported to be the largest in Europe, lie many islands. The largest of these is called Britain. In early times this remained free from foreign influence; for neither Bacchus nor Hercules nor any of the other heroes or mighty men, so far as we know, waged war with it. In our time, indeed, Caius Cæsar, who has obtained the name of a god because of his great deeds, became the first one of all those whose memory is preserved to reduce the island to subjection, and to force the conquered Britons to pay a fixed tribute. These things will be recounted in detail in their own place; at this time we shall speak a few words about the island and the tin taken from it. It is triangular The shape and size of Britain in shape, the same as Sicily, but its sides are unequal. Since it extends obliquely from Europe the headland next the continent, which they call Cantium, is only about one hundred stadia from the mainland, at which place a strait runs between. A second angle, Belerium by name, is four days sail from the continent. The last, called Orca, is said to project out into the sea. The shortest side faces Europe and measures 7500 stadia; the second, extending from the channel to the extreme north, is said to be 15,000 stadia in length; while the last side measures 20,000 stadia; so the entire circumference of the island is 42,500 stadia.

They allege that the residents are the original inhabitants who still retain their primitive manners and customs. For in their battles they use chariots in the same manner as it is reported the ancient Greek heroes fought in the Trojan War. They live in small huts usually built of reeds or wood. When they have reaped their grain they store the ears cut from the stalk in underground storehouses. From thence they take as much of the oldest as will be needed for the day, and after grinding it they prepare their food from it. Their customs are simple, being far removed from the craftiness and wickedness of our time. They are content with frugal fare and do not have the desires which come with riches. The island has a large population, and has a cold climate, since it stretches so far to the north, lying directly under the Great Bear. Many kings and chieftains rule there, usually keeping peace among themselves.

The production of tin Concerning their institutions, and other things peculiar to the island, we shall speak specially when we come to the expedition of Cæsar into Britain. At this time we shall treat of the tin which is dug from the ground. Those who dwell near Belerium, one of the headlands of Britain, are especially fond of strangers, and on account of their trade with the merchants they have a more civilized manner of living. They collect the tin after the earth has been skillfully forced to yield it. Although the land is stony, it has certain veins of earth from which they melt and purify the metal which has been extracted. After making this into bars they carry it to a certain island near Britain called Ictis. For although the place between is for the most part covered with water, yet in the middle there is dry ground, and over this they carry a great amount of tin in wagons. . . . Thence the merchants carry into Gaul the tin which they have bought from the inhabitants. And after a journey of thirty days on foot through Gaul, they convey their packs carried by horses to the mouths of the Rhone River.

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Diodorus Siculus

As for the inhabitants, they are simple and far removed from the shrewdness and vice which characterize our day. Their way of living is modest, since they are well clear of the luxury which is begotten of wealth. The island is also thickly populated and its climate is extremely cold, as one would expect, since it actually lies under the Great Bear. It is held by many kings and potentates, who for the most part live at peace among themselves.

Of those who have written about the ancient myths, Hecateus and certain others say that in the regions beyond the land of the Celts (Gaul) there lies in the ocean an island no smaller than Sicily. This island, the account continues, is situated in the north, and is inhabited by the Hyperboreans, who are called by that name because their home is beyond the point whence the north wind blows; and the land is both fertile and productive of every crop, and since it has an unusually temperate climate it produces two harvests each year.

The Hyperboreans also have a language, we are informed, which is peculiar to them, and are most friendly disposed towards the Greeks, and especially towards the Athenians and the Delians, who have inherited this goodwill from most ancient times. The myth also relates that certain Greeks visited the Hyperboreans and left behind them costly votive offerings bearing inscriptions in Greek letters. And in the same way Abaris, a Hyperborean, came to Greece in ancient times and renewed the goodwill and kinship of his people to the Delians.

Certain sacred offerings wrapped up in wheat straw come from the Hyperboreans into Scythia, whence they are taken over by the neighbouring peoples in succession until they get as far west as the Adriatic: from there they are sent south, and the first Greeks to receive them are the Dodonaeans. Then, continuing southward, they reach the Malian gulf, cross to Euboea, and are passed on from town to town as far as Carystus. Then they skip Andros, the Carystians take them to Tenos, and the Tenians to Delos. That is how these things are said to reach Delos at the present time.

On the first occasion they were sent in charge of two girls, whose names the Delians say were Hyperoche and Laodice. To protect the girls on the journey, the Hyperboreans sent five men to accompany them The two Hyperborean girls died in Delos, and the boys and girls of the island still cut their hair as a sign of mourning for them There is also a Delphic story that before the time of Hyperoche and Laodice, two other Hyperborean girls, Arge and Opis, came to Delos by the same route. Arge and Opis came to the island at the same time as Apollo and Artemis And there is also on the island []Hyperborea] both a magnificent sacred precinct of Apollo and a notable temple which is adorned with many votive offerings and is spherical in shape. Furthermore, a city is there which is sacred to this god, and the majority of its inhabitants are players on the cithara; and these continually play on this instrument in the temple and sing hymns of praise to the god, glorifying his deeds They say also that the moon, as viewed from this island, appears to be but a little distance from the earth and to have upon it prominences, like those of the earth, which are visible to the eye. The account is also given that the god visits the island every nineteen years, the period in which the return of the stars to the same place in the heavens is accomplished, and for this reason the nineteen year period is called by the Greeks the “year of Meton.” At the time of this appearance of the god he both plays on the cithara and dances continuously the night through from the vernal equinox until the rising of the Pleiades, expressing in this manner his delight in his successes. And the kings of this city and the supervisors of the sacred precinct are called Boreades, since they are descendants of Boreas, ‘and the succession to these positions is always kept in their family.’

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Pliny

Opposite to this region [the Rhine delta] lies the island of Britannia , famous in the Greek records and in our own; it lies to the north-west, facing, across a wide channel, Germania , Gallia and Hispania countries which constitute by far the greater part of Europe. It was itself named Albion , while all the islands about which we shall soon briefly speak were called the Britanniae . Its distance from Gesoriacum on the coast of the Morini tribe by the shortest passage is 50 miles.

Its circumference is reported by Pytheas and Isidorus to measure 4,875 miles nearly thirty years ago, its exploration was carried by the armed forces of Rome to a point not beyond the neighbourhood of the Silvae Caledoniae

Agrippa believes the length of the island to be 800 miles and its breadth 300, and the breadth of Hibernia the same but its length 200 miles less.

“Hibernia lies beyond Britannia, the shortest crossing being from the lands of the Silures, a distance of 30 miles. Of those remaining (islands) none has a circumference exceeding 125 miles, so it has been said. Indeed, there are 40 Orcades [Orkneys] separated narrowly from one another, 7 Acmodae [Shetlands], 30 Hebudes [Hebrides], and between Hibernia and Britannia (the islands of) Mona [Anglesey], Monapia [Man], Riginia [Racklin], Vectis [White-horn], Silumnus [Dalkey] and Andros [Bardsey]; beneath (Britain) are Sambis [Sian] and Axanthos [Ushant], and in the oppposite direction, sprinkled in the Mare Germanicum [North Sea], are the Glaesariae [Glass Islands], called by the Greeks in recent times the Electrides, from the amber which is produced there.”

“The most remote of all those recorded is Thule,1 in which as we have pointed out there are no nights at midsummer when the sun is passing through the sign of the Crab, and on the other hand no days at midwinter; indeed some writers think this is the case for periods of six months at a time without a break. The historian Timaeus says there is an island named Mictis lying inward six days’ sail from Britain where tin is found, and to which the Britons cross in boats of osier covered with stitched hides. Some writers speak of other islands as well, the Scandiae, Dumna, Bergos, and Berrice, the largest of them all, from which the crossing to Thule starts. One day’s sail from Thule is the frozen ocean, called by some the Mare Cronium [Chronian Sea].”

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Juvenal

You have an omen (quoth her) of a great and brilliant triumph. You will capture some king or Arviragus will fall out of a British chariot

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