A Different Kind Of Travelogue

10-08discovery_full_380We are unabashedly in favor of reading, thinking and decision-making in advance of travel, during travel, and after travel. We are also in favor, when the fancy strikes, of just hitting the road without knowing why, where to, or for how long. On our pages you will find posts for either end of the spectrum from meticulously planned to wanderlust journeys.  It is about  discovery.  So this book caught our attention. Nothing to do with hobbits, as reviewed by the Monitor (click the book image to the left to go to the source) it sounds like the perfect prelude, accompaniment or postscript for travel in a part of the world we have not been covering in our pages as much as we maybe should:

…In “The Discovery of Middle Earth,” Robb sets out to establish the momentous contributions made to the arts of cartography and communication by the once-great Celtic peoples, who at various points in history spread all the way from modern-day Turkey to Ireland. In the process, he consults old documents, interviews experts, examines artifacts, and bicycles more than 26,000 kilometers across France, taking his readers along with him…

…At the heart of “The Discovery of Middle Earth” is a profound meditation on the nature of knowledge itself: not just its discovery or intrinsic value, but also (and perhaps centrally) how susceptible it is to being lost or corrupted. The  Via Heraklea may be the example that Robb picks apart in detail, but other examples dance like flames throughout the pages of the book: the Antikythera Mechanism, a gear-driven mechanical “hand-held computer” from the 2nd Century BC that acted as a complex calendar and navigation aid; the immense loss of ancient Druidic scholarship, which lived and eventually died through oral memory; and the burning of the Library of Alexandria, one of the great tragedies of the ancient world.

The author’s flair for describing long-disintegrated artifacts and technology is inspiring and in keeping with the theme of discovery and decay. Here’s Robb describing the burial chariot of a Gaulish noblewoman:

“It had wide-angle steering, and the wooden coach work was suspended above the chassis by tiny, twisted metal colonnettes that seemed to flaunt their gravity-defying frailty. This was a vehicle fit for another world. It may never have run on the open roads of Middle Earth, but it proves that the technology existed, and that the beauties of mechanical efficiency were appreciated, four hundred years before the Romans brought their civilization to Gaul.”

And it’s difficult not to read his words on the Gaulish “vocal telegraph” – an organized system of shouted news that could move data across the land at the speed of 24 kilometers per hour in a pre-industrial world – without shaking your head in wonder…

…a wonderful, lively, thought-provoking romp through history and geography. At the heart are the Druids, reduced by modern popular culture to a bunch of hooded, rustic weirdos fit for an episode of “Scooby-Doo” but are, historically speaking, an elite and profoundly powerful band of scholars who underwent 20 years of schooling in arts including the law, religious observance, diplomacy, science, and the machinations of the heaven. Robb praises the “Druids’ genius for marrying mathematics and geography” and watching him work backward in time to decipher their thoughts is a true joy.

If you’ve ever suspected, hopefully, that there might be whole hidden, half-forgotten bodies of knowledge to rediscover, or hidden highways to walk, take heart: “The Discovery of Middle Earth” will take you on a grand tour of the ancient world’s secrets.

One thought on “A Different Kind Of Travelogue

  1. Pingback: Eco On Journeys Of The Mind |

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