AKA: Essus, Esos, Hesus, Tarvos Trigaraunos.
While seemingly an important God in Gaul, there's little about Him on the 'Net. When I went looking for descriptions of Him, I found very, very little. Because of this, I've decided to grab as much information as I could, and fill a page about Esus.
This particular page will not only include what we know (concretely) about Esus, but also what I have managed to gather via worship. Because I don't want to muddle what we "know" and what I'm "guessing", I'll be certain to cite my sources, and even block off the "scholarly" work from my "conjectures". Section 1 will be about the scholarly aspects, section 2 will be my inferences from that scholarly knowledge, and section 3 will include my conjectures.
In all, please enjoy. If you have found something more worthwhile than what I have, please tell me. I want to know!
**Note 07/19/05: It has come to my attention that some people are using this webpage to prove that Esus is, in fact, Jesus, or vice versa. It is my stated conclusion that there is no evidence whatsoever that Esus and Jesus are related. There is no evidence that this is the case, and the names themselves cannot be derived from one another. Esus is derived from an Indo-European language, and Jesus is derived from a Semitic language, and they don't even mean similar things. To state that they are similar is not only incorrect, it is uninformed. It's like saying that "can't" and "cant" are related words because they look similar.
If someone feels really strongly about it, I'll be happy to exchange email with you and chat civilly about it, but my site is not "proof" of this idea. I do not support it. Esus is not Jesus. Jesus is not Esus. Period.
**Note 02/08/06: I've received a number of inquiries, so I wanted to point to a full layout of my position in this "Esus=Jesus" argument: Esus is not Jesus.
On with the scholarly aspects of Esus!
We'll start with the first of two literary primary sources on file for this God: the Roman poet Lucian!
Lucian is our first source about Esus. He isn't noted as a great God to worship, but as this is one of two literary sources, we have to run with it:
Here's another translation, with different line numbers:
Ligurian tribes, now shorn, in ancient days First of the long-haired nations, on whose necks Once flowed the auburn locks in pride supreme; And those who pacify with blood accursed Savage Teutates, Hesus' horrid shrines, 500 And Taranis' altars cruel as were those Loved by Diana (18), goddess of the north; All these now rest in peace. And you, ye Bards, Whose martial lays send down to distant times The fame of valorous deeds in battle done, Pour forth in safety more abundant song. While you, ye Druids (19), when the war was done, To mysteries strange and hateful rites returned: To you alone 'tis given the gods and stars To know or not to know; secluded groves 510 Your dwelling-place, and forests far remote.
- Lucan, Pharsalia I, 495-510 (http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/OMACL/Pharsalia/book1.html)
(18) This Diana was worshipped by the Tauri, a people who dwelt
in the Crimea; and, according to legend, was propitiated by
human sacrifices. Orestes on his return from his expiatory
wanderings brought her image to Greece, and the Greeks
identified her with their Artemis. (Compare Book VI., 93.)
This particular version also includes the caveat: "It should be noted that, as history, Lucan's work is far from being scrupulously accurate, frequently ignoring historical fact for the benefit of drama and rhetoric. For this reason, it should not be read as a reliable account of the Roman Civil War."
Recently, I stumbled across a citation in the L'année épigraphique, 1985. This inscription was found, of all places, in Cherchell, Algeria. The source is in French, and to the right, you will see the photo for the inscription:
Correct citation of the above would read as follows:
AE 1985, 00934
The original publication of this inscription was in Ph. Leveau, Nouvelles inscriptions de Cherchel, BAA, t. VII, 1, 1977-1979, p. 111-192, where it read like this:
The note "Ligne 2, ligature VS" explains why the word "Esus" doesn't seem to actually appear after "quod." The V and the S come together as a ligature, looking more like this: E∫\∫ (special thanks to Mary Jones for spotting this and explaining the process).
Something really interesting to note is that, despite a lack of iconography associated with this particular inscription, we do appear to have a sand dollar above it (it's been pointed out to me that this is probably not the case, however, given that sand dollars have 5 slits in them). Unfortunately, the rest of the inscription and monument is missing, so whatever was on it is now lost.
While digging up the original photo for this artifact, I found something else interesting: a number of birds, trees, and anchors represented around the site on other monuments.
There's no evidence that these other monuments are related, but I found them terribly interesting primarily because of the fact that Esus is represented in Paris with a tree and birds on a pillar set up by sailors.
Food for thought, at least.
There is a second literary source for Esus, as well. Deiniol Jones pointed this one out to me recently, and I wanted to include it here: Marcellus Empiricus of Bordeaux's De medicamentis liber. The source I have on this is "A Gaulish Incantation in Marcellus of Bordeaux" by Gustav Must, Language, Vol. 36, No. 2, Part 1. (Apr.-Jun., 1960), pp. 193-197.
Included in this article is a Gaulish incantation and its explanation. Here is the incantation:
XI EXV CRICON EXV CRIGLION AISVS SCRI SV MI0 VELOR EXV GRICON EXV GRILAV.
The article goes on to transcribe and translate the incantation"
The Gaulish incantation probably reads as follows: Xi exu cricon, exu criglion, Aisus, scri-su mio velor exu gricon, exu grilau. It means something like this: 'Rub out of the throat, out of the gullet, Aisus, remove thou thyself my evil out of the throat, out of the gorge.'
Here's what it says about the appearance of "Aisus" and how it relates to the more common transliteration of "Esus"
aisus represents the Gaulish divine name Aisus, recorded as Aisu-, Esu-, Esus, Aesu-, Aesus, Haesus, Hesus in inscriptions and in Latin manuscripts.16 The form in the present text is a masculine u-stem and stands in the vocative case; the vocative of u-stems was identical with the nominative. It is a widespread stem in religious terms and is attested in the languages of ancient Italy, e.g. Umbr. esono- 'divinus, sacer', esunu (neuter) 'sacrificium', Oscan Marruc. aisos (nom. pl.) 'dii', Paelig. aisis (dat. pl.) 'diis', Messap. aisa, which perhaps are loanwords from Etruscan, cf. Etr. aesar 'deus', aisuna 'divine'.17 Venetic aisu- 'god' also belongs here.l8 Further, there is an interesting correspondence of these words in Old Norse, eir, f., which occurs as the name of a goddess of medicine,19 and derives from *aisa via *aizō.
These pictures used to be difficult to come by, though my source for them was:
Mac Cana, Proinsias. Celtic Mythology. Hamlyn Publishing, London, 1970.
Note: I recently visited the Nautes Pillar (first set of pics below) in Paris, and took pictures of the entire thing. I created a separate page for the pictures and a discussion of the pillar as a whole: the Nautes Pillar, or the Pillar of the Boatmen
I highly suggest reading the Mac Cana book. Good luck finding it outside of a library.
I'll include the captions for the pictures in this book with the page numbers. (It may go without saying, but please remember that the captions are not primary sources.)
(Mac Cana, page 32, 33)
Reliefs from a pillar dedicated to Jupiter by the 'Parisian mariners' between AD 14 and 37 and rediscovered in 1711 under the choir of the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. One shows the god Esus cutting branches from a tree. In the other there is a similar tree with a bull surmounted by three birds. It bears the title Tarvos Trigaranus, 'The Bull with Three Cranes'. That these two adjacent scenes belong together is confirmed by a relief from Treves (page 35) in which a man, similarly dressed in short working tunic, appears to be hacking the trunk of a tree in whose foliage are visible the head of a bull and the same three birds. These three components, the sacred tree, the divine bull and the triad of otherworld birds, are familiar features of insular Celtic tradition, and obviously we have to do here wit some episode from a myth. Unfortunately its precise content can only be conjectured. Musee de Cluny, Paris.(See further pictures, not from Mac Cana, on a separate page: the Nautes Pillar, or the Pillar of the Boatmen)
The relief from Treves which corresponds to the Paris reliefs of Esus and Tarvos Trigaramus. It shows a woodcutter attacking a tree on which repose three birds and the head of a bull. Landes-museum, Trier.
The American Journal of Archaeology [Vol. 1, No. 4/5 (July-Oct. 1897) pp 333-387] mentions this second relief of Esus, having this to say on the subject on p. 374-375:
"From Differten comes a sandstone relief of Mercury in Gallic costume, with herald's staff and purse, an illustration of Caesar's remark that Mercury was especially honored by the Gauls. Most important is a Gallo-Roman votive monument dedicated to Mercury by the Mediomatrician Indus. On the front, on either side of an open box, stand Mercury, with winged shoes and Gallic collar, and his Gallic mate Rosmerta. On the right side, next to Mercury, is the Gallic god Esus felling a tree, above which appear a bull's head and three large birds, symbols of the god Tarvos Trigaranus, as seen on an altar at Paris. The monument is evidence of the identity of Esus and Mercury."
There is a copy of this article on JSTOR if you have access to it.
Okay, so what do other people say about Esus? Keep in mind that this is secondary info, and not necessarily reliable. What I plan to do is put stars next to each entry detailing what I think their worth is (take that info or leave it, it's up to you).
There was a sampling above with Mac Cana's stuff next to the pictures. What else does he have to say about Esus?
The following sources have info about Esus, and I'll quote and cite them as best as I can:
Ellis, Peter. The Druids. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994. (p. 127)
Lucan adds to our knowledge of Celtic gods by stating that Esus, Taranis and Teutates were also worshipped. He refers to 'uncouth Esus of the barbarous altars' who has to be propitiated by human sacrifice. Esus appears in the guise of a muscular woodcutter on a relief dedicated to Jupiter c.AD 14-37, rediscovered in 1711 under the choir of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. A similar depiction was found from the same century at Trier.
Encyclopedia of Religion (clipped from here because it's so long, so it's on it's own page).
Green, Miranda J. Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend. Thames & Hudson, March 1992. (p. 93-94)
Esus The Roman poet Lucan described in a poem, the Pharsalia, dating from the 1st c. AD, the last grate battle in the civil war between Pompey and Caesar. In it, he alludes to the journey of Caesar's troops through southern Gaul and their encounter with three Gaulish gods: Taranis, Teutates and Esus (Pharsalia I, 444-6). Lucan describes this triad as cruel, savage and demanding of human sacrifice: 'horrid Esus with his wild altars'. In later commentaries on Lucan's poem, probably dating from the 9th c. from Berne, Esus is mentioned as being propitiated by human sacrifice (see SACRIFICE, HUMAN): men were stabbed, hung in trees and allowed to bleed to death. The two commentators equate Esus with Mars and Mercury respectively, but this may not pose as great a problem as it first appears, since the word 'Esus' is not so much a name as a title, meaning 'Lord' or 'Good Master'.
Gwinn, Christopher. Post on the Yahoo! Continental Celtic Group <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/continentalceltic> on Sat, 11 Jan 2003 20:47:33.
Esus, in my opinion, is an a-grade u-stem based on a PIE root *eis- "passion/fury" (making the name semantically the same as Germanic Wotanaz "Furious/Inspired God"). Alternately, I think it may be from PIE *ais- (2) "honor/respect".
MacCulloch, John A. Celtic Mythology. Academy Chicago Pub, February 1996. (p. 157-158)
They [the Setanii and Brigantes] had a well-known god, Esus, whom d'Arbonis identifies with Cuchulainn; whence the story (of Cuchulainn) is of Gaulish origin, perhaps taught by the Druids; and it was ultimately carried to Ulster, where it was received with enthusiasm.* The identification rests on certain figured monuments, in the persons, names, or episodes of which M. d'Arbois sees those of the saga. On one altar Esus is cutting down a tree, while on the same altar is figured a bull on which are perched three birds, this animal being entitled Tarvos Trigaranos -- "the bull with three cranes" (garanus), unless the cranes are a rebus for the three horns (karenos) of divine animals. On another altar from Treves a god is cutting down a tree, and in its branches are a bull's head and two birds -- a possible combination of the incidents on the other altar. M. d'Arbois regards this as illustrating the Tain. Esus, the woodsman, is Cuchulainn; his action depicts what the hero did -- cutting down trees to bar the way of Medb's host; "Esus" is derived from words meaning "anger," "rapid motion," such as Cuchulainn often displayed. The bull is the Brown Bull; the birds are the forms in which Morrigan and her sisters appeared,** though these bird-forms were those of the crow, not the crane; the personal names Donnotaurus is found in Gaul and is equivalent of the Donn Tarb -- the "Brown Bull."***
MacKillop, James. A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford University Press, November 2000.
Esus, Hesus. Important god of ancient *Gaul, known both from Latin commentaries and from archeological evidence; often mentioned in the company of the Gaulish gods *Taranis and *Teutates. Although he testimony of Lucan (1st cent. AD) has been challenged as biased against the Gauls and contrived to pander to metropolitan prejudices, it cannot be ignored. He portrays an 'uncouth Esus of the barbarous altars'. Human sacrifices are suspended from trees and ritually wounded; unnamed priests read omens from the way the blood ran from the wounds. Ancient scholiasts linked Esus to both *Mercury and *Mars, the latter implying that he might be a patron of war. Depictions of Esus as a woodcutter have prompted much imaginative speculation, but the earlier suggestion of a link between Esus and *Cuchulainn now seems ill-founded. One temple features three symbolic representations of *egrets; he is also associated with the *crane.
de Vries, Jan. Keltische Religion. Stuttgart, Germany: W. Kohlhammer, 1954. Trans. David Fickett-Wilbar (and much appreciated!)
p. 97: "Hesus Mars is placated thus: men are suspended in trees even until the parts of the leg have separated."
From http://www.britannia.com/celtic/gods/esus.html (While a travel site, it has some things to say that might be useful):
Mary Jones, an excellent Celtic scholar, has entries on both Esus and Tarvos Trigaranus, as well as the Nautes Pillar. I would encourage you to visit her site, and so won't copy/paste the contents here.
What can we infer from these sources?
Esus is represented with certainty only three times. You see those three above, two from the Nautes Pillar and one from Trier. In the first representation, we see Esus represented as a bearded man wearing a loose tunic. His clothes are primarily dictated, I think, by the relief itself, as this representation, dated to 14 AD, is a Romanized representation. Interestingly, the term applied to a man wearing only a tunic was nudus in Latin, and thus we have a god who appears to do the work of a common man (i.e. a woodcutter) being represented on the level of that common man.
It does seem that he is cutting down a willow tree with his hand-axe, representing a possible connection with the breaking of barriers and the areas between worlds (the willow tree stands at the place between the worlds of land and water). He may also be trimming the tree with a bill-hook, possibly an indication of the need to re-work the world tree or to trim the parts of it that are dangerous or diseased.
The relation between the Esus panel and the Tarvos Trigaranus panel seems obvious, given the Trier relief. There is question about how they are related, obviously, in particular about whether they illustrate the same scene, or two different scenes. Do we take the four sides of the pillar section as one story? Could the myth be related along the entirety of the pillar, with each character playing a specific part in this mythic drama?
The representations may also be of a hero, not a god at all. If this is the case, then we may have been looking at it from a direction that prevents our understanding. We can say that a number of the figures on the Nautes Pillar are not deities, and so this may be another non-deity.
The Three Cranes:
A set of three cranes appears a few times in some Celtic lore, but the one that comes to mind most quickly is the story of Athirne the Unsociable. Whether this is connected to Esus or not is debatable at best, as the names don't seem to match up, nor does it well reflect what we see in the relief:
Athirne the Unsociable
It is possible that there is a connection between the Athirne and Esus myths, but I'm not sure that there is. The change from a pig to a bull is quite a large change, really, and while the cranes seem to be
So now you want to know how I see him, hmm?
For now, you'll have to wait. I'll update soon. First I want to get the scholar's works out of the way.
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