Mikhailova T.A. The Gundestrup Cauldron as an Example of ʻVisual Folkloreʼ
The silver cauldron, found in 1891 in a peat-bog near Gundestrup (Jutland, Danmark) is considered to be one of the most interesting testimonies of the Continental Celts’ religion, despite the uncertainty of its attribution. A number of scholars suggest its Thracian origin; others find Sarmatian elements, as well as figures of Greek mythology and culture. However, no major work on Continental Celtic culture is likely to avoid referring to the Gundestrup Cauldron and reproducing its images and scenes.
The discovery is generally attributed to the 2nd–1st century BC. The cauldron consists of seven outer plates (the eighth is lost) containing, supposedly, deities and of five inner plates with heroic scenes.
Both outer and inner plates show humanlike beings, explicitly unequal among themselves, regarding the figures’ size (gods, heroes, simple warriors) similarly to the Ancient Egypt’s system. Furthermore, the cauldron represents animals (elephants, dogs, lions, gryphons, snakes, dolphins, deer, bulls, birds) some of which are not common to the Celtic art, while others find parallels in Pictish stone carving, as well as in late insular illuminated manuscripts.
We suppose that the cauldron originates from the Celto-Thracian zone in the Balkans, probably from the Tylis kingdom. Then it was stolen during attacks of Cimbri and Teutoni in the late 2nd century BC and finally arrived to Jutland with a number of other Celtic objects of cult.
Our aim is to take the example of the Gundestrup Cauldron to show a certain symbolic pictorialism dating from ancient times, but at the same time taking supplementary meanings given that the only means to compose a pre-written ʻtextʼ was its visualisation. Such ʻsymbolic writingʼ seems to be common to the Classic culture as a whole, but it also takes place in the art of Early Christianity and even in much later times.
We suppose that the necessary condition for the appearance of such ʻtextsʼ might be the existence of some shared basic knowledge of a community, moreover, the linguistic component no more prevails in this case. But sometimes the plane of expression predominates the plane of content, which causes, in its turn, generation of new meanings within the old semantic paradigm.
The Celtic presence in the Balkans in the period from the 3rd century BC to approximately 2nd century AD provided conditions to a phenomenon of a kind of ʻcultural unionʼ (Kulturbund).