BMCR 2023.11.34

Le mythe de fondation de Lugdunum

, Le mythe de fondation de Lugdunum. Kaïnon - anthropologie de la pensée ancienne, 22. Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2022. Pp. 367. ISBN 9782406133377.

This book deals with interpreting a passage on the foundation of the city Lugdunum (Lyon, France) from the work De fluviis, written in the 2nd century A.D. by the author known as Pseudo-Plutarch.

Chapter 1 (Fragments de paysages) considers the perception and representation of territories and landscapes in texts from the Renaissance, particularly about Lugdunum. The passage mentioned above is discussed in terms of the approaches of H. d’Arbois de Jubainville and C. Jullian, the outstanding representatives of the Celtic-Roman dichotomy in the study of the cultural provenance of the myth.

Chapter 2 (Mythe) starts with the literary context of the passage and offers an interpretation based on the biological cycles of the animals involved in the myth. Solar and moon cycles are then considered in regard to the Coligny calendar. Chapter 3 (Image) is mainly focused on an iconographic analysis of the “gobelet de Lyon”, a decorated silver cup dating from the 1st century A.D. In both chapters, structural studies highlight the contrast between the Gallic or Celtic references to these sources and the Roman context in which they were created.

Chapter 4 (Realia) deals with understanding both the passage and the silver cup in the context of the foundation of the Roman colony in 43 B.C. Several aspects are incorporated: the topography of ancient Lugdunum, the archaeological remains, relevant historical dates, and cyclical positions of the Sun, the Moon, and Capricorn. Regarding the topography, two main items are considered: the municipal sanctuary in the centre of the ancient town, perhaps devoted to the imperial cult, and the Sanctuary of the Three Gauls, at the confluence of the Saône and the Rhône, consecrated to Rome and August. Chapter 5 (Interpretatio) explores the process of the combination of Gallic and Roman aspects within the religious panorama of the city. The lucus, as a sacred space in the origins of the city, and the festivities named Lucaria are linked to the Lugnasad, with the god Lug as a peacemaker, and the celebration of the Pax Augusta. The main characters involved in the city’s foundation are discussed in a sociological interpretatio of the origins of the myth as we know it. In both chapters 4 and 5, the ideological manifestations are explained as the result of social facts.

In Chapter 6 (Comparaisons), the comparative method brings to light a series of codes and partial parallels between the myth of Lugdunum and those of London and Kraków. Other ancient texts related to Celtic traditions are analysed to point out the relevant presence of the Moon in this culture. Chapter 7 (Mythe et paysage) examines the rhetoric from narratives about landscapes in myths and the features of the Gallic rhetoric that can be known through Greco-Roman sources. This perspective is added to the general use of dualism in Gallic and Celtic cultures, as summarised in this chapter, to support the Celtic hypothesis on the cultural roots of the foundational myth of Lugdunum.

The main objective of this book is to provide new evidence on the survival of some aspects of the Celtic tradition under Roman domination (p. 15). There are several problems: different languages and cultures are involved in transmitting such information, specifically the Graeco-Roman and Christian traditions. Most of the sources, including medieval texts, date from long after the establishment of Roman rule and are often from remote places, requiring consideration of regional traditions for interpreting the myth. However, the use of Celtic dualism, with its combination of opposite or complementary concepts, makes differences in time and space in the origins of the sources less significant. As suggested by the author, some principles or structures of Indoeuropean thought could emerge from this investigation.[1]

In addition, the overlap of the Gallic oppidum and the Roman colony (pp. 131-133) allows us to raise questions about the ancient conception of two foundational moments at Lugdunum and, consequently, about the myth. The integration of locals in the colony could involve both a strong assimilation of Roman cultural aspects and the wish to preserve the indigenous tradition’s traits. The creation of hybrid identities must have been an essential factor regarding the success of new civic communities throughout the Roman world, implicating the process of interpretatio (Martín-Arroyo, 2017).

Myths are exciting elements for investigating cultural identities at a local and higher level. The passage on the foundation of Lugdunum (6.4) is preceded in the text of De fluviis by two other stories: about the Arar (the Saône) (6.1) and a type of fish from this river (6.2-3), respectively. Marco Virgilio García Quintela studies these stories throughout the entire book, given their presumably common Celtic origin. Nevertheless, the Pseudo-Plutarch quotes different original works and authors for the myths of the fish and the foundation. Therefore, separated analyses could be regarded as suitable for the different passages of the text. From this point of view, the title of the book and the relationship of its contents could be slightly confusing. The different myths and subjects could be studied separately in future works, excluding the cases of some transversal aspects, such as Celtic dualism. The scope of the research from the author’s perspective is limited to understanding some significant factors on the city’s foundation, which in turn can be suitable for interpreting the myth. Examining details on the ritual and a more complete geo-historical framework of the foundation could be suggested as necessary to distinguish not only the Gallic but also the common or strictly Roman origins of the myth.

Beyond the obstacles and doubts commented on above, this research’s results are highly valuable for scholarship. For further investigation, the identified features of the Celtic culture could be traced in other sources and study cases through analysis of historical texts, archaeoastronomy, or other methodologies. Another quality of this work to be highlighted is the systematic approach of the research, which consecutively deals with structuralism, functionalism, and comparative analysis. The combination of these theoretic frameworks could contribute to a more exhaustive development of such complex research as regarding the foundational myth of an ancient city.



Martín-Arroyo Sánchez, Daniel J. (2017) Interpretatio de la titulatura cívica de Hasta Regia a partir del culto a Juno Regina. Dialogues d’histoire ancienne, 43/1, 175-211.



[1] In this respect, some of the study cases in this book could be explored in other contexts; for instance, within the Greco-Roman culture, the primitive influence of the Moon phases in the organisation of the calendar is well attested (Martín-Arroyo, 2017).