Esus

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Esus or Hesus was a Gaulish god known from two monumental statues and a line in Lucan's Bellum civile.

Contents

Imagery

The two statues on which his name appears are the Pillar of the Boatmen from among the Parisii and a pillar from Trier among the Treveri. In both of these, Esus is portrayed cutting branches from trees with his axe. Esus is accompanied, on different panels of the Pillar of the Boatmen, by Tarvos Trigaranus (the ‘bull with three cranes’), Jupiter, Vulcan, and other gods.

Written sources

A well-known section in Lucan's Bellum civile talks about the gory sacrificial offerings proffered to a triad of Celtic deities: Teutates, Hesus (an aspirated form of Esus), and Taranis.[1] Among a pair of later commentators on Lucan's work, one identifies Teutates with Mercury and Esus with Mars. According to the Berne Commentary on Lucan, human victims were sacrificed to Esus by being tied to a tree and flailed.[2]

The Gallic medical writer Marcellus of Bordeaux may offer another textual reference to Esus in his De medicamentis, a compendium of pharmacological preparations written in Latin in the early 5th century and the sole source for several Celtic words. The work contains a magico-medical charm decipherable as Gaulish which appears to invoke the aid of Esus (spelled Aisus) in curing throat trouble.[3]

The given name "Esunertus" ("strength of Esus") occurs at least once as an epithet of Mercury on a dedicatory inscription.[4][5] It is possible that the Esuvii of Gaul, in the area of present-day Normandy, took their name from this deity.[6]

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