Monday, May 19, 2008

Lord of the Rings and the King of the Visigoths

     I was posting a comment on a blog about Harry Potter when one of the people said that they like HP because they could imagine someone like McGonagall walking down the road.  Real but hidden to us.  That person could not imagine Aragorn walking down that same street.
  You would not find him strolling along some city street today because he lived 1,500 years ago in the Heroic Age of Beowulf, Arthur, and Siegfried.  The more I read Old English literature, the more I see where J.R.R. Tolkien got his material from.
    Tolkien wrote an essay first published in 1964 called "On Fairy Stories".   In it he wrote this wonderful metaphor for story being a kind of soup.  
     "Speaking of the history of stories and especially of fairy-stories, we may say that the Pot of Soup, the Cauldron of Story, has always been  been boiling, and to it have continually been added new bits, dainty and undainty." 
As we know, those of us who cook, the very best and most flavorful soups are made from the scraps in the kitchen and not something carefully planned out from a recipe book needing a trip to the grocery store. 
     "But if we speak of a Cauldron, we must not wholly forget the Cooks.  There are many things in the Cauldron but the Cooks do not dip the ladle quite blindly.  Their selection is important.  The gods are after all gods, and it is a matter of some moment what stories are told of them."  Indeed.
     When Tolkien was writing his stories of Midgaard/Middle Earth, he too was dipping in his ladle and choosing his bits, some were Scandinavian, some were Celtic, some were from history and some were from myth.  Many were from the Anglo-Saxons; it was after all where he made his living and reputation as a scholar.  In the few works that remain of the Anglo-Saxons, I may not have found Aragorn but I think I have found his ally Theoden in Theodoric I, King of the Visigoths.
     Gregory of Tours said little about him except that he was one of the few to heed the call and stand beside Aetius, Patrician of Rome, against the Scourge of God, Attila the Hun.  It is clear in many ways that the Numenorians are based on the Romans but it is difficult to say if Aetius's role in the battle mirrors Aragorn's or Denethor.  He was a steward of a sort in the fading of the empire but he fought on the field gloriously and survived. 
     Jordanes can tell us more.  He called Theodoric Theodorid.  So why not say he was Theoden's son Theodred?  Theodoric and Theoden died in the same way and were about the same age.  While Attila was advancing on the walled city of Orleans, burning and plundering after the manner of orcs, Aetius and Theodoric gathered together a last alliance of tribes, the last major battle of a united Roman empire.  They stopped his advance in the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains, like the king of the Nazgul was stopped in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
     The Visigoth king would not be outdone in courage by his men and rode ahead of them all.  He was thrown from his horse, like Theoden, and died trampled by the horses of his men rather than by his own horse.  His son, not a nephew, Thorismud pursued the enemy so far into the field that he wandered into Attila's camp on the way back and had to fight his way out, like Eomer's heedless rush at the enemy.
     When they found the body of Theodoric "where the dead lay thickest"(Jordanes), they bore his body away with songs in the sight of the enemy while the battle raged on around them, exactly like Theoden was carried from the field.  Unlike in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, this enemy, Attila, lived to flee and find his death later overexerting himself with a young bride but not before facing Thorismud in battle and being defeated by him. One cannot imagine the leader of the Nazgul dying in this way.
     There are other parallels.  The death of the Witch King of Angmar had been foretold in the North.  Attila, through fear of Aetius, consulted shamen to have them prophesize what the outcome of the battle would be.  He was told one of the leaders of the armies would die that day.  He risked the battle hoping it would be Aetius
     Attila had allies in the Ostrogoths, the Goths of the East, which is why the king of the Ostrogoths is at his court in the Nibelungenlied.  Since they come from the East, these could be compared to the Black Numenorians who fought against their kin from the West.  Visigoth simply means Goth of the West.
     One last similarity between the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains and the Battle of the Pelennor field is the presence of an army of the dead. While I must track down the original source to confirm this, in E.A. Thompson's book The Huns, he quotes a scholar, Damascius, who wrote that the fighting between the Roman alliance and the Huns was so severe that only the leaders and a few followers survived.  Jordanes gives the numbers of the dead as 165,000.  The battle raged so fiercely that those who were killed did not realize they were dead and went on fighting for three days.  The clash of their ghostly arms could be heard by the living. 
I do not yet know who Aragorn was but I will.  For he lived; more surely than did McGonagall, he lived. 

Beatles Song of the Week

Via Cyancitta Cristata

Illuc nebulam super Urbe Angelorum est,
Et mei amici viam suam perierant, 
Erimus in illo loco mox diximus,
Nunc in vicem ipsi perierant.

refrain:  Amabo, non este tardi,
Amabo, non este perquam tardi,
Amabo, non este tardi,
Aut sim dormiens.

Bene solum agit monstrare,
Et dixi eos ubi agere,
Vigiliam in viam rogare,
Est tot ibi convenire,

Nunc est ultra horam somnorum intellego,
Et vero agere amo,
Mox prima lux erit,
Hic in Via Cyancitta Cristata sedeo. 


Anonymous said...

Your research is excellent! And I agree, if Theoden really 'lived', then so did Aragorn! And I can imagine someone like him living many centuries ago - but that could be just wishful thinking :)

'Fraid my Beatles knowledge is sorely lacking - I can translate whole sentences of the Beatles lyric this week, but the title eludes me at the moment (I get crested or plumed something Way or Road as a title - which bears no relationship to any Beatles song I can find, yet the actual lyrics make sense - but I cannot narrow them down to a specific song).

Anonymous said...

Wow, excellent research! There was also a town called Rohan in France...

Is it possible that Aragorn is a composite character? He's more of an archetype, don't you think?


The Red Witch said...

Tracy, are you sure you are not a latin scholar too? You are doing great!
Aragorn exactly as he is would not exist in history of course but there might be someone who inspired the character. I have a candidate in mind. I just need to do some research. Not that I am normally looking for where Tolkien got this stuff but I find it as I am reading Old English literature.

Anonymous said...

I'm definitely no latin scholar! The only latin I know is Linnean, from species nomenclature - that and Harry Potter :) - Expelliarmus indeed!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ironmistress said...

Hint: translate the Sindarin word "pelennor" into Latin.