. Alas, not me: July 2020

22 July 2020

Ulmo, the outer Ocean, and Greek Mythology

Reading Megan Fontenot's recent post on Ulmo in her 'Exploring the Peoples of Middle-earth' series at Tor.com reminded me of a connection I'd recently noticed between this Vala and Greek Mythology. 

But mostly Ulmo speaks to those who dwell in Middle-earth with voices that are heard only as the music of water. For all seas, lakes, rivers, fountains and springs are in his government; so that the Elves say that the spirit of Ulmo runs in all the veins of the world. Thus news comes to Ulmo, even in the deeps, of all the needs and griefs of Arda, which otherwise would be hidden from Manwë.  
Silmarillion, p. 27
But Ulmo was alone, and he abode not in Valinor, nor ever came thither unless there were need for a great council; he dwelt from the beginning of Arda in the Outer Ocean, and still he dwells there. Thence he governs the flowing of all waters, and the ebbing, the courses of an rivers and the replenishment of Springs, the distilling of all dews and rain in every land beneath the sky. In the deep places he gives thought to music great and terrible; and the echo of that music runs through all the veins of the world in sorrow and in joy; for it joyful is the fountain that rises in the sun, its springs are in the wells of sorrow unfathomed at the foundations of the Earth. 
Silmarillion, p. 40

On p. 30 of Dr. Marie-Claire Beaulieu's fine book, The Sea in the Greek Imagination, she writes:

The sea also mediates between the different parts of the world due to its connection with a broader hydrological network. All ground water -- that is, not surface runoff -- radiates from the outer Ocean inward into the rivers and springs and then flows outward in to the sea [Plato, Phaedo 111c-112d]. In fact, according to Hesiod Theogony 337-62, the most important daughter of Oceanus is Styx, the river of the Underworld, and all the other rivers of the world are her sisters. Thus the hydrological network connects all the parts of the world, from the invisible world of the gods and the dead beyond the Ocean, to the Underworld, to the surface of the earth. The sea holds the middle position in this network as it receives the water that flows from the rivers and springs of the earth and brings it back to the outer Ocean.

Tolkien clearly knew the Phaedo from university*, if not before, and it would be strange if he had not read the Theogony at some point in school or out, in translation if not in the original. Dr Beaulieu discusses this aspect of the sea in greater length than I can quote here, but many of those texts, too, would have been familiar to Tolkien. The presence of such a 'hydrological network' in both Tolkien and Greek Myth and the general role of the sea as connecting the different worlds strongly suggests the influence of the myths he had read on the myths he was writing, though of course Tolkien re-imagines it by adding the echo of the music to the waters of the world, as well as Ulmo's ability to gather news by means of them.

 *Scull and Hammond, The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, vol 1. Chronology, p. 44 (2017).

14 July 2020

Now this a first paragraph

Tragedy shows what is perishable, what is fragile, and what is slow moving about us. In a world defined by relentless speed and the unending acceleration of information flows that cultivate amnesia and an endless thirst for the short-term future allegedly guaranteed through worship of the new prosthetic gods of technology, tragedy is a way of applying the emergency brake.
Simon Critchley, Tragedy, the Greeks and Us, p. 3

Here in the first paragraph of his book, Critchley treats us to two sentences of rhetorical delight. The first sentence is balanced, succinct, stately, and tricolonic. Its three dependent clauses ('what...what...what....) move with the deliberateness of the strophe and antistrophe of a Greek Tragic chorus. The first sentence in no way prepares the reader for the second, which is fitting since the second sentence comes in like a tsunami sweeping all before it. It just keeps coming. The thirty-six word prepositional phrase depending on 'In' not only describes 'a world defined' but it portrays that world magnificently. It both shows and tells. Finally arriving at the main clause and finding the last two words of the sentence to be 'emergency brake', I laughed out loud with delight. It's just magnificent. That paragraph alone was worth the price of the book.

02 July 2020

When put to shame by a dwarf and fairy queen, shut up and take it. (FR 2.vii.359)

'Dark is the water of Kheled-zâram, and cold are the springs of Kibil-nâla, and fair were the many-pillared halls of Khazad-dûm in Elder Days before the fall of mighty kings beneath the stone.' She looked upon Gimli, who sat glowering and sad, and she smiled.  
And the Dwarf, hearing the names given in his own ancient tongue, looked up and met her eyes; and it seemed to him that he looked suddenly into the heart of an enemy and saw there love and understanding. Wonder came into his face, and then he smiled in answer. 
He rose clumsily and bowed in dwarf-fashion, saying: 'Yet more fair is the living land of Lórien, and the Lady Galadriel is above all the jewels that lie beneath the earth!' 
(FR 2.vii.356)

Often he took Gimli with him when he went abroad in the land, and the others wondered at this change.
(FR 2.vii.359)

A thought occurred to me on the drive home tonight. The reason for Legolas' change of heart towards Gimli once they got to Lothlórien lies in the interchange between Gimli and Galadriel. The kindness and understanding of the one and the humble courtesy and eloquence of the other shamed him, opening his eyes far more than Galadriel had opened Gimli's.