Saturday, May 17, 2008

Bede and Tolkien

No, I don't suppose that there is any particular connection between the two other than as fellow Catholics. But I've stumbled across a few references while reading St. Bede that were amusingly interesting to me (and maybe no one else).

The office of "thain" is apparently ancient in England. St. Bede refers to one in II.9, named Lilla, who saved the king's life by taking a poisoned sword for him. According to notes in this edition of EH, a "thegn" (apparently the old Anglo-Saxon spelling) would have been not necessarily a bodyguard (as this little anecdote might suggest to a modern reader) but a member of the royal household; describes the thegn or thain as a "minor noble."

The poisoned sword that Lilla took for king Edwin was thrust by the assassin Eomer. Ha! (laughing not at or even near the honorable Lilla, but rather at Tolkien's source of a name).

Lastly, in II.5 Bede refers to a Kentish dynasty surnamed Oisc as oiscingas. So we see in these references that if I had known for all these years a little more English history, I might have known better how much Tolkien drew upon it in crafting The Lord of the Rings. Although I find it hard to imagine any sense in which Eomer son of Eomund has anything in common with an assassin except possibly in the twisted mind of Saruman :-) But I do find it interesting that the "ingas" suffix used in reference to a dynasty isn't something that Tolkien invented at all (as I thought) but is something he took from his own heritage.


Mike Burgess said...

Fascinating! I suppose my love of languages was sparked in earnest many years ago by reading Tolkein. I had a book called The Languages of Middle Earth which was really neat, a lot of fun to construct sentences in Quenya or Sindarin, using Futhork codes, etc., and learning about Tolkein's genius in philology, linguistics, and mythology. This early interest sparked many tangential ones, including musical (Wagner, anyone?), history (as you point out, the books are replete with medieval and earlier historical referents), etc.

Just one question, though: even after 52 car washes, does the water still Bede?

Reginald de Piperno said...

I think I need medical attention after that.


Anonymous said...

If it stayed for 52 washes it would be a Veneerable Bede indeed.

One law only standeth fast: Things created may not last.


Only two things in life are inevitable: death and taxes.

Can both these statements be true?


Reginald de Piperno said...

Hi Martin,

Heh. The first one doesn't have to be true (it only says that they may not last); the second one was a joke, so it doesn't have to be true, either.

But the first one is consistent with the song Dust in the Wind, so that proves that it's true, and early American explorers would not have paid taxes, so that disproves the second.

So Boethius is right, and Franklin missed his calling as a stand up comedian.


Anonymous said...

Oh, like wow man, you totally win the argument quoting "Dust in the Wind". Probably the first album I owned and of course was quoted by Bill&Ted to Socrates in their Great Adventure. Party On Dude :)