Showing posts with label Celtic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Celtic. Show all posts

Friday, August 10, 2012

Esgaroth — what’s in a name?

This is a name I’ve been thinking about for a long time. The bulk of the notes on which I will be drawing for this post are already over a year old, and some of these thoughts are a lot older than that. The name has come up again and again in recent years — in Mark Hooker’s Tolkienian Mathomium, in John Rateliff’s History of The Hobbit, in Parma Eldalamberon 17, in Mark Hooker’s new book, Tolkien and Welsh, and so on — and each time I’ve been prompted to ponder the name a little bit more. With the impending Peter Jackson film adaptation of The Hobbit, the name will be at the tip of everyone’s tongues again soon enough. I think I finally have a gloss I like, but first, let’s review the state of the name.

Esgaroth does not appear in the “Nomenclature” Tolkien prepared for translators of The Lord of the Rings. This is not terribly surprising since the name is associated with The Hobbit, and occurs only a few times in The Lord of the Rings, mainly in connection with the earlier tale. Robert Foster did not attempt to gloss the name in his Complete Guide (1971, rev. 1978). Ditto J.E.A. Tyler in his Tolkien Companion (1976, rev. 2004). Neither Foster nor Tyler even guesses at the language, though it has usually been assumed to be Sindarin. Jim Allan doesn’t have very much more in his Introduction to Elvish (1978) — “[c]alled ‘Lake-town’ in Common Speech, which may be a translation” — though he does commit to identifying the name as Sindarin. In The Languages of Tolkien’s Middle-earth (1974, rev. 1980), Ruth Noel says the name means “Hiding Foam” (Sindarin esgal “hiding” + roth < ros “foam”). David Salo, surprisingly, omits Esgaroth from his Gateway to Sindarin (2004) entirely.

We learned something of Tolkien’s thinking about the name when the Eldarin Etymologies were published as part of The Lost Road (1987). Under a root √ESEK, Tolkien glosses Esgaroth as “Reedlake, because of reed-banks in the west”. Uh, what reed-banks in the west? Actually, this wasn’t merely an afterthought. In one of their songs, the Dwarves recall that “the reeds were rattling”, and the Elves likewise sing that the barrels of Lake-town will go “Past the rushes, past the reeds, / Past the marsh’s waving weeds”. So, although it is never really pointed out, there must be reeds in and around the Long Lake. Okay, moving on.

John Rateliff comments on Esgaroth and its etymology in The History of The Hobbit (2007, rev. 2011). John has the benefit of Tolkien’s explanation in the published Etymologies, which so many earlier thinkers did not, but he wants to reject it. He doesn’t like the fact that the name should apply to the body of water, the Long Lake, but actually applies to the town. He proposes an alternative etymology, again Sindarin: “city standing in or rising up out of the water, perhaps with a suggestion of pilings like reeds”. John’s instinct that the gloss in the published Etymologies isn’t altogether reliable may have some support from an unexpected quarter: Tolkien himself. In the “Addenda and Corrigenda to the Etymologies” (Part Two), published in Vinyar Tengwar No. 46 (July 2004), Tolkien himself has offered up a completely different gloss. Here we have pieces of Tolkien’s etymological thinking about names of Eldarin origin which were omitted from the version published as part of The History of Middle-earth. Under the root √SKAR², Tolkien explicitly glosses esgar as “shore” and esgaroth as “?strand-burg”. The question mark identifies cases where the editors had particular difficulty reading Tolkien’s handwriting. And editors Carl Hostetter and Patrick Wynne note that this is also a “[h]astily written entry not included in the published text”. John does not mention this additional gloss in his book (including the revised edition published last year). Neither does Mark Hooker.

A year before John’s book was published, but two years after the addenda in Vinyar Tengwar, Mark floated — no pun intended — an entirely new theory in his Tolkienian Mathomium (2006). Mark seeks glosses for Tolkien’s words and names from outside Middle-earth, as indeed I often like to do, and as indeed I will do again very shortly. Mark’s view of the name is that it is really of Celtic origin and means something like “an enclosed or guarded encampment on the water” (cf. Celtic elements es, ys, is, etc. “water” + gardd < garthan “enclosed encampment”).

In the summer of 2007, a year after Mark’s book and in the same year as John’s, we got Parma Eldalamberon No. 17, “Words, Phrases and Passages in The Lord of the Rings”. Although it is easy to miss, there is a peculiar reference to Esgaroth in this work. “Galion and Esgaroth are not Sindarin (though perhaps ‘Sindarized’ in shape) or are not recorded in Sindarin” (p. 54). Well indeed! Now, untangling exactly when Tolkien thought what about which root element is a very tedious exercise, and one, moreover, that is likely to remain inconclusive anyway. Nor is it of major importance here. The point I’d like to make is that Tolkien was clearly not sure about Esgaroth. It seems it was one of those words which had sprung up in his imagination without an etymology, for purely phonaesthetic reasons, and which he had some difficulty fitting into the development of his Elvish languages. Instead, he offers two totally different etymologies, plus a statement that it might not even be Sindarin at all! There are plenty of other examples of this elsewhere in the legendarium (e.g., see “The Problem of Ros”, published in The Peoples of Middle-earth).

When Mark Hooker returned to this word in his new book, Tolkien and Welsh (2012), he expanded on his view that the name was a hydronym of Celtic origin. I read that book in draft and commented to Mark on Esgaroth at the time (almost a year ago now). I told him that while I felt he had a reasonable, perhaps defensible Celtic gloss for the word, I still had a nagging feeling about it. Why Celtic, when everything else in the region is Norse? I felt that Celtic names might make sense in Bree and the Shire (in the west), but not in Dale and its environs (in the northeast). Tolkien was very clear, at many points in his notes and essays, that the words and names of the northeast had a Norse character — seen from outside Middle-earth, of course. Just as Dale, Bard, Smaug, and the names of all the Dwarves, plus Gandalf, are obviously Norse in form, why not Esgaroth?

Pursuing this line of reasoning, I have always thought there ought to be a clear Norse gloss for Esgaroth, but developing a theory I could defend has taken a while. Mark replied that most of the Norse words with the sound envelope that he could think of had meanings to do with oak trees. Mark thought this was a long-shot to explain a word he took to be a hydronym. I’d seen the same words myself, and some others, and it has taken some ruminating, but now I think I can share some new ideas. I meant to post this in August 2011, not August 2012, but, well, the days and nights got away from me!

I agree that Norse readings relating to eik “oak” might seem a bit improbable — at first. However, there is the fact that Lake-town is built up on wooden piers, so why not start there? There is also the conspicuous name Oakenshield, taken directly from the Norse eikenskjaldi. And don’t forget that the northeastern part of Mirkwood consisted in large part of oak trees. It was a giant oak that Bilbo climbed when the Dwarves hoisted him up to attempt to determine whether they were any nearer the end of their journey through the dark wood. Though they didn’t know it, they were. The Elvenking carried “a carven staff of oak” too. And the trapdoors out of which the Dwarves and Bilbo escaped the Elvenking’s realm were made of oak. Oak is obviously big in this part of Middle-earth! We aren’t told of what type of wood the piers of Lake-town were fashioned, but why not oak? It’s a good choice, and abundant in the right part of Mirkwood. It could have been pine — there were pine trees in that part of the country as well — but mighty Norse eikr suit the name of the town well.

For the second element, there are some “water words” that pop up in the Norse lexicon — e.g., sker “a rock in the sea, a skerry” or skári “a young sea-mew” — but compounds of any of these really strain credulity. But there is skorða “to prop, support by shores”. Aha! So eik + skorða would mean “to prop up with oak”. The k and s could easily swap spots (metathesis is one of the most common linguistic processes; cf. Old English áscian, ácsian “to ask”). This could give us *Eiskorða, which is very close indeed to Esgaroth. Close enough to satisfy me, at any rate, though if anyone can think of an objection, do let me hear from you.

Another word that might inform the toponym is the Old Norse verb, eiskra “to roar, rage”. This could be a reference to water, perhaps the waterfalls on the edge of the Long Lake, or just as likely a reference to the dragon. Moreover, there is auðr, with two compelling meanings: as a noun, it’s “riches, wealth”; as an adjective, “empty, void, desolate”. The compound *Eiskrauðr might therefore imply “roaring desolation” or “raging riches” or something similar. Naturally, from a point of view inside the history of Middle-earth, Esgaroth wouldn’t have gotten its name because of the dragon, but Tolkien could have bestowed such a name on it from the outside, perhaps unconsciously. There is even an echo in the Noldorin asgar, ascar “violent, rushing, impetuous”.

But this strikes me as not particularly likely. It might just be a secondary echo in this case, albeit a fortuitous one. Given the options, I think the real solution is *Eiskorða, meaning something like “a city propped up on oaken piers”. What do you think?

Friday, September 7, 2007

Khamûl — what’s in a name?

I’ve wanted to post some thoughts on Khamûl for some time now. I think I’ve got a few original ideas on this obscure character, one of the Nine Nazgûl, and the only one with an actual name. And after assembling them recently, it turns out that this post will form yet another another coda to the wraith / writhen discussion – read parts 1, 2, 3.

First, to refresh our memories, what do we know about him? Not a lot, actually. He only emerges as a distinct character from some of Tolkien’s background writing for The Lord of the Rings, in a collection of narratives labeled “The Hunt for the Ring.” Christopher Tolkien published the bulk of this writing in Unfinished Tales, but several additional passages, including some that relate to Khamûl, have been published more recently in Hammond and Scull’s The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion. Khamûl has also been called the Shadow of the East and the Black Easterling. The Easterlings, of course, are those hostile Men, the Variags of Khand or a related people, who allied themselves with Sauron.

What else can we say about him? Very little. His name, movements, and individual character traits are only discussed in that one piece of writing. And nowhere, to my knowledge (and that of others I’ve consulted, such as Carl Hostetter), does Tolkien discuss any possible etymology of his name. He seems to be a case of spontaneous invention on Tolkien’s part. That being said, we do know that Khamûl was second only to the Witch-king of Angmar in the pecking order of the Ringwraiths. He dwelt for a while at Dol Guldur as Sauron’s lieutenant after he, Sauron, had returned to Mordor. It was also Khamûl who spoke so menacingly to the Gaffer on the night the Hobbits finally left Hobbiton. And perhaps most interesting: “Of Khamûl it is said [...] that he was the most ready of all the Nazgûl after the Black Captain himself, to perceive the presence of the Ring, but also the one whose power was most confused and diminished by daylight.” Interesting stuff, but small beer on which to base any theories.

But nevertheless, I’ve been making an effort to assemble some cogent thoughts and theories on the etymology of the name, because — well, I can’t just let such things lie. :) So, read along if the subject interests you and feel free to let me know what you think. I’ve broken my thoughts down into three areas: philological, historical, and geographical — with a final appendix in which I suggest a few “wilder” ideas. And nearly everything here favors “eastward explanations”, as Khamûl was, after all, the Shadow of the East. Also, because of the length of the post, I’ve omitted sources and citations; if you’re interested, just ask. I may try to formalize this into a conference paper. Would anyone be interested? :)

1) Philological Evidence

Here’s where I bring things back to wraith / writhen. There may be a defensible etymology for Khamûl as “the bent, crooked one”, richly echoing the etymology of wraith (as elaborated in the previous posts). It turns out there’s another Indo-European root of interest; two roots, actually: kemb–, kamp– “to bend”. These have made their way even into Modern English, e.g., akimbo. The root is attested in Latin camur, cămŭrus “crooked, crumpled”, from a past participial form of Greek κάμπτω “I bend”. Looking over Latin’s shoulder, there’s an even earlier Sansrkit cognate: kubja “crooked”, which has left its mark among the other Indo-Aryan languages, e.g., Panjabi kham “crooked”.

But even more than these, the root has left a considerable number of Goidelic cognates. These include such “bent and crooked” words as: Welsh cam “crooked, wrong, injury”; camu “to bend”; Scottish Gaelic cam “crooked”, also cam-bheul “wry mouth” (which sounds very close to Khamûl); Manx cam “bent, deformed, deceitful, crooked”; Old Irish camm “crooked”; Cornish cam “crooked”; and from the coast of Brittany, we have Breton kam “crooked” and Armoric kamm “crooked”.

I mention these in spite of Tolkien’s professed dislikes — “I have no liking at all for Gaelic from Old Irish downwards, as a language, but it is of course of great historical and philological interest, and I have at various times studied it.” It is perhaps very telling that the example he was discussing was nazg, with its Gaelic meaning of “ring”, cognate to his own Black Speech of Mordor. Furthermore, Tolkien proved himself well aware of the Celtic cam under his entry for cammede in his 1922 Middle English Vocabulary.

At points of “Goidelic contact”, obviously primarily in the west, the word also made its way into English dialectal usage, as in Lowland Scotch camsteerie “crooked, confused, unmanageable”. And in Lancashire, we have cam as a noun, “contradiction, crooked argument”; as an adverb, “awry”; and as a verb, “to cross or contradict; to oppose vexatiously; to quarrel” – all from the Welsh camu. We also get Southern Lancashire cammed and Northern and Eastern Lancashire caimt “crooked, bad-tempered, ill-natured” from the same source. I especially like this find, despite Tolkien’s normal preferences for the West Midland dialects, because it resonates with the fact that Tolkien served in the Lancashire Fusiliers during World War I, and was stationed in Yorkshire after his return from France. Which provides a nice segue to the historical discussion.

2) Historical Evidence

First, I have to say that there’s probably nothing to this, but I couldn’t help myself. Could Khamûl be an echo of Kamel, as in Mustafa Kamel Atatürk*, the famous Ottoman general who fought in World War I? Tolkien, of course, fought in the northwest of the European theatre and not in Anatolia, but the rumor of Kemal could hardly have gone unnoticed. Later, Kemal would found the nation of Turkey and become its first president. He was also a noted language reformer, responsible for — among other things — moving Turkish from the Arabic to the Latin alphabet. This had a very beneficial effect on literacy, but Tolkien might have sighed over the loss of linguistic heritage in the name of “progress”.

This is naturally only the most distant possibility, of course, but it’s a tempting idea. Could the name of a larger-than-life war general from the east have stuck in Tolkien’s mind for all those years, then popped out unexpectedly and without explanation? On the other hand, is the stigma of being labeled “the inspiration for Khamûl” really something I can pin on Kamel? Probably not! ;)

3) Geographical Evidence

Could Khamûl refer to a place somewhere in the east? There is a well known candidate in the Chinese city of Kumul (also recorded as Camul as far back as 1615). This is an ancient city in the midst of the larger expanse of the Gobi desert, part of an oasis — the “fertile and agreeable province of Khamil” that Marco Polo visited on his journeys to the vast eastern lands of the Mongols in the 13th century. On that eastern expedition he met the Khans (and here, we find a tantalizing echo of Khand — see below for more on that). The city has also be spelled Khamul, among other variants. Again, it’s tempting.

And now, to Khand, Khamûl’s apparent homeland. Tolkien called “Khand”, like mûmak, an example “[o]f the speech of Men of the East and allies of Sauron.” Such words and names were seldom explained by Tolkien. But considering its geographical location in Middle-earth, it is probably more than mere coincidence that in a number of southwestern Asian languages the word khand, or a form similar to it, refers to a country, a region of the world, etc. Here are a few examples: Panjabi khand “side, quarter, region, one of the nine sections of the world (as reckoned by the Hindus)”; Hindustani khand “region, part (of the world), partition, division (of a country)”; Tamil kantam “piece, part, fragment, portion”. There is also the similar word with Persian, Turkic, and other western Asian cognates, as exemplified by Hindustani khan “lord, prince, ruler, etc.”, which developed metonymically from the meaning “a division of a house, etc.” These words all derive from Sanskrit khanda “to break (as into parts)”, as in breaking up the world into regions or a house into rooms. This original sense of “broken” nicely resonates, once again, with the related “bend, bent” connotation of wraith.

But is there any evidence Tolkien knew more than a tithe about the Indo-Aryan languages? Not much, and certainly less than his awareness of the Celtic cam, though he does mention Sanskrit once or twice. A Sanskrit word such as khanda, however, with its metaphorical, almost mythopoeic, suggestiveness, might have caught his eye. Ditto for the Indo-European roots kemb–, kamp–. There is always a danger in speculating on what Tolkien did or did not know, but where it comes to languages and Indo-European roots, I am certainly inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

4) A few additional philological “temptations”

Now for a few wilder — and possibly more “fun” — ideas! Hey, as long as I’m going out on a limb about which words or languages Tolkien might have drawn on subconsciously, why not? :)

Something that caught my eye and might reinforce the Mustafa Kamel theory is Turkish kem “evil” + kemal “perfection” = “perfection of evil”! And since we’re talking about Kamel, how about camel? These animals are from the East, aren’t they? Perhaps Khamûl originally came riding west on a sun-dappled dromedary. Spelled chamayle by Chaucer, the word comes to us from Old French chamel, camel - Latin camelus - Greek κάμηλος - Hebrew גמל [gamal] - Arabic جَمَل [jamal]. Just in case you wanted to know!

Here’s another fun one from Hindustani (that is, Hindi / Urdu): kāmnī “fairy” — probably pure coincidence, but it’s certainly tempting to imagine that the fear of the Black Easterling entered the collective mythology of the East in such a way. :)

* Atatürk, of course, means “Father of the Turks” — but I keep thinking it’s got to be the Turkish translation of the English interjection, “Attaboy!” No disrespect intended, hahae. And just because I can’t keep myself from it, I’ll point out that the Turkish ata “father, old man” is mighty close to Tolkien’s Adûnaic attû, attô “father”, from Quenya atar.

Well, I’ve really said a mouthful! This might be my longest post yet. Any thoughts?