Tuesday, June 26, 2007

One Month Online!

One month and twenty-four posts ago, I brought forth on the Internet a new blog, conceived in philology, and dedicated to the proposition that there’s more to Tolkien, Lewis, Rowling, Garner, et al., than meets the eye (or ear). Now I am engaged in a great — oh well, you get the idea!

In my very first post, I talked about the word, lingwë, which I’d chosen for the title of my blog, so I thought I’d commemorate the one-month “anniversary” (mensiversary? lunaversary?) of my blog by writing a little bit more about what else lingwë might mean.

I’ve found two interesting occurrences of lingwë — well, not the Quenya word, but something spelled like it. In my earlier post, I pointed out that lingwë is a sort of homophone of Italian lingua “language” (its plural, in fact, is lingue). Well, it turns out that Ludvic Lazarus Zamenhof used my spelling in the development of an early Proto-Esperanto. He called his first crack at a universal language, Lingwe Uniwersala — and there were a lot more w’s in it (pronounced as v’s), showing more of Zamenhof’s German/Slavic background. From a roughly contemporary account:

En l’année 1878, la langue était déjà à moitié prête, quoique entre la « língwe [sic] uniwersala » d’alors et l’Esperanto actuel il y eût encore une grande différence. [1]

The second one occurs in one of the two manuscripts of the late medieval poem usually referred to as La3amon’s Brut. The earlier manuscript (MS. Cotton Caligula A ix) reads: “& he makede ane he3e burh: / Albe Lingoe wes ihaten” (“and he made a noble burg: Alba Longa it was named”). But interestingly, the other manuscript preserving the poem (MS. Cotton Otho C xiii), written down about fifty years later, toward the end of the 13th Century, reads slightly differently: “and he makede one e3e bor3: / Albe Lingwe ihote” (emphasis added) [2].

Alba Longa was an ancient Mediterranean city, reputed to be the birthplace of Romulus and Remus (the legendary founders of Rome). The name is usually translated with some variation on “Long White City,” though the second element, Alba, is sometimes connected rather with the Alps or with Latin alba “dawn” [3]. As we already know from my discussions about Albus Dumbledore, all of these derive, in any case, from albus “white”.

Alba Longa as “Long White City” then naturally puts me in mind of Minas Tirith, the White City of Gondor — which, by the way, is in roughly the right place geographically to correspond to Alba Longa, if we undertake a projection of Middle-earth onto Europe, as some have done. And Tolkien himself informally placed Gondor in and around Italy more than once. Perhaps something deserving further research! [4]

So there you have it! We find another surprising appearance of “white”, with its hints of “elves”, the homophonic suggestion of language and linguistics, echoes of Harry Potter, the Swiss Alps that Tolkien visited in his youth, and Middle-earth geography — all encapsulated by a rather extraordinary accident in my choice of the name for my blog.

Now that’s fun for the whole family! :)

[1] L’Année Linguistique, publiée sous les auspices de la Société de Philologie. Tome I — 1901–1902. Paris: Librairie C. Klincksieck, 1902, pp. 318-9.

[2] La3amon. La3amon’s Brut. Trans. Frederic Madden. London: Society of Antiquaries of London, 1847, p. 10.

[3] Livy. [Ab urbe condita] Books I, XXI, and XXII. Rev. ed. Ed. J.H. Westcott. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1890, p. 5-6, 221n28.

[4] Judy Ann Ford has an article in Tolkien Studies Volume 2 (2005), “The White City: The Lord of the Rings as an Early Medieval Myth of the Restoration of the Roman Empire”, but she doesn’t mention Alba Longa. Which makes sense, as it precedes the Roman Empire. Such research might nicely bookend Ms. Ford’s.

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