At the end of the War of Wrath, the Elves were again invited to return
to West, and those who did were settled on Tol Eressea. The remains of
the 3 houses of men who had assisted the elves in their wars against
Morgoth and his followers were invited to settle on a new island, now
called Numenor, within sight of Tol Eressea in the utter West. There is
one simple rule: they can not sail West out of sight of Numenor (if flat
earth physcis work as real world, approx. 20 miles). This becomes known
as the Ban.
Elros, brother of Elrond, son of Earendil and Elwing, chose to be
counted among men, and becomes first king of Numenor. For long ages all
is well. Eonwe comes among them and teaches them and the elves of Tol
Eressea come often and speak with the Numenoreans.
The Dunedain became excellent craftsman, and like Earendil, valued
shipwrights and sailing above all else. Since they were banned from
going West, they sailed East and explored the shores of Middle Earth.
In Middle Earth, these were the Dark Years for the race of men, and the
coming of the Numenoreans who came to trade were seen as visitations of
gods, and the memory of the sea-kings was retained.
As the power and glory of Numenor grew, a shadow fell on them. Death
and the ban began to be seen not as gifts of the Lords of the West, but
as restrictions, and in spite of the messengers of Manwe who tried to
comfort, inform, and explain, nonetheless a shadow fell on the hearts of
the Numenoreans. This was in the reigns of the 12th and 13th kings,
when Numenor was already 2000 years old. This was the apex of Numenor's
glory, if not its power. It was at this time that the Numenoreans began
to exact tribute from those they visited in Middle Earth, they began to
take rather than to give.
Tar-Atanamir, the 13th king, changed the practice of hte kings to die
while still in control of their faculties, but instead clung to life and
the throne until he was witless and "unmanned." His son, Tar-Ancalimon,
when he finally ascended the throne, was of like mind. Under his rule
the people of Numenor became divided, the greater part following the
king who chafed at the ban, at the idea of death, and clung to life as
long as possible: they called themselves the Kings Men and became
estranged from the Valar and the Eldar. The other party, called the
Elendili, the Elf-friends, wanted to keep the friendship of the Eldar
and listened to Manwe's messengers, though they could not escape
entirely the shadow that had fallen on the hearts of the Numenoreans,
and they too feared death, but also did not shun it. They called
themselves the Faithful.
They began to build fortresses on the shores of Middle Earth, though to
the north and the realm of Gilgalad only the Faithful ever came, and
they aided Gilgalad against Sauron, who had again betrayed the elves,
and ensnared men as he had done before. In this period Sauron rose
again, but still appeared in fair form. In the time of the 11th king,
Tar-Minastir, Sauron had taken Mordor as his own land, fortified it, and
built the tower of Baraddur. It was at this time that Sauron taught the
elves of Eregion the fashioning of rings of power, and himself forged
the One Ring to rule and dominate. It was in the ensuing battles for
mastery of Middle Earth that Tar-Ministir aided Gil-galad against Sauron.
Meanwhile the Shadow grew deeper in Numenor, the majority rejecting the
Valar, becoming ever more obsessed with death and avoiding death. A
further break came in the time of the 20th king who took the name
Adunakhor, Lord of the West, and forbade the use of elven tongues in his
hearing. The Faithful were then placed in a harder situation than
before: loyalty to the House of Elros, and loyalty to the Valar, the
true Lords of the West. Ar-Gimilizor the 23rd king however made things
even more difficult. He outlawed any use of the elven tongues. He
persecuted the Faithful. The Faithful had largely dwelt in the West of
Numenor, Ar-Gimilizor ordered them to move to the east of the island and
had them watched there since he had also outlawed the welcoming of any
ships from the West. Many of the faithful sailed north and aided
Gil-galad and other elven folk in the north of Middle Earth. The kings
knew this, but as long as the Faithful did not return, they were content.
One of the impotant noble houses, Lords of Andunie, second in honor only
to the kings, and descended also from Elros, through the daughter of the
fourth king Tar-Elendil, Silmarin. Though loyal to the kings, they were
of the same mind as the Faithful, and helped the latter all that they
could. Of this family, Ar-Gimilzor took as wife the sister of the Lords
of Andunie, Inzilbeth against her desires, but the king woud not be
gainsaid. They had 2 children: the elder took after his mother and was
of the Faithful in his heart and in secret, the second was like his
father and to him Ar-Gimilzor would have given the sceptre if he could.
The elder son took the throne and a name in the elven tongues,
Tar-Palantir, and he tended the White Tree again, visited the sacred
places, etc, but his repentance was too little too late for the Valar.
His younger brother took leadership of the King's Men and defied his
brother openly when he could, and far more in secret. His son,
Pharazon, was like his father, but more so, and became in his youth a
great sea captain and fought to extend the lands of Numenor in Middle
Earth. When he returned, and discovered his father had died, he was
hailed by the Kings Men and at first he was generous with the wealth he
brought back from Middle Earth. Tar-Palantir died in time, and he had
no son. His daughter, Miriel, should have taken the throne, but
Pharazon seized the throne, and married his cousin, both against
Numenorean law, and took the name Ar-Pharazon, 25th king. He was the
mightiest and wealthiest of the kings of Numenor, and the ultimate cause
of its fall.
Meanwhile Sauron had ensnared the 9 kings of men, 3 of whom were of
Numenorean blood (presumably ruling Numenorean territories in Middle
Earth.) With these he began to harry the coasts and to attack
Numenorean strongholds, declaring he would push the Numenoreans into the
sea. Ar-Pharazon went up against Sauron, and Sauron feigned
capitulation and was taken to Numenor as a prisoner. Within three years
Sauron went from prisoner to leading member of the king's privy council,
and all the lords of Numenor flattered him. Except one: Amandil, head
of the house of the Lords of Andunie. The Faithful were now openly
called rebels, Sauron introduced worship of Melkor to Numenor and a
great temple was built, and Sauron gainsaid all that the Valar had
taught. Amandil was dismissed for Sauron hated him. He and his son
Elendil became great captains and sailors and they withdrew to the east
of Numenor, the harbor of Romenna and Amandil summone all whom he could
trust to come there. Sauron encouraged the king to cut down the White
Tree, and the sacred place of Meneltarma was deserted and forbidden to
even the Faithful. Isildur, Amandil's grandson, then went secretly to
the courtyard of the tree, forbidden to all by order of the king and
Sauron, and Isildur snuck by the guards, and took a fruit that grew on
the tree. But the guard became aware of him and Isildur was attacked
and severely wounded. He was disguised so that the king did not
discover who it was, but Isildur came near to death returning home.
Amandil planted the seeds of the fruit, and in the spring a sapling
began to grow and Isildur was healed. In the same spring, at the
encouragement of Sauron, the king cut down the White Tree, Nimloth, The
wood of Nimloth Sauron used in his temple on the altar, and it reeked
and covered Numenor in a cloud for a week.The Numenoreans began to
sacrifice to Melkor in Sauron's temple, and most often it was human
sacrifice, choosing the Faithful for their victims, accusing them of
being rebels and conspring against the king. But in spite of all this,
the power of Numenor grew. Sauron taught them to make even greater
weapons and ships and they extended their holdings in Middle Earth and
became cruel task masters to the men there.
As Ar-Pharazon felt age creep up on him, his fear of death grew. And
the moment Sauron waited for came. Sauron flattered the king for his
great strength in arms, and his power, and he said that the Valar
possessed the deathless lands. He planted the idea that Ar-Pharazon
should go and take from the Valar the Deathless islands and so be truly
Lord of the West and deathless himself. Ar-Pharazon liked what he heard
and for a long time prepared how he might assail Valinor, as secretly as
he could, but such secrets seldom keep. Secretly, when he perceived the
king's intentions, Amandil prepared to go into the West himself as seek
deliverance from Sauron for the people of Numenor. He advised his son
Elendil to prepare ships to carry the Faithful to Middle Earth. Amandil
set sail in secret one dark night, sailing first east and then turning
west, with him were three servants, but nothing was heard from him again
and none know his fate.
Manwe sent portents: weather, clouds in the shape of large eagles
covering the sun, the eagles themselves, earthquakes etc to warn
Ar-Pharazon to stop. Nonetheless, he pressed onwards. Finally, he set
sail, putting his throne on his huge ship and sailed into the West and
broke the Ban. Though almost turning back, he took soldiers and stepped
on the Blessed Realm, and a host surround Erresea, Avallone, and Tuna on
Aman itself. Manwe and the Valar then laid down their government of the
world, and Iluvatar himself took a hand, and reshaped Arda. A chasm
opened in the sea and swallowed the fleets of Numenor, and grew and
swallowed Numenor itself in a great cataclysm, the green mountain topped
white with foam swallowed last of all Mirel the queen, of the Faithful,
as she climbed Meneltarma, and then the top of the mount itself.
Numenor was no more, and the world reshaped to be round, and the Blessed
Realm was removed from the circles of the world.
But Elendil, whether through Amandil's success in seeing the Valar or
some other reason, by grace and miracle Elendil and his family were
spared from the ruin. Elendil refused the summons to war, and avoided
Sauron's soldiers come to take him away to sacrifice by embarking on his
ship, standing some distance off shore. When the abyss opened, his
ships were protected, and when the great green wave would have destroyed
him strong wind from the West took the ships and snapped the anchor
chains, and stronger than any wind they had experienced, the west wind
pushed them to Middle Earth, snapping the masts of the nine remaining
Elendil and his sons established on the shores of Middle Earth where
their ships finally came to rest the kingdoms in exile, Gondor and
Arnor. Though but a shadow of what Numenor had been, nonetheless these
Numenoreans were seen as great kings by the men of Middle Earth. Sauron
also survived the wreck of Numenor and bodiless returned to Mordor where
he again took shape and noting that on his very borders Elendil and his
sons had not only survived but founded kingdoms made him angry and he
prepared for war. Sauron could not appear in fair guise again, and the
terrible visage and the Eye of Sauron was born.
This is my favorite part of the mythology and I fear that I can not do
it justice. As is well known to readers here, the germ of the Fall of
Numenor comes in 1937/38 when Tolkien and Lewis challenged one another
to the "contest" of writing books of the sort that they liked to read.
Lewis took the space setting and Tolkien took time. And so about this
time Tolkien began to write <i>The Lost Road</i>. Before he began the
story proper, he apparently wrote an outline of the history of Numenor
and tied it into his main mythology: the Valar rewarded the men who
aided them against Morgoth with the island and the other essential
details are already in place. Roughly contemporaneous with this, he
wrote another narrative account called "The Fall of Numenor".
This is also the period of initial work on Lord of the Rings, and during
his writing of the novel Numenor became an ever more important part of
the story background. During the 40s, it seems that the essentials of
the story as it is now known were included in LoTR and eventually became
the story includeed in the appendix. In the mid-40s Tolkien began to
"rewrite" The Lost Road and The Notion Club Papers emerged The secodd
part of this work deak with Numenor and its fall. At the same time
Tolkien also wrote an independent narrative called The Drowning of
Anadune, which has some differences from the other accounts.
In the late 40s, Tolkien wrote yet another version of the story, called
The Downfall of Numenor, the Akallabeth and seems to have intended it as
part of the Silmarillion.
In the early 50s the final versions of The Akallabeth and Appendix A.I
of LOTR were completed and polished.
In addition to these there are other tellings of the story: The Famed
and Oft Quoted Letter 131 to Milt Waldman A short version also is told
in Letter 156 to Robert Murray.. Letter 154 to Naomi Mitcheson and
Letter 211 to Rona Beare also contain brief accounts or mentions.
Tolkien himself tells us that the story has two sources. The first is a
dream which he himself often had. , described here in Letter 255:
"Another ingredient, not before mentioned, also came into operation in
my need to provide a great function for Strider-Aragorn. What I might
call my Atlantis-haunting. This legend or myth or dim memory of some
ancient history has always troubled me. In sleep I had the dredful
dream of the ineluctable Wave, either coming out of the quiet sea, or
coming in towering over the green inlands. It still occurs
occasionally, though now exorcized by writing about it. It always ends
by surrender, and I awake gasping out of deep water...."
As Tolkien mentions, the inspiration for his dream and in part for
Numenor was the myth of Atlantis. The earliest Atlantis story comes
from the dialogues of Plato, the first in the Timaeus, given here from
the Jowett translation online at OMACL:
Many great and wonderful deeds are recorded of your state in our
histories. But one of them exceeds all the rest in greatness and valour.
For these histories tell of a mighty power which unprovoked made an
expedition against the whole of Europe and Asia, and to which your city
put an end. This power came forth out of the Atlantic Ocean, for in
those days the Atlantic was navigable; and there was an island situated
in front of the straits which are by you called the Pillars of Heracles;
the island was larger than Libya and Asia put together, and was the way
to other islands, and from these you might pass to the whole of the
opposite continent which surrounded the true ocean; for this sea which
is within the Straits of Heracles is only a harbour, having a narrow
entrance, but that other is a real sea, and the surrounding land may be
most truly called a boundless continent. Now in this island of Atlantis
there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole
island and several others, and over parts of the continent, and,
furthermore, the men of Atlantis had subjected the parts of Libya within
the columns of Heracles as far as Egypt, and of Europe as far as
Tyrrhenia. This vast power, gathered into one, endeavoured to subdue at
a blow our country and yours and the whole of the region within the
straits; and then, Solon, your country shone forth, in the excellence of
her virtue and strength, among all mankind. She was pre-eminent in
courage and military skill, and was the leader of the Hellenes. And when
the rest fell off from her, being compelled to stand alone, after having
undergone the very extremity of danger, she defeated and triumphed over
the invaders, and preserved from slavery those who were not yet
subjugated, and generously liberated all the rest of us who dwell within
the pillars. But afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and
floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men
in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner
disappeared in the depths of the sea. For which reason the sea in those
parts is impassable and impenetrable, because there is a shoal of mud in
the way; and this was caused by the subsidence of the island.
I have told you briefly, Socrates, what the aged Critias heard from
Solon and related to us....
And the next from the Critias, an unfinished dialogue. I've included
that text after this, its rather long and I wanted to give folks the
option of not reading it. Again from OMACL and the Jowett translations.
In addition to these inspirations, I think there are some others that
could be named. One of them is the Bible itself. In the Hebrew Bible
books known in English as I-II Kings, the story arch begins with a good
and godly king, David (on his death bed) and over the ensuing centuries
details Israel and Judah's fall from God's grace through worship of
foreign gods and evil deeds; the penultimate king tries to restore and
reform his kingdom, but he dies and his successor takes the evil to a
whole new level resulting in the destruction of the city. The overall
story arch is much the same in Numenor: The early kings are good and
godly and faithful, and over the millenia the fall from grace; the
penultimate king tries to restore and reform, but his successor is the
worst of the lot resulting in the destruction of the gift of Numenor.
In the Hebrew Bible, the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE is one of a
pair of iconic moments: the Exodus and the Exile around which a number
of the key passages and themes of the Hebrew Bible revolve. In both the
Hebrew Bible and in later Christian thought, both events are clearly
demarcated and set in narrative relief. IN Christian thought, both
events also signal the beginning and ending of their respective ages.
By analogy (not allegory, analogy) the houses of men leave Middle-Earth
(an exodus if you will) and go to a promised land, a gift from the gods
(as Israel leaves Egypt and goes to the promised land, a gift from God.)
Likewise, their respective falls are due to their rejection of God and
ignoring the warnings and portents sent to them. Tolkien in the letter
to Waldman even calls the Fall of Numenor a second "Fall" referring here
to Genesis 3.
There is another influence here that may go further back than the author
I here name, but he's the furthest I've been able to take it. But The
Ban I think may have been influenced by Dante. In the Inferno Dante and
Vergil encounter Ulysses, the Latin form of the name Odysseus. Dante the
poet (in contrast to Dante the Pilgrim) has Ulysses tell a story that
commentators believe is Dante's own invention, knowing no rhyme, reason,
or source for it. Ulysses spends some time back on Ithaca with wife and
son, but grows restless after 20 years and decides to sail into the
uttermost west and become renouwned. He and his men pass the pillars
and Hercules and are sailing to the southwest. After several days of
sailing they espy ahead a tall mountain sticking out of the sea. As
they approach, a "whirlwind" comes from the land and strikes the ship 4
times and the waves fight against them, the fourth time the ship
founders and goes down and all drown. It is my opinion that this
"whirlwind" motif from Dante's Ulysses story is behind Tolkien's
frequent use of the same motif where mortals seek immortal lands and are
turned back by wave and wind. What's more though, I think it may have
been the inspiration for the Ban. In Dante, the mountain is Mt.
Purgatory, where only the Blessed go on their way to Heaven. In Tolkien
the Blessed Realm is in the West and is the closest one gets to Heaven,
and is where the Halls of Mandos are. Both are Southwest of the main
land bodies with which they are concerned: Dante's Europe and Tolkien's
Northern Middle-Earth. Mortals are not allowed there except by special
dispensation: in Dante, Dante himself, and perhaps St. Paul. In Tolkien
Earendel, who can never again trod mortal lands, Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, and
it is believed Gimli (and perhaps Tuor). More than in Dante, certainly,
but I think the idea may have come from Dante and was one that Tolkien
liked to reuse often. Anyway, I've laid all this out in a paper that I
read at a conference a number of years ago now and am revising for
submission for publication this spring.
Critias Atlantis account:
Friend Hermocrates, you, who are stationed last and have another in
front of you, have not lost heart as yet; the gravity of the situation
will soon be revealed to you; meanwhile I accept your exhortations and
encouragements. But besides the gods and goddesses whom you have
mentioned, I would specially invoke Mnemosyne; for all the important
part of my discourse is dependent on her favour, and if I can recollect
and recite enough of what was said by the priests and brought hither by
Solon, I doubt not that I shall satisfy the requirements of this
theatre. And now, making no more excuses, I will proceed.
Let me begin by observing first of all, that nine thousand was the sum
of years which had elapsed since the war which was said to have taken
place between those who dwelt outside the Pillars of Heracles and all
who dwelt within them; this war I am going to describe. Of the
combatants on the one side, the city of Athens was reported to have been
the leader and to have fought out the war; the combatants on the other
side were commanded by the kings of Atlantis, which, as was saying, was
an island greater in extent than Libya and Asia, and when afterwards
sunk by an earthquake, became an impassable barrier of mud to voyagers
sailing from hence to any part of the ocean. The progress of the history
will unfold the various nations of barbarians and families of Hellenes
which then existed, as they successively appear on the scene; but I must
describe first of all Athenians of that day, and their enemies who
fought with them, and then the respective powers and governments of the
two kingdoms. Let us give the precedence to Athens.
In the days of old the gods had the whole earth distributed among them
by allotment. There was no quarrelling; for you cannot rightly suppose
that the gods did not know what was proper for each of them to have, or,
knowing this, that they would seek to procure for themselves by
contention that which more properly belonged to others. They all of them
by just apportionment obtained what they wanted, and peopled their own
districts; and when they had peopled them they tended us, their
nurselings and possessions, as shepherds tend their flocks, excepting
only that they did not use blows or bodily force, as shepherds do, but
governed us like pilots from the stern of the vessel, which is an easy
way of guiding animals, holding our souls by the rudder of persuasion
according to their own pleasure;-thus did they guide all mortal
creatures. Now different gods had their allotments in different places
which they set in order. Hephaestus and Athene, who were brother and
sister, and sprang from the same father, having a common nature, and
being united also in the love of philosophy and art, both obtained as
their common portion this land, which was naturally adapted for wisdom
and virtue; and there they implanted brave children of the soil, and put
into their minds the order of government; their names are preserved, but
their actions have disappeared by reason of the destruction of those who
received the tradition, and the lapse of ages. For when there were any
survivors, as I have already said, they were men who dwelt in the
mountains; and they were ignorant of the art of writing, and had heard
only the names of the chiefs of the land, but very little about their
actions. The names they were willing enough to give to their children;
but the virtues and the laws of their predecessors, they knew only by
obscure traditions; and as they themselves and their children lacked for
many generations the necessaries of life, they directed their attention
to the supply of their wants, and of them they conversed, to the neglect
of events that had happened in times long past; for mythology and the
enquiry into antiquity are first introduced into cities when they begin
to have leisure, and when they see that the necessaries of life have
already been provided, but not before. And this is reason why the names
of the ancients have been preserved to us and not their actions. This I
infer because Solon said that the priests in their narrative of that war
mentioned most of the names which are recorded prior to the time of
Theseus, such as Cecrops, and Erechtheus, and Erichthonius, and
Erysichthon, and the names of the women in like manner. Moreover, since
military pursuits were then common to men and women, the men of those
days in accordance with the custom of the time set up a figure and image
of the goddess in full armour, to be a testimony that all animals which
associate together, male as well as female, may, if they please,
practise in common the virtue which belongs to them without distinction
Now the country was inhabited in those days by various classes of
citizens;-there were artisans, and there were husbandmen, and there was
also a warrior class originally set apart by divine men. The latter
dwelt by themselves, and had all things suitable for nurture and
education; neither had any of them anything of their own, but they
regarded all that they had as common property; nor did they claim to
receive of the other citizens anything more than their necessary food.
And they practised all the pursuits which we yesterday described as
those of our imaginary guardians. Concerning the country the Egyptian
priests said what is not only probable but manifestly true, that the
boundaries were in those days fixed by the Isthmus, and that in the
direction of the continent they extended as far as the heights of
Cithaeron and Parnes; the boundary line came down in the direction of
the sea, having the district of Oropus on the right, and with the river
Asopus as the limit on the left. The land was the best in the world, and
was therefore able in those days to support a vast army, raised from the
surrounding people. Even the remnant of Attica which now exists may
compare with any region in the world for the variety and excellence of
its fruits and the suitableness of its pastures to every sort of animal,
which proves what I am saying; but in those days the country was fair as
now and yielded far more abundant produce. How shall I establish my
words? and what part of it can be truly called a remnant of the land
that then was? The whole country is only a long promontory extending far
into the sea away from the rest of the continent, while the surrounding
basin of the sea is everywhere deep in the neighbourhood of the shore.
Many great deluges have taken place during the nine thousand years, for
that is the number of years which have elapsed since the time of which I
am speaking; and during all this time and through so many changes, there
has never been any considerable accumulation of the soil coming down
from the mountains, as in other places, but the earth has fallen away
all round and sunk out of sight. The consequence is, that in comparison
of what then was, there are remaining only the bones of the wasted body,
as they may be called, as in the case of small islands, all the richer
and softer parts of the soil having fallen away, and the mere skeleton
of the land being left. But in the primitive state of the country, its
mountains were high hills covered with soil, and the plains, as they are
termed by us, of Phelleus were full of rich earth, and there was
abundance of wood in the mountains. Of this last the traces still
remain, for although some of the mountains now only afford sustenance to
bees, not so very long ago there were still to be seen roofs of timber
cut from trees growing there, which were of a size sufficient to cover
the largest houses; and there were many other high trees, cultivated by
man and bearing abundance of food for cattle. Moreover, the land reaped
the benefit of the annual rainfall, not as now losing the water which
flows off the bare earth into the sea, but, having an abundant supply in
all places, and receiving it into herself and treasuring it up in the
close clay soil, it let off into the hollows the streams which it
absorbed from the heights, providing everywhere abundant fountains and
rivers, of which there may still be observed sacred memorials in places
where fountains once existed; and this proves the truth of what I am saying.
Such was the natural state of the country, which was cultivated, as we
may well believe, by true husbandmen, who made husbandry their business,
and were lovers of honour, and of a noble nature, and had a soil the
best in the world, and abundance of water, and in the heaven above an
excellently attempered climate. Now the city in those days was arranged
on this wise. In the first place the Acropolis was not as now. For the
fact is that a single night of excessive rain washed away the earth and
laid bare the rock; at the same time there were earthquakes, and then
occurred the extraordinary inundation, which was the third before the
great destruction of Deucalion. But in primitive times the hill of the
Acropolis extended to the Eridanus and Ilissus, and included the Pnyx on
one side, and the Lycabettus as a boundary on the opposite side to the
Pnyx, and was all well covered with soil, and level at the top, except
in one or two places. Outside the Acropolis and under the sides of the
hill there dwelt artisans, and such of the husbandmen as were tilling
the ground near; the warrior class dwelt by themselves around the
temples of Athene and Hephaestus at the summit, which moreover they had
enclosed with a single fence like the garden of a single house. On the
north side they had dwellings in common and had erected halls for dining
in winter, and had all the buildings which they needed for their common
life, besides temples, but there was no adorning of them with gold and
silver, for they made no use of these for any purpose; they took a
middle course between meanness and ostentation, and built modest houses
in which they and their children's children grew old, and they handed
them down to others who were like themselves, always the same. But in
summer-time they left their gardens and gymnasia and dining halls, and
then the southern side of the hill was made use of by them for the same
purpose. Where the Acropolis now is there was a fountain, which was
choked by the earthquake, and has left only the few small streams which
still exist in the vicinity, but in those days the fountain gave an
abundant supply of water for all and of suitable temperature in summer
and in winter. This is how they dwelt, being the guardians of their own
citizens and the leaders of the Hellenes, who were their willing
followers. And they took care to preserve the same number of men and
women through all time, being so many as were required for warlike
purposes, then as now-that is to say, about twenty thousand. Such were
the ancient Athenians, and after this manner they righteously
administered their own land and the rest of Hellas; they were renowned
all over Europe and Asia for the beauty of their persons and for the
many virtues of their souls, and of all men who lived in those days they
were the most illustrious. And next, if I have not forgotten what I
heard when I was a child, I will impart to you the character and origin
of their adversaries. For friends should not keep their stories to
themselves, but have them in common.
Yet, before proceeding further in the narrative, I ought to warn you,
that you must not be surprised if you should perhaps hear Hellenic names
given to foreigners. I will tell you the reason of this: Solon, who was
intending to use the tale for his poem, enquired into the meaning of the
names, and found that the early Egyptians in writing them down had
translated them into their own language, and he recovered the meaning of
the several names and when copying them out again translated them into
our language. My great-grandfather, Dropides, had the original writing,
which is still in my possession, and was carefully studied by me when I
was a child. Therefore if you hear names such as are used in this
country, you must not be surprised, for I have told how they came to be
introduced. The tale, which was of great length, began as follows:-
I have before remarked in speaking of the allotments of the gods, that
they distributed the whole earth into portions differing in extent, and
made for themselves temples and instituted sacrifices. And Poseidon,
receiving for his lot the island of Atlantis, begat children by a mortal
woman, and settled them in a part of the island, which I will describe.
Looking towards the sea, but in the centre of the whole island, there
was a plain which is said to have been the fairest of all plains and
very fertile. Near the plain again, and also in the centre of the island
at a distance of about fifty stadia, there was a mountain not very high
on any side.
In this mountain there dwelt one of the earth born primeval men of that
country, whose name was Evenor, and he had a wife named Leucippe, and
they had an only daughter who was called Cleito. The maiden had already
reached womanhood, when her father and mother died; Poseidon fell in
love with her and had intercourse with her, and breaking the ground,
inclosed the hill in which she dwelt all round, making alternate zones
of sea and land larger and smaller, encircling one another; there were
two of land and three of water, which he turned as with a lathe, each
having its circumference equidistant every way from the centre, so that
no man could get to the island, for ships and voyages were not as yet.
He himself, being a god, found no difficulty in making special
arrangements for the centre island, bringing up two springs of water
from beneath the earth, one of warm water and the other of cold, and
making every variety of food to spring up abundantly from the soil. He
also begat and brought up five pairs of twin male children; and dividing
the island of Atlantis into ten portions, he gave to the first-born of
the eldest pair his mother's dwelling and the surrounding allotment,
which was the largest and best, and made him king over the rest; the
others he made princes, and gave them rule over many men, and a large
territory. And he named them all; the eldest, who was the first king, he
named Atlas, and after him the whole island and the ocean were called
Atlantic. To his twin brother, who was born after him, and obtained as
his lot the extremity of the island towards the Pillars of Heracles,
facing the country which is now called the region of Gades in that part
of the world, he gave the name which in the Hellenic language is
Eumelus, in the language of the country which is named after him,
Gadeirus. Of the second pair of twins he called one Ampheres, and the
other Evaemon. To the elder of the third pair of twins he gave the name
Mneseus, and Autochthon to the one who followed him. Of the fourth pair
of twins he called the elder Elasippus, and the younger Mestor. And of
the fifth pair he gave to the elder the name of Azaes, and to the
younger that of Diaprepes. All these and their descendants for many
generations were the inhabitants and rulers of divers islands in the
open sea; and also, as has been already said, they held sway in our
direction over the country within the Pillars as far as Egypt and Tyrrhenia.
Now Atlas had a numerous and honourable family, and they retained the
kingdom, the eldest son handing it on to his eldest for many
generations; and they had such an amount of wealth as was never before
possessed by kings and potentates, and is not likely ever to be again,
and they were furnished with everything which they needed, both in the
city and country. For because of the greatness of their empire many
things were brought to them from foreign countries, and the island
itself provided most of what was required by them for the uses of life.
In the first place, they dug out of the earth whatever was to be found
there, solid as well as fusile, and that which is now only a name and
was then something more than a name, orichalcum, was dug out of the
earth in many parts of the island, being more precious in those days
than anything except gold. There was an abundance of wood for
carpenter's work, and sufficient maintenance for tame and wild animals.
Moreover, there were a great number of elephants in the island; for as
there was provision for all other sorts of animals, both for those which
live in lakes and marshes and rivers, and also for those which live in
mountains and on plains, so there was for the animal which is the
largest and most voracious of all. Also whatever fragrant things there
now are in the earth, whether roots, or herbage, or woods, or essences
which distil from fruit and flower, grew and thrived in that land; also
the fruit which admits of cultivation, both the dry sort, which is given
us for nourishment and any other which we use for food-we call them all
by the common name pulse, and the fruits having a hard rind, affording
drinks and meats and ointments, and good store of chestnuts and the
like, which furnish pleasure and amusement, and are fruits which spoil
with keeping, and the pleasant kinds of dessert, with which we console
ourselves after dinner, when we are tired of eating-all these that
sacred island which then beheld the light of the sun, brought forth fair
and wondrous and in infinite abundance. With such blessings the earth
freely furnished them; meanwhile they went on constructing their temples
and palaces and harbours and docks. And they arranged the whole country
in the following manner:
First of all they bridged over the zones of sea which surrounded the
ancient metropolis, making a road to and from the royal palace. And at
the very beginning they built the palace in the habitation of the god
and of their ancestors, which they continued to ornament in successive
generations, every king surpassing the one who went before him to the
utmost of his power, until they made the building a marvel to behold for
size and for beauty. And beginning from the sea they bored a canal of
three hundred feet in width and one hundred feet in depth and fifty
stadia in length, which they carried through to the outermost zone,
making a passage from the sea up to this, which became a harbour, and
leaving an opening sufficient to enable the largest vessels to find
ingress. Moreover, they divided at the bridges the zones of land which
parted the zones of sea, leaving room for a single trireme to pass out
of one zone into another, and they covered over the channels so as to
leave a way underneath for the ships; for the banks were raised
considerably above the water. Now the largest of the zones into which a
passage was cut from the sea was three stadia in breadth, and the zone
of land which came next of equal breadth; but the next two zones, the
one of water, the other of land, were two stadia, and the one which
surrounded the central island was a stadium only in width. The island in
which the palace was situated had a diameter of five stadia. All this
including the zones and the bridge, which was the sixth part of a
stadium in width, they surrounded by a stone wall on every side, placing
towers and gates on the bridges where the sea passed in. The stone which
was used in the work they quarried from underneath the centre island,
and from underneath the zones, on the outer as well as the inner side.
One kind was white, another black, and a third red, and as they
quarried, they at the same time hollowed out double docks, having roofs
formed out of the native rock. Some of their buildings were simple, but
in others they put together different stones, varying the colour to
please the eye, and to be a natural source of delight. The entire
circuit of the wall, which went round the outermost zone, they covered
with a coating of brass, and the circuit of the next wall they coated
with tin, and the third, which encompassed the citadel, flashed with the
red light of orichalcum.
The palaces in the interior of the citadel were constructed on this
wise:-in the centre was a holy temple dedicated to Cleito and Poseidon,
which remained inaccessible, and was surrounded by an enclosure of gold;
this was the spot where the family of the ten princes first saw the
light, and thither the people annually brought the fruits of the earth
in their season from all the ten portions, to be an offering to each of
the ten. Here was Poseidon's own temple which was a stadium in length,
and half a stadium in width, and of a proportionate height, having a
strange barbaric appearance. All the outside of the temple, with the
exception of the pinnacles, they covered with silver, and the pinnacles
with gold. In the interior of the temple the roof was of ivory,
curiously wrought everywhere with gold and silver and orichalcum; and
all the other parts, the walls and pillars and floor, they coated with
orichalcum. In the temple they placed statues of gold: there was the god
himself standing in a chariot-the charioteer of six winged horses-and of
such a size that he touched the roof of the building with his head;
around him there were a hundred Nereids riding on dolphins, for such was
thought to be the number of them by the men of those days. There were
also in the interior of the temple other images which had been dedicated
by private persons. And around the temple on the outside were placed
statues of gold of all the descendants of the ten kings and of their
wives, and there were many other great offerings of kings and of private
persons, coming both from the city itself and from the foreign cities
over which they held sway. There was an altar too, which in size and
workmanship corresponded to this magnificence, and the palaces, in like
manner, answered to the greatness of the kingdom and the glory of the
In the next place, they had fountains, one of cold and another of hot
water, in gracious plenty flowing; and they were wonderfully adapted for
use by reason of the pleasantness and excellence of their waters. They
constructed buildings about them and planted suitable trees, also they
made cisterns, some open to the heavens, others roofed over, to be used
in winter as warm baths; there were the kings' baths, and the baths of
private persons, which were kept apart; and there were separate baths
for women, and for horses and cattle, and to each of them they gave as
much adornment as was suitable. Of the water which ran off they carried
some to the grove of Poseidon, where were growing all manner of trees of
wonderful height and beauty, owing to the excellence of the soil, while
the remainder was conveyed by aqueducts along the bridges to the outer
circles; and there were many temples built and dedicated to many gods;
also gardens and places of exercise, some for men, and others for horses
in both of the two islands formed by the zones; and in the centre of the
larger of the two there was set apart a race-course of a stadium in
width, and in length allowed to extend all round the island, for horses
to race in. Also there were guardhouses at intervals for the guards, the
more trusted of whom were appointed-to keep watch in the lesser zone,
which was nearer the Acropolis while the most trusted of all had houses
given them within the citadel, near the persons of the kings. The docks
were full of triremes and naval stores, and all things were quite ready
for use. Enough of the plan of the royal palace.
Leaving the palace and passing out across the three you came to a wall
which began at the sea and went all round: this was everywhere distant
fifty stadia from the largest zone or harbour, and enclosed the whole,
the ends meeting at the mouth of the channel which led to the sea. The
entire area was densely crowded with habitations; and the canal and the
largest of the harbours were full of vessels and merchants coming from
all parts, who, from their numbers, kept up a multitudinous sound of
human voices, and din and clatter of all sorts night and day.
I have described the city and the environs of the ancient palace nearly
in the words of Solon, and now I must endeavour to represent the nature
and arrangement of the rest of the land. The whole country was said by
him to be very lofty and precipitous on the side of the sea, but the
country immediately about and surrounding the city was a level plain,
itself surrounded by mountains which descended towards the sea; it was
smooth and even, and of an oblong shape, extending in one direction
three thousand stadia, but across the centre inland it was two thousand
stadia. This part of the island looked towards the south, and was
sheltered from the north. The surrounding mountains were celebrated for
their number and size and beauty, far beyond any which still exist,
having in them also many wealthy villages of country folk, and rivers,
and lakes, and meadows supplying food enough for every animal, wild or
tame, and much wood of various sorts, abundant for each and every kind
I will now describe the plain, as it was fashioned by nature and by the
labours of many generations of kings through long ages. It was for the
most part rectangular and oblong, and where falling out of the straight
line followed the circular ditch. The depth, and width, and length of
this ditch were incredible, and gave the impression that a work of such
extent, in addition to so many others, could never have been artificial.
Nevertheless I must say what I was told. It was excavated to the depth
of a hundred, feet, and its breadth was a stadium everywhere; it was
carried round the whole of the plain, and was ten thousand stadia in
length. It received the streams which came down from the mountains, and
winding round the plain and meeting at the city, was there let off into
the sea. Further inland, likewise, straight canals of a hundred feet in
width were cut from it through the plain, and again let off into the
ditch leading to the sea: these canals were at intervals of a hundred
stadia, and by them they brought down the wood from the mountains to the
city, and conveyed the fruits of the earth in ships, cutting transverse
passages from one canal into another, and to the city. Twice in the year
they gathered the fruits of the earth-in winter having the benefit of
the rains of heaven, and in summer the water which the land supplied by
introducing streams from the canals.
As to the population, each of the lots in the plain had to find a leader
for the men who were fit for military service, and the size of a lot was
a square of ten stadia each way, and the total number of all the lots
was sixty thousand. And of the inhabitants of the mountains and of the
rest of the country there was also a vast multitude, which was
distributed among the lots and had leaders assigned to them according to
their districts and villages. The leader was required to furnish for the
war the sixth portion of a war-chariot, so as to make up a total of ten
thousand chariots; also two horses and riders for them, and a pair of
chariot-horses without a seat, accompanied by a horseman who could fight
on foot carrying a small shield, and having a charioteer who stood
behind the man-at-arms to guide the two horses; also, he was bound to
furnish two heavy armed soldiers, two slingers, three stone-shooters and
three javelin-men, who were light-armed, and four sailors to make up the
complement of twelve hundred ships. Such was the military order of the
royal city-the order of the other nine governments varied, and it would
be wearisome to recount their several differences.
As to offices and honours, the following was the arrangement from the
first. Each of the ten kings in his own division and in his own city had
the absolute control of the citizens, and, in most cases, of the laws,
punishing and slaying whomsoever he would. Now the order of precedence
among them and their mutual relations were regulated by the commands of
Poseidon which the law had handed down. These were inscribed by the
first kings on a pillar of orichalcum, which was situated in the middle
of the island, at the temple of Poseidon, whither the kings were
gathered together every fifth and every sixth year alternately, thus
giving equal honour to the odd and to the even number. And when they
were gathered together they consulted about their common interests, and
enquired if any one had transgressed in anything and passed judgment and
before they passed judgment they gave their pledges to one another on
this wise:-There were bulls who had the range of the temple of Poseidon;
and the ten kings, being left alone in the temple, after they had
offered prayers to the god that they might capture the victim which was
acceptable to him, hunted the bulls, without weapons but with staves and
nooses; and the bull which they caught they led up to the pillar and cut
its throat over the top of it so that the blood fell upon the sacred
inscription. Now on the pillar, besides the laws, there was inscribed an
oath invoking mighty curses on the disobedient. When therefore, after
slaying the bull in the accustomed manner, they had burnt its limbs,
they filled a bowl of wine and cast in a clot of blood for each of them;
the rest of the victim they put in the fire, after having purified the
column all round. Then they drew from the bowl in golden cups and
pouring a libation on the fire, they swore that they would judge
according to the laws on the pillar, and would punish him who in any
point had already transgressed them, and that for the future they would
not, if they could help, offend against the writing on the pillar, and
would neither command others, nor obey any ruler who commanded them, to
act otherwise than according to the laws of their father Poseidon. This
was the prayer which each of them-offered up for himself and for his
descendants, at the same time drinking and dedicating the cup out of
which he drank in the temple of the god; and after they had supped and
satisfied their needs, when darkness came on, and the fire about the
sacrifice was cool, all of them put on most beautiful azure robes, and,
sitting on the ground, at night, over the embers of the sacrifices by
which they had sworn, and extinguishing all the fire about the temple,
they received and gave judgment, if any of them had an accusation to
bring against any one; and when they given judgment, at daybreak they
wrote down their sentences on a golden tablet, and dedicated it together
with their robes to be a memorial.
There were many special laws affecting the several kings inscribed about
the temples, but the most important was the following: They were not to
take up arms against one another, and they were all to come to the
rescue if any one in any of their cities attempted to overthrow the
royal house; like their ancestors, they were to deliberate in common
about war and other matters, giving the supremacy to the descendants of
Atlas. And the king was not to have the power of life and death over any
of his kinsmen unless he had the assent of the majority of the ten.
Such was the vast power which the god settled in the lost island of
Atlantis; and this he afterwards directed against our land for the
following reasons, as tradition tells: For many generations, as long as
the divine nature lasted in them, they were obedient to the laws, and
well-affectioned towards the god, whose seed they were; for they
possessed true and in every way great spirits, uniting gentleness with
wisdom in the various chances of life, and in their intercourse with one
another. They despised everything but virtue, caring little for their
present state of life, and thinking lightly of the possession of gold
and other property, which seemed only a burden to them; neither were
they intoxicated by luxury; nor did wealth deprive them of their
self-control; but they were sober, and saw clearly that all these goods
are increased by virtue and friendship with one another, whereas by too
great regard and respect for them, they are lost and friendship with
them. By such reflections and by the continuance in them of a divine
nature, the qualities which we have described grew and increased among
them; but when the divine portion began to fade away, and became diluted
too often and too much with the mortal admixture, and the human nature
got the upper hand, they then, being unable to bear their fortune,
behaved unseemly, and to him who had an eye to see grew visibly debased,
for they were losing the fairest of their precious gifts; but to those
who had no eye to see the true happiness, they appeared glorious and
blessed at the very time when they were full of avarice and unrighteous
power. Zeus, the god of gods, who rules according to law, and is able to
see into such things, perceiving that an honourable race was in a woeful
plight, and wanting to inflict punishment on them, that they might be
chastened and improve, collected all the gods into their most holy
habitation, which, being placed in the centre of the world, beholds all
created things. And when he had called them together, he spake as follows
<snip long quote>
See the original post in rec.arts.books.tolkien for the Critias Atlantis
account. Interesting, but very long.
> At the end of the War of Wrath, the Elves were again invited to return
> to West, and those who did were settled on Tol Eressea. The remains of
> the 3 houses of men who had assisted the elves in their wars against
> Morgoth and his followers were invited to settle on a new island, now
> called Numenor, within sight of Tol Eressea in the utter West. There is
> one simple rule: they can not sail West out of sight of Numenor (if flat
> earth physcis work as real world, approx. 20 miles). This becomes known
> as the Ban.
Whoa! Light rays would travel parallel to the ground. The only limit on
sight was angular resolution. What if the Numenorians developed powerful
telescopes? By the way, we can "see" out over ten billion light years
into spacetime using optical telescopes. Arda was a lot smaller than the
Cosmos which is billyuns and billyuns of lightyears across. Did the Ban
apply only to unaided human vision?
Wed, 31 Jan 2007 23:19:43 -0600 from Larry Swain
> There is
> one simple rule: they can not sail West out of sight of Numenor (if flat
> earth physcis work as real world, approx. 20 miles).
This is an interesting question.
Standard calculations of the horizon difference depend on the
curvature of the earth. If the earth were flat, in clear air you
would be able to see for much farther indeed.
Could the Elves on the Mindon see the Meneltarma of Númenor?
Now Men's sight, even Númenóreans', is not as keen as Elves. But
still, I suspect they'd be able to see further than our world's
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This puzzled me too, before Morgoth's Ring came out. It seems that this
version of the Ban (the old one was "west of Numenor") arose with the
circa 1946 Downfall of Anadune, which was round-world, and therefore the
Dunedain would have been horizon-limited. JRRT didn't catch this when he
folded DA into the older flat-world Fall of Numenor to create Akallabeth.
If you really need a story-internal explanation, then assume that the
cumulative atmospheric moisture and haze would limit visibility to a
finite number of miles.
>> they can not sail West out of sight of Numenor (if flat earth physcis
>> work as real world, approx. 20 miles).
Mebbe. Round world, it depends on mast height, and even more on the
altitude of the Meneltarma, which we don't know. (to my knowledge, Tolkien
only gives one mountain height for his world: Silvertine at 18,500 feet.
This would make the Hithaeglir roughly on a par with the Canadian Rockies,
slightly taller than the Alps and lower than the Andes.)
Tolkien's written work is characterized by disputes over the ownership of
jewelry, and the hand injuries that occur as a result.
I've wondered abut this. Why id the Valar miss this opportunity?
Without interfering, they might have helped and encouraged. There
were six years (3255-3261) of Palantir's reign before Ar-Pharazôn
seized the state.
Now that I raise the question, I'm not sure what the Valar could
actually have done. Not military help in retaining the throne: they
would not have done anybody any good by getting into a Númenórean
civil war. But they might have sent gifts, not just to the King but
to the people. If the King's Men (Pharazon's followers) saw that
there were benefits to following the Valar, many might have returned
> Silvertine at 18,500 feet. This would make the Hithaeglir roughly on a
> par with the Canadian Rockies, slightly taller than the Alps and lower
> than the Andes.
Whoops! Taller than those Rockies, too. I meant the Canadian-Alaskan
> Whoa! Light rays would travel parallel to the ground. The only limit on
> sight was angular resolution.
One more limit. Air. Light that passes through a long enough distance
of air at one standard atmosphere of pressure will eventually be scattered
Yup. That explains the bluish haze seen in the distance from mountains. The
red light is scattered more, and things start to look blue. Same reason why
the sky is blue.
An earlier discussion of this took place here:
That is a 25 December 2003 post by Tar-Elenion. Click on the "Lifeless elven
cities & tiny ships" link above it, go to message 16 in the thread, and read
down through the thread until around message 31.
Tar-Elenion makes some good points about whether Akallabeth was written from
a round-Earth or flat-Earth persepctive. I seem to have concluded that
'Flat-earth atmospherics reveals the mythologizing of the Akallabeth story'.
In other words, the actual physics implies that all this stuff about being
able to see Tol Eressea from a long way away is just a mythical addition to
the story. It couldn't really happen. You'd just get a blue haze that not
even the sharpest Elven eyes could pierce.
> to my knowledge, Tolkien only gives one mountain height for his
> world: Silvertine at 18,500 feet
OK. I'll bite. Where on Middle-earth does he say this? :-)
I think Larry has the right approach: that the same visual effect would
apply in the flat-world case but relying on a different effect, which
is left unexplained. It is, naturally, nonsense when you apply a
stricly physical view (I don't think that there is any physically sound
explanation that could be applied for a phenomenon such as the horizon
effect on a flat earth), but literarily Tolkien only had to imply the
same effect -- he didn't have to explain how it happened on a flat
One might even say that the horizon effect is such an integral part of
human experience that any world-model in literature would have to
include a visually similar effect in order to be truly credible to the
readers (I believe that only very few people would stop to think about
the underlying reasoning).
I'm not sure if I can explain this properly -- I just feel that the
emphasis on the physical reason for the horizon effect in the real
world is off target, and that the important angle is literary effect,
including the credibility achieved by referring to a familiar
phenomenon, ignoring any question of how the phenomenon arise.
> Could the Elves on the Mindon see the Meneltarma of Númenor?
Probably, yes -- after all the most far-sighted of the Númenóreans
could see Avallónë from Meneltarma.
> Now Men's sight, even Númenóreans', is not as keen as Elves. But
> still, I suspect they'd be able to see further than our world's
> horizon distance.
From the descriptions I think that this worked in very close analogy to
the familar horizon effect, withe exception of the 'far-sighted' part,
which implies that Númenóreans could see longer than other Men. There
is a description that from the top of Meneltarma they (or rather, the
most far-sighted of them) could see details of Avallónë, and I get the
impression that this is far longer than the normal horizon.
Valid e-mail is <troelsfo(a)gmail.com>
Please put '[AFT]', '[RABT]' or 'Tolkien' in subject.
The "paradox" is only a conflict between reality and your
feeling of what reality "ought to be".
- Richard Feynman
If the Numenorians mounted a 100 inch reflector on Meneltram with a
correction device for filtering heat refraction effects, they could
prabably see the Valar whooping it up on their holy days.
> If the Numenorians mounted a 100 inch reflector on Meneltram with a
> correction device for filtering heat refraction effects, they could
> prabably see the Valar whooping it up on their holy days.
Don't overlook Rayleigh scattering.
Modern spysats can image items down to the size of a license plate, but
cannot read it. I believe the bottleneck is blurring by the atmosphere
rather than primary mirror size.
Now the mass of air that lies between a KH-12 and the ground is
equivalent to ten meters of water. At one atmosphere of pressure
atmospheric air has a density of 1.3 kg per cubic meter, where water has
1000 kg per cubic meter. So a ten meter column of water corresponds to 10 m
* (1000/1.3) =7700 meters of air at constant pressure of one atmosphere. If
you add somewhat to that figure, because the summit of Meneltarma is surely
at an atmospheric pressure of less than the one atmosphere of sea level, you
get a degradation of the image corresponding to the resolution of a KH-12
each ten kilometers, as a very rough guesstimate.
Surely the nearest shore of the Blessed Realm is somewhat further from
Meneltarma than ten clicks. If we say five hundred clicks, then Rayleigh
scattering will cause fifty times the blurring of a KH-12 bird trying to
photograph the latest zit on Osama bin Laden's nose, no matter the size of
the telescope on the Hallowed Summit.
Then again, since Eru must surely have done something with the law of
gravity to make a flat Earth with one g fairly uniformly across it, there is
no telling what he did to the laws of electromagnetics ---
> Could the Elves on the Mindon see the Meneltarma of Númenor?
Don't see why not. As I put it once as a kid, "it's the same view the other
way." Only much later, at college, did I come to know this concept by its
proper name, the Principle of Reversibility.
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[Description of the City and the enclosing ditch:]
> Poseidon [...] breaking the ground,
> inclosed the hill in which she dwelt all round, making alternate zones
> of sea and land larger and smaller, encircling one another; there were
> two of land and three of water, which he turned as with a lathe, each
> having its circumference equidistant every way from the centre, [...]
> line followed the circular ditch. The depth, and width, and length of
> this ditch were incredible, and gave the impression that a work of such
> extent, in addition to so many others, could never have been artificial.
When reading this, I was reminded of the structure of Minas Tirith:
(Semi-)circular areas in the city, and a large construction that fences
in the land around the city.
(Of course that doesn't mean that Tolkien was "inspired" by this
description: One similarity between two things doesn't establish a
causal connection. And there are other examples of similar architecture,
as we discussed before. But it's interesting to see that this idea
of a circular city seems to have been floating around for some time.)
[Crosspost to aft corrected]
> Don't overlook Rayleigh scattering.
> Then again, since Eru must surely have done something with the
> law of gravity to make a flat Earth with one g fairly uniformly
> across it, there is no telling what he did to the laws of
> electromagnetics ---
I'm pleased that I don't have to answer that as a physicist ;)
Let's just say that I think that the presence of a phenomenon
equivalent to the horizon effect is disconnected from the shape of the
world in the mythological mode in which the first and second age stuff
Valid e-mail is <troelsfo(a)gmail.com>
Please put '[AFT]', '[RABT]' or 'Tolkien' in subject.
The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement.
But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another
- Niels Bohr
I can't say that I've thought it through entirely, but if we assume
that the scattering in a flat world had a larger gradient than in
the world we know, the effect would, it seems to me, appear very
close to the known horizon effect -- enough for the descriptions in
the Akallabêth to fit, at least. But as said elsewhere, I think
that the physical explanation for the phenomenon is the wrong tree;
the phenomenon is likely to exist regardless of world-shape, and the
physical basis for it isn't interesting.
> Yup. That explains the bluish haze seen in the distance from
> mountains. The red light is scattered more, and things start to
> look blue. Same reason why the sky is blue.
And, as with (roughly) linear light on a round world, the idea of
some people being able to see further than others is basically
nonsense -- it is physics rather than biology that is setting the
limits in any case, but since this is evidently ignored, I think the
physical background should probably be entirely ignored.
> An earlier discussion of this took place here:
> That is a 25 December 2003 post by Tar-Elenion. Click on the
> "Lifeless elven cities & tiny ships" link above it, go to message
> 16 in the thread, and read down through the thread until around
> message 31.
> Tar-Elenion makes some good points about whether Akallabeth was
> written from a round-Earth or flat-Earth persepctive.
The point is well made, though simply stating that "The Akallabeth
was written from a 'round-earth' perspective, not a 'flat-earth'
perspective." might be simplifying the creation history of the
Akallabêth too much. 'The Fall of Númenor' and 'The Lost Road' from
1936-7 was surely solidly based in the 'flat world made round'
tradition, and yet 'The Lost Road' contains a clear horizon-like
phenomenon prior to the downfall.
In LR (HoMe5), III 'The Lost Road) (iii) 'The Unwritten Chapters',
This note is of particular interest in that it shows my
father combining the old story of the voyage of Ælfwine to
Tol-eressëa and the telling of the Lost Tales with the
idea of the World Made Round and the Straight Path, which
entered at this time.
[LR p. 78]
And earlier, in (ii) 'The Númenórean Chapters' Tolkien wrote:
The sun had dipped, and was fast sinking in the sea.
There was fire upon far waves, but it faded almost as it
was kindled. A chill wind came suddenly out of the West
ruffling the yellow water off shore. Up over the fire-lit
rim dark clouds reared; they stretched out great wings,
south and north, and seemed to threaten the land.
[LR p. 62]
As for the Akallabêth itself, it was revised and emended in a number
of steps during the period when Tolkien's early cosmogony was quite
fluid, with, according to H&S in their /Reader's Guide/, the last
emendations 'probably in 1951' when Tolkien was also turning to the
matter of the Elder Days again from a very clear flat-world-made-
round viewpoint. But all this does, however, IMO, fall just short of
> I seem to have concluded that 'Flat-earth atmospherics reveals the
> mythologizing of the Akallabeth story'. In other words, the actual
> physics implies that all this stuff about being able to see Tol
> Eressea from a long way away is just a mythical addition to the
> story. It couldn't really happen. You'd just get a blue haze that
> not even the sharpest Elven eyes could pierce.
I'd agree with that conlusion.
Tolkien also seemed to have been aware that seeming perception of
things was more important than the underlying physics. In the note
presented as text II of 'Myths Transformed' in MR (HoMe 10), he
The Sun should be coeval with Earth, though its relative
size need not be considered, while the apparent revolution
of the Sun about the Earth will be accepted.[*]
[*] [marginal note] It is or would be in any case a 'fact of
life' for any intelligence that chose the Earth for a
place of life and labour. [There is no indication where
this is to go, but nowhere else on the page seems suitable.]
[MR p. 375]
Though Tolkien wrote shortly after about the Earth's orbit (around
the Sun), this doesn't invalidate the realization expressed here
that the importnat thing is that which are apparent 'facts of life'
-- to which belongs the horizon effect.
Valid e-mail is <troelsfo(a)gmail.com>
Please put '[AFT]', '[RABT]' or 'Tolkien' in subject.
The "paradox" is only a conflict between reality and your
>>> One more limit. Air. Light that passes through a long enough
>>> distance of air at one standard atmosphere of pressure will
>>> eventually be scattered and absorbed.
> I can't say that I've thought it through entirely, but if we assume
> that the scattering in a flat world had a larger gradient than in
> the world we know, the effect would, it seems to me, appear very
> close to the known horizon effect -- enough for the descriptions in
> the Akallabêth to fit, at least.
BTW, that's also a technique employed in many games -- add a "fog"
calculation so that anything that's too far away just becomes blurred,
so that at some distance you don't have to render things (even if the
world is assumed to be flat). Seems to work, visually.
For a real-world experience which exaggerates this effect somewhat,
it maybe helps to think about diving -- underwater visibility in the
distance quickly becomes zero, even though the horizon is not involved
> BTW, that's also a technique employed in many games -- add a "fog"
> Seems to work, visually.
That's a very good example, thanks. I just wish I'd come up with it
Now, just add a gradient, so that the blur-limit is perhaps half again
as far at 100 feet as at sea level (or something like that), and then
we can get the effect that you can see further the higher you go.
Valid e-mail is <troelsfo(a)gmail.com>
Please put '[AFT]', '[RABT]' or 'Tolkien' in subject.
If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders
- Sir Isaac Newton (I couldn't resist picking this one)
That's backwards. The sky is blue because molecules in the
atmosphere scatter blue light more effectively than red light.
What you see are blue photons that have bounced off air and
struck your eye. By the same token, a setting sun low on the
horizon is red because all the blue light has been scattered away
and only the red is left.
Thomas M. Sommers -- t...@nj.net -- AB2SB
I haven't done the calculation, but it seems to me that you have
to fiddle with physics to even get a more-or-less uniform
atmosphere on a flat world.
In the real world, such techniques usually get the favored group
labelled as puppets of the foreign devils. Or whatever.
You also have to fiddle with gravity. If Flatworld is big enough
gravitation ignores height. See
And how does Erendil keep his Ship in orbit?
Ye gods! Tolkien and physics references! Whodathunkit!
> I've wondered abut this. Why id the Valar miss this opportunity?
> Without interfering, they might have helped and encouraged. There
> were six years (3255-3261) of Palantir's reign before Ar-Pharazôn
> seized the state.
The Valar had mostly a hands-off policy with regard to Men. They were
fairly strong interventionists with regard to Elves.
Look what it took to get the Valar off their arses to deal with Morgoth.
>> I've wondered abut this. Why id the Valar miss this opportunity?
>> Without interfering, they might have helped and encouraged. There were
>> six years (3255-3261) of Palantir's reign before Ar-Pharazôn seized
>> the state.
>> Now that I raise the question, I'm not sure what the Valar could
>> actually have done. Not military help in retaining the throne: they
>> would not have done anybody any good by getting into a Númenórean
>> civil war. But they might have sent gifts, not just to the King but to
>> the people. If the King's Men (Pharazon's followers) saw that there
>> were benefits to following the Valar, many might have returned to
Numenoreans already knew that things used to be
better back when they were faithful to Valar.
They just refused to accept it because they could
not get everything they want.
> In the real world, such techniques usually get the favored group
> labelled as puppets of the foreign devils. Or whatever.
Not if the gifts go to everyone. In which case they
are seen as bribes to buy out the national integrity.
Last time I looked, gravity was part of physics.
> If Flatworld is big enough
> gravitation ignores height.
Assuming uniform density.