Monday, 24 January 2011

Aragorn and Archaeology, part I

A hundred years ago, Aragorn was regarded as a myth. Fifty years ago, he was back in fashion and learned tomes were written called 'The Age of Aragorn' and 'Aragorn's Arnor'. These days, the fickle pendulum of academic interest has swung in another direction (though, perhaps, there are signs it is swinging back). The earliest stories that mention him are generally thought to date to a period of around 300 years after his death. It may be that 'history' as such can tell us little about Aragorn and his times.

But can archaeology help where history has failed? Is there are 'arcaheology of Aragorn' that can give us clues as to the context in which the legends of Aragorn arose? Is there even an 'historical' Aragorn behind the legends?

The earliest references to Aragorn - all from the North, all from around 1,200 years ago - are short, and they are simple. 'In those times Aragorn fought with the kings of the West against the Orghul, and he was their leader of battles'; '...he fed the ravens, though he was no Aragorn'; 'the Battle of Camlad, where Aragorn and Gothmog fell'.

Slightly later texts link Aragorn with the 'Battle of Sul' - a genuine historical battle mentioned by a chronicler called Galdis. Unfortunately, Galdis does not name Aragorn as the commander at the Battle (he calls it a 'Siege') of Sul. In fact, in his entire narrative lasting some 530 years more or less, he only names about a dozen people.

This constitutes the entire contemporary or near-contemporary record of Aragorn. But they do sketch out the beginnings of a 'real' Aragorn behind the myth. A real war-leader in Arnor, who fought against the 'Orghul' alongside others, in a war that is mentioned as a recent historical event by a chronicler 1500 years ago.

1 comment:

  1. I should perhaps put in a little parenthetical comment here; inspired by reading a medieval Welsh account of the 5th century that referred to 'Hengist and his Orghul' (as a transliteration of 'Angel') I began playing with the idea of the early English = Orcs. Who fought the early English? King Arthur. Who fought the Orcs? King Aragorn. So the idea of Lord of the Rings as a mythologised version of a 'real' millennium-and-a-half ago started to germinate. If, then, the 'The Lord of the Rings' is this reality's 'Morte D'Arthur' or 'History of the Kings of Britain', what is the 'Dark Age fact' behind Middle Earth's legends? Aragorn as northern war-leader and anti-hero, and of course, these days, the irony is we write his story in the Orglish language...