Tolkien, Plato, and Gyges Walk Into a Bar But Not in that Order

You may have heard of a few little books by Tolkien: The HobbitThe Lord of the Rings, etc.

In these books, a central part of the story is THE ring. You know, the one to rule them all? Well, guess what. Tolkien was not the first to write about an invisibility ring.

Let us back up several steps to Herodotus’ Histories and the story of Candaules, his wife and Gyges. This version of the Gyges story goes like this: King Candaules keeps bugging his bodyguard Gyges about how hot his wife is. Candaules is like hey, hide in this room and watch her take her clothes off if you don’t believe me. Gyges does it. Wife catches him. Wife says you have 2 choices. You can die now or kill my skeevy husband, marry me, and usurp the throne. Gyges chooses the latter.

No ring, I know. Just wait for it.

In Plato’s Republic, he takes elements of that story but puts his own spin on it. Here’s a bit from Wikipedia:

“It told of a man named Gyges who lived in Lydia, an area in modern Turkey. He was a gygesshepherd for the king of that land. One day, there was an earthquake while Gyges was out in the fields, and he noticed that a new cave had opened up in a rock face. When he went in to see what was there, he noticed a gold ring on the finger of a former giant king who had been buried in the cave, in an iron horse with a window in its side. He took the ring away with him and soon discovered that it allowed the wearer to become invisible. The next time he went to the palace to give the king a report about his sheep, he put the ring on, seduced the queen, killed the king, and took control of the palace.”

Allowed the wearer to become invisible. Sound familiar?

So we have Herodotus influencing Plato possibly influencing Tolkien. The legend might even go back further than that.

What does it all mean?

That Tolkien likely read Plato, and that a great many writers, even the best ones, take inspiration where they can get it. Kind of makes me curious about what else Hero and Plato were serving up.

Linkies

https://www.livius.org/sources/content/herodotus/candaules-his-wife-and-gyges/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gyges_of_Lydia

 

 

 

 

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