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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Nuckelavee the Demon

Greetings, internet fam-squad! How are things? Things here are COLD, like literally all the outdoor things. I’m coming to you live from within the polar vortex.

I grabbed a fun snippet from the Indy Star yesterday. These are places that were warmer than Indy on Wednesday.

places

Fun, right? I’ve been hiding in my house since Tuesday evening, which is okay with me. One of my favorite activities is not leaving my house for days on end.

Anyway, today, we have one of THE weirdest demons I have ever stumbled across…in writing, not real life. I really never want to stumble across any demon in real life.

The Nuckelavee originated Scotland’s northern islands, specifically the islands of Orkney and Shetland, with bits and pieces possibly inspired Norse mythology. The Nuckelavee is a pretty baby, described thus: “a head and torso in the shape of a man but with a huge head and a large mouth protruding out like that of a pig. The creature had one single red eye that burned like fire. It had a man’s torso attached to a horse’s back but with long arms that could reach the ground. To add to the horror of his appearance the creature is without hair and skin. A raw body where his black blood could be seen coursing through his veins. Every pulsating muscle on show.” description courtesy of Transceltic.com

Want a visual? Of course, you do! Who doesn’t?

nuck

Image Source

His superpowers included super-bad/poisonous breath capable of poisoning livestock and crops, and he could bring on storms and droughts. Basically whatever bad stuff happened to island people could be blamed on him.

Fortunately for the island dwellers, he wasn’t active all the time. The “Mither of the Sea” was said to keep the Nuckelavee confined during the summer months, so apparently, he can’t just run amok at all times.

One last piece of very important information. If you’re ever faced with one, it is recommended that you cross a river or a stream because the Nuckelavee cannot enter freshwater.

Nuckelavee on Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

The Wild Hunt

O…K. Today’s nearly-random subject of interest is the Wild Hunt. The wild hunt is believed to have Pagan origins and was converted to folklore by ye olde Jacob Ludwig Karl Grimm in Teutonic Mythology (1882), which is a delightful read on German mythology. Wanna read it? No worries, fam. There’s a link at the bottom of the post.

A wild hunt is basically a group of supernatural beings like elves, fairies, the dead, or possibly even gods chasing after some thing or another, usually a lady. The sight of a hunt is sometimes considered a bad omen of death or possibly a sign that war is about to break out.

220px-Wodan's_wilde_Jagd_by_F._W._Heine

“Wodan’s Wild Hunt” by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine

One of the most central figures in these little supernatural parties is Woden, aka Odin, aka Wuotan, aka Mr. Wednesday (#Gaimanrulz) etc. etc. etc.

Here is a fantastic Wikipedia description of what happened to Odin during these hunts as described by Grimm: “Grimm interpreted the Wild Hunt phenomenon as having pre-Christian origins, arguing that the male figure who appeared in it was a survival of folk beliefs about the god Wodan, who had ‘lost his sociable character, his near familiar features, and assumed the aspect of a dark and dreadful power… a spectre and a devil.’[11] Grimm believed that this male figure was sometimes replaced by a female counterpart, whom he referred to as Holda and Berchta.[14] In his words, “not only Wuotan and other gods, but heathen goddesses too, may head the furious host: the wild hunter passes into the wood-wife, Wôden into frau Gaude.”[15] He added his opinion that this female figure was Woden’s wife.”

Um, what??? “lost his sociable character, his near familiar features, and assumed the aspect of a dark and dreadful power… a spectre and a devil.”

OMG, not only that, he turned into a lady? “this male figure was sometimes replaced by a female counterpart, whom he referred to as Holda and Berchta”

Okay, so he turned into an evil lady, who was also his wife. Sure, totally makes sense. Like, why wouldn’t he?

Side note: I often judge people who date and/or marry people who look like themselves. I’m not sure how to categorize this level of narcissism.

Ahem.

Stories about the hunt can feature someone who stumbles upon the hunt and is forced to choose whether to aid the hunt or um…not aid the hunt. Depending on that person’s choice, they can either be rewarded or punished. They might also outwit the hunt.

There are variations, of course, because mythology always has its variations, kinda like the telephone game, only occurring over a good many years. Depending on what version you read, Odin might be switched out with characters such as: “Theodoric the Great, the Danish king Valdemar Atterdag, the Welsh psychopomp Gwyn ap Nudd, biblical figures such as Herod, Cain, Gabriel or the Devil, or an unidentified lost soul or spirit either male or female.”

Hans Peter Duerr theorized that it “is generally difficult to decide, on the basis of the sources, whether what is involved in the reports about the appearance of the Wild Hunt is merely a demonic interpretation of natural phenomenon, or whether we are dealing with a description of ritual processions of humans changed into demons.”

I am totally in love with this concept and have plotted out a story inspired by it for future use.

Wild Hunt entry on Wikipedia

Grimm’s Teutonic Mythology ebook