Alan Lee, Alfred Waud, American Civil War, Angus McBride, Argonath, Belgium, Black Speech, cemeteries, Confederate, Egyptian monuments, First Virginia Cavalry, graffiti, Great War, Greek mercenaries, Greeks, Hildebrandt, John Howe, Journey to the Cross-roads, Kilroy, Kilroy was here, Literacy, Napoleon I, Orcs, Pompeii, quarry at Naours, Sauron, The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien, Union, Virginia, World War I, World War II
Welcome, dear readers, as always.
One of our reasons for holding Tolkien’s work in such high esteem is that it’s so rich: practicing Sortes Tolkienses (see our earlier posting on this), we find innumerable subjects to write about.
In this posting, our eye was caught by this:
“The brief glow feel upon a huge sitting figure, still and solemn as the great stone kings of Argonath. The years had gnawed it, and violent hands had maimed it. Its head was gone, and in its place was set in mockery a round rough-hewn stone, rudely painted by savage hands in the likeness of a grinning face with one large red eye in the midst of its forehead. Upon its knees and mighty chair, and all about the pedestal, were idle scrawls mixed with the foul symbols that the maggot-folk of Mordor used.” (The Two Towers, Book 4, Chapter 7, “Journey to the Cross-roads”)
We had the feeling that we’d seen a statue something like this before—and we were curious whether JRRT had, too, and with a little mental rooting-around, we found this:
It’s Egyptian (13th century BC), and has a head, but, not only is it monumental, and seated, but it has lots of “idle scrawls” on the bases and lower parts of its legs.
What’s particularly interesting to us is that one piece of the graffiti is actually from some Greek mercenaries c. 600bc
As long as there has been a certain level of literacy, of course, there has been graffiti. The walls of ancient Pompeii (sealed in by the eruption of 79AD) are loaded with everything from election posters to the admiration of gladiators to personal insults.
There’s so much, in fact, that this is our favorite:
A translation of this might be: “I wonder/am in awe, wall, that, you, who are holding up so much boring writing, haven’t fallen down!”
Soldiers, in particular, seem prone to leaving messages behind—beginning with those 7th-c Greeks, but continuing throughout the centuries. When Napoleon I led an expedition to Egypt in 1798,
his soldiers left their mark in more ways than one upon the landscape.
Recently discovered in a house in Virginia was a large collection of inscriptions from the soldiers, Union and Confederate, of the American Civil War.
(An irresistible footnote: the picture you see of the Confederate cavalry—actually the 1st Virginia—was made by one of the greatest Civil War artists, Alfred Waud (pronounced “woad”). He had been briefly detained by this unit and took the opportunity to sketch them from life. His sketch—with his notes—then went to his publisher in New York, who had a group of engravers ready to turn his sketch into a finished—and publishable—picture.
For more on the process by which a sketch becomes a magazine illustration, see this link.)
Another recent discovery was a mass of inscriptions (something like 2000 of them) in an abandoned quarry at Naours, in northern France.
These date from the Great War (World War I) and, in a sad way, parallel the epitaphs on the seemingly-endless graves in the seemingly endless military cemeteries in the same region and in southern Belgium.
And World War II brought us Kilroy, of the famous (and ubiquitous) “Kilroy was here”.
American prankster soldiers doodled this everywhere they went.
We have written previously about literacy in Middle-earth: not uncommon among hobbits, it would seem, but much less so among the other peoples. As for orcs, be they Hildebrandt
although the Black Speech was created for them and Sauron’s other creatures, we have no evidence (except for the Ring inscription) of any use of it as a writing tool by any of them.
Which leaves us free to imagine just what those “idle scrawls” might read like. How about:
LUGDUSH SMELLS LIKE MAN FLESH!
LAGDUF + MUZGASH = CLUELESS AND SHIRTLESS!
GORBAG LOVES SHELOB
SHAGRAT IS A SNAGA!
And, of course:
UGLUK WAS HERE
Thanks for reading! (And why not submit your own graffiti? We’d be glad to add them to our list!)