1984, Adolf Hitler, altar, Ar-Pharazon, Armenelos, Artemis, Aulis, Avebury, Aztec, Benito Mussolini, Big Brother, France, Gallic Celts, George Orwell, Germany, Gondor, Greek temple, Hera, Herodotus, human sacrifice, Iphigenia, Melkor, Nazis, nemeton, Numenor, occupation, Olympia, Pantheon, Rome, sacrifice, Sauron, shrine, Soviet Union, Stalin, Stonehenge, Tenochtitlan, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, The War of the Ring, Tolkien, Valar, World War II, worship
Welcome, as always, dear readers.
Some time ago, we posted a piece on what Sauron wanted out of the War of the Ring. Our evidence was this, spoken to Aragorn and Gandalf and the allied army which had marched to the Morannon as a distraction, by the Lieutenant of the Tower:
“The rabble of Gondor and its deluded allies shall withdraw at once beyond the Anduin, first taking oaths never again to assail Sauron the Great in arms, open or secret. All lands east of the Anduin shall be Sauron’s for ever, solely. West of the Anduin as far as the Misty Mountains and the Gap of Rohan shall be tributary to Mordor, and men there shall bear no weapons, but shall have leave to govern their own affairs. But they shall help to rebuild Isengard which they have wantonly destroyed, and that shall be Sauron’s, and there his lieutenant shall dwell: not Saruman, but one more worthy of trust.” (The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 10, “The Black Gate Opens”)
These are political conditions: Sauron is demanding territory, just as any conqueror in our world would. When France was occupied by the Nazis in 1940–something with which JRRT would have been quite familiar while writing The Lord of the Rings—here’s a map of what Hitler demanded—and got.
The last sentence of Sauron’s conditions even reminds us of the relationship between Hitler and Mussolini—although not how Mussolini would have viewed it.
Hitler had another dictator-partner for a short time, however, Stalin, whom he distrusted even more than Mussolini.
And Stalin, unlike Sauron, won his war and swallowed all of central Europe, as well as eastern Germany.
It’s clear that George Orwell had this dictator in mind when he was creating his “Big Brother”, in 1984, even to his physical description (from a poster—it appears that no one has actually seen Big Brother in the flesh): “an enormous face, more than a meter wide: the face of a man about forty-five, with a heavy black mustache and ruggedly handsome features…”
These posters were so constructed that, “It was one of those pictures…which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move.”
In fact, as we think about the image, its slogan, “Big Brother is Watching” might be applied to the All-Seeing Eye.
That all-seeing eye, however, has another meaning, we believe, and it has to do with a goal which the Lieutenant doesn’t mention, but JRRT does:
“Sauron desired to be a God-King, and was held to be this by his servants. If he had been victorious he would have demanded divine honour from all the rational creatures and absolute temporal power over the whole world.” (Letters, 244)
Thus, like various gods through the history of the world, by showing himself not a full physical form, but only as an eye, we can imagine that Sauron was claiming divine omniscience.
This set us to thinking: there is virtually no trace of religion in the latter part of the Third Age and certainly no religious structures. What might Sauron build as a shrine—to himself? And, as a corollary, what would he demand for worship?
In Western Europe, some the earliest shrines were not actual buildings, but sites claimed to be somehow invested with divinity, such as groves of trees, something which the Gallic Celts called a nemeton, perhaps related to the Old Irish word nemed, meaning, according to the on-line OI/Middle Irish dictionary, “(small) sacred place”.
It’s easy to see how this could lead to the idea of a stone circle (perhaps beginning with a ditch of the sort which could ring settlements?), like that at Avebury.
Or its more concentrated version, Stonehenge.
Another possibility might be to organize that grove into lines of pillars—using the trunks of the trees—and adding a roof—and you get a Greek temple.
Herodotus tells us that, in his time, this temple, devoted to Hera at Olympia, still had a couple of wooden columns, showing just how old it was. (There are also building elements, like pegs—all in stone in later time—which mirror earlier wooden construction.)
In the Greek world (and the Roman, as well), worship was done outside the building, at an altar in front.
That worship would consist of prayers and sacrifices. As the majority of the gods were believed to live in a place above humans (Olympus—an actual mountain, but also, seemingly, an imaginary location in the sky), sacrifices were conveyed in smoke. These could be as simple as incense
or as complicated as the barbecue after a multiple animal-slaughter, like the Roman suovetaurilia (“pigsheepbullactivity”). (Guess who got to consume the actual meat?)
Classical people did not practice human sacrifice, considering it abominable, but it may have existed, at least in desperate circumstances in the far past, as has been preserved in the Greek story of Iphigenia, murdered at the altar of Artemis at Aulis to propitiate the goddess, who had blocked the Greeks from sailing to attack Troy.
Of course, when it comes to wholesale, regular human sacrifice, we immediately think of Aztec devotion to their god, Huitzilopochtli, who was fed on the blood of human hearts at the top of his temple in the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan.
And this brings us back to Sauron, his temple, his worship. Because there is so much wonderful material to work from in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, in general, we confine ourselves to those and the Letters, but a little wider research gave us a clue—a horrible but not surprising clue—to answer our original question. In the Silmarillion, we found this:
“But Sauron caused to be built upon the hill in the midst of the city of the Numenoreans, Armenelos the Golden, a mighty temple; and it was in the form of a circle at the base, and there the walls were fifty feet in thickness, and the width of the base was five hundred feet across the center, and the walls rose from the ground five hundred feet, and they were crowned with a mighty dome. And that dome was roofed all with silver, and rose glittering in the sun, so that the light of it could be seen afar off; but soon the light was darkened and the silver became black.” (The Silmarillion, “Akallabeth”, 273)
As people who are much involved with the Greco-Roman world, this description immediately brings to our minds the Pantheon, in Rome, whose dome was sheathed in copper, until that was stolen by the eastern emperor Constans II in 663AD, only to be stolen from him en route by Saracen pirates. It’s not 500 feet by 500 feet (152.4m.), of course, being only about 140 (42.67m.), but it’s certainly large and impressive—and circular, with a mighty dome.
But why did the “silver become black”? Do we have a bad feeling about this?
“For there was an altar of fire in the midst of the temple, and in the topmost of the dome there was a louver, whence there issued a great smoke…Thereafter the fire and smoke went up without ceasing; for the power of Sauron daily increased, and in that temple, with the spilling of blood and torment and great wickedness, men made sacrifice to Melkor that he should release them from Death. And most often from among the Faithful they chose their victims…”
Sauron, once Melkor’s servant, had gained great power over the Numenorean king, Ar-Pharazon, using it to persuade the king to attack the Valar—and thus bring about the destruction of Numenor. Sauron’s spirit survived that destruction, and perhaps his memory of Melkor’s temple and its worship would have, as well?
Thanks, as ever, for reading!
We can’t resist adding this wonderful John Howe impression of the drowning of the city of Armenelos…