Saturday 18 November 2023
A note on the silver-handed Nodens and Tar-Telemmaite - resonances across the decades in JRR Tolkien
From The name Nodens by JRR Tolkien - Report on the excavation of the Prehistoric, Roman, and post-Roman sites in Lydney Park, Gloucestershire. Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. 1932.
The name Nodens occurs in three inscriptions from the excavation, and may also have occurred in a mosaic. The inscriptions most probably represent a Keltic stem inferred to be 'noudent'. Now this is precisely the form required as the Old and Middle Irish form of mythological and heroic name Nuada.
Nuadu was Argat-lam – King of the Silver Hand who ruled the Tuatha de Danann – the possessors of Ireland before the Milesians... It is possible to see a memory of this figure in the medieval Welsh Lludd Llaw Ereint (‘of the Silver Hand’) – the ultimate origin of King Lear – whose daughter Creiddylad (Cordelia) was carried off, after her betrothal to Gwythyr vab Greiddawl, by Gwynn vab Nudd, a figure having some connexions with the underworld...
Of Nuada Airgetlam it says: Streng mac Senghainn cut off Nuada's right hand in combat at the battle of Mag Tured Cunga, when the Tuatha de Danann invaded Erin. The leeches of the Tuatha de Danann put on Nuada a hand of silver with the complete motion of every hand. ' If not an established certainty, it is, then, at least a probable theory that there was a divine personage of whom the chief later representative is the Nuada of the Silver Hand in Irish tradition, and that this Nuada is the same as the Nodens which occurs in curious and suggestive isolation in these British inscriptions...
It is suggestive, however, that the most remarkable thing about Nuada was his hand, and that without his hand his power was lost.
From Tar-Telemmaite, 15th monarch of Numenor. In "The Line of Elros" in JRR Tolkien Unfinished Tales, 1980.
The date of this writing is not given, but adjascent material on Numenor is dated to after the publication of The Lord of the Rings, around 1965.
...The King was so called because of his love of silver, and he bade his servants to seek ever for mithril.
Note 31 and Index entry concerning Tar-Telemmaite by Christopher Tolkien: "...is said to have been called so (i.e. 'silver-handed') because of his love of silver..." "Fifteenth ruler of Numenor, so named ('Silver-handed') for his love of silver".
An etymological note from Paul Strack states that his name is a compound of an assimilated form of telpë ("silver") and the adjective element maitë ("handed").
JRR Tolkien's "The name Nodens" is an early and little known publication; an appendix concerning an inscription, following an archaeological excavation report. In this, the ancient Celtic god Nodens is described as "silver-handed"; with a magical hand made from silver from which he derived great prowess.
Perhaps thirty-plus years later, Tolkien described one of the Kings of Numenor as again "silver-handed"; but this time, because of his love of the precious metal silver - particularly of the 'true silver' mithril.
Different kinds of being, different reasons for the name; but surely Tolkien's early description of an heroic silver-handed Celtic god resonated in his mind with the covetous Numenorean?