Academic journal article Mythlore

"Morning Stars of a Setting World": Alain De Lilles's De Planctu Naturae and Tolkien's Legendarium as Neo-Platonic Mythopoeia

Academic journal article Mythlore

"Morning Stars of a Setting World": Alain De Lilles's De Planctu Naturae and Tolkien's Legendarium as Neo-Platonic Mythopoeia

Article excerpt

Introduction

EMERGING FROM THE CHRISTIAN EXEQETICAL TRADITION, medieval mythography used Greek and Roman myths for the purpose of edifying readers. Such texts allegorically employed the pantheon of pagan divinities and heroes in order to promote Christian principles. Many were commentaries on works from classical antiquity; some were prosimetra, narratives of alternating verse and prose, composed to convey moral instruction. Two influential examples of the latter are Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy and Alain de Lille's De Planctu Naturae (Complaint of Nature). The following essay argues that a comparison of Alain's De Planctu and selections from the legendarium of J.R.R. Tolkien provides greater insight into the similarities between two Neoplatonic Christian mythopoeic systems.

There is ample scholarship concerning the moral vision behind Tolkien's literature; only a small portion of this, however, is devoted to the influence of Platonic and Christian Platonist ideology specifically. In "Tolkien's Platonic Fantasy," Jon Cox highlights Plato's most significant influences on Tolkien's writings from the cosmology to character creation. In his essay "The Rings of Tolkien and Plato," Eric Katz astutely recognizes the similarities between the One Ring and Plato's Ring of Gyges and the deeper ethics that runs through the two texts. In her "Naming the Unnameable: The Neoplatonic 'One' in Tolkien's Silmarillion," Verlyn Flieger identifies the Platonic concept of "the One" within Tolkien's cosmogonic narrative. Situating Tolkien alongside Plotinus and Pseudo-Dionysias within the discourse of ineffability, Flieger argues that Tolkien used heart and imagination to successfully create his All-Father deity, whereas the others only sought (and failed) to explain "it." Regarding the nature of evil in Tolkien's legendarium, Tom Shippey, John Houghton and Neal Keesee have given thought to the influence of Augustinian and Boethian Platonism. (1) John Houghton's "Augustine in the Cottage of Lost Play: The Ainulindale as Asterisk Cosmology" examines parallels within the cosmologies of Tolkien and Augustine. Matthew Fisher considers the impact of Augustine in his "Working at the Crossroads: Tolkien, St. Augustine, and the Beowulf-poet." And Kathleen Dubs entered the conversation early with her "Providence, Fate, and Chance: Boethian Philosophy in The Lord of the Rings." Though these investigations greatly advance readers' understanding of Christian Neoplatonist connections to Tolkien's works, more can certainly be done.

An additional school of medieval Platonism emerged around the Chartres Cathedral in the twelfth century, an epicenter of scholastic philosophy and poetry. Inspired to a large degree by Chalcidius's translation of the early part of Plato's Timaeus, the school was known for its depiction of nature as a creative and procreative force. Such schools produced extremely influential and well-crafted mythopoetic texts within their collections of preaching/ instructional manuals and allegorical treatises. One of the most influential writers of the Chartres School was Alain de Lille (1128?-1202?). A theologian who likely studied under Peter Abelard and Thierry of Chartres, Alain was famous for his Anticlaudianus, De Fide Catholica Contra Haereticos, and his very influential De Planctu Naturae, the last having inspired the works of numerous authors throughout the Middle Ages; the two most popular of these being Jean de Meun and Geoffrey Chaucer. Jean de Meun together with Guillaume de Lorris composed the thirteenth-century Roman de la Rose, employing many of De Planctu's features and allegorical figures. Geoffrey Chaucer composed his own translation of this text (Romaunt of the Rose); his Parliament of Birds (Parlement of Foules) mentions Alain's De Planctu directly, depicting the figure of Dame Nature presiding over an assembly of birds there to find their amorous mates. (2)

It is very likely that Tolkien knew of Alain's De Planctu. …

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