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Welsh _Annwn_, Sindarin _Annûn_

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  • Carl F. Hostetter
    To get the ball rolling, I thought I might share some notes towards an article that I ve been kicking around for years now, and solicit some feedback. A
    Message 1 of 4 , May 30, 2002
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      To get the ball rolling, I thought I might share some notes towards an
      article that I've been kicking around for years now, and solicit some
      feedback.

      A relationship has long been suggested between the name _Annwn_ of the Welsh
      underworld and the Sindarin word _Annûn_ 'Sunset, West', isolated from the
      name _Henneth Annûn_ 'Window of the Sunset' (LR:659) and cognate with Q.
      _Andúne_ 'West' (as in Galadriel's Lament) ‹ see for instance _An
      Introduction to Elvish_ p. 72 s.v. _Annûn_. Certainly the phonetic shapes of
      the two names are strikingly similar; and an association of W. _Annwn_ with
      a land to the west is firm in the mythology.

      But might there be a deeper association to be discovered in these words?
      (Well, obviously yes, or I wouldn't be asking the question!)

      Let's first consider the etymology of W. _Annwn_. It turns out that there is
      a long history of a lack of consensus on this. But it also turns out not to
      matter which of the various conflicting theories and analyses is correct: we
      happen to know what Tolkien himself thought, at least at one point in his
      life. Among his papers in the Bodleian is an extensive set of notes that
      Tolkien made on the so-called "Mabinogion", and among these notes are found
      etymological notes on the name _Annwn_ (against the first occurrence of the
      name in the first of the Mabinogi, commonly called "Pwyll Pendeuic Dyuet").
      These particular notes, in turn, are very clearly and closely based on those
      offered by Sir John Morris-Jones' _A Welsh Grammar: Historical and
      Comparative_ (Oxford, 1913) ‹ Tolkien's heavily annotated copy of which is
      located now in the English Faculty Library of Oxford University
      (http://users.ox.ac.uk/~enginfo/). Jones's treatment (p. 160) reads:

      "Ar[yan] *_bhudh/d-_ 'bottom' and *_dhub-_ 'deep', if not originally the
      same, are confused in the derived languages: W. _annwfn_ 'hell' <
      *_n-dub-n-_ for *_n-bud-n-_ [the first _n_ in each of these words is marked
      as syllabic with an underposed circle] 'bottomless': Gk. _a-byssos_; cf. O.
      Bulg. _duno_ 'bottom' and Armen. _andundk_ 'abyssos' with _d ... d_ for _b
      ... b_ by assimil."

      The first thing to note here is the spelling _annwfn_ (the form that
      acutally occurs in "Pwyll"): In Welsh, as in Sindarin, final _-fn_ became
      _-n_ in the later language. The second thing to note is that W. _Annwfn_
      'hell' is derived by Jones (and at least at this time by Tolkien) from a
      primitive form meaning 'bottomless', cognate with Greek _abyssos_, (our
      _abyss_). The derivation is from a pair of confused primitive forms meaning
      'bottom' and 'deep', prefixed with a negative element (syllabic *_n-_ >
      Greek _a-_): 'bottomless'.

      It turns out that there is a Sindarin word whose derivation and meaning are
      both strikingly similar to this. In _The Etymologies_ we find a base TUB-,
      untranslated, but with a primitive derivation *_tumbu_ 'deep valley'.
      Cognate with this is the adjectival formation *_tubnaa_ 'deep', whence N.
      _tofn_ (note the development *_-bn_ to _-fn_ as in Welsh). And also cognate
      with this is a name formed with a prefixed _u-_ (which does occur as a
      negative element in the Eldarin tongues, though it is uncertain here whether
      it has that meaning of is simply a prefixion of the _sundoma_), *_Utubnu_,
      of Melkor's "vaults in the North", whence Q. _Utumno_, and by regular
      development (as in Welsh) of medial _t_ to _d_ and of final *_-bn_ > *_-fn_
      > _-n_, the Sindarin name _Udûn_. This will be familiar to readers of _The
      Lord of the Rings_ as the region just behind the Morannon in the extreme
      north-west of Mordor. A name that Tolkien translates as 'hell' (LR:1132).

      The deep parallels in form, meaning, and mythological significance between
      W. _Annw(f)n_ 'hell' and S. _Udûn_ 'hell' are far more striking than the
      surface similarity between W. _Annwn_ and S. _Annûn_ 'Sunset, West', but are
      discoverable only by philological exploration. Just the sort of exploration
      that Tolkien himself would have loved, I think!

      In closing, a question for the group: Another similarity has been noted
      between _Araw_, the Sindarin name of _Orome_, and _Arawn_, the lord of Annwn
      in the "Mabinogion". The etymology of _Orome_ is well known (see, for
      instance, XI:400), but I have been unable to discover any etymology for
      _Arawn_ with which to test this association further. Has anyone better
      information on this name?

      |======================================================================|
      | Carl F. Hostetter Aelfwine@... http://www.elvish.org |
      | |
      | ho bios brachys, he de techne makre. |
      | Ars longa, vita brevis. |
      | The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne. |
      | "I wish life was not so short," he thought. "Languages take |
      | such a time, and so do all the things one wants to know about." |
      |======================================================================|
    • Pavel Iosad
      Hello, Carl wrote the following excellent essay: (Is it to appear in _Words and Devices_, as I hope?) ... As a matter of fact, I believe the Western asociation
      Message 2 of 4 , May 30, 2002
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        Hello,

        Carl wrote the following excellent essay:

        (Is it to appear in _Words and Devices_, as I hope?)

        >A relationship has long been suggested between the name _Annwn_ of the Welsh
        >underworld and the Sindarin word _Annûn_ 'Sunset, West', isolated from the
        >name _Henneth Annûn_ 'Window of the Sunset' (LR:659) and cognate with Q.
        >_Andúne_ 'West' (as in Galadriel's Lament) ‹ see for instance _An
        >Introduction to Elvish_ p. 72 s.v. _Annûn_. Certainly the phonetic shapes of
        >the two names are strikingly similar; and an association of W. _Annwn_ with
        >a land to the west is firm in the mythology.

        As a matter of fact, I believe the Western asociation is of quite a lot of significance still

        [...]
        >The first thing to note here is the spelling _annwfn_ (the form that
        >acutally occurs in "Pwyll"): In Welsh, as in Sindarin, final _-fn_ became
        >_-n_ in the later language. The second thing to note is that W. _Annwfn_
        >'hell' is derived by Jones (and at least at this time by Tolkien) from a
        >primitive form meaning 'bottomless', cognate with Greek _abyssos_, (our
        >_abyss_). The derivation is from a pair of confused primitive forms meaning
        >'bottom' and 'deep', prefixed with a negative element (syllabic *_n-_ >
        >Greek _a-_): 'bottomless'.

        However, may it be noted that the realm of _Annwfn_ as portrayed in _Pwyll Pendefig Dyfed_ is of no association to 'hell' at all. Conversely, Tolkien expressed deep appreciation of the portrayal of the Otherworld in PPD, vide MC:172-3. All of the Otherworld in the first four branches of _Y Mabinogi_ (as well as the rest of this magnum opus) has nothing to do with 'hell', and is in fact largely a leftover from the pre-Christian Celtic archetypes (vide especially _Manawyddan Fab Llyr_). Therefore I think that the association of _Annwfn_ and hell as you outlined is more of a philological device (i.e. word-play) rather than an actual mythological association.

        [...]

        >The deep parallels in form, meaning, and mythological significance between
        >W. _Annw(f)n_ 'hell' and S. _Udûn_ 'hell' are far more striking than the
        >surface similarity between W. _Annwn_ and S. _Annûn_ 'Sunset, West', but are
        >discoverable only by philological exploration. Just the sort of exploration
        >that Tolkien himself would have loved, I think!

        Indeed! However, I would still insist that it is of hardly any mythological significance, though certainly most interesting as a quirky derivation.

        [...]

        I don't have info on _Arawn_, but I would suggest a third association - _Rhiannon_ vs. _Rían_ (and earlier _Rhían), V:383 s.v. RIG-). _Rhían_ is said to stem for RIG-, carrying the idea of "crown". The few sources that I have uniformly identify _Rhiannon_ as stemming from the word for 'mistress' (e.g. Guyonvarc'h Ch.-J., Leroux F., La Civilisation Celtique). I hope there's something on it in Morris-Jones! It is also intersting to note that Rhiannon is the mother of the archetypal hero Pryderi (which in the text iteslf is identified as _worry_, though I don't know if this is a folk etymology or not - I need Morris-Jones, I need Morris-Jones <stomp stomp>), while Rían is mother to Tuor the mighty, whose name points to a warrior hero unequivocally ('vigour-strength', according to V:394 s.v. TUG-). Though of the heroes of the First Age Húrin would be closest to Pryderi (cf. Húrin's behaviour in _The Wanderings of Húrin_ in X:251-310 and _Manawyddan Fab Llyr_ in the part when Manawyddan and Pryderi take up differernt crafts), the archetype of a hero is still present in Tuor. I do not think this connection improbable as well.

        Thanks Carl for the enlightening essay!

        Pavel
        --
        Pavel Iosad pavel_iosad@...

        'I am a philologist, and thus a misunderstood man'
        --JRR Tolkien, _The Notion Club Papers_
      • Carl F. Hostetter
        ... True enough. But 1) later associations often are quite altered from the primitive/formative semantics indicated by etymology; and 2) Tolkien did not reject
        Message 3 of 4 , May 30, 2002
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          In message 5, "Pavel Iosad" <pavel_iosad@...> wrote:

          > may it be noted that the realm of _Annwfn_ as portrayed in _Pwyll
          > Pendefig Dyfed_ is of no association to 'hell' at all.

          True enough. But 1) later associations often are quite altered from the
          primitive/formative semantics indicated by etymology; and 2) Tolkien did not
          reject Jones's derivation. What the Welsh made of the word/name they
          inherited as _Annw(f)n_ has no necessary bearing on what the word's
          antecedents originally meant.

          > Therefore I think that the association of
          > _Annwfn_ and hell as you outlined is more of a philological device (i.e.
          > word-play) rather than an actual mythological association.

          I'm not so sure. Remember the conceit (expressed perhaps most fully in _The
          Drowning of Anadûne_ in _Sauron Defeated_) that while Men in northwestern
          Europe had the truest form of the mythology, it was still much changed, even
          corrupted. Welsh _Annw(f)n_, by this conceit, may be a dim, much-blurred
          memory of the Eldarin "underworld".

          > _Rhiannon_ vs. _Rían_ (and earlier _Rhían), V:383 s.v. RIG-). _Rhían_ is said
          > to stem for RIG-, carrying the idea of "crown". The few sources that I have
          > uniformly identify _Rhiannon_ as stemming from the word for 'mistress' (e.g.
          > Guyonvarc'h Ch.-J., Leroux F., La Civilisation Celtique). I hope there's
          > something on it in Morris-Jones!

          I'll check when I get a chance.

          > - I need Morris-Jones, I need Morris-Jones <stomp stomp>),

          A search at Bibliofind.com turns up numerous copies from various
          booksellers, including one for just $20 from:

          http://dogbert.abebooks.com/abe/BookDetails?bi=131974122

          > Thanks Carl for the enlightening essay!

          And thanks for your reply!


          |======================================================================|
          | Carl F. Hostetter Aelfwine@... http://www.elvish.org |
          | |
          | ho bios brachys, he de techne makre. |
          | Ars longa, vita brevis. |
          | The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne. |
          | "I wish life was not so short," he thought. "Languages take |
          | such a time, and so do all the things one wants to know about." |
          |======================================================================|
        • Hans Georg Lundahl <hglundahl@yahoo.se>
          ... Técanye: Depends on what Hell means, linguistically speaking: are we talking about a place of Punishment and eternal damnation? Like Hebrew Gehenna or the
          Message 4 of 4 , Jan 31, 2003
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            In message 5, "Pavel Iosad" <pavel_iosad@m...> wrote:

            > may it be noted that the realm of _Annwfn_ as portrayed in _Pwyll
            > Pendefig Dyfed_ is of no association to 'hell' at all.

            Tence sinanna Aelfwine:

            > True enough. But 1) later associations often are quite altered from
            > the primitive/formative semantics indicated by etymology; and 2) Tolkien
            > did not reject Jones's derivation. What the Welsh made of the word/name they
            > inherited as _Annw(f)n_ has no necessary bearing on what the word's
            > antecedents originally meant.

            ----

            Técanye:

            Depends on what Hell means, linguistically speaking: are we talking
            about a place of Punishment and eternal damnation? Like Hebrew
            Gehenna or the Pagan Greek/Latin concept of Tartarus? Then, clearly,
            Annwfn of Mabinogion is not portrayed as Hell in that sense.

            Or are we talking about the place of departed souls in the
            Netherworld, to whom Heaven is not open, as yet, or wasn't until a
            moment ago, as when we say of Christ:

            descendit ad inferos...
            He descended to Hell...

            where the Greek would certainly not be Tartarus, but Hades, and the
            Hebrew would be Sheol? In that sense Annwfn meant Hell even to Pagan
            Celts, though their guess of its characteristics might not be the best
            one. At least if the scholars on Celtic mythology are correct in
            identifying Elflands of all sorts with Netherworlds, Lands of the
            Dead, whether the text states so or not. If they were wrong, it was
            on their wrong guess that Jones and Tolkien based theirs.

            Hans Georg Lundahl
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