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Amarant(h) and _alfirin_

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  • Carl F. Hostetter
    While reading Paradise Lost recently, I was struck by the name _amarant_ (III, 353): Immortal amarant, a flower which once In paradise, fast by the tree of
    Message 1 of 8 , Dec 18, 2007
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      While reading "Paradise Lost" recently, I was struck by the name
      _amarant_ (III, 353):

      "Immortal amarant, a flower which once
      In paradise, fast by the tree of life,
      Began to bloom; but soon for man's offence
      To heaven removed, where first it grew, there grows,
      And flowers aloft, shading the fount of life,
      And where the river of bliss through midst of heaven
      Rolls o'er elysian flowers her amber stream:
      With these that never fade the spirits elect
      Bind their resplendent locks."

      It also occurs in "Aesop's Fables":

      "A Rose and an Amaranth blossomed side by side in a garden,
      and the Amaranth said to her neighbour,
      'How I envy you your beauty and your sweet scent!
      No wonder you are such a universal favourite.'
      But the Rose replied with a shade of sadness in her voice,
      'Ah, my dear friend, I bloom but for a time:
      my petals soon wither and fall, and then I die.
      But your flowers never fade, even if they are cut;
      for they are everlasting.'"

      The name ultimately derives from Greek _amarantos_ meaning
      'everlasting' from _a-_ 'not' + _marainein_ 'wither'.

      This reminded me of the Sindarin flower-name _alfirin_ (LR:875), which
      (according to one etymology given by Tolkien) has a very similar
      meaning: _al-_ 'not' + _firin_ 'mortal' (see PE17:101), hence
      'immortal'.

      In _The Lord of the Rings_ _alfirin_ is described as having "golden
      bells". In "Cirion and Eorl", however, it is equated with the
      _simbelmyne_, a perennial that grows on burial mounds, and described
      as a "white flower" (UT:303, 316n.38). The amaranth (Genus Amaranthus)
      (so far as I've been able to determine) has flowers ranging in color
      over red, purple, pink and white (so the equation is apparently not
      exact). I'm no botanist, but given the poetic associations cited
      above, I wonder whether Tolkien might have had the amarant(h) in mind
      when coining the name _alfirin_?

      It is also interesting to note that the name "Amaranth" occurs as the
      name of a daughter of Gorbadoc Brandybuck (App. C, LR:[1104]).

      Carl
    • Jason Fisher
      Interesting find, Carl. Your suggestion seems plausible to me. ... Pliny described the flower in his Naturalis Historiae, a work Tolkien might have been
      Message 2 of 8 , Dec 19, 2007
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        Interesting find, Carl. Your suggestion seems plausible to me.

        > The amaranth (Genus Amaranthus) (so far as I've been
        > able to determine) has flowers ranging in color over red,
        > purple, pink and white (so the equation is apparently not
        > exact). I'm no botanist, but given the poetic associations
        > cited above, I wonder whether Tolkien might have had
        > the amarant(h) in mind when coining the name _alfirin_?

        Pliny described the flower in his Naturalis Historiae, a work Tolkien might have been attracted to during his study of Classics (for what it has to say about the Goths if nothing else). In Book XX1, ¶23, he describes it thus (I won't give it to you in Latin ;):

        "There is no doubt that all the efforts of art are surpassed by the amaranth, which is, to speak correctly, rather a purple ear than a flower, and, at the same time, quite inodorous. It is a marvellous feature in this plant, that it takes a delight in being gathered; indeed, the more it is plucked, the better it grows. It comes into flower in the month of August, and lasts through the autumn. The finest of all is the amaranth of Alexandria, which is generally gathered for keeping; for it is a really marvellous fact, that when all the other flowers have gone out, the amaranth, upon being dipped in water, comes to life again: it is used also for making of winter chaplets. The peculiar quality of the amaranth is sufficiently indicated by its name, it having been so called from the circumstance that it never fades." (translation from Bostock and Riley, The Natural History of Pliny, Vol. IV, London: Henry G. Bohn, 1861, p.327).

        > It is also interesting to note that the name "Amaranth"
        > occurs as the name of a daughter of Gorbadoc Brandybuck
        > (App. C, LR:[1104]).

        Speaking of toponyms, Amarant is a giant killed by Sir Guy on a pilgrimage to the Holy Lands in the late medieval ballad, "Guy and Amarant" (Percy Folio MS). The literary character of Sir Guy in the three poems of the Percy Folio goes back to the romance Sir Guy of Warwick, connecting him to the West Midlands Tolkien so loved. "Guy and Amarant" is a pretty entertaining poem, by the way, reminding me a little of Sam's Troll poem, whose obstreperous antagonist might also be called an "infe[r]nall, false, obdurat feend" (l.133).

        Jason
      • Jason Fisher
        Correction: XX1 XXI. Now how did *that* happen? :)
        Message 3 of 8 , Dec 19, 2007
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          Correction: XX1 > XXI. Now how did *that* happen? :)
        • William Cloud Hicklin
          The only problem here is that (speaking not as a botanist, but at least as a gardener), that natural flowers in a genus either possess the
          Message 4 of 8 , Dec 19, 2007
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            The only problem here is that (speaking not as a
            botanist, but at least as a gardener), that
            natural flowers in a genus either possess the
            'blue/lavendar/purple' gene, or they don't. This
            is apparently mutually exclusive with the yellw/
            buff/gold gene. A given genus may run white-pink-
            lavendar-magenta-blue-purple, and another one may
            run white-cream-yellow-orange-scarlet, but never
            the twain shall meet except in heavily hybridized
            flowers like roses or tulips (and even there true
            blue doesn't exist).

            So I can't see a golden-yellow amaranth.
          • juliet@firinn.org
            ... So, this is quite off-topic, but what about cosmos? I ve had seeds for the orange/yellow type and for the red/purplish-pink/white type. As far as I know,
            Message 5 of 8 , Dec 19, 2007
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              On Wed, Dec 19, 2007 at 06:17:56PM -0000, William Cloud Hicklin wrote:
              > The only problem here is that (speaking not as a
              > botanist, but at least as a gardener), that
              > natural flowers in a genus either possess the
              > 'blue/lavendar/purple' gene, or they don't. This
              > is apparently mutually exclusive with the yellw/
              > buff/gold gene. A given genus may run white-pink-
              > lavendar-magenta-blue-purple, and another one may
              > run white-cream-yellow-orange-scarlet, but never
              > the twain shall meet except in heavily hybridized
              > flowers like roses or tulips (and even there true
              > blue doesn't exist).
              >
              > So I can't see a golden-yellow amaranth.

              So, this is quite off-topic, but what about cosmos?
              I've had seeds for the orange/yellow type and for the
              red/purplish-pink/white type. As far as I know, they're
              in the same genus (Cosmos sulphureus and Cosmos bipinnatus)
              and they're both very common and open-pollinated.

              Julie
            • Carl F. Hostetter
              ... Oh, I agree. I wasn t really trying to suggest that _alfirin_ = amaranth, since as I noted the colors aren t right (though Tolkien himself is apparently
              Message 6 of 8 , Dec 19, 2007
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                --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, "William Cloud Hicklin" <solicitr@...> wrote:
                >
                > The only problem here is that (speaking not as a
                > botanist, but at least as a gardener), that
                > natural flowers in a genus either possess the
                > 'blue/lavendar/purple' gene, or they don't.

                Oh, I agree. I wasn't really trying to suggest that _alfirin_ = amaranth,
                since as I noted the colors aren't right (though Tolkien himself is
                apparently inconsistent about the color of this flower, which is gold --
                and bell-shaped -- in one place, white in another). I was more
                intrigued by 1) the meaning of the name _amraranth_ 'un-withering'
                and 2) its poetic associations with mortality and immortality in Milton
                and Aesop.

                Carl
              • Lynn Maudlin
                I love it! Thanks, Carl-- ... mind ... the
                Message 7 of 8 , Dec 19, 2007
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                  I love it! Thanks, Carl--

                  --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, "Carl F. Hostetter" <Aelfwine@...>
                  wrote:
                  >
                  > While reading "Paradise Lost" recently...


                  > I'm no botanist, but given the poetic associations cited
                  > above, I wonder whether Tolkien might have had the amarant(h) in
                  mind
                  > when coining the name _alfirin_?
                  >
                  > It is also interesting to note that the name "Amaranth" occurs as
                  the
                  > name of a daughter of Gorbadoc Brandybuck (App. C, LR:[1104]).
                  >
                  > Carl
                  >
                • "Beregond, Anders Stenstr√∂m"
                  ... My impression is similar to what is stated by the _Online ... That is, the application to real-world plants is secondary. I do not know where, but I think
                  Message 8 of 8 , Dec 19, 2007
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                    Carl F. Hostetter wrote:

                    > Oh, I agree. I wasn't really trying to suggest that _alfirin_ = amaranth,
                    > since as I noted the colors aren't right (though Tolkien himself is
                    > apparently inconsistent about the color of this flower, which is gold --
                    > and bell-shaped -- in one place, white in another). I was more
                    > intrigued by 1) the meaning of the name _amraranth_ 'un-withering'
                    > and 2) its poetic associations with mortality and immortality in Milton
                    > and Aesop.

                    My impression is similar to what is stated by the _Online
                    Etymology Dictionary_:

                    > . . . from Gk. amarantos, lit. "everlasting," from a- "not" + stem of
                    > marainein "die away." In classical use, a poet's word for an imaginary
                    > flower that never fades. It was applied to a genus of ornamental plants
                    > 1551.

                    That is, the application to real-world plants is secondary.

                    I do not know where, but I think that some thirty years ago I
                    saw a reference to amaranth growing in the elysian fields along
                    with the more often mentioned asphodel, which always was also a
                    real-world plant. Asphodels are white or yellow; so _mallos_ might
                    possibly be an idealized asphodel that combines these colours, and
                    a fit companion to the amaranthine _alfirin_.

                    Chivalrously,

                    Beregond
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