Origin of "Sauron"
- On 4/9/2011 5:33 PM, Jason Fisher wrote:
> The theological discussion has been fascinating, but as I am completely
> unqualified to add anything there, I thought I would add a philological
> observation, which is more my bailiwick ...
> > He pounds the equation of Morgoth with Lucifer into the ground,
> > and then uses folk etymology - rather than, like, their evil deeds - to
> > prove Sauron, Saruman, and Wormtongue are Satanic too.
> > (Sauron = sauros = lizard = snake = Satanic symbol, and
> > Saruman has _the same four letters_! Apparently he means this
> > seriously.)
> It's a shame Pearce didn't remember Tolkien's own explicit disavowal of
> that very etymology:
> "To take a frequent case: there is no linguistic connexion, and
> therefore no connexion in significance, between /Sauron/ a contemporary
> form of an older /*θaurond- /derivative of an adjectival /*θaurā/ (from
> a base √THAW) 'detestable', and the Greek σαύρα 'a lizard'." (Draft to
> Mr. Rang, /Letters/, #297)
> Yes, all too frequent a case. Edmund Wilson, Mr. Rang, and now Joseph
> Pearce. It appears we need some kind of FAQ: "Middle-earth is /not/
> Jurassic Park".
> PS. Sorry if the Greek letters don't come through. The Latin
> transliteration of σαύρα would be /saúra/.
In my non-academic opinion, many of Tolkien's disavowals of what others
have "found" in his work ring somewhat hollow. His tone sometimes
suggests, to me if to nobody else, annoyance that anyone would dare
dissect his creativity (or worse, would "discover" an etymology before
he had gotten around to inventing the "correct" one). The name of Sauron
is one of these cases.
First, Tolkien's familiarity with Greek is well documented, even apart
from the circumstantial evidence of his Oxford education in philology.
It is difficult to believe that he would have formed the name "Sauron"
without, at the very least, recognizing that others would see a
connection between it and the Greek word σαύρος/σαύρα (sauros/saura).
Second, dinosaurs were already part of popular culture before Tolkien
began writing. The great "Bone War" between Cope and Marsh ended when
JRRT was a very young boy, in 1897. By that year, the search for these
bigger than life creatures was worldwide. The Nazguls' flying beasts are
described in terms that would readily fit a pterosaur ("wing-lizard"). I
am under the impression that Tolkien referred to them as "prehistoric"
in one of his letters, but can't put my finger on it.
Third, Sauron is referred to on more than one occasion as "The Lidless
Eye". This is a characteristic associated with reptiles, although often
incorrectly. However, it is ambiguous as evidence, because most (if not
all?) lizards have eyelids. Snakes' eyes, on the other hand, are lidless.
For what little it may be worth.
I think your objection to Pearce, in that he did not mention Tolkien's
disavowal of something he (Pearce) stated as a fact, is on target. My
own focus -- which is why I early on changed the Subject line to remove
Pearce -- was on whether or not Tolkien's disavowal was definitive.