Friday, May 13, 2016

7 Deadly Sins of Middle-earth

While reading the Divine Comedy, I was inspired to find where each of the Seven Deadly Sins are present in Middle-earth.  Examples are from The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings.  This is part one, which covers the sins of lust, gluttony, and greed.  Hopefully part two will be up tomorrow, covering sloth, wrath, envy and pride.  But don't despair after reading those two parts, because after that come the Seven Lively Virtues, hopefully published on Sunday and Monday.  I definitely didn't get every example in this post, so if you found some I missed, please let me know in the comments.

Starting at the top of the cone of Hell, we have lust.  There are multiple examples of this sin throughout Middle-earth, though not very detailed.  From The Lord of the Rings, we have Wormtongue:
"'How long is it since Saruman bought you?  What was the promised price?  When all the men were dead, you were to pick your share of the treasure, and take the woman you desire?  Too long have you watched her under your eyelids and haunted her steps.'  Eomer grasped his sword.  'That I knew already,' he muttered.  'For that reason I would have slain him before, forgetting the law of the hall.  But there are other reasons.'  He stepped forward, but Gandalf stayed him with his hand.  'Eowyn is safe now...'"  (The Lord of the Rings 506)
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 Wormtongue's lust for Eowyn in part brought about his downfall.  Perhaps the most infamous examples of lust, however, come from the much darker of Tolkien's works--The Silmarillion.  The first example comes from Eol, the Dark Elf of Nan Elmoth.
"And it came to pass that he [Eol] saw Aredhel Ar-Feiniel as she strayed among the tall trees near the borders of Nan Elmoth, a gleam of white in the dim land.  Very fair she seemed to him, and he desired her; and he set his enchantments about her so that she could not find the ways out, but drew ever nearer to his dwelling in the depths of the wood.  There were his smithy, and his dim halls, and such servants as he had, silent and secret as their master.  And when Aredhel, weary with wandering, came at last to his doors, he revealed himself; and he welcomed her, and led her into his house.  And there she remained; for Eol took her to wife, and it was long ere any of her kin heard of her again."  (Silmarillion 133)
Eol's pursuit of "those who love you no more" leads to his own downfall, "then they cast Eol over the Caragdur, and so he ended, and to all in Gondolin it seemed just...".  The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, and Maeglin, the product of this lustful union also struggles with this deadly sin.  He lusts after his own cousin to the point where he is willing to betray his own king and uncle to Morgoth.  His lust is the most infamous in the history of the Elder Days, and causes the downfall of the best of the Elven kingdoms and countless deaths:
"For from his first days in Gondolin he had borne a grief, ever worsening, that robbed him of all joy: he loved the beauty of Idril and desired her, without hope. The Eldar wedded not with kin so near, nor ever before had any desired to do so.  And however that might be, Idril loved Maeglin not at all; and knowing his thought of her she loved him the less.  For it seemed to her a thing strange and crooked in him, as indeed the Eldar ever since have deemed it: an evil fruit of the Kinslaying, whereby the shadow of the curse of Mandos fell upon the last hope of the Noldor.  But as the years passed still Maeglin watched Idril, and waited, and his love turned to darkness in his heart,  And he sought the more to have his will in other matters, shirking no toil or burden, if he might thereby have power.  Thus it was in Gondolin; and amid all the bliss of that realm, while its glory lasted, a dark seed of evil was sown...and indeed desire for Idril and hatred for Tuor led Maeglin the easier to his treachery..."  (Silmarillion 139, 242)
Maeglin and Idril from

This is one of the best descriptions of lust in this work.  Tolkien acknowledges that sometimes attraction happens without the will of either party ("he loved the beauty of Idril and desired her, without hope"), but only becomes a sin when "his love to turned to darkness in his heart" and he dwelt upon it until he finally could not bear it and acted upon his lust.

A sure sign that Maeglin has gone astray through this act--if you weren't already convinced--is the fat that is is similar to Morgoth in this regard.  Tolkien reserves some of his strongest language when discussing Morgoth's lust for Luthien:
"Then Morgoth looking upon her beauty conceived in his thought an evil lust, and a design more dark than any that had yet come into his heart since he fled from Valinor.  Thus he was beguiled by his own malice, for he watched him leaving her free for a while, and taking secret pleasure in his thought." (Silmarillion 180)
I will have to agree with Tolkien once again: this is one of the darkest acts of Morgoth.  The treason, the murder, even the corruption I can handle, but this?  This is so twisted and sick I feel uncomfortable just reading it.  Yet Morgoth was indeed "beguiled by his own malice" and the Silmaril is successfully taken from him.

Interestingly enough, Dante places lust at the top of Hell as the least of the deadly sins (yet a deadly sin it remains).  Tolkien here says it is "more dark than any [thought]".  Is this contradictory, or is there another way that these could be interpreted?  It is unclear.

According to Dante, gluttony is the second deadly sin.  Gluttony is not necessarily limited to excessive consumption of food, but can relate to any concupiscent desire.  Interestingly enough, many of the characters we might say have a particular inclination to food or are "fat" are good characters!  Certainly the Hobbits, the Dwarves, and other characters such as Tom Bombadil are described as being rotund.  It could be argued that this love of food is positive, but the case could also be made that it is an unhealthy trait.  In the end, this is left relatively ambiguous.

One case of gluttony completely unambiguous, however, is Ungoliant, the she-spider from The Silmarillion.  Here's what Tolkien has to say about her:
"But she had disowned her Master, desiring to be mistress of her own lust*, taking all things to herself to feed her emptiness...for she hungered for light and hated it." (Silmarillion 73)
Melkor and Ungoliant from
 Once again the deadly sin is represented very well.  The bottom line is that everyone who suffers from gluttony is acting upon a good desire planted in their heart, but they try and satisfy it with things that just aren't going to cut it.  Food is not going to give you the satisfaction you can only gain from love, and when you try and replace one or the other, you will end up in dire straits.

While there are not many examples of gluttony in Middle-earth, there are a plethora of cases of greed.  Probably the most notorious of these is Feanor, whose greed for the Silmarils cost his people a lot of hardship:
"For Feanor began to love the Silmarils with a greedy love, and grudged the sight of them to all save to his father and his seven sons; he seldom remembered now that the light within them was not his own."  (Silmarillion 69)
I have this passage underlined in my copy of the Silmarillion because I find it so insightful.  The point is that greed is essentially fooling yourself because even if you gathered up all the treasure in the world and piled it up, it would still not be yours--"the light within them was not his own" and the things of this world will not be ours.

Thingol also has his share of greed:
""'I sell not to Elves or Men those whom I love and cherish above all treasure.  And if there were hope or fear that Beren should come ever back alive to Menegroth, he should not have looked again upon the light of heaven, though I had sworn it.'  And Luthien was silent, and from that hour she sang not again in Doriath." (Silmarillion 168)
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Even though he knows that Luthien and Beren are in love, he refuses them their joy because he is possessive and greedy over his daughter.  It turns from love (wanting the best for his daughter) to possessiveness (denying her to anyone else).

Thingol's greed just gets worse from there and escalates to the point where it causes his downfall:
"For as the years passed Thingol's thought turned unceasingly to the jewel of Feanor, and became bound to it, and he liked not to let it rest even behind the doors of his inmost treasury; and he was minded now to bear it with him always, waking and sleeping." (Silmarillion 232)
Thingol hires the Dwarves to craft the Silmaril into a necklace for him, and they too are consumed by greed:
"Then the Dwarves looked upon the work of their fathers, and they beheld with wonder the shining jewel of Feanor; and they were filled with a great lust to possess them, and carry them off to their far homes in the mountains...then the lust* of the Dwarves was kindled to rage..." (Silmarillion 232, 233) 
In the end, both parties are the worse for their greed: their kindreds fight constantly, Doriath falls, and the Dwarves are no longer trusted by the Elves, and vice versa.

In The Hobbit, Smaug is--typical to dragons--completely greedy.  Bilbo finds him:
"Beneath him, under all his limbs and his huge coiled tail, and about him on all sides stretching away across the unseen floors, lay countless piles of precious things, gold wrought and unwrought, gems and jewels, and silver red-stained in the ruddy light. Smaug lay, with wings folded like an immeasurable bat, turned partly on one side, so that the hobbit could see his underparts and his long pale belly crusted with gems and fragments of gold from his long lying on his costly bed." (Hobbit 215)
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 If Smaug had not been such a greedy little dragon, the Dwaves would not have sought vengeance upon him and he could have gone on living his life.  Similarly, Thorin catches the dragon sickness which causes him to deny the people of Laketown their due, and subsequently causes the battle which leads to his own death.
"'Farewell, good thief,' he said.  'I go now to the halls of waiting to sit beside my fathers, until the world is renewed.  Since I leave now all gold and silver, and go where it is of little worth, I wish to part in friendship from you, and I would take back my words and deeds at the Gate.'" (Hobbit 290)
Here, Thorin understands that the gold and silver are of little worth, and repents of his greed.

Shagrat and Gorbag fight over Frodo's clothes in The Return of the King.  They are both greedy to take his possessions, and because of this (and the Ring) they are caught off guard by Samwise:
"'Tell Captain Shagrat that the great Elf-warrior has called, with his elf-sword too!'" (Return of the King 198)
What other examples of the Deadly Sins can you find in Middle-earth?  Make sure to check back here tomorrow to read about the other four Sins.

*In the archaic use of the word lust, used in much of medieval literature, "lust" is not specific only to sexual lust, but just indicates any kind of greed or disordered desire.  Luxury was the word the medievals used to convey what we mean today when we say lust.  When Tolkien says "lust" he seems to intend it in the medieval sense.

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