A Elbereth Gilthoniel

This hymn is the longest Sindarin text in LotR, found near the end of the chapter "Many meetings" (LotR1/II ch. 1). The hobbits are in the house of Elrond and leave the Hall of Fire: "Even as they stepped over the threshold a single clear voice rose in song... [Frodo] stood still enchanted, while the sweet syllables of the elvish song fell like clear jewels of blended word and melody. 'It is a song to Elbereth,' said Bilbo. 'They will sing that, and other songs of the Blessed Realm, many times tonight.' " In Letters:278, Tolkien calls it a "hymn-fragment", suggesting that what we have is only one stanza of many.
          The hymn is nowhere translated in LotR, except for the words galadhremmin Ennorath that are interpreted "tree-woven lands of Middle-earth" in the second footnote in Appendix E. However, Tolkien provided a translation of this song in RGEO:72, followed by some illuminating comments. This is the main source for this article.

The hymn to Elbereth (that in RGEO:70 has a Tengwar superscript Aerlinn in Edhil o Imladris, *"Hymn of the Elves of Rivendell"):

          A Elbereth Gilthoniel,
          O Elbereth Star-kindler
          silivren penna míriel
          (white) glittering slants down sparkling like jewels
          o menel aglar elenath!
          from [the] firmament [the] glory [of] the star-host!
          Na-chaered palan-díriel
          To-remote distance far-having gazed
          o galadhremmin ennorath,
          from [the] tree-tangled middle-lands,
          Fanuilos, le linnathon
          Fanuilos, to thee I will chant
          nef aear, sí nef aearon!
          on this side of ocean, here on this side of the Great Ocean!

In RGEO, Tolkien compared this hymn to the invocation uttered by Sam "speaking in tongues" in Cirith Ungol (LotR2/IV ch. 10: "then his tongue was loosed and his voice cried in a language which he did not know"...). We follow his example and will analyze this short utterance here as well. Notes Tolkien in Letters:278, "Though it is, of course, in the style and metre of the hymn-fragment [A Elbereth Gilthoniel], I think it is composed or inspired for his [Sam's] particular situation".

          A Elbereth Gilthoniel o menel palan-diriel, le nallon
          O Elbereth Starkindler from firmanent gazing afar, to thee I cry
          sí di-nguruthos! A tiro nin, Fanuilos!
          here beneath death-horror! O look towards me, Everwhite!

Tolkien's own translation of these texts (rather free and florid):
          [The hymn:] "O! Elbereth who lit the stars, from glittering crystal slanting falls with light like jewels from heaven on high the glory of the starry host. To lands remote I have looked afar, and now to thee, Fanuilos, bright spirit clothed in ever-white, I here will sing beyond the Sea, beyond the wide and sundering Sea."
          [Sam's invocation:] "O! Queen who kindled star on star, white-robed from heaven gazing far, here overwhelmed in dread of Death I cry: O guard me, Elbereth!" Another translation, more literal, is given in Letters:278: "O Elbereth Starkindler from heaven gazing-afar, to thee I cry now in the shadow of (the fear of) death. O look towards me, Everwhite."


Superscript: Aerlinn in Edhil o Imladris. Nowhere translated by Tolkien, but evidently meaning "Holy song (hymn) of the Elves of Rivendell". Aerlinn is transparently an element aer *"holy" + lind "tune, *song", that may appear as -linn in a compound (but *aerlind would also have been possible). in "the", plural. Edhil "Elves" (sg. Edhel). The phrase in Edhil is to be understood as a genitive, "of the Elves". It is not marked as a genitive by means of any ending or prefix, but simply by its position following another noun, aerlinn. (In the singular, Sindarin has a special "genitival" article, e or en "of the", but in the plural in is used whether the noun is a genitive or not.) o "of, from", Imladris "Rivendell". In RGEO:72, Tolkien notes that the language of this hymn is "Sindarin, but of a variety used by the High Elves (of whose kind were most of the Elves in Rivendell), marked in high style and verse by the influence of Quenya, which had been originally their normal tongue". As examples of Quenya borrowings he lists the words menel, palan- and le (see below); we may add one more: The aer *"holy" of aerlinn is may be a Sindarized form of Quenya aira, airë, for these Quenya words come from a stem GAYA (PM:363) that would not have lost its initial G in Sindarin if aer had been an inherited word. However, another possible interpretation of this element is that it comes from aear "sea", hence aerlinn = *"sea-song", since the Elves sometimes went on pilgrimages to Emyn Beraid, close to the ocean. It may even be that the word is deliberately ambiguous.

The hymn: A "o", here evidently used as a vocative particle. Elbereth the normal Sindarin name of Varda. The element el- means "star", while bereth according to RGEO:74 means "spouse", used of the spouse of a king, hence coming to mean "queen". Varda is both the Queen of the Valar and the spouse of Manwë; in Letters:282 Elbereth is translated "Star-lady". Why is bereth is not lenited to *vereth in Elbereth, though the second element in a compound would normally be lenited? Tolkien addressed this question in MR:387: It is because the element el- "star" was originally elen, as in Quenya, and so we have older Elenbarathi yielding Elmbereth, simplified to Elbereth, older lmb becoming lb instead of lv. Note that the word Elbereth is not directly related to Quenya Varda "Lofty, Sublime" (the Quenya form of Elbereth would have been something like *Elenvarsi, while the Sindarin cognate of Varda would have been *Baradh or possibly *Bradh, but there is no evidence that these forms were in use as names of the Starqueen). Gilthoniel "Star-kindler": Gil "bright spark, star" (as in Gil-galad "Star of Radiance") + thoniel "kindler". In MR:388, the latter element is said to come from a stem than, thân "kindle, set light to" + iel "a feminine suffix corresponding to male -we". (Sindarin th cannot undergo any lenition and is therefore unchanged when gil- is prefixed.) In Letters:278, Gilthoniel is translated "Starkindler", but Tolkien added a note: "in the past tense: the title belongs to mythical pre-history and does not refer to a permanent function". So somehow thoniel is marked as past tense "one having kindled" instead of "one who is kindling (now)". If we see it as a participle, displaying the same ending as in palan-díriel "having gazed far" later in the hymn (as opposed to present tense palan-diriel "gazing far" in Sam's invocation), it should have a long vowel in the past tense. Since the stem is given as than-, thân- in MR:388, not *thon-, we are evidently to understand that long á (â) became o (via au). Many parallels show this to be the case; for instance, Sindarin Anor "Sun" comes from anâr- (LR:378, stem ANÁR). silivren "glittering (white)". The -ren part is an adjectival ending, while siliv- is a Sindarized form of Quenya silima, Fëanor's name for the special crystalline substance that he devised, using it to make the Silmarils. Tolkien noted that the word silivren "would recall to Elvish minds the silmarils and describe the stars as crystalline forms shining from within with a light of mysterious power" (RGEO:73). Here, silivren is apparently used adverbially, describing how "the glory of the star-host" (see below) is 'slanting down'. penna a verb "slants", here with the ending -a that A-stem verbs show in the present tense. It must be derived from a nasal-infixed form of the stem PED "slope, slant down" (WJ:375). The subject of this verb seems to be aglar elenath "the glory of the star-host"; see below. míriel adj. "sparkling like jewels" (compare mîr "jewel", Quenya mírë). Míriel looks almost like a participle, but for various reasons it must rather be taken as an adjective (with a long vowel it should have meant "having sparkled like jewels" if it were a participle, but this is clearly not the meaning, so we must rather assume that it simply preserves the long vowel of mîr). Here, míriel (like silivren) is used adverbially, describing how "the glory of the star-host" (see below) is 'slanting down'. o "from"; menel "firmament, high heaven, the region of the stars" (according to RGEO:72 a borrowing from Quenya). aglar "glory", elenath "(the) star-host", "(all) the (visible) stars of the firmament". In WJ:363, Tolkien states: "êl, pl. elin, class plural elenath. An archaic word for 'star', little used except in verse, apart from the form elenath 'all the host of the stars of heaven'." In RGEO:74-75, Tolkien explains that the ending -ath "was used as a group plural, embracing all things of the same name, or those associated in some special arrangement or organization" (RGEO:74-75). The whole phrase aglar elenath "(the) glory (of the) star-host" is an example of the Sindarin "genitival" construction that simply involves the juxtaposition of two nouns, the possessed followed by the possessor: "(the) glory (of the) star-host". Cf. aerlinn in Edhil "hymn (of) the Elves" in the superscript; cf. also the inscription on the gate of Moria: Ennyn Durin Aran Moria "Doors (of) Durin King (of) Moria". Na-chaered "to a remote distance": na- "to" + *haered "remote distance" (compare the Quenya adjective haira "remote, far"); *haered is lenited to chaered following the prepositional element na-. palan-díriel "having gazed far": palan- "afar, abroad, far and wide", an element borrowed from Quenya (occurring in palantír, "that which watches from afar"); -díriel lenited form of tíriel "gazing, watching", participle of tir- "watch". It is lenited as the second part of a compound. According to Tolkien, palan-díriel with a long stem-vowel (í) means "having gazed far away" (in the past), while palan-diriel as in Sam's invocation, with a short i, means "gazing away" (now). The distinction is past vs. present. - The stem tir- "watch" is of course the same as in Quenya palantír. Indeed the whole phrase palan-díriel is intended to suggest "having looked into a palantír", since this is a hymn sung by Elves that had been on a "pilgrimage" to the Emyn Beraid to look towards the Blessed Realm using the Seeing Stone there. - One may ask why the final n in palan, when prefixed to tíriel, does not cause nasal-mutation - sc. n + t becoming th, as when the underlying phrase *in tiw "the runes" manifests as i thiw in the Moria gate inscription. Instead of nasal mutation, the t of tíriel undergoes lenition (soft mutation) to become d, producing palan-díriel. Tolkien addresses this question in Letters:427: "palan-tîriel should phonetically > -thíriel...but grammatically before actual forms of verbs, the soft mutation only was normally used in later S[indarin], to avoid the confusion with other verb stems". o "from". galadhremmin "tree-tangled": galadh "tree" + remmin "tangled". This is an adjective derived from rem "mesh"; see the second footnote in Appendix E to LotR. Remmin is the plural form of this adjective; the singular form would be *remmen. It is pl. to agree with ennorath, translated "middle-lands" in RGEO:72. Actually it is Ennor "Middle-earth" (*en- "middle" + nor "land"; Quenya Endor, Endórë) with the collective ending -ath as in elenath above, hence referring to the different lands of Middle-earth as a group. Fanuilos is translated "Ever-white". There are three elements: Fân, fan- means "veil", but also connotes the Quenya cognate fana, used of the physical shapes that the Valar put on when presenting themselves in visible form. Ui means "ever", while -los must be a lenited and reduced form of gloss, "snow-white". The whole, Tolkien explains, therefore means "bright (angelic) figure ever white (as snow)" (RGEO:74). A slightly different explanation is given in Letters:278; here the element fan- is also said to mean "white": "Everwhite is an inadequate translation, as is equally...show-white... The element ui (Primitive Elvish oio) means ever; both fan- and los(s) convey white, but fan connotes the whiteness of clouds (in the sun); loss refers to snow." le "to thee", a pronoun borrowed from Quenya (in which language it was probably not a dative form, but rather an accusative and/or nominative; in High-elven, "to thee" would probably be dative *len or allative *lenna). It is possible that le can also be used as an accusative in Sindarin and was originally borrowed as such. linnathon "I will sing": Stem linna- "sing" + the future-tense ending -tha "will" + the ending -n "I", that causes a preceding a to become o. Compare nallon in Sam's invocation below; cf. also linnon *"I sing" in The Lays of Beleriand p. 354. nef is a preposition "on this side of". It is pronounced nev and is so spelt in Tengwar writing, but Tolkien had a strange horror of final orthographic v's, so when writing Sindarin with our letters he used the letter f instead, as in English of ("ov"). The "correct" spelling is used when v is not final, as in the name Nevrast "Hither Shore" in the Silmarillion. aear "ocean, sea" (Quenya ëar as in Eärendil). In Tolkien's later conception, aear must be seen as a lenited form of gaear, lenited because it follows the preposition nef (just like *haered is lenited to chaered following na). But the evidence is that when Tolkien originally wrote the hymn, he thought of aear as a complete word, not as gaear with the normal lenition G > zero. In the Etymologies, the word for "sea" had been oear, derived from a stem AYAR/AIR. Tolkien later revised the sound-changes so that this would become aear instead. But in an essay dating from about 1960, Tolkien derived the Sindarin word for "sea" from a stem GAYA instead, so now it became gaear (WJ:400). Then he reverted to the stem AYAR yielding Sindarin aear, as is evident from a letter he wrote in 1967 (Letters:386). Then he changed his mind again; in a text written at least one year later, the Sindarin word for "sea" is once again gaear (PM:363), and as far as we know, this was his final decision. (However, I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out that a note with some doodles was found near his deathbed: "AYAR sea; Q ëar, S aear.") "here", nef "on this side of" again, aearon must be seen as a lenited form of gaearon, sc. gaer with what Tolkien calls an augmenting suffix (RGEO:73). If gaer is simply "ocean", gaearon is "Great Ocean" (RGEO:72). Just as in the case of aear, there is little doubt that Tolkien thought of aearon as a complete word in itself, not a lenited form, when he first wrote the hymn. (If we don't see aear, aearon as lenited forms, they must be explained as variants of gaear, gaearon influenced by Quenya ëar.)

Then there is Sam's invocation in Cirith Ungol:
          First sentence: A Elbereth Gilthoniel, o menel palan-diriel, le nallon sí di-nguruthos! "O Elbereth Starkindler, from heaven gazing far, to thee I cry now beneath the shadow of death." A Elbereth Gilthoniel "o Elbereth Starkindler" as in the hymn (the first edition of LotR had o Elbereth instead of a Elbereth; this was an error that Tolkien later corrected, see Letters:278). o "from". menel "firmament" as in the hymn above. palan-diriel "gazing far", same elements as in palan-díriel "having gazed afar" above, but here the stemvowel is not lengthened (i, not í), and this somewhat flimsy device indicates that this participle is present tense "gazing far" instead of past tense "having gazed afar". (Early editions of LotR actually read palan-díriel with a long vowel instead of palan-diriel; this is an error, according to a footnote in RGEO:72.) le "to thee" as in the hymn. nallon "I cry", evidently a verbal stem *nalla- "cry" with the pronominal ending -n "I". For some reason, this ending always causes a preceding -a (for present tense as here, or as part of the future-tense ending -tha) to change to -o, hence "I cry" is nallon rather than **nallan, just like "I will sing" is linnathon rather than **linnathan (see above). Cf. also linnon *"I sing" in The Lays of Beleriand p. 354, stem *linna-. "here", as in the hymn; also translated "now" (Quenya "now"). di-nguruthos "beneath death-horror". So it is spelt in RGEO:72; LotR has di'nguruthos with an apostrophe instead of a hyphen. The "normal" (that is, unmutated) form of -nguruthos would be *guruthos. The first element of this compound is plainly guruth "death" (LR:377, stem ÑGUR). According to the Etymologies, this should mean "death as a state or abstract" rather than "act of dying" (that is gwanw or gwanath), but Sam would be concerned with the possibility of his own "act of dying" rather than death as an abstract, so it seems that guruth here takes on the meaning of gwanw (which, by the way, should rather be *gwanu in LotR-style Sindarin). The final element in *guruthos is evidently the same as in delos "abhorrence", where del- represents the stem DYEL "feel fear and disgust" and the -os part is equated with gos (LR:355), g leniting to zero in the compound. Gos in turn connects with the stem GOS/GOTH "dread", whence Quenya ossë "terror" - which word is also the name of the Maia Ossë, according to the Etymologies. An unused Sindarin cognate of the name Ossë is given as *Goss, so we can conclude that gos, goss means "terror, *horror", giving *guruthos the meaning "death-horror". This is how Tolkien translated it in RGEO:72, while Letters:278 has "the shadow of (the fear of) death"; no word meaning "shadow" is actually present. The prefixed element di' or di- is translated "in" in Letters:278, but the more literal translation in RGEO:72 seems to indicate that it actually means "beneath". This prefixed prepositional element is somehow responsible for the fact that *guruthos here manifests as nguruthos. There are two possibilities. Since guruth comes from a stem ÑGUR, initial ng- reflecting the original initial nasalized stop would appear following closely related particles ending in a vowel, such as the article (*i nguruthos "the death-horror"). There may be a preposition di "beneath" that behaves like the article i "the" in this respect. On the other hand, the preposition may also be *din, and the final n causes nasal mutation of the initial g of *guruthos. Does the ' of di'nguruthos suggest that the final n of *din has disappeared, being swallowed up in the nasal mutation? (If so, a more standard spelling would have been simply *din Guruthos; compare in Gelydh, not i'Ngelydh, for "the Noldor".) Following the apostrophe, we might have expected a space clearly separating the words (*di' nguruthos), but there seems to be no space in the text in LotR.
          Second sentence: A tiro nin, Fanuilos! "O look towards me, Everwhite". A "o", not here used as a vocative particle as in a Elbereth, but rather as a particle emphasizing the following imperative: tiro "look" or "watch": stem tir- with the normal imperative ending -o. According to Letters:427, this imperative in -o covers all persons (no distinct plural form: one Elf cried daro! "halt!" to the entire Fellowship as they were entering Lórien; see LotR1/II ch. 6). Early editions of LotR read tíro with a long í, but according to RGEO:72 this is an error. nin is translated "towards me". The first element of this pronoun is clearly identical to Quenya ni "I"; the final -n could be what remains of the primitive element na "towards" after the loss of the final vowels (cf. the stem 1 in the Etymologies and the na of na-chaered "to remote distance" in the hymn). This would give nin the meaning "I-towards" = "towards me". Fanuilos "Everwhite" again.

Note on the mutations following the preposition o "from, of": As this hymn illustrates, many Sindarin prepositions trigger lenition, also known as "soft mutation", of the following word. *Haered becomes chaered following na, and gaear/gaearon becomes aear/aearon following nef. But what about the preposition o "from, of"?
          In the phrase o Imladris "from Rivendell" in the superscript there is of course no mutation since words beginning in a vowel cannot undergo any such change. But it is remarkable that there is no lenition in the phrases o menel and o galadhremmin ennorath. We might have expected **o venel and **o 'aladhremmin ennorath instead, the words following o being lenited. This does not happen. Why?
          Notes Tolkien in WJ:366-367, "The preposition o [is] the usual word for 'from, of'... As the mutations following the preposition o show, it must prehistorically have ended in -t or -d. Possibly, therefore, it comes from *aud... [The preposition o] is normally o in all positions, though od appears occasionally before vowels, especially before [words beginning in] o-."
          We must assume that before voiced sounds like the m of menel and the g of galadh, the final d of aud was simply assilimated to a similar sound, *aum m- and *aug g- later being simplified to o g- and o m- as in o galadh, o menel. Therefore, words beginning in m or g (and probably other voiced sounds like d, b, l, r, n) are unchanged following the preposition o. But since Tolkien refers to "the mutations following the preposition o" in WJ:366, something interesting sometimes does happen following o. We have no direct examples of what he means, but what we generally know about Sindarin phonology and its evolution suggests that o triggers spirant mutation of nouns beginning in the unvoiced plosives p-, t-, c-. Before a noun like perian "halfling, hobbit", the d of aud would be assimilated to the following p, so that aud became *aup. Then the double p of *aup perian, like all other double p's, became a single spirant ph (= f) in Sindarin. "From (a) hobbit" would therefore probably be *o pherian. Similarly, c and t would become spirants ch and th following the preposition o. (In a poem published in Tyalië Tyelelliéva #11, David Salo translated "from Celos" as o Chelos.)

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