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Saturday, September 4 • 9:00am - 9:30am
More than just a red beard: Farmer Giles’s Neronian links

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Among the scholarly jokes made by J.R.R.Tolkien in 'Farmer Giles of Ham', one has been overlooked. Among the eponymous hero’s Latin names is that of ‘Ahenobarbus’, meaning ‘red (or bronze) beard’. As well as an actual description of his beard, it is also the cognomen, or hereditary family nickname, of a branch of the Domitii, an aristocratic family of ancient Rome. One member is well known. Born in 37 AD, Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus would later become better known as Nero (r. 54-68 AD), the fifth Emperor of Rome, with a particular reputation for tyranny and depravity. 

The talk explores the possibilities of why Tolkien particularly chose that name for Giles, building another layer below the obvious one in the story. One is that it is both a tongue in cheek and a serious contrast of Giles and Nero, particularly as monarchs. Second, I believe there to be a particular personal element to this, based on a friendship that began in school, a story, and a related poem and a parody of it.

avatar for Murray Smith

Murray Smith

Murray Smith was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland. A fan of Tolkien and his works since the age of twelve − when he began reading a copy of The Hobbit, found when moving house with his family − he joined the Tolkien Society in 2002. A member of the Bar of Ireland since 1999... Read More →

Saturday September 4, 2021 9:00am - 9:30am BST
1 - Mary Ogilvie Lecture Theatre & Online (Webinar Strand)