Elves, mortality and philosophy

Discussion in '"The Silmarillion"' started by Gilgaearel, Aug 14, 2018.

  1. Gilgaearel

    Gilgaearel Member

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    How the non ageing and long living ( but not by any means immortal ) Elves perceived the ageing and the morality of the other beings of Middle Earth?
    This is a question that came to my mind several times while I was re reading the Silmarillion.
    Well ... I got the answer to this query recently.
    Exactly as we perceive the life expectancy of our pets. We live ten times longer than the majority of them is expected to live, we know that that they will ( probably ) die before we do so, we see them ageing and we accept this as something inevitable, a part of their nature but not without grieving for their loss.

    But then it came to my mind another question for which I'd like to know your opinion.

    What sort of philosophical system would might be that, that would be able to support spiritually and emotionally beings like Elves, that can't age and die naturally ( but they know that they can be killed) in order to be able to bare not only the vast length of their lives in a world that other beings are born and pass away, but also to deal with the sorrow that this would bring to them accumulatively in time?
     
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  2. Elaini

    Elaini Lost in Eä

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    You're in luck. A few canon sources exist that can give you some definitive answers. One is an excerpt, the other is a fully written story.

    The excerpt is by Legolas in Fellowship of the Ring:

    The story is in Morgoth's Ring of History of Middle-Earth series. It's called Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth and it's a discussion between Finrod and the aging wise woman Andreth, the beloved of Aegnor. It was the first case of an elf falling in love with a human but without fulfillment, so that is why she's feeling bitter.

    It also tells some details about the awakening of Men as a race, which I haven't found anywhere else.

    Here are samples from it:

    Finrod said: 'Other creatures in Middle-Earth we love in their measure and kind: the beasts and birds who are our friends, the trees, and even the fair flowers that pass more swiftly than Men. Their passing we regret; but believe it to be a part of their nature, as much as are their shapes and hues.'
    'But for you, who are our nearer kin, out regret is far greater. Yet, if we consider the briefness of life in all Middle-Earth, must we not believe that your brevity is also part of your nature? Do not your own people believe this too? And yet from your words and their bitterness I guess you think we err.'


    Andreth speaks about an ancient belief that they weren't originally meant to be mortal, but the right was stolen from them by Morgoth. Like he first appeared to Elves he also first appeared to Men with riches, and used bribery to entice some of them while the others wouldn't believe him and left, becoming the three loyal houses.

    'I had heard,' said Andreth, 'that it was to regain your treasure that your Enemy had stolen; but maybe the house of Finarfin is not at one with the sons of Fëanor. Nonetheless for all your valour, I say again: "what know ye of death?" To you it may be in pain, it may be bitter and a loss - but only for a time, a little taken from abundance, unless I have have been told untruth. For ye know that in dying you do not leave the world, and that you may return to life.
    'Otherwise it is with us: dying we die, and we go out to no return. Death is an uttermost end, a loss irremediable. And it is abominable; for it is also a wrong that is done to us.'

    'Finrod said: 'As yet we walk the shadows of fear. Thus far, then, I perceive that the great difference between Elves and Men is in the speed of end. In this only. For if you deem that for the Quendi there is no death ineluctable, you err.'
    'Now none of us know, though the Valar may know, the future of Arda, or how long it is ordained to endure. But it will not endure for ever. It was made by Eru, but He is not in it. The One only has no limits. Arda, and Eä itself, must therefore be bounded. You see us, the Quendi, still in the first ages of our being, and the end is far off. As maybe among you death may seem to a young man in his strength; save that we have long years of life and thought already behind us. But the end will come. That we all know. And then we must die; we must perish utterly, it seems, for we belong to Arda. And beyond that what? "The going out to no return," as you say; "the uttermost end, the irremediable loss"?
    'Our hunter is slow-footed, but he never loses the trail. Beyond the day when he shall blow the mort, we have no certainty, no knowledge. And no one speaks to us about hope.'

    Finrod said: 'Now we Eldar do not deny that ye love Arda and all that is therein (in so far as ye are free from the Shadow) maybe even as greatly as do we. Yet otherwise. Each of our kind perceives Arda differently, and appraises its beauties in different mode and degree.' 'How shall I say it? To me the difference seems like that between one who visits a strange country, and abides there for a while (but need not), and the one who has lived in that land always (and must). To the former all things that he sees are new and strange, and in that degree lovable. To the other all things are familiar, the only things that are, his own, and in that degree precious.'
    'If you mean that Men are guests,' said Andreth.
    'You have said the word,' said Finrod: 'that name we have given to you.'
    'Lordly as ever,' said Andreth. 'But even if we be but guests in a land where all is your own, my lords, as you say, tell me what other land or things do we know?'
    'Nay, tell me!' said Finrod. 'For if you do not know, how can we?'

    Darkness fell in the room. He took her hand in the light of the fire. 'Whither go you?' she said.
    'North away,' he said: 'to the swords, and the siege, and the walls of defence - that yet for a while in Beleriand rivers may run clean, leaves spring, and birds build their nests, ere Night comes.'
    'Will he (Aegnor) be there, bright and tall, and the wind in his hair? Tell him. Tell him not to be reckless! Not to seek danger beyond need!'
    'I will tell him,' said Finrod. 'But I might as well tell thee not to weep. He is a warrior, Andreth, and a spirit of wrath. In every stroke that he deals he sees the Enemy who long ago did thee this hurt.
    'But you are not for Arda. Whither you go you may find light. Await us there, my brother - and me.'

    Finrod had a vision of Arda Remade in which the Eldar and Men could finally live together without the world being marred.

    And in the same book, "Later Quenta Silmarillion":

    Maybe we should think twice whether immortality would be easier than mortality.
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2018

  3. Gilgaearel

    Gilgaearel Member

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    Thank you for the very extended and comprehensive explanation.
    I don't think though that Elves were immortal. I think that they were ageless, they didn't grow old or sick but they weren't immortal.
    As they could be killed/ slain, they would be able to commit suicide too. Or choose to make their spirits abandon their bodies.
    What kept them going on until their spirits consumed them? They could simply " shut their bodies down" ( like Finwe's wife) go to the Halls of Mandos and decide not to reincarnate in their bodies again. The final result would be the same and they wouldn't get weary from the accumulative sadness of seeing everything around them getting old and die and they would be spirits without having to endure that consuming phase of their bodies from their spirits.
     
  4. Elaini

    Elaini Lost in Eä

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    Depends what you count as mortality and immortality. There's an afterlife in Tolkien's works, so there's no annihilation there for either Elves of Men... in what we might call death, both actually rather transform, but somehow both keep existing. The difference is fate in afterlife.

    In History of Middle-Earth you should take things with a grain of salt though. Some stories are such that Tolkien might have changed his mind after, while Christopher explains his thought process as well as he can.
     

  5. Alcuin

    Alcuin Registered User

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    Elves are not ageless, nor are they immortal. They are longevial: they’re in Arda until Arda ends. They do age, but only very slowly: remember the description of Círdan at the Havens: he’s old, and he has a long white beard. Fëanor’s father-in-law Mahtan was remarkable because he had a beard early in life: Elves were normally beardless.

    Elaini, you quoted Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, the debate of Finrod and Andreth. The Elves had no hope of life after the end of Arda: the tale of their Debate indicates that Finrod, and perhaps the rest of the Elves as well, took hope of life after Arda from Men, who were explicitly given the Old Hope by Eru: the Hope of Elves is in Men. Two points to take from this. First, this is an “upside-down” relationship for both Elves and Men, where Men had been hoping in the help of Elves: it is entirely unexpected, and even Andrath has trouble grasping the meaning; Finrod partially understands, but only partially: but at least goes again to war with some hope that there is something after Arda for him and his people. Second, this is unquestionably Christian theology presenting itself in Tolkien’s pre-Christian mythos.

    Gilgaearel points out that they “get weary from the accumulative sadness of seeing everything around them getting old and die,” but that’s only a small part of the regret of the Elves. Haven’t you ever done anything you wish you could undo? Have you never said anything you wish you could take back, that you would “unsay,” as Gandalf put it? Elves have not years, not centuries, but millennia of regret. As you grow older, one of the most difficult things to learn is to leave your regrets behind you. For a sociopath, that’s no problem: he has no conscience. But for anyone with a conscience, for anyone with self-reflection and self-awareness, regret is like a stone tied to you: a great burden. Even if an Elf dies and goes to Mandos, he cannot escape this regret: only imprisonment in dark Mandos is even worse, because he has no physical body and can do nothing to repair or undo his words and deeds.

    Yes, Elves may be slain. As Gilgaearel says, They may die of grief, and like Maedhros they may commit suicide. They can and sometimes do abandon their bodies: Not only did Serindë mother of Fëanor do this, but so did Lúthien in Doriath when Carcharoth killed Beren so that she could follow him to Mandos before his spirit left Arda. The spirits of disembodied (slain) Elves may also reject the summons of the Valar to Mandos, and if they do, they were vulnerable to counter-summons by Morgoth, then later by Sauron, and after Sauron by necromancers who followed his nefarious practices.

    But the regret is what appalls me most: how can a creature live for age upon age, remembering all that it has done, all that it has communicated, and not go mad from regret? Surely this explains the strict morality and ethical rectitude of the Elves: for it is our wickedness and foolishness and shortsightedness we most regret. If they wish to live with the fewest regrets, Elves must be wise, careful in their dealings and in their words, and utterly reject evil altogether; otherwise, their burdens will become too great for their hearts and minds to bear; or else they must altogether give themselves to evil, forgoing all hope, all trust, all friendship, all family, all goodness.

    Regret, I think, presents Elves a stark choice between good and evil.
     
  6. Elaini

    Elaini Lost in Eä

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    That is the source of their wisdom.

    I think it also in partly explains why Finrod fell when Sauron started to sing about the violent deeds of the Noldor. It was guilt by association, even if he didn't take part in those events personally.

    It's also explained why an elfling is still happy. It's because their burden of memory is still light.
     
  7. Valenthir

    Valenthir New Member

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    I think the wisest of Elves would admire the fate given to Men. To live forever - it is an endless sorrow, seeing kingdoms rise to the height of their glory, then fall and fade into ruins; befriending mortals and losing them to death. It's just beautiful and sad.
     
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2018
  8. Miguel

    Miguel Active Member

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    This is unknown to me, where is this from?.
     
  9. Elaini

    Elaini Lost in Eä

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    It also in part explains why they prefer to stay with their own immortal kind what comes to relationships. They have a chance to stay together longer, and reunite after death.

    Also, Finrod did reunite with Amarië after death. Did they also marry and have children? Very possible. They could have many by the end of Second Age.

    The Silmarillion where Finrod's disguise is exposed by Sauron and Finrod becomes defiant when faced, challenging him in songs.

    It's good to remember that in Middle-Earth songs have a real power, all the way from its creation.
     
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  10. Miguel

    Miguel Active Member

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    I tend to fall asleep as i hear the audiobook, it happens because i go into a deep state of relax when i hear it, i've hear it dozens of times and yet i did not catch that detail before. Sauron using the Doom of Mandos against Felagund hmm.
     
  11. Valenthir

    Valenthir New Member

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    What would Lúthien think of all this? I do not want to live forever. I believe death is natural altogether. I admit when I was younger and my thoughts were more selfish, immortality was an attractive notion. But to what end? Who would I be for always? What would I do? Perhaps desires and passions would conquer my conscience. If death is inevitable why fear it? There must be more than this, I hope. I just live as I will to be. Perceptions of an afterlife should not control our lives, that's my opinion. Logically I see this is why death is a'gift'.
     
  12. Elaini

    Elaini Lost in Eä

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    Neither Elves or Men truly die in Middle-Earth – their fates differ. Lúthien could have picked someone else, but she wanted to ensure that her fate is the same as Beren's and went in great lenghts to make it happen. Same thing with Tuor and Idril, but their solution was the opposite as Tuor was counted among the firstborn in Valinor. In one way or another, these rare cases of couples succeeded in their goals somehow.

    Elves are summoned back to Mandos to get back their living body and so they are earth bound, and they work towards to build and maintain their own heaven on earth - they are granted the time to chase the concept of perfection and that is why they're so advanced in various arts. Their time is not running out like Tolkien's did.

    However, humans become spirits without a vessel and continue elsewhere as travellers to see new worlds, and so they find their own heaven in new discoveries. As Finrod put it, they're "guests" in the world that the Elves are really meant to stay in.
     
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  13. Valenthir

    Valenthir New Member

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    The Human Spirit is a vessel, blessed by Eru to be in the Second Music. That Void is unchanging, but in Eä things change always. One could say Ilúvatar is but a child trying to understand. Perhaps even Eru at one point existed as we do now.
     
  14. Gilgaearel

    Gilgaearel Member

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    I don't think that regret is that much of a problem possibly because I - personally - have no regrets about anything ( and I"m not considering myself as a sociopath ). What was done, it's done, no one can go back to change something and at the end of the day, all people, ( mortal, immortals, with or without conscience) judge situations and act according the information and the state of mind that they have on a particular period of time in their lives.

    Bad judgement is part of the game and that is what makes us mature and become wiser. We learn from our mistakes.


    Certainly but Elves are creators ( as Men are too). All those who are creative know that their creations have a limited span of life mostly because the enemy of something good, is something better. A kingdom, a city, an artifact or whatever can be remade as long as its initial creator is alive and able to remake it.

    Regarding befriending Men. Elves are supposed to know in advance that Men are mortals. So they know what befriending them means.
    Let me set it differently.
    Have you ever felt endless sorrow for losing a pet of yours? You know that your cat or your dog will probably die before you do so. But I think that all people that love to have animals, keep on getting pets no matter what.
    I had for instance countless pets in my life and all of them died at some point, some due to aging and others from a disease, or an accident etc. Though I felt sad at the moment of their passing, I wouldn't say that I'm in a state of constant sorrow because my pets died. I've always kept in my mind, that that is their nature and that they will probably die before I will.

    The matter is what sort of state of mind must have someone who knows that s/he will still be alive even though will have overcome - due to his or hers longevity - all the issues that might trouble those who can't live that long.
    What motives someone to keep on going, if after some point doesn't give a damn about death, regrets, constant changes etc ( as this is inevitable).

    What could probably be the philosophical background of such kind of longevity ( longevity if you lucky enough not to be killed by someone else or by an accident) and after 3-4000 years could have seen and experience all about everything multiple times? What sort of mind such a person would possess? What would be the motive to make this person keep on going and not commit suicide either from despair or simply lack of motives and boredom?

    What would be the "religion" that would deal with the existential problems of Elves? LOL ( it's a bit extreme of a thought and that is the reason I"m laughing)

    The matter is that even as humans beings we are not able to have a definite death. You see we are made up with the same matter that universe is made off. We are able by our nature to attract, process and transmit energy. Our thoughts for instance are made by biochemical energy.
    According the first law of thermodynamics ( wikipedia link) energy can't be lost, there is conservation of energy in other words any kind of energy will turn to some other form of energy. Now apply this to your existence. Your thoughts, your actions etc and then you'll see if death is indeed so definite as we think that probably is. So there is more than this by default. :)
     
  15. Valenthir

    Valenthir New Member

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    I believe the Human soul is energy, it just leaves when we die. Like buying a new car, the car is the body, the soul the driver, we just choose where the car goes and test its limits. But anyway I get what you're saying, yet humans have a life beyond, that is what makes death beautiful for them, but Elves are bound to the World, there's not many descriptions about the Halls of Mandos so i just assume they suck.
     
  16. Galin

    Galin Registered User

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    Yet leaving the Halls of Mandos, I would say that most Elves were reincarnated to live in the world and its time. And yet again, with respect to burdens, I think there must be some measure of Elvish regret, generally speaking, considering Galadriel's statement, for one example: “The love of the Elves for their land and their works is deeper than the deeps of the Sea, and their regret is undying and cannot ever wholly be assuaged"

    With respect to the "ultimate" death of Elves, Tolkien noted (in his letters): "But what "the end of the world" portended for it or for themselves they did not know (though they no doubt had theories). Neither had they of course any special information concerning what "death" portended for Men. They believed that it meant "liberation from the circles of the world", and was in that respect to them enviable."

    "And they would point out to Men who envied them that a dread of ultimate loss, though it may be indefinitely remote, is not necessarily the easier to bear if it is in the end ineluctably certain: a burden may become heavier the longer it is borne."


    And another notable comment: "The Elves call "death" the Gift of God (to Men). Their temptation is different: towards a fainéant melancholy, burdened with Memory, leading to an attempt to halt Time."

    To me, these statements work well with something Tolkien noted in On Fairy Stories: "But so do other stories (notably those of scientific inspiration), and so do other studies. Fairy-stories are made by men not by fairies. The Human-stories of the elves are doubtless full of the Escape from Deathlessness."