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  • Parallel Lives:The Sons of Denethor and the Sons of Telamon
  • Miryam Librán-Moreno

1. The Nature of the Problem1

It is commonly said that Tolkien based most of his legendarium on Northern literature, favoring above all Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, Germanic and Finnish sources. While it cannot be any serious scholar's purpose to contest the general truth of this assessment, the undeniably pervasive influence of Northern literature should not be allowed to drive out, on principle and without careful case-by-case examination, each and every possible competing source from other mythologies (Stevens 120-1). There is a great deal of Greek mythology assimilated and transformed within the legendarium, albeit unacknowledged.2

A Classical myth, so far overlooked, may have shaped the story of the last members of the Hurinionath, Boromir, Faramir, and Denethor their father. The overlooked story is the account of the Telamonian Ajax' fate, with the consequences it brought on his brother Teucer and their aged father Telamon. Consideration of this new paradigm might aid in understanding Tolkien's creative process by illuminating the nature and purpose of the changes between Tolkien's first drafts and the final, published version.

A brief look at the lives of Ajax and Teucer, sons of Telamon, Lord of Salamis, follows here (Jebb ix-xxiii). Ajax was the favored son and legitimate heir, Teucer a bastard son by a war captive. Ajax and Teucer took part in the Trojan War on behalf of their fatherland, Salamis, and were greatly distinguished because of their courage and prowess. After Achilles' death, Ajax rescued his corpse from among a swarm of enemies intent on desecrating it, while Odysseus protected his back. The arms of Achilles were then given to Odysseus instead of Ajax, who went mad with anger, killing the herds of the Greeks, believing them to be the Greek leaders. Ajax then committed suicide. Teucer ensured that his brother received an honourable burial. Once the war ended, Teucer returned home, but he was banished by his father, who mistakenly thought that Teucer was responsible for the death of Ajax. Teucer went to Cyprus, where he founded the town of Salamis and ruled as king.3

Tolkien often depicted mythical father-son relationships in his work.4 His unfinished tale The Lost Road was based on the pattern of the repetition of a similar father-son relationship throughout myth and history.5 [End Page 15] This story contained the kernel of one of the central events in Tolkien's legendarium, the Drowning of Númenor, and justified much of his subsequent literary creation. The portrait par excellence of father-son relationships in The Lord of the Rings is precisely the backstory of Boromir, Faramir, and Denethor. The summary of the events given above, however bald, might still indicate part of the appeal that the story of the sons of Telamon would hold for Tolkien: a favored but deeply flawed son (Ajax), his worthier but overlooked brother (Teucer), and the aging, irate, stern father (Telamon) who blamed the youngest for the death of the eldest.

2. Points of Comparison Between the Sons of Denethor and the Sons of Telamon

2.1. Ajax and Boromir

I will divide this section in three parts: external traits, psychological traits, and an analysis of Boromir's madness in light of the Greek epic convention of double motivation.

2.1.1. External traits (Jebb ix-xvii, Garvie, 1-2).

Ajax and Boromir are both the eldest and most beloved sons of their powerful fathers, Telamon Lord of Salamis and Denethor Lord of Minas Tirith.6 Both characters are explicitly characterized as rash, bold, forward persons who delight in war for war's sake.7 Both the Telamonian and the son of Denethor are repeatedly described as "enormous" in size, head and shoulders above the rest, their strength, physical beauty and size constantly highlighted in the narrative.8 Ajax' stock epithet is , traditionally translated as "bulwark of the Achaeans," a qualification Boromir shares with Gondor in general.9 Boromir's and Ajax' characteristic and distinctive equipment is a shield, as opposed to their brothers' bows.10 Despite their eagerness for and joy in battle, both characters are...