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  • The Name “Nodens” †
  • J. R. R. Tolkien

This name occurs in three inscriptions: C.I.L. vii, 138 d(eo) M(arti?) Nodonti, C.I.L. vii, 139 deo Nudente, C.I.L. vii, 140 devo Nodenti . . . donavit Nodenti . . . templum [No]dentis. It may also have occurred in the mosaic C.I.L. vii, 137. Apart from these inscriptions, from the same place and presumably roughly contemporary, there is in early Keltic material no trace of any such name or stem.1

The variation o/u is probably due to divergent attempts at representing in Latin letters a non-Latin sound; the variation ont/ent is probably due to (correct) equation of Keltic -ont with Latin participial -ent.2 The former variation enables us to fix with fair probability the quantity, and hence the prehistoric forms, of the stem vowel. The vowel intended was, almost certainly, long: ō (ū). Native Keltic words had no ō. Already in the very distant period common to all branches of that group of languages ō had become ā in stem-syllables, and ū at the end of words. The three older diphthongs, au (Latin au), eu, and ou (both old Latin ou, later ū), had, however, coalesced in some common sound which may be represented ou. This sound in British approached ō, and was equated with Latin ō in the British pronunciation of Latin and vice versa; so that o would be a natural early choice of symbol. The sound was later, but during the Roman period, shifted towards ū, becoming possibly before a.d. 400 identical with British ū (from Keltic oi) and (the British pronunciation of) Latin ū; so that u would be a natural later spelling. Spelling alone does not, however, prove the Nudente inscription later than all the others. Before the completion of the shift a period of hesitation in the choice of symbol might well occur. Later again this ū shifted towards ǖ (French ū in lune), the sound in medieval Welsh of u, which appears as the descendant of Keltic oi (un one, Old Irish óin-), ou (tud, Gallic touto-), and Latin ō (sul, Sōlis), ū (pur, pūrus).

In Goidelic Keltic ou probably became ō. This is at any rate its form in earlier Old Irish (later ua appears). Even if ō was the Goidelic form at such an early period as that of the inscriptions, it is natural to assume that it would be treated on British soil in the same way as Latin ō, and be [End Page 177] identified with the British ou sound, which in this case was ultimately of the same Indo-European origin.

The inscriptions most probably represent, therefore, a Keltic stem *noudont- (*noudent- ?), provided with Latin case-endings. Now *noudont- (nom. *noudons>noudōs>noudūs, gen. noudontos, dat. noudonti or noudontai) is precisely the form required as the older stage of the (Old and Middle) Irish mythological and heroic name Núadu (later Núada), gen. Núadat, dat. Núadait. The same name also appears in Mog-Núadat, 'slave or servant of Nuada'; see below. The same stem may also lie behind the Welsh name Nudd (Breton nuz in the place-name Ker-nuz = Welsh *Caer-Nudd).

Núadu (Argat-lám 'of the Silver Hand') was the king of the Túatha dé Danann, the possessors of Ireland before the Milesians. The Túatha dé Danann may with some probability, amid the wild welter of medieval Irish legend, be regarded as in great measure the reduced form of ancient gods and goddesses. Although it is perhaps vain to try and disentangle from the things told of Nuada any of the features of Nodens of the Silures in Gloucestershire, it is at least highly probable that the two were originally the same. This is borne out by the isolation of the name in Keltic material, the importance of Nuada (and of Nodens), and not least by the exact phonological equation of Nōdont- with later Nuadat.

That figures of British origin could intrude into Ireland is not impossible. Cuchulinn (Setanta) himself is suspect. But the fact that outside Ireland (where the name figures largely) Nodons-Nuada occurs only in Britain, in the west, in one place, and nowhere else in the Keltic area, never in Gaul...


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