Lifespan of Men in Middle-earth

Archive Home > Middle-earth People & Races
Mirkwoodworker 09/Dec/2006 at 10:31 PM
Savant of Isengard Points: 576 Posts: 102 Joined: 05/Jul/2006

In Akallabeth, in The Silmarillion (and elsewhere), Tolkien writes that at the start of the Second Age the Valar (or was it Illuvatar?) gave the Numenoreans, the Edain who had fought against Morgoth, a lifespan greater than that of normal Men. Tolkien varied the length, I think, from twice to thrice the normal span, though the line of Elros was given more.

In an essay Christopher Tolkien edited in Morgoth’s Ring, called "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth," there’s an account of a legend held by the Edain regarding their origins.

Before any Men had died, they had been guided by a "Voice," apparently Illuvatar. But shortly a being appeared, seemingly one of them, "but greater and more beautiful," who called himself "the Giver of Gifts." This was apparently Morgoth in disguise. [An aside: in Of the Rings of Power, in The Silmarillion, Sauron disguised himself as "Annatar, Lord of Gifts." I guess he was imitating his Master.]

Morgoth then corrupted Men, turning them from the Voice and setting himself up as their God. He told them that the Voice was "the Dark," that it was evil and wanted to devour them.

The last time the Voice spoke to Men it said: "Ye have abjured Me, but ye remain Mine. I gave you life. Now it shall be shortened, and each of you in a little while shall come to Me, to learn who is your Lord: the one ye worship [Morgoth], or I who made him." Men then started to fear death because it took them to the "the Dark." What Illuvatar intended as a gift now terrified them.

The Edain were the only Men who had turned away from the worship of Morgoth. They learned from the Eldar of the true nature of Arda and who its true Master was.

Finally, my point: is it possible that the greater lifespan given the Numenoreans was not something new, but was rather a restoration to their original lifespan, before Illuvatar reduced it? After all, the lifespan of Numenoreans slowly diminished as their fear of death grew, and this seems to parallel the "first fall" of Men.

<Ulmo edit: An excellent inquery and well-presented introduction.  15 points for your work.>

Mithrandír 10/Dec/2006 at 05:28 AM
Linguist of Lothlorien Points: 3280 Posts: 3291 Joined: 13/Mar/2006

After all, the lifespan of Numenoreans slowly diminished as their fear of death grew, and this seems to parallel the "first fall" of Men.

i dont think that the life span of the Numenoreans dropped at all for their fear of death. Of course, some of them were scared to die, but how can fear reduce someones lifespan? by making them more secluded from the world, by making them live in their own little circle of their own fear, not even asking for help. In my opinion, i dont think so.

Qtpie 10/Dec/2006 at 02:33 PM
Commander of Mordor Points: 22280 Posts: 12880 Joined: 17/Nov/2005
It was the Valar who conferred the extended lives to the Men of Numenor for their assistance rendered to the Eldar. The Valar can’t make someone immortal but can only extend their lives.

’To the Fathers of Men of the three faithful houses rich reward was also given. Eonwe came among them and taught them; and they were given wisdom and power and life more enduring than any others of mortal race possessed.’ The Silmarillion: Akallabeth

’Nay, lady, I am the last of the Númenoreans and the latest King of the Elder Days; and to me has been given not only a span thrice that of Men of Middle-earth, but also the grace to go at my will, and give back the gift. Now, therefore, I will sleep. Appendix A: Annals of the Kings and Rulers, The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen
Mirkwoodworker 11/Dec/2006 at 11:18 PM
Savant of Isengard Points: 576 Posts: 102 Joined: 05/Jul/2006
Táragolloion: You’re right. The Valar cannot take away the gift of death.

But does anyone think that, rather than the gift of longer life-spans being something new, the life-spans of Numenoreans were actually a restoration to an original state? Tolkien wrote several times in both Akallabeth and in Appendix A of LOTR that their growing fear of death began to shorten the life-span of Numenoreans, as was apparently the case in the quote I gave from Morgoth’s Ring.
Túrin 12/Dec/2006 at 01:30 PM
Politician of Umbar Points: 16612 Posts: 23336 Joined: 14/Sep/2003

Nan-Tathren -- It’s common practice to alter the text of someone your quoting (color, italics, etc) , be it Tolkien or another member.  If for nothing else than to help everyone see what’s yours or what you are replying to, etc.

Mirkwoodworker,

This is a very interesting question indeed!  I know that I’ve not seen any explicit references to the idea of the Numenoreans being rewarded with a restored or ’originaly’ lifespan, but I’ll hit the books.  If I find anything, I’ll certainly come back here.

In the meantime, 10 points for your interesting thread, I hope something about it is found!

Tuna 12/Dec/2006 at 03:01 PM
Assassin of Mordor Points: 5570 Posts: 6645 Joined: 11/Mar/2004

Mww- Interesting theories you put forth. I would first like to point out a little inconsistency in the words of Andreth (and the lore of Men).

Nay, lord, the Wise among Men say: "We were not made for death, nor born ever to die. Death was imposed upon us." ~Athrabeth, HOME X

Throughout the vast majority of the text, Andreth is absolutely firm in her conviction that the lore of Men said that they should not die whatsoever, but that there was some doom set upon them that they should die. I find this to be a notable difference from what you quote:

The first Voice we heard never again, save once. In the stillness of the night It spoke, saying: ’Ye have abjured Me, but ye remain Mine. I gave you life. Now it shall be shortened, and each of you in a little while shall come to Me, to learn who is your Lord: the one ye worship, or I who made you. ~ibid

Compare the words of Andreth to this last quote. Above all, I notice that their lives shall be shortened, but, of course, shortening an eternal life yields an eternal life (whole infinity minus x business).

However, that being said, it may not be that at least part of the lore of Men might not be far off. To further this point, I recall the island of Númenor.

But in the midst of the land was a mountain tall and steep, and it was named the Meneltarma, the Pillar of Heaven, and upon it was a high place that was hallowed to Eru Ilúvatar, and it was open and unroofed, and no other temple or fane was there in the land of the Númenoreans. ~Akallabeth, The Silmarillion

So the Númenoreans had taken up reverence of Eru as the only real god (though still acknowledging the Valar as the govenors of Ea). Could this singular reverence be an act of understanding of the supreme power of Eru, worshiping he and he alone (note that there were no other temples in the land)? In this way, the Númenoreans could very well have been making amends for the actions of their ancestors with their obedience being the source of the return of long-life. And, of course, this is resting on the case that Men were meant for death, but their life-span was shortened due to their worship of Melkor.

In my search through Letters, I did find an interesting quote.

The Downfall of Númenor, the Second Fall of Man (or Man rehabilitated but still mortal), brings on the Catastrophic end, not only of the second Age, but of the Old World ~Letter 131, Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, my bold emphasis

Might just be me, but I can easily read that quote as saying that the Second Fall of Man was the Fall of Man rehabilitated.

Mirkwoodworker 12/Dec/2006 at 11:10 PM
Savant of Isengard Points: 576 Posts: 102 Joined: 05/Jul/2006
Turin: Thank you for the points!

Tunathoniel: Thank you for pointing out the inconsistency, which is definitely there in the Athrabeth. It appears that Andreth is relating two separate legends about the "Fall of Men." One states that Men were originally immortal but became mortal; the other that they were always mortal but that their lives had been dramatically shortened. The reason for either would have been because they turned away from Eru (the Voice) and began to worship Morgoth.

And so the Edain were rewarded by the Valar for several reasons. First, they turned against Morgoth in the East and fled to the West. Second, when they discovered that they had only come closer to the heart of his power in the North, many nonetheless remained there to fight alongside the Eldar. Third, they did so without fully understanding the conflict they had stumbled into and how serious the stakes were.

When the Second Age began, it states in the beginning of Akallabeth that Eonwe came among them and taught them; and they were given wisdom and power and life more enduring than any others of mortal race have possessed. They learned the truth about Arda Marred (or as much as they could comprehend, I suppose).

And I agree with everything else you wrote. It’s a strong argument that the Numenoreans were given back some of what Men had lost centuries previously, but also given much, much more.

Very, very interesting stuff, Tunathoniel. Thank you for the great source material!
Kaulargorn 15/Dec/2006 at 12:04 PM
Messenger of Minas Tirith Points: 938 Posts: 149 Joined: 30/May/2006
If I remember well, the Numenoreans’ lifespan was approximnately 300 years and then, after their fall and the mix of their blood with common men’s blood it was reduced. I think dwarves lifespan is similar to the Numenoreans’ while orcs’ was about eighty years. As for the elves I found fascinating that Tolkien stated that after their 3000 years of life they grow beards. Cirdan was the only elf in middle Earth to have beards
NineFingered 17/Dec/2006 at 07:52 PM
Crafter of the Shire Points: 2251 Posts: 1253 Joined: 17/Jul/2005
Thanks Kaulargon. That explains the reason for Cirdan’s beard (sighs with relief). I was afraid he might be some other species of elf!!
Túrin 18/Dec/2006 at 10:17 PM
Politician of Umbar Points: 16612 Posts: 23336 Joined: 14/Sep/2003

Kaulargorn,

As for the elves I found fascinating that Tolkien stated that after their 3000 years of life they grow beards.

Where does Tolkien say this?  I have heard reference to a source that says Elves might have beards in the "third phase" or somesuch of their life, but these phases I have never seen elaborated upon.

Mirkwoodworker,

Having just tonight read the Athrabeth, I would agree with your hypothesis that the extended lifespan of the Numenoreans is a hearken back to the lifespan of Man as Eru originally intended.  I think that Author’s Note 4 is rather telling in this regard

"The passing ’oversea’, therefore, of Mortals after the Catastrophe - which is recorded in The Lord of the Rings - is not quite the same thing.  In was in any case a special grace.  An opportunity for dying according to the original plan for the unfallen: they went to a state in which they could aquire greater knowledge and peace of mind, and being healed of all hurts both of mind and body, could at last surrender themselves: die of free will, and even of desire, in estel.  A thing which Aragorn achieved without any such aid."
     - HoMe X: Morgoth’s Ring, Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth

It seems that Tolkien is saying that the original plan, for Man before his Fall, was for Men to die of free will.  The lifespan is unknown, but presumably not infinite (if the comparison is perfectly accurate, the original lifespan cannot be infinite because Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam would indeed have perished in Aman whether by free will or not).  This is the same as the Numenoreans had - we are told that "A good Numenorean died of free will when he felt it to be time to do so." (Footnote to Letter #156).

Thus, while the Numenoreans might not have been restored to Man’s original lifespan, I certainly think that they were given some measure of such.

Tuna,

I’m not sure that I would agree the shortening of an eternal life yields an eternal life.  In Myths Transformed, Text VIII Tolkien infers that the Elvish life-span could be diminished, which doesn’t quite make sense if shortening immortality yields immortality (though to be fair, I must note that Elves were not technically immortal or eternal, there ’merely’ had lifespans equalling that of Arda, unless slain).

Though more than that - while there certainly are two conflicting ideas of the original nature of Men, I find Andreth’s insistence of Man’s original immortality a bit unfounded.  Both from the tale she tells eventually, and from the other notes and such (see the portion of Author Note 4 I quoted above).  I would think that Andreth’s belief, and that of Man at large if the belief is common, is a misunderstanding of their lore and legends (or having thrown out too much corn or retained too much chaf).

Kaulargorn 18/Dec/2006 at 11:15 PM
Messenger of Minas Tirith Points: 938 Posts: 149 Joined: 30/May/2006
Turin, I thnk it was in the Silmarillion but not for sure. I was amazed too and so I remember I read it from a valid source. About the years I think it is 3000 but it must be more as I think now because if only Cirdan has beards and if you add all the years from the firstborn, I have not a timeline of Arda right now, a lot of other elves should have beards. Do not be amazed if itis 30000!
Túrin 19/Dec/2006 at 07:07 AM
Politician of Umbar Points: 16612 Posts: 23336 Joined: 14/Sep/2003

Kaulargorn,

I would guess that this source was mistaken.  I’ve heard of Elvish beards before, but never once of any sort of age associated with it other than the "phases" of life.

Arvellas 19/Dec/2006 at 05:27 PM
Warrior of Imladris Points: 5462 Posts: 3016 Joined: 16/May/2006

Kaulagorn-I don’t know for sure whether Cirdan was indeed the only bearded Elf; I know that others here on the Plaza have speculated about other Elves having beards.(The discussion was sparked by an Alan Lee illustration showing bearded Elves.)

The hypothesis of the Edain regaining their lengthy lifespans makes sense to me.  Perhaps we should also look at not only the whole race, but individuals who lived very long lives--or short ones.  For instance, take Denethor and Aragorn.  Denethor, according to the Tale of Years in Appendix B, was only one year older than Aragorn, and yet he seemed much older than the latter.  Denethor suffered from much worry, easily including the fear of death, living so near Mordor and being shown terrible things in the Palantir.  Where, however, is it mentioned that Aragorn was afraid of dying?  He was always very accepting of his life and what he had to do, and not once do I recall seeing in him the worry that plagued other Numenoreans.  Aragorn, of course, had a lifespan thrice that of most men, and at a time when most Edain had considerably shorter lives.  When death finally did come to him, he accepted it gracefully.  Could there be a direct relation between Aragorn’s attitude toward death and his 210-year lifspan?

Mirkwoodworker 19/Dec/2006 at 10:10 PM
Savant of Isengard Points: 576 Posts: 102 Joined: 05/Jul/2006
Arvellas: Could there be a direct relation between Aragorn’s attitude toward death and his 210-year lifspan?

Yes, I think so. In the Akallabeth and in various quotes given above from Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, found in Morgoth’s Ring, the narration connects Men’s increasing fear of death to their diminishing lifespans. This may have occurred soon after their Awakening, as well as in Numenor.

Turin: Thank you for that quote from Athrabeth about the fate of Mortals in Aman: They were given the "opportunity for dying according to the original plan for the unfallen . . . [to] die of free will, and even of desire." I had an interesting thought when I read it.

Mortals in Middle-earth might envy the grace given to Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, and Gimli (maybe), who could spend their remaining days in Aman (is Tol Eressea technically a part of Aman?). Yet since Elves eventually grow weary of the world, would those living in Aman come to envy the hobbits, who died and left Arda? Who would envy whom?

I can imagine a reincarnated Feanor standing at Frodo’s deathbed and muttering, "Oooh, you lucky bastard."