More than just a red beard: Farmer Giles’s Neronian links

— Murray Smith

Paper given 4 September 2021 at the 3rd day of Oxonmoot 2021

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.

Authoritative information may be found here.

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date recorded 📅2022-01-25
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