More parallels between Tolkien’s Ainulindalë and Plato’s Timaeus

In addition to those noted by John Cox, a number of further parallels between the cosmogonies of Tolkien’s Ainulindalë and Platos Timaeus may be observed. Plato’s demiurge and Tolkien’s Eru, to begin, are each identified as “father,” and while they both delegate to their respective sub-deities the responsibility of fashioning other living beings—representing the world as imperfect apart from the presence of a hierarchy of beings and thus instructing the sub-deities to produce things according to their ability[1]—in each case the supreme deity nevertheless retains for himself a direct role in fashioning rational, immortal souls.[2] Thus, in the Timaeus the demiurge tells his underling gods that the part of man which is “immortal” he himself will begin by “sowing that seed, and then hand it over to you. The rest of the task is yours. Weave what is mortal to what is immortal, fashion and beget living things. Give them food, cause them to grow, and when they perish, receive them back again.”[3] In a similar vein, although the Valar Aulë is chastised by Ilúvatar for his presumptuous and futile attempt at sub-creating the dwarves, he does manage to fashion their mortal bodies, bodies which Eru, in response to Aulë’s repentance, afterwards animates by uniting them with free, rational souls, something Aulë by himself could not do. Even in Aulë’s speech of repentance we find an eloquent and earnest expression of the principle articulated by Plato’s demiurge, namely that until it is properly populated by all manner of mortal beings, the world “will be incomplete, for it will still lack within it all the kinds of living things it must have if it is to be sufficiently complete.”[4] As Aulë defends himself,

I desired things other than I am, to love and to teach them, so that they too might perceive the beauty of Eä, which thou hast caused to be. For it seemed to me that there is great room in Arda for many things that might rejoice in it, yet it is for the most part empty still, and dumb. And in my impatience I have fallen into folly. Yet the making of things is in my heart from my own making by thee; and the child of little understanding that makes a play of the deeds of his father may do so without thought of mockery, but because he is the son of his father. (Silmarillion 43)

In both creation-myths, moreover, just as the presence of beauty and goodness in the world correspond to the establishment of a divine order, so evil is presented as a form of disorder.[5] And yet despite the possibility of evil, both Tolkien’s Ilúvatar and Plato’s demiurge remind their vassals that the order they have placed in the world cannot be ultimately undone or reversed except by their providential consent.[6] Neither the Valar nor the demiurge, furthermore, create ex nihilo, but produce things from already existing matter which in each writer’s account is further analyzed in terms of the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water.

[1] Timaeus 41c5, trans. Zeyl; Silmarillion 15.

[2] Timaeus 41b7-c4.

[3] Ibid., 41c8-d4.

[4] Ibid., 41b8-c2.

[5] As the demiurge informs his sub-deities, “Now while it is true that anything that is bound is liable to being undone, still, only one who is evil would consent to the undoing of what has been well fitted together and is in fine condition.” Ibid., 41b1-3.

[6] Plato’s demiurge declares, “O gods, works divine whose maker and father I am, whatever has come to be by my hands cannot be undone but by my consent” (Timaeus 41a8-10), a speech echoed in Ilúvatar’s pronouncement to the Ainur at the conclusion of the Great Music: “Then Ilúvatar spoke, and he said: ‘Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Ilúvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined’” (Silmarillion 17).


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