Tolkien’s Ainulindalë and Bernardus Silvestris’s Cosmographia

Winthrop Wetherbee calls the twelfth-century Bernardus Silvestris’s Cosmographia an “anthology of major motifs from the authors in the Chartrian canon” (Wetherbee, “Introduction” in Cosmographia, 31). (Silvestris’s Cosmographia, by the way, is where C.S. Lewis got his Oyarsa from the Space Trilogy.) The Cosmographia, in any event, is a largely Platonic and pagan cosmology. The similarities amid the profound differences between Tolkien’s Ainulindalë and Bernardus’s Cosmographia suggest the former as a remarkable engagement with, borrowing from, and yet orthodox and even specifically Thomistic critique of the latter. I hope someday to write a comparison of the two works. John Houghton’s comment in “Augustine in the Cottage of Lost Play” is pertinent here, namely that, along with Genesis and Plato’s Timaeus, the Ainulindalë would have constituted for the medievals a “third” creation-account. Bernardus’s Cosmographia would make a fourth.

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