Platonic Tripartition and the Peoples of Middle-Earth




Plato, Tolkien, Republic, Tripartite, Race


Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings employ traditional races from fairy tales: elves, men and dwarves.  These peoples are differentiated principally by their dominant desires, but also by their speech, diet, and realms.  I argue that these three races are significantly inspired by the three aspects that characterize the Republic’s tripartite soul—logistikon, thumoeides, and epithumetikon—along with their respective principal desires: desire for truth, greatness, and material goods.  For Tolkien, therefore, these races have a corporate or political psychology that explains who they are as peoples in the history of Middle-earth.  I offer a comprehensive view of the major races, connecting the dwarves with the appetitive artisans of the Republic, humans with the honour- and glory-seeking auxiliaries, and elves with the ruling guardians.  This treatment explains the artisanal dwarves, as well as the battle-loving men (and women) of Rohan and Gondor, and the nostalgic, ‘anamnetic’ condition of exile that distinguishes the elves.  Indeed, the condition of elves in many descriptions recalls a Platonic philosopher returned to the Cave, as well as the Neo-Platonic sagacity pictured in the biographies of Plotinus and Proclus.