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Gnome Nomenclature

Small cousins of the dwarves, a gnome is a dwarf protecting underground treasures. A Gnome is a dwarf-like creature of European folklore, often associated with Dwarves and Goblins. The word gnome derives from the Swiss alchemist Paracelsus, who is known to have used Modern Latin gnomus in a 16th century treatise. The word comes from Renaissance Latin gnomus, possibly deriving the term from Latin genomos (itself representing a Greek Gnomi literally "earth-dweller"). In this case, the omission of the e is, as the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) calls it, a blunder. Alternatively, the term may be an original invention of Paracelsus. Paracelsus classifies them as earth elementals. He describes them as two spans high, very reluctant to interact with humans, and able to move through solid earth as easily as humans move through air. The word has a similarity with Greek gnosis - "knowledge".

Gnomes are often featured in Germanic literature and are described as resembling a gnarled old man (females are less commonly encountered), living deep underground, who guards buried treasure. Throughout their home range of central, northern and eastern Europe, they are known by a variety of names: kaukis (Prussia), tomten (Sweden), and barbegazi (France and Switzerland). In Iceland, gnomes (known as vættir) are so respected that roads are re-routed around areas said to be inhabited by them. A garden gnome is a peculiar commodity object with the capacity to reference the whimsy of childhood and the drudgery of working adulthood.

Gnomes are often described as a cross between elves and dwarves. While this might indeed describe them physically, it paints an utterly erroneous picture of their ancestry. In Norse mythology a gnome was a dwarf who possessed a treasure that was stolen by Loki. In German mythology, gnomes were any of the group of dwarfs who possessed a treasure hoard that was stolen by Siegfried. An elf likes to skip around and dance a lot, but a gnome is hard-working character who, according to the old fairy tales, spends most of his lime carrying a load of something or other from one part of the woods to another. Of course the reason for the gnome to carry a load (usually made up of gold or diamonds) was supposed to be rather nefarious.

Among the many Elfins or Goblin Spirits celebrated in the traditionary legends of Germany, none used to be esteemed as possessed of more power than the Gnome of the Hartz mountains, being equally noted for the mischievous and good natured freaks he would perform, accordingly as he was either pleased or provoked, or as the humour seized him. On the opposite bank of the Rhine stands the village of Werlau, high up on the table-land which overlooks the river. Behind Werlau is an ancient, a very ancient mine, from which, in days of yore, silver is said to have been extracted in large quantities; and where, old stories relate, the Gnomes, or Children of the Earth, also held their abode. How long it is since these mines of Werlau have been first worked nobody now living knows; but if what is told of them be the truth, they must have existed and have been in full activity in the time of the Merovignian monarchs of Austrasia. One of them—the mines, not the monarchs — was the richest on the shores of the Rhine; indeed the quantities of silver which it is stated to have produced are almost incredible. Some penetrate into the very palace of the Gnome King himself, to find hidden treasure.

More common however were tales involving the devil who moved treasures about maliciously to prevent their discovery and created distracting spectres to impede digging. By another account, witches were persons supposed to be possessed of supernatural endowments, in consequence of a compact make with Satan, or who pretended to such endowments. A familiar spirit or gnome was given them by Satan, which was ready to attend them at a call, and was entirely subservient to their will. Witches, it was believed, could not sink in water: therefore, when thrown into this element, if they swam, they were taken out and burned as guilty; if they sunk, they were certainly regarded as innocent, but drowning was, notwithstanding, often the alternative.

Shakespeare's Caliban has become a bye-word, as the strange creation of a poetical imagination. A mixture of the gnome and the savage, half demon, all brute; in his behavior is at once the traces of his native disposition. Caliban is malicious, cowardly, false, and base in his inclinations; and yet he is essentially different from the vulgar knaves of a civilized world, as they are occasionally portrayed by Shakespeare. He is rude, but not vulgar; he never falls into the prosaical and low familiarity of his drunken assoeiates, for he is a poetical being in his way; he always speaks too in verse. He has picked up every thing dissonant and thorny in language, out of which he has composed his vocabulary and of the whole variety of nature, the hateful, repulsive, and pettily deformed have alone been impressed on his imagination.

Wagner's trilogy of operas, "Walkure", "Siegfried," and "Gotterdammerung" ("Twilight of the Gods"), is preceded by a prologue, "Rheingold," which furnishes the motive and gives the key of the whole drama. The first scene of "Rheingold" is laid in the waters of the river, where the naiads watch over a great golden treasure intrusted to their keeping, with which mysterious Fate, superior in Northern as well as Greek myths to both gods and men, has linked mighty issues. The gnome Alberich ascends from his subterranean kingdom to gain one of the daughters of the Rhine to his amorous purposes. To divert him from his purpose they tell him of the fatal power of the gold, to exercise which all thought of love must be given up. The dwarf's desire of rule is excited, and he steals the treasure from its guardians. Wotan discovers from Loge, the Northern Mephistopheles, or Satan, that the only treasure the giants will accept is the Nibelung treasure, stolen by the gnome Alberich from the Rhine maidens, which had been transformed into a ring, at once the means and symbol of universal power.

J.R.R.Tolkien's tales centered on the One Ring, secretly forged by Sauron in the heart of Mount Doom, had the power to dominate the sixteen rings owned by Dwarves and Men. His domain over the other rings was incomplete, but he placed a large amount of his own power into it at its forging; a necessity that later led to his downfall at Frodo Baggins' hands. "One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them." The lore of the Rings (especially the One) are often compared to the "Ring of the Nibelungs" although Tolkien denounced any direct inspiration. Tolkien, in the legendarium surrounding the Elves, used "Gnomes" as the initial [and later dropped] name of the Noldor, the most gifted and technologically minded of his elvish races.




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