Following his solemn call to order at the beginning of the council, Elrond tells the tale of the Ring from its forging to its loss at the death of Isildur.  He also briefly tells of the decline of the kings in Gondor — a royal line which eventually fails and is succeeded by a line of stewards, who are also of Númenorian blood but not of royal descent.  When Elrond has finished speaking, Boromir interrupts.

Our first glimpse of Boromir’s character, other than his clothing, is his choice of topic.  He does not begin with his own tale and quest, but with a defense of Gondor.  “Believe not,” he says, “that in the land of Gondor the blood of Númenor is spent, nor all its pride and dignity forgotten.”  Two of Boromir’s comments on Gondor’s situation are intriguing.  First is his assumption that “few… know of our deeds” and therefore do not understand the danger that Middle Earth would be in if Gondor failed to restrain the forces of Mordor.  Second is his explicit assertion that “by our valour… alone are peace and freedom maintained in the lands behind us.”   Both assertions are ones which Aragorn will challenge in his response to Boromir.

There is irony, great irony, when the son of the steward of Gondor says that few know the deeds done in Gondor, while Aragorn, son of the rightful heir to Gondor, sits by with all his deeds and the deeds of his kin, the Rangers, unknown.  There is irony when Boromir boasts of the praise men give to Gondor as the sole bulwark between Mordor and the West, while the Rangers toil unpraised at their task of hunting the evil things that Gondor cannot restrain.  These ironies are the substance of Aragorn’s reply to Boromir.  But not before Aragorn himself has been revealed to all the council as the heir of Elendil, and not before he has asked a pivotal question that goes unanswered.

They are described carefully, Aragorn and Boromir:  both dark-haired and grey-eyed, both clad in their weatherstained habits, though Boromir’s is lined with fur and Aragorn’s is not.  Boromir wears a white stone set in his collar.  Aragorn, the evening before, had worn a stone like a star upon his breast.  Yet the similarities are hardly sufficient for even the reader to immediately recognize Aragorn as Boromir’s double and distant relation—a failure of recognition which Aragorn, for his part, excuses.  “Little do I resemble the figures of Elendil and Isildur as they stand carven in their majesty in the halls of Denethor,” he concedes. 

But what of the pivotal question?  Boromir makes his speech in praise of Gondor and tells of his own quest to find the Sword that was Broken.  In response to Boromir’s quest, Aragorn casts the two pieces of his sword upon Elrond’s table, whereupon Elrond (like a herald) dramatically reveals Aragorn’s identity as the Heir of Isildur.  And then Aragorn asks Boromir the crucial question:  “Now you have seen the sword that you have sought, what would you ask?  Do you wish for the House of Elendil to return to the Land of Gondor?”

It is a question Boromir does not answer.  His response, I think, is the instinctive response of pride and perhaps not of careful consideration — I mean the kind of consideration that would have made him realize what was at stake in having the Heir of Isildur return to Gondor.  In the absence of a King in Gondor, the stewards of Gondor essentially held the powers of kings, and Boromir was next in line for the highest office in the West.  The return of the King to Gondor would mean not only the possible salvation of Gondor but also the practical demotion of the stewards.  Would Boromir be the sort of man to willingly bow before a Ranger not bred in Gondor?

Perhaps that question, given the plot to come, cannot be answered.  Boromir’s only answer in the present situation is his proud assertion that “I was not sent to beg any boon.”  He follows this with an admittedly skeptical glance at Aragorn and the half-spoken question of whether the Sword of Elendil really had returned out of the past.

Boromir’s skepticism sets off two replies:  one by Bilbo, and the other by Aragorn.  Bilbo’s response is to recite, in annoyance on behalf of his friend, the full two-stanza rhyme All that is gold does not glitter.  Aragorn’s response, considerably longer, musters the full force of his rhetoric and includes a magnificent speech in defense of the Dúnedain.  Since Aragorn is quite possibly the best orator at the Council of Elrond, his response deserves a further post all to itself.