Commentary for Bern Riddle 63: De vino


Date: Thu 01 Apr 2021
Matching Riddle: Bern Riddle 63: De vino

The final riddle in the Bern collection only appears in two manuscripts. It is untitled, but the solution is obvious. It is not as madcap or creative as many other Bern riddles, and it is also written in a different meter, so it is doubtful whether it belongs to the original collection. Perhaps the most interesting thing about it is its use of acrostic, spelling out the name PAULUS in the first letter of each line—presumably the author of the poem was called Paul. Acrostic is not so common in literature today, although it does get used from time to time, but it was a well-used feature of early medieval Latin literature. For example, the seventh century riddler, Aldhelm, uses the technique in the preface to his riddles to spell out twice Aldhelmus Cecinit millenis versibus odas (“Aldhelm composed poems in one thousand lines”).

As I explained in my commentary on Riddle 50, riddles had a long association with wine. Two other Bern riddles were written about of wine and winemaking: Riddles 13 and 50. However, unlike the others, which disguise their subjects in some unusual and cryptic ways, Riddle 63 pretty much gives the solution away in the very first line, when it tells us that “No one more beautiful than me ever lives in cups” (Pulchrior me nullus versatur in poculis umquam).

“Monks feasting and drinking wine, from the late 11th century/early 12th century Tiberius Psalter (London, British Library, Cotton MS Tiberius C VI, folio 5v). Photograph from The British Library Digitalised Manuscripts (copyright: British Library).

Riddles often depict the relationship between humans and their alcoholic tipples as one of temporary overthrow, where the beverage overpowers or takes revenge upon its imbiber. Thus, the wine “ensnares” or “misleads” (decipere) and “stupifies” (stupere) the drinker in lines 2 & 6, and it subverts “laws and rules” (leges atque iura) with its strength in line 4. None of this really goes beyond the level of description, but the riddler does at least capture the typical themes of the genre. However, it lacks the depth of disguise and playfulness that make the Bern riddles so endlessly fascinating. At least, that’s what I think!

Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

Related Posts:
Bern Riddle 13: De vite
Bern Riddle 50: De vino