Commentary for Lorsch Riddle 3


Date: Mon 07 Jun 2021
Matching Riddle: Lorsch Riddle 3

This cirrus-ly great riddle will have you on cloud nine, because it is bursting with great material.

Now that I have got the burning urge to pun out of my system, we can turn to the riddle itself! The last riddle was all about one wandering thing—the mind. This one is about another—a cloud. Just like last time, this riddle depends on the paradox of a thing that is both free and bound or imprisoned—this is a recurrent theme in Lorsch. On the one hand, the cloud is free to wander, lonely as a…erm, cloud. On the other, its movements are governed entirely by the winds.

Clouds were common topics for medieval riddlers. The seventh century churchman and poet, Aldhelm, wrote a riddle (No. 3) on the subject—it depicts the cloud as a sad exile who weeps rain across the world. He also mentions clouds in several other riddles. And the Bern riddles include at least one riddle—and possibly two—on the subject.

Cloud 10
”Cumulus clouds. Photo (by Joaquim Alves Gaspar) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0)”

The riddle begins with the image of the evaporating water rising from the ocean to form clouds. The unusual verb velivolare (“to fly or sail speedily”) and the mention of the golden stars all contribute to a rather picturesque and ethereal image—in my mind’s eye, I see it as an ethereal scene from a Studio Ghibli film. The inclusion of the stars in this poetic landscape also helps to create a larger ecosystem of the heavens as a whole.

Eagle-eyed members of #LatinGrammarFanclub will have noticed that line 1 of my edition is slightly different to Glorie’s edition. He emended the manuscript aera (“air, the lower atmosphere”) to aethra (“the heavens, the upper atmosphere”), but there was no need, since aera is a regular accusative form of aer.

The freedom of the clouds to sail around the sky is rudely “checked” (vincere) in line three by the horrifera ventorum mole (“terrible power of the winds”). In an effort to escape this, the water escapes to sicca… terrarum terga (“the dry surface of the earth”). The word resolvens (“releasing, unbinding, resolving”) describes how the rain frees itself from the wind’s power as rain, but it also plays on the idea of solving and resolving riddles. The words solvere and resolvere occur frequently in medieval riddles—they operate as a kind of meta-vocabulary, linking the actions described in the riddle to the way that a riddle is read. For some other examples of this, see my commentaries on Bern Riddles 3 and 40.

Rain 10
”Rain! Photo (by Mohamed Hozyen) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 4.0)”

In line 6, the phrase ast tamen (“yet, nevertheless”) signals a change of focus from the natural to the human. The riddle explains that the raincloud is useful for humans, since it provides the waters required for populis spissam... messem (“a fat harvest for the people”). This reminds me of the rather excellent Bern Riddle 49, which describes humans’ contradictory feelings about rain.

Although it is perfectly acceptable to give this riddle the solution “cloud,” it is a miniature panorama of the water cycle. It depicts this using the established riddle tropes of freedom and restraint. Perhaps it is not the most unconventional riddle, but it is still enough to brighten up a rainy day.

Tags: latin 

Related Posts:
Exeter Riddle 39
Bern Riddle 3: De sale
Bern Riddle 40: De muscipula
Bern Riddle 55: De sole
Bern Riddle 60: De caelo