Commentary for Lorsch Riddle 4


Date: Mon 07 Jun 2021
Matching Riddle: Lorsch Riddle 4

As we all know, riddles are innately cool. So, it is no surprise that there are lots of medieval riddles about cool things like snow and ice. The late-antique riddler, Symphosius, wrote a riddle about ice (No. 10) that begins unda fui quondam (“I was a wave once…”). The Bern riddler wrote at least one, and probably two, riddles about ice. And the eighth century archbishop, Tatwine of Canterbury, wrote a very interesting riddle (No. 15) that describes snow, hail and ice as three short-lived sisters. There are non-Latin riddles too. The Old English Exeter Book Riddles 68 and 69 are almost certainly about ice. And the solution for a particularly outlandish Old Norse riddle (No. 25) from the Heithreksgátur is “a dead horse and dead snake riding on an ice-floe.”

”The underwater structure of an iceberg. Photo (by Andreas Weith) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 4.0)”

Our riddle begins with a sub-riddle, which challenges us to guess the identity of the ice’s parents. This is very common for ice-themed riddles: Tatwine does something similar in his riddle, as does the Bern riddler. It seems likely that the mother is water (aqua) and the father is either “cold” (gelus) or “winter” (hiems), just as in Bern Riddle 38.

In line 2, the manuscript gives horriferis… halis (“with terrible toes”), which doesn’t seem right! Dümmler’s MGH edition emends this to horriferis… hal[it]is (“with terrible vapours or breath”) and Glorie’s edition emends this to horriferis… alis (“with terrible wings”). I find Dümmler’s version more plausible—the “breath” of the father is the “breath” of cold, which “surround” or “embraces” (complecti) the water to turn it into ice. The riddler may also have had in mind the image of a father with terrible breath embracing his female partner.

At this point, I need to sound the innuendo alert! Line 3 describes the growing mass of ice as magna… corpora (“huge bodies”) which “rise up” (surgunt) beneath the father. However, these bodies chased away by the sun in lines 4 and 5. As the melting ice dies, she tells us that she will later give birth to her mother again. This kind cyclic “I create my own parent” motif—along with its incestuous implications—is a medieval riddling commonplace. In fact, Bern Riddle 38 uses something very similar to describe ice too. Did the Lorsch riddler know the Bern riddle, or vice versa? The way icy it, the answer is quite possibly yes!


References and Suggested Reading:

Dümmler, Ernst. Poetae latini aevi Carolini. Volume 1. MGH. Berlin: Weidmann, 1881. Page 21.

Fr. Glorie (ed.). “Aenigma Laureshamensia” in Tatuini Opera Omnia. Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 133. Turnholt: Brepols, 1958. Page 348.

Tatwine of Canterbury. “Aenigma 15.” In Fr. Glorie (ed.). Variae collectiones aenigmatum Merovingicae aetatis. Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina 133. Turnhout: Brepols, 1968, Page 182.

Tags: latin 

Related Posts:
Exeter Riddles 68 and 69
Bern Riddle 38: De glacie
Bern Riddle 42: De glacie