Commentary for Lorsch Riddle 5


Date: Mon 07 Jun 2021
Matching Riddle: Lorsch Riddle 5

I wanted to introduce this riddle with an appropriate pun, but unfortunately it was in very pour taste. That’s because the solution is a cup, probably of wine.

As with many of the Lorsch riddles, the subject is not a particularly original one. The eighth century churchman and poet, Aldhelm, wrote a riddle on a cup (Riddle 80). Cups also appear as solutions in Bern Riddle 6) and probably Exeter Book Riddles 11 and 59 too. Riddles on wine include Symphosius Riddles 82 and 83, Bern Riddles 13 and 63, and Aldhelm Riddle 78.

“A monk 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).

Interestingly, this is one of only two Lorsch riddle that are written in the third person—the other is Riddle 7. #LatinGrammarFanclub members will have noticed that although these adjectives are singular, all subsequent nouns, verbs, and adjectives are in the plural. In my translation, I have rendered this “poetic plural” in the singular.

The riddle begins by describing the cup as lucidus (“clear, glorious”) and laetus (“happy, luxuriant”), as it takes on the persona of the drinker. It is as if the wine cup is the life of the party! It “often sits with five limbs” (saepe solent quinis considere ramis)—this does not describe the creature’s arms and legs, but rather the five digits of the hand that hold it. This seems to be a variant of a common riddle motif that describes the fingers used for writing and other activities as three mysterious creatures—I mention this in my commentary on Bern Riddle 25. As with other alcohol riddles, there is a sense that the drink is always in command, even as it is held in the hand. The wine “commands” or “demands” (iubrere) drinkers to be joyous, when aedibus in mediis, literally “in public houses or halls.” Sadly, I am writing this commentary in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I haven’t visited one of these places for quite some time. Even though I rarely drink alcohol, I am very jealous of the cup right now!

“A nun drinking wine, from Hieronymus Bosch’s early 16th century masterpiece, The Haywain Triptych.” Photograph (by the Bosch Project) from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

We saw that Lorsch Riddles 2 and 3 juxtaposed the images of freedom and capture to create apparent paradoxes. Line 4 does something similar, telling us that the cup “plays” (ludere) and yet is also “held” (teneri). It then goes on to describe drinking as kissing—this is another common trope in early medieval riddles. The riddle’s use of quin (“even”) suggests that this is intended to be mildly salacious and risqué, with the sense of “he even kisses people!”

The tone changes notably in lines 6 and 7, when the cup’s draught has been drained, and tantumque remanet adhaerens / lucidus in ramis (“only a gleaming residue remains on the limbs”). The tone is an unmistakably nostalgic one—in a similar way, when all the joy of the party has passed, only glorious memories remain… and for those who have overdone it, a hangover too!

Tags: latin 

Related Posts:
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 11
Exeter Riddle 59
Bern Riddle 6: De calice
Bern Riddle 13: De vite
Bern Riddle 63: De vino