RIDDLE POSTS BY TAG: 'ANGLO SAXON'

Exeter Riddle 21

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 25 Mar 2014
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 21
Original text:

Neb is min niþerweard;      neol ic fere
ond be grunde græfe,      geonge swa me wisað
har holtes feond,      ond hlaford min
woh færeð      weard æt steorte,
5     wrigaþ on wonge,     wegeð mec on þyð,
saweþ on swæð min.      Ic snyþige forð,
brungen of bearwe,      bunden cræfte,
wegen on wægne,      hæbbe wundra fela;
me biþ gongendre      grene on healfe
10     ond min swæð sweotol      sweart on oþre.
Me þurh hrycg wrecen      hongaþ under
an orþoncpil,      oþer on heafde,
fæst ond forðweard.      Fealleþ on sidan
þæt ic toþum tere,      gif me teala þenaþ
15     hindeweardre,      þæt biþ hlaford min.

Translation:

My nose is turned downward; I travel flat
and carve out the ground, going as the old foe
of the forest directs me, and my lord
travels crooked, a watchman at my tail,
5     moves over the plain, moves me and presses,
sows in my path. I go nose forwards,
brought from the wood, skillfully bound,
borne on a wagon, I have many marvels;
travelling, there is green on one side of me
10     and my path is clear, black on the other.
Driven through my back, there hangs underneath
a skillful spear, another on my head,
firm and forward-facing. To the side falls
what I tear with my teeth, if he serves me rightly
15     from behind, he who is my lord.

Click to show riddle solution?
Plough


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 106r of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), page 191.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 19: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 80.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 21 

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Exeter Riddle 4
Exeter Riddle 23
Exeter Riddles 79 and 80

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 21

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Sun 06 Apr 2014
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 21

Boy, we sure are plowing through these riddles, aren’t we? Get it? Get it? If not, you must have forgotten the solution to Riddle 21: plough or plow (depending on how you prefer to spell)! If you prefer to spell like someone from early medieval England, then you’d be spelling it sulh. There isn’t a great deal of debate over this riddle’s solution, which – I have to say – is kind of obvious. So instead of scholarly debate, I’m going to impress you with pictures. And also details and such-like.

Here is a reproduction of a plough drawing in an eleventh-century calendar now housed in the British Library (Cotton MS Tiberius B V/1, folio 3r):

Riddle 21 Anglo-Saxon plough

From The New Gresham Encyclopedia, available free online at Project Gutenberg. The original, in all its colourful glory, is digitized here.

The (quite lumpy-looking, though nonetheless smiley) team of oxen is nicely visible here, as are the various parts of the plough. These include the share (the bit that breaks up the earth) and the coulter (the bit that makes a groove for sowing seeds), which may be represented in the poem as the creature’s neb (nose), as well as the weapon that pierces the plough’s head (similar to the orþoncpil (skillful spear) driven through its back). Here’s a picture of an early medieval iron coulter from North Lincolnshire Museum:

Rusted coulter from several angles

Image from the Portable Antiquities Scheme (licence: CC BY-SA).

In addition to the specifics of actual ploughing (i.e. the description of the object laying horizontally and being pushed along, the sowing of seeds, the churning up of earth to make a path and the elements that pierce the object’s body), this poem provides useful information on an important aspect of the early medieval world: slavery. Whether born into it, taken in warfare or punished for criminal activity, slaves were common in this period. Despite the widespread nature of slavery at this time, few slaves are given voice in Old English literature, which is one of the reasons Riddle 21 is such an important text.

“Why the plough?” you might ask. “Surely there are all sorts of objects and animals that could have been chosen to represent an enslaved person in early medieval England.” That’s true, of course, and there are other riddles that give evidence of slavery. However, the fact that ploughing was a common role for slaves (according to the Domesday Book) goes some way to explaining the riddler’s choice. The unhappy conditions of slavery are also expounded in the Colloquy that Ælfric of Eynsham wrote in order to help his students learn Latin. It introduces a variety of figures who are quizzed about their roles and responsibilities. In a particularly empathetic passage, the enslaved ploughman cries: O! O! magnus labor. etiam, magnus labor est, quia non sum liber in Latin, or Hig! Hig! micel gedeorf ys hyt. / Geleof, micel gedeorf hit ys, forþam ic neom freoh (34-5) (Oh! Oh! The labour is great. Yes, the labour is great, because I am not free) in Old English (at page 21, lines 34-5). This is a rare example of a slave having a voice at all, let alone one that demands empathy.

Oxen grazing

Dexter cattle at Bede’s World in Jarrow. Photo courtesy of C.J.W. Brown.

Riddle 21 is another example of a metaphorical slave describing her/his condition. In fact, this riddle provides us with information about the type of slave the poem depicts: this slave has been brought from the forest, bound and borne into the settlement (brungen of bearwe, bunden cræfte, / wegen on wægne). The implication of the half-line har holtes feond (the old foe of the forest) is that the ploughman or ox responsible for clearing the land takes slaves during battle, an idea driven home by the weapon-imagery toward the end of the poem.

This context of slavery makes the poem’s innuendo pretty disturbing, if you ask me (Murphy talks about this innuendo at pages 175-6 of his book, cited below). All the riddle’s references to the prone speaker being aggressively pushed by its master (class/status implications are also clear when the poem refers to the plough’s hlaford (lord) twice) who sows seed are brought to a head by the final lines’ description of being served from behind. It doesn’t take an especially pervy imagination to see how this could be read sexually, particularly given the connotations of “plowing” in Modern English. Of course, the reference to the speaker’s steort (tail) and tearing teeth (ic toþum tere) may introduce a bestial element that only makes things worse.

All in all, Riddle 21 presents us with a creature forced to perform hard labour for its captor. I’d like to think that this image is a sympathetic one, but the introduction of innuendo may imply that the enslaved victim is the butt of the joke. Or maybe the fact that we’re dealing with an object rather than a person can ease our discomfort. I haven’t decided yet.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Ælfric of Eynsham. Ælfric’s Colloquy. Edited by G. N. Garmonsway. London: Methuen, 1939.

Bintley, Michael D. J. “Brungen of Bearwe: Ploughing Common Furrows in Riddle 21, The Dream of the Rood, and the Æcerbot Charm.” In Trees and Timber in the Anglo-Saxon World. Edited by Michael D. J. Bintley and Michael G. Shapland. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013, pages 144-57.

Cochran, Shannon Ferri. “The Plough’s the Thing: A New Solution to Old English Riddle 4 of the Exeter Book.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology, vol. 108, (2009), pages 301-9. (although this article deals with a different riddle, its discussion of the plough is relevant here)

Colgrave, Bertram. “Some Notes on Riddle 21.” Modern Language Review, vol. 32 (1937), pages 281-3.

Murphy, Patrick J. Unriddling the Exeter Riddles. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011.

Neville, Jennifer. “The Exeter Book Riddles’ Precarious Insights into Wooden Artefacts.” In Trees and Timber in the Anglo-Saxon World. Edited by Michael D. J. Bintley and Michael G. Shapland. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013, pages 122-38.

Williams, Edith Whitehurst. “Annals of the Poor: Folk Life in Old English Riddles.” Medieval Perspectives, vol. 3 (1988), pages 67-82.


Editorial Note:

The image of a different plough coulter was replaced and some text edited on 14 January 2021.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 21 

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Exeter Riddle 21

Exeter Riddle 22

MATTHIASAMMON

Date: Mon 21 Apr 2014
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 22
Original text:

Ætsomne cwom      LX monna
to wægstæþe      wicgum ridan;
hæfdon XI      eoredmæcgas
fridhengestas,      IIII sceamas.
5     Ne meahton magorincas      ofer mere feolan,
swa hi fundedon,      ac wæs flod to deop,
atol yþa geþræc,      ofras hea,
streamas stronge.      Ongunnon stigan þa
on wægn weras      ond hyra wicg somod
10     hlodan under hrunge;      þa þa hors oðbær
eh ond eorlas,      æscum dealle,
ofer wætres byht      wægn to lande,
swa hine oxa ne teah      ne esna mægen
ne fæthengest,      ne on flode swom,
15     ne be grunde wod      gestum under,
ne lagu drefde,      ne on lyfte fleag,
ne under bæc cyrde;      brohte hwæþre
beornas ofer burnan      ond hyra bloncan mid
from stæðe heaum,      þæt hy stopan up
20     on oþerne,      ellenrofe,
weras of wæge,      ond hyra wicg gesund.

Translation:

Together 60 men came
riding to the bank on horses;
11 horsemen had
noble steeds, 4 had white ones.
5     The warriors could not pass over the water,
as they intended, but the sea was too deep,
the terrible tumult of the waves, the banks too high,
the streams too strong. Then the men began
to climb up on the wagon together with their horses,
10     to load under the pole; then the wagon carried the horses,
mounts and men, proud in spears,
to land across the bay of the water,
in such a way that no ox pulled it, nor the strength of slaves,
nor a draught horse, nor did it swim on the water,
15     nor did it wade along the ground under its guests,
nor did it disturb the waters, nor fly in the air,
nor turned back; nevertheless it brought
the warriors over the stream, and their horses with them
from the high bank, so that they stepped up
20     onto the other, strong in courage,
the men from the waves, and also their horses, unharmed.

Click to show riddle solution?
Ursa Major, (days of the) month, bridge, New Year, stars


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 106r-106v of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), pages 191-2.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 20: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 80-1.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 22 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 22

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Wed 07 May 2014
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 22

This riddle’s commentary is a guest post from the stellar David Callander. David is a PhD student at the University of Cambridge, where he works on early medieval Welsh and English poetry. Take it away, David!

 

If you’re anything like me, this riddle will have completely foxed you. Different possibilities are gradually taken away until we’re left wondering, what on earth could this be? Or not on earth, perhaps.

First of all, we’re told that we’re dealing with LX men riding on horseback (Arabic numbers weren’t used in England yet, so the residents of early medieval England were stuck with Roman numerals.) Instead of moving on to describe different aspects of these men, we’re told a short story about them trying to cross a river. They want to cross this river, but are held back by the atol yþa geþræc, the ‘terrible tumult of the waves’. So then this wægn (it is what it looks like) turns up and, with a conveniently introduced pole, both ‘mounts and men’ are borne cheerfully over the water. But they do this in a seemingly impossible way – it did not disturb the water, nor fly in the air (so the Wind’s out), and also they weren’t pulled by the strength of slaves, or beasts of burden (13-14). This concludes with a happy ending, the men and horses have reached the greener grass of the far bank gesund (‘unharmed’ – the word is still used in Modern German and forms the first part of Gesundheit.) To me it all sounds a bit like punting.

Punting on River Cam

Photo (by Evans1551) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0).

So, a lovely story, but we aren’t really left any the wiser as to what is being described, and there’s just so much going on! What are the men and horses, and what’s the teleporting wagon doing? And why are there sixty men, eleven with noble steeds and four with white ones? Presumably the rest had to make do with tiny Viking horses:

Icelandic horse in snow

Photo (by Andreas Tille) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0).

Well, as you might expect, scholars have been arguing about this for at least 150 years. What can cross water, but not in the sky nor through the water itself? We are compelled to look up.

For some of us nowadays, it can be easy to forget the stars. But for the people of early medieval England they would have been vivid in the unclouded sky, without fumes and smog to blot them out. The constellation we now know as the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) was then known as Carles wæn (literally "a churl’s wagon"). This seems to have represented a wagon with a single pole, as L. Blakeley explains. Ælfric refers to how this constellation goes up and down both by day and by night in his De temporibus anni. The constellation under the “Wain” (Canes Venatici) consists of eleven stars visible to the naked eye, four of which Blakeley sees as particularly bright (the eleven noble steeds and four white ones.) Patrick Murphy has preferred to see the constellation Draco here, which, conveniently, consists of fifteen stars.

Big dipper

Can you see it? Photo (by adkiscool) from Deviant Art.

But why sixty horsemen altogether? Marijane Osborn makes the ingenious suggestion that this refers to sixty days after the winter solstice, when the position of the Big Dipper in relation to the pole would mark the seasons, or it could just be used more loosely to refer to many stars. Like other Old English riddles, this poem might draw upon Aldhelm’s Latin riddles (Riddle 53 in particular, which also refers to the Wain.)

Other solutions have been suggested, such as "month" and "bridge." A "month" (December in particular) was the earliest proposed solution, with the sixty days referring to the half-days of the month. It runs into a bit of trouble because it relies on counting feast days (seven) and Sundays (four, although there could be five) in terms of full days, rather than half-days like the other days of the month. It seems a bit of a leap to take this out of the riddle. A "bridge" would certainly have allowed the horsemen to cross the river without disturbing the water. But how would this explain the horsemen? And why would they have been stuck on one side of the water if there was already a bridge there?

One last tantalizing titbit. Classical writers refer to the Big Dipper as a plough (the constellation Boötes being the ploughman.) If we look at the first three riddles of the Exeter Book (unless we see them as one super-riddle), it seems that some of the riddles have been grouped together by theme. I wonder whether the idea of the Big Dipper as a plough was in the mind of a compiler when he decided to place the text after Riddle 21 (the Plough)?

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Ælfric. De Temporibus Anni. Ed. Heinrich Henel. Early English Text Society, vol. 213. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1942, section 9.6.

Blakeley, L. “Riddles 22 and 58 of the Exeter Book.” Review of English Studies, new series, vol. 9 (1958), pages 241-7.

Murphy, Patrick J. Unriddling the Exeter Riddles. PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011, pages 111-23.

Osborne, Marijane. “Old English Ing and his Wain.” Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, vol. 81 (1980), pages 388-9.

Williamson, Craig, ed. The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977, pages 201-4.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 22  david callander 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 53

Exeter Riddle 23

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 15 May 2014
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 23
Original text:

Agof is min noma      eft onhwyrfed;
ic eom wrætlic wiht      on gewin sceapen.
Þonne ic onbuge,      ond me of bosme fareð
ætren onga,     ic beom eallgearo
5     þæt ic me þæt feorhbealo     feor aswape.
Siþþan me se waldend,     se me þæt wite gescop,
leoþo forlæteð,     ic beo lengre þonne ær,
oþþæt ic spæte,      spilde geblonden,
ealfelo attor     þæt ic ær geap.
10     Ne togongeð þæs     gumena hwylcum,
ænigum eaþe      þæt ic þær ymb sprice,
gif hine hrineð     þæt me of hrife fleogeð,
þæt þone mandrinc      mægne geceapaþ,
fullwered fæste      feore sine.
15     Nelle ic unbunden      ænigum hyran
nymþe searosæled.     Saga hwæt ic hatte.

Translation:

Wob is my name turned back;
I am a wondrous being, shaped for battle.
When I bend, and from my bosom travels
a poisonous dart, I am very ready
5     so that I sweep that deadly evil far away from me.
When my ruler, he who designed that distress,
looses my limbs, I am longer than before,
until I spit, debased by destruction,
the terrible poison that I took in before.
10     What I speak about here does not
easily pass away from anyone,
if that which flies from my belly strikes him,
so that he buys that evil drink with his strength,
[pays] full compensation with his very life.
15     Unbound, I will not obey anyone
unless skillfully tied. Say what I am called.

Click to show riddle solution?
Bow


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 106v of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), page 192.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 21: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 81.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 23 

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Exeter Riddle 23 in Spanish / en Español

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 05 Jul 2021

This Spanish translation of Riddle 23 from the Exeter Book is by Carlos M. Cepero. Carlos is an architect who was born, raised and lives in Rosario, Argentina. He studied English and German at and after school, is a ravenous reader and a declared Britophile. He is passionate about medieval literature, especially Old English and Old Norse literature. Thank you for your translation, Carlos!

Esta traducción al español del Acertijo 23 del Libro de Exeter es de Carlos M. Cepero. Carlos es un arquitecto que nació, creció y vive en Rosario, Argentina. Estudió inglés y alemán en y después de la escuela, es un lector voraz y un britófilo declarado. Es un apasionado de la literatura medieval, especialmente la literatura antigua inglesa y nórdica antigua. ¡Gracias por tu traducción, Carlos!



Original text:

Agof is min noma      eft onhwyrfed;
ic eom wrætlic wiht      on gewin sceapen. (1)
Þonne ic onbuge,      ond me of bosme fareð
ætren onga,     ic beom eallgearo
5     þæt ic me þæt feorhbealo     feor aswape.
Siþþan me se waldend,     se me þæt wite gescop,
leoþo forlæteð,     ic beo lengre þonne ær,
oþþæt ic spæte,      spilde geblonden,
ealfelo attor     þæt ic ær geap.
10     Ne togongeð þæs     gumena hwylcum,
ænigum eaþe      þæt ic þær ymb sprice,
gif hine hrineð     þæt me of hrife fleogeð,
þæt þone mandrinc      mægne geceapaþ,
fullwered fæste      feore sine.
15     Nelle ic unbunden      ænigum hyran
nymþe searosæled.     Saga hwæt ic hatte.

Translation:

Ocra es my nombre del revés;
soy una maravillosa criatura, creada para la lid. (1)
Cuando soy arqueado, y de mi seno vuela
el ponzoñoso aguijón, estoy presto
5     a llevar lejos el mortal mal.
Cuando mi manipulador, que me destinó a ese tormento,
suelta mis miembros, soy más luengo que antes,
hasta que escupo, ciego de destrucción,
el maligno veneno que antes ingerí.
10     Eso de lo cual platico
no deja fácilmente indemne a nadie
a quien acaricie aquello que vuela de mi vientre;
tal es así que compra el veneno con su fortaleza,
una compensación pagada con su vida.
15     Suelto no obedeceré a nadie
salvo atado diestramente. Decid cómo me llamo.

Click to show riddle solution?
Un arco


Notes:
(1) Se repite la misma frase formulaica que en el verso 1 del Acertijo 20 / The same formulaic phrase is repeated as in verse 1 of Riddle 20.

Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  old english  riddle 23  Carlos M. Cepero 

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Exeter Riddle 23

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 23

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 26 May 2014
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 23

Erm…is anyone else a bit scared of whatever Riddle 23 is packing? I mean, I like heroic battling as much as the next person, but this poem is a tad intense. It’s also fairly easy to solve. In fact, the consensus that it refers to a bow (OE boga) is pretty strong.

Scene from Bayeux Tapestry

Can you spot the archer in this scene from the Bayeux Tapestry? Photo (by Gabriel Seah) from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

According to Donald K. Fry, “Crossbow” and “Phallus” also get a shout out (p. 23), but since the first is a type of bow and the second is pretty horrific in this context, I won’t take an extended go at solutions. I will say, however, that the first line gives the game away. At least it does if you think really hard about it. Taking up the speaker’s recommendation to turn back the name Agof, we get Foga, which then needs to be corrected to Boga. This change requires us to speculate that a scribe copying out this poem was used to replacing “b”s with “f”s to suit her/his own pronunciation and spelling conventions (Williamson, pp. 204-5). Oh, early medieval England. You’re so complex.

More straightforward are all the references to poison in the poem. The venomous association of arrows is pretty strongly signaled, with references to an ætren onga (poisonous dart) at line 4a and ealfelo attor (terrible poison) at line 9a. In line 8b, the bow also refers to itself as spilde geblonden (debased by destruction), and we know from looking at (ge)blandan’s Dictionary of Old English (DOE) entries that we’re dealing with a liquid-y sort of blending or mixing that can also denote infection or taint. This liquidity (SUCH a good word!) is carried out in the poetic metaphor of the bow delivering a mandrinc (evil drink) at line 13a.

There’s also some debate about lines 13-14 in general and the term fullwer (compensation, i.e. “full wergild“) in specific. Noting that this word might not actually be a compound at all, the DOE offers a few options for translating this passage: “‘so that he pays for that evil drink with his strength, [pays] full compensation at once with his life,’ or, if the subject is wer (man) and full (cup) is the object of geceapaþ:‘the man pays for that evil drink with his strength, [for] the cup at once with his life.'” The “cup” reading works nicely with the poison, of course, but the rest of the poem’s connotations of crime and punishment make room for the “compensation” version.

So now you’re probably wondering: did early English folks actually poison the tips of their weapons? That’s a really good question. I don’t know about the archaeological record off the top of my head (homework!), but certainly there are other poetic references to poisoned points in The Battle of Maldon (see lines 46-7 and 145b-6a) and potentially Beowulf (see lines 1457-60a). Of course, the poison/bow motif might also relate to the fact that the yew used to make bows was poisonous. Here, we’ve got a nice little Anglo-Latin riddle in the way of Aldhelm of Malmesbury’s Enigma 69, De taxo (about the yew-tree) for a comparison. Lines 5-8 read:

Sed me pestiferam fecerunt fata reorum,
Cumque venenatus glescit de corpore stipes,
Lurcones rabidi quem carpunt rictibus oris,
Occido mandentum mox plura cadavera leto. (in Glorie)

(but the fates have made me deadly to the guilty. A poisonous branch grows from my body, and when pillagers, mad of mouth, seize it with open jaws, I soon wipe out many corpses of the chewers with death.)

This 7th/8th-century abbot, bishop and writer extraordinaire is a font of riddley knowledge on all sorts of topics. And his poem is proof that some early English folks knew that yew was a tad on the massively dangerous side (although there’s also an article by Lenore Abraham suggesting that yew wasn’t all that accessible in early medieval England). But that doesn’t seem to have stopped the figure on the right side of the 8th-century Franks Casket’s lid from shooting up the place:

Riddle 23 Franks Casket Lid

Photo (by FinnWikiNo) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0).

Since we’re doing a bit of Latin show-and-tell, let’s also take a look at another related riddle. Tatwine, the 8th-century Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote a pretty gosh-darn similar poem, called Enigma 34, De faretra (about the quiver). It goes a little something like this:

Omnes enim diris complent mea uiscera flammae
Nam me flamma ferox stimulis deuastat acerius
Vt pacis pia mox truculenter foedera frangam
Non tamen oblectat me sponte subire duellum. (in Glorie)

(Flames, terrible indeed, fill all my insides, for a bold fire lays waste to me with sharp spurs so that, wildly, I soon break faithful agreements of peace; nevertheless it does not delight me in myself to go to war.)

Well hello there, fiery flames! Aren’t you frequently linked to poison in Old English lit? (the answer is yes…yes they are). Of course, this quiver full of arrows isn’t creepily eager to get involved in the whole warfare thing. But I guess bows and quivers can be attributed with different personalities. I’m so tempted to draw you a picture of this. So tempted.

But I suppose I’ll stick to proper commentary this week.

What else should we notice about this poem? Well, did anyone catch that opening formula? Line 2b’s reference to being on gewin sceapen (shaped for battle) is – quite importantly – the same phrase that describes the sword in line 1b of Riddle 20. Weapons of the world, unite! Other linguistic cleverness can be seen at the very end of Riddle 23 in that little binding-pun. The tongue-in-cheek final flourish – Nelle ic unbunden ænigum hyran / nymþe searosæled (Unbound, I will not obey anyone unless skillfully tied) – is clearly a reference to both 1) the controlling sort of binding that one could inflict upon a living creature and 2) the stringing of a bow. Such a clever riddler.

I’m going to stop now, although I could go on. I could list the references to archery that come up in other brilliant early English texts. I could talk about that rather optimistic compound feorhbealu (deadly evil) and how it only occurs here and in Beowulf. I could remark that this bow’s ruler is clearly not a very nice fellow, with all his designing of distress (line 6b) and what-not. But I’m quite tired. And I need to go buy milk.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Abraham, Lenore. “The Devil, the Yew Bow, and the Saxon Archer.” Proceedings of the PMR Conference, vol. 16-17 (1992-3), pages 1-12.

Dictionary of Old English: A-G Online. Ed. by Antonette diPaolo Healey, Dorothy Haines, Joan Holland, David McDougall, and Ian McDougall, with Pauline Thompson and Nancy Speirs. Web interface by Peter Mielke and Xin Xiang. Toronto: Dictionary of Old English Project, 2007. [with the next roll-out, you’ll be able to access the DOE a set amount of times for free!]

Fry, Donald K. “Exeter Book Riddle Solutions.” Old English Newsletter, vol. 15 (1981), pages 22-33.

Glorie, F., ed. Variae Collectiones Aenigmatum Merovingicae Aetatis. Corpus Christianorum Series Latina, vol. 133-133A. Turnhout: Brepols, 1968.

Williamson, Craig, ed. The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 23 

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Exeter Riddle 24

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 03 Jun 2014
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 24

Righto, folks…we’ve got runes again this week. If you can’t see the runes in the Old English riddle below, scroll down for a screen shot at the bottom of the post.



Original text:

Ic eom wunderlicu wiht,      wræsne mine stefne,
hwilum beorce swa hund,     hwilum blæte swa gat,
hwilum græde swa gos,    hwilum gielle swa hafoc,
hwilum ic onhyrge     þone haswan earn,
5     guðfugles hleoþor,     hwilum glidan reorde
muþe gemæne,     hwilum mæwes song,
þær ic glado sitte.     . ᚷ. mec nemnað,
swylce . ᚫ. ond . ᚱ.      . ᚩ. fullesteð,
. ᚻ. ond . ᛁ .     Nu ic haten eom
10     swa þa siex stafas      sweotule becnaþ.

Translation:

I am a wondrous creature, I vary my voice,
sometimes I bark like a dog, sometimes I bleat like a goat,
sometimes I bellow like a goose, sometimes I yell like a hawk,
sometimes I echo the ashy eagle,
5     the noise of the war-bird, sometimes the voice of the kite
I convey from my mouth, sometimes the gull’s song,
where I sit gladly. G they call me,
likewise Æ and R. O helps,
H and I. Now I am named
10     as those six characters clearly connote.

Click to show riddle solution?
Jay, Magpie, Woodpecker


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 106v of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), pages 192-3.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 22: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 82.

Screen shot for the runes:
Riddle 24 with runes

Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 24 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 24

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Sun 15 Jun 2014
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 24

People who know me will be aware that barely concealed beneath my ruthlessly sharp academic persona is a crazy cat lady begging to come out and play. Not just a cat lady, in fact: an all-the-cute-animals-all-the-time lady. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this in past posts, but it’s about to become very apparent indeed. That’s because Riddle 24 – my new favourite – has references to not one fluffy creature, not even two fluffy creatures, but SEVEN FLUFFY CREATURES!!! Yes, I’m including all the birds in this category, because baby birds are basically the best things ever.

Goose and goslings

A goose and a million goslings. Did you know when you google “gosling” all you get is a whole lot of Ryan? Photo (author: Dhinakaran Gajavarathan) from Wikimedia Commons.

 

Aside from its compendium of animal noises, other special features of this week’s riddle include: a runic cypher and a narrative structure to rival that of the children’s classic, See Spot Run (just kidding).

But I’m sure you’re all dying to know the solution first. Well it turns out it isn’t so very hard to figure out if you know your runes and your Old English (and who doesn’t these days?). When we translate all the runes into the alphabet that you and I are more familiar with, we get: G, Æ, R, O, H and I. I should say that rather than a runic ᚷ (G), the manuscript actually contains the letter “x,” but editors like Craig Williamson (p. 207-9) reckon that can be marked down to a bit of scribal confusion (considering the poem lumps it in with þa siex stafas (those six characters)). So, what’s a GÆROHI? Sounds cool! But in fact it means absolutely nothing. However, if you switch the letters around enough times, you’ll end up with “higoræ” and that is most certainly a something. The specific something that it is: is a “jay” (probably).

A spelling variant of the Old English nouns higera (boy birdies) and higere (girl birdies), what we’re dealing with here is a winged creature famous for being able to mimic the sounds that other animals (and things) make. Of course, as a close relation to the (also mimicky) magpie, there has been a bit of confusion and disagreement amongst scholars. The ever-so-clever Dieter Bitterli points out that an early English glossary can clear this up for us (pp. 91-7). Old English for “magpie” seems to be agu. Of course, there’s always the possibility of having more than one word for a concept, a position that’s strengthened by the fact that Latin pica can mean either “jay” or “magpie.” How about we make things more complicated? The similarity of the Latin word picus (woodpecker) has at least once confused an early medieval translator who glossed it with higera instead of the more usual Old English fina. But it seems unlikely that the bird in this riddle is a woodpecker because woodpeckers don’t mimic…they peck. SO: we’re probably looking at a jay. Or maybe a magpie. And it’s the fault of the Old English gloss of Latin picus that woodpecker’s also in the mix.

There was also at least one kinda cray cray suggestion made well over a hundred years ago now. Emma Sonke suggested (in German, so some of you won’t be able to check up on me!) that the poem refers to an actor who mimics animal and bird sounds. Sort of like a medieval Michael Winslow (i.e. the guy from Police Academy who made all the fun noises: here have a NINE MINUTE video of him).

But in general, the fact that the runes spell out a word in Old English means solution-squabbling is not so common for this riddle. “If not solutions, then what else can you tell us, Megan?” I hear you cry. Well…I could fill up the rest of this post with pictures of the animals it names. There’s a barky dog:

Irish Wolfhound from side

I have no idea what early medieval dogs looked like. I’m guessing like this. Photo (author: Dux) from the Wikimedia Commons.

 

There’s a bleaty goat:

Goats

Mommy and baby goats! Photo (author: Jason Pratt) from the Wikimedia Commons.

 

There’s a bellowy goose, but I already showed you tons of those.

There’s a yelly hawk:

Hawk and chicks

Red-tailed hawks. Photo (author: Thomas O’Neil) from the Wikimedia Commons.

 

There’s an ashy eagle:

Golden eagle

The most golden of eagles. Photo (author: Tony Hisgett) from Wikimedia Commons.

 

There’s a vocal kite:

Milvus_migrans_2005-new

Kite in flight. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

 

And there’s a singy gull:

Gull on snow

Snow-gull! Photo (author: jomilo75) from Wikimedia Commons.

 

“You’re just being lazy, Megan!” I hear the particularly annoying ones among you yelling. “You can’t fill up a whole blog post with pictures of (modern) animals!” (just watch me…just you watch me). Well, I suppose you might be right. I suppose I ought to say things like “boy, isn’t there an awful lot of hwilum-anaphora going on here!” But you wouldn’t like that, would you? (P.S. “anaphora” means repeating the same word at the start of successive clauses).

But I’ve had a card hidden up my sleeve the whole time. I know what you prolly will like. Beasts of battle! I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned these in a previous post, but Old English (and other early Germanic) poets love gross, gory birds and wolves that swoop down on battles and clean up the mess (by eating people). These are pretty horrid, really, but they’re an important part of the poetics of the time. So when you see an eagle, raven or wolf in the poetry, it’s generally quite a bad sign. This poem makes the link very clear by calling the ashy eagle (a lot of eagles are described by the indistinctive colour-term hasu in OE poetry) a guðfugol (war-bird). No folks, this isn’t a military plane we’ve got here, but a literal bird-of-war. We can compare the compound to guðhafoc (war-hawk) at line 64a of The Battle of Brunanburh and herefugol at line 162b of Exodus. So next time you’re out at the park, enjoying a bit of sun, taking the air, maybe having a little walk, remember that eagles want to eat you. Maybe you can stave them off by reciting this poem to them.

Good luck with that.

Over and out.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Bitterli, Dieter. Say What I Am Called: the Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book and the Anglo-Latin Riddle Tradition. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009.

Sonke, Emma. “Zu dem 25. Rätsel des Exeterbuches.” Englische Studien, vol. 37 (1907), pages 313-18.

Williamson, Craig, ed. The Old English Riddles of The Exeter Book. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 24 

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Exeter Riddle 25

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 26 Jun 2014
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 25
Original text:

Ic eom wunderlicu wiht,     wifum on hyhte,
neahbuendum nyt;     nængum sceþþe
burgsittendra,     nymþe bonan anum.
Staþol min is steapheah,     stonde ic on bedde,
5     neoþan ruh nathwær.     Neþeð hwilum
ful cyrtenu     ceorles dohtor,
modwlonc meowle,     þæt heo on mec gripeð,
ræseð mec on reodne,     reafað min heafod,
fegeð mec on fæsten.     Feleþ sona
10     mines gemotes, seo þe mec nearwað,
wif wundenlocc.     Wæt bið þæt eage.

Translation:

I am a wondrous creature, a joy to women,
a help to neighbours; I harm none
of the city-dwellers, except for my killer.
My base is steep and high, I stand in a bed,
5     shaggy somewhere beneath. Sometimes ventures
the very beautiful daughter of a churl,
a maid proud in mind, so that she grabs hold of me,
rubs me to redness, ravages my head,
forces me into a fastness. Immediately she feels
10     my meeting, the one who confines me,
the curly-locked woman. Wet will be that eye.

Click to show riddle solution?
Onion, leek, mustard, phallus, etc.


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 106v-107r of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), page 193.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 23: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 82.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 25 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 25

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 03 Jul 2014
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 25

Just a little content warning to begin with. If you’ve already read Riddle 25’s translation, you’re probably aware that there’s some pretty obvious body humour going on in this poem. So prepare yourself to read the word “phallus” more times in one post than perhaps you would prefer.

Phallus.

(I did warn you)

So, Riddle 25, eh? What might the solution be? According to Donald K. Fry’s list of riddle solutions, this poem has been interpreted as: Hemp, Leek, Onion, Rosehip, Mustard and Phallus (p. 23). Onion, the Old English for which is cipe or cipeleac, has the most supporters.

Uprooted red onions on ground

This is what an onion looks like, for those of you who don’t know. Photo (author: Stephen Ausmus) from Wikimedia Commons.

The onion plant’s shape explains the riddle’s reference to a steapheah (literally, “steep-high”) staþol (foundation/base). I’m not entirely certain how you can have a “steep” foundation, although I’ve gone with editors Krapp and Dobbie here. This line would perhaps make a little more sense if we emend to stapol (pillar/shaft), as suggested by Andy Orchard (among others) in his forthcoming riddle edition for the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library. He notes that line 927a of Beowulf similarly reads staþole in the manuscript, where stapole would make more sense. So, yeah: a really steep…erect, even…shaft would make this poem’s clear phallic undertones (overtones?) even more pronounced. The verses immediately following this possible emendation refer to standing in a bed (bed of hair? bed of veggies? bed of sexcapades? or all of the above?) and to a lower roughness or shagginess that similarly signifies both the onion’s roots and hair in the nether regions. “Nether regions”: a term that is simultaneously hilarious and kind of gross. Alright, poet, we get it: vegetables are a bit rude (Blackadder, much?). So rude, in fact, that years ago one of my housemates taped a print-out of suggestively-shaped vegetables to her bedroom door in order to irritate her next-door neighbour. It worked.

Of course, all of the above descriptions could equally refer to other veggies. The leek is also a contender:

Uprooted leeks on table

Leeks look a bit like green onions or shallots, but don’t taste as delicious. Fact. Photo (author: Björn König) from Wikimedia Commons.

But do leeks make you cry? (this is an honest question…I don’t really cook…ever…so I don’t know) Because the final half-line’s Wæt bið þæt eage (Wet will be that eye) seems to be playing with similarities between sex-related and non-sex-related wetness. According to the onion-reading, we’re dealing with actual eyes tearing up whilst chopping particularly aggressive vegetables (this is where the eye-wateringly strong mustard-interpretation comes in too). According to the phallus-reading…well (how to put this delicately?), we’re dealing with semen. I hope you can figure out precisely how that works for yourself.

This riddle also offers us a great deal to talk about beyond all the double entendre. For example, anyone who’s interested in gender and sexuality has a lot to sort through here. Yes, the suggestive, phallic solution relates to man parts, but the poem also hands us a pretty interesting picture of a sexually assertive woman. LOTS of people have written on this topic (see Davis, Hermann, Kim, Shaw and Whitehurst Williams, for example), so of course there’s disagreement about whether or not the poem judges the woman’s assertiveness – perhaps even aggressiveness, given how grabby those hands seem to be. It has been noted that she’s a ceorles dohtor (daughter of a churl/freeman), and so her aggressive approach may be linked to class prejudices (see Tanke).

I’ve also already spent some time thinking about the interesting hair-compound wundenlocc that the poem uses to describe the woman in the final line. I have a note on this, which you can access here (scroll down to my name). To sum that essay up: past scholarship can’t seem to agree on whether or not wundenlocc means “curly” or “braided” hair. A minor point, perhaps, but contentious enough to cause all sorts of divergent readings. However, given that Riddle 40 translates a Latin poem that describes the use of a curling iron with references to (ge)wundne loccas, I think “curly” hair is a better reading. I do note in that essay (p. 124, fn. 15) that Patrick Murphy (pp. 230-3) points out interesting parallels in the much later oral riddles collected by Archer Taylor (p. 196). Some of these riddles involve veggies with braided hair. Because of this and because of the grammatical ambiguity of these lines, Murphy argues that the wif wundenlocc is not just the grabby-handed woman, but also the onion itself. Now there’s some food for thought.

But who cares about hair? I’m sure some of you are thinking that. I mean, does it really matter? Well, yes, I think. Hair is culturally significant. In fact, Philip Shaw’s discussion of verbal parallels between Riddle 25 and Judith (a versification of the famous apocryphal story about a woman who decapitated the leader of an invading army) is concerned with precisely this. According to Shaw, hair is situated “within a rich intertextual matrix of ideas about Christianity versus heathenism” (p. 350). And such issues of religious identity are, of course, one of the big concerns of Old English literature. This puts hair (and onions, I guess) at the forefront of the entire field of study. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but I do hope that it makes you think twice next time you see the smirking face of an actor whipping her/his hair about in a Pantene commercial. Cultural significance, people.

Phallus.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

If you want to know more about Anglo-Saxon approaches to sex, you should check out Christopher Monk’s work here.

Cavell, Megan. “Old English ‘Wundenlocc’ Hair in Context.” Medium Ævum, vol. 82 (2013), pages 119-25.

Davis, Glenn. “The Exeter Book Riddles and the Place of Sexual Idiom.” In Medieval Obscenities. Edited by Nicola McDonald. York: York Medieval Press, 2006, pages 39-54.

Fry, Donald K. “Exeter Book Riddle Solutions.” Old English Newsletter, vol. 15, issue 1 (1981), pages 22-33.

Hermann, John P. Allegories of War: Language and Violence in Old English Poetry. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1989 (page 191 onward).

Kim, Susan. “Bloody Signs: Circumcision and Pregnancy in the Old English Judith.” Exemplaria, vol. 11, issue 2 (Fall 1999), pages 285-307.

Murphy, Patrick J. Unriddling the Exeter Riddles. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2011, pages 203, 222, and 230-3.

Shaw, Philip. “Hair and Heathens: Picturing Pagans and the Carolingian Connection in the Exeter Book and Beowulf-Manuscript.” In Texts and Identities in the Early Middle Ages. Edited by Richard Corradini, Rob Meens, Christina Pössel and Philip Shaw. Forschungen zur Geschichte des Mittelalters, vol. 12 (Vienna: Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2006), pages 345-57.

Tanke, John W. “Wonfeax wale: Ideology and Figuration in the Sexual Riddles of the Exeter Book.” In Class and Gender in Early English Literature: Intersections. Edited by Britton J. Harwood and Gillian R. Overing. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994, pages 21-42.

Taylor, Archer. English Riddles from Oral Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1951.

Whitehurst Williams, Edith. “What’s so New about the Sexual Revolution? Some Comments on Anglo-Saxon Attitudes toward Sexuality in Women based on Four Exeter Book Riddles.” Texas Quarterly, vol. 18, issue 2 (1975), pages 46–55 (reprinted in New Readings on Women in Old English Literature, edited by Helen Damico and Alexandra Hennessey Olsen. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990, pages 137-45).



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 25 

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Exeter Riddle 26

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 11 Aug 2014
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 26
Original text:

Mec feonda sum      feore besnyþede,
woruldstrenga binom,      wætte siþþan,
dyfde on wætre,      dyde eft þonan,
sette on sunnan,      þær ic swiþe beleas
5     herum þam þe ic hæfde.      Heard mec siþþan
snað seaxses ecg,      sindrum begrunden;
fingras feoldan,      ond mec fugles wyn
geond speddropum      spyrede geneahhe,
ofer brunne brerd,      beamtelge swealg,
10     streames dæle,      stop eft on mec,
siþade sweartlast.      Mec siþþan wrah
hæleð hleobordum,      hyde beþenede,
gierede mec mid golde;      forþon me gliwedon
wrætlic weorc smiþa,      wire bifongen.
15     Nu þa gereno      ond se reada telg
ond þa wuldorgesteald      wide mære
dryhtfolca helm,      nales dol wite.
Gif min bearn wera      brucan willað,
hy beoð þy gesundran      ond þy sigefæstran,
20     heortum þy hwætran      ond þy hygebliþran,
ferþe þy frodran,      habbaþ freonda þy ma,
swæsra ond gesibbra,      soþra ond godra,
tilra ond getreowra,      þa hyra tyr ond ead
estum ycað      ond hy arstafum
25     lissum bilecgað      ond hi lufan fæþmum
fæste clyppað.      Frige hwæt ic hatte,
niþum to nytte.      Nama min is mære,
hæleþum gifre      ond halig sylf.

Translation:

A certain enemy robbed me of my life,
stole my world-strength; afterward he soaked me,
dunked me in water, dragged me out again,
set me in the sun, where I swiftly lost
5     the hairs that I had. Afterward the hard
edge of a knife, with all unevenness ground away, slashed me;
fingers folded, and the bird’s joy
[spread] over me with worthwhile drops, often made tracks,
over the bright border, swallowed tree-dye,
10     a portion of the stream, stepped again on me,
journeyed, leaving behind a dark track. Afterward a hero
encircled me with protective boards, covered me with hide,
garnished me with gold; therefore the wonderful
work of smiths glitters on me, surrounded by wire.
15     Now those ornaments and the red dye
and that wondrous dwelling widely worship
the protector of the people, not at all foolish in wisdom.
If the children of men wish to enjoy me,
they will be the more sound and the more victory-fast,
20     the bolder in heart and the more blithe in mind,
the wiser in spirit, they will have more friends,
dear and near, faithful and good,
upright and true; then their glory and prosperity
will increase with favour and lay down
25     goodwill and kindness and in the grasp of love
clasp firmly. Find what I am called,
useful to men. My name is famous,
handy to heroes and holy in itself.

Click to show riddle solution?
Book, Bible, Gospel Book


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 107r-107v of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), pages 193-4.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 24: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 82-3.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 26 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 26

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Fri 22 Aug 2014
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 26

Let me warn you now: I’m sick and I might be contagious. Oh wait…this is the internet, and that’s not how germs work. Still, if this commentary comes across as particularly grumpy or incoherent, now you know why.

So, Riddle 26, eh? Straight from the inappropriate touching of root vegetables to animal martyrs and religious book-making in one fell swoop…no one ever said the Exeter Book compiler was a person of limited interests. “But why, oh why, are you so sure we’re dealing with religious book-making?” you might ask. My un-sick self would probably answer something like “What a good question. Let’s take a look at the scholarship.” My sick self, on the other hand, is going to reply thusly: “Because I bothered to read the riddle, and it’s soooooooooo obvious, and everyone else agrees with me anyway, you cheeky imaginary questioner, you.” Then I might stop to realize that I’m having this debate in my head and you, real-life readers, were probably on the same page as me the whole time. Sigh.

Anyway, let’s all stop arguing with myself and look at the details of the solution. I’ve listed Book, Bible and Gospel Book, although Hide has also been suggested in the past. Of course, we’re dealing with a period when book-making involved using the skins of animals (sheep, goats, cows, etc.), so all four of these solutions are really interconnected.

Parchment being stretched on a racks

Here’s a photo of parchment drying in Pergamena’s workshop from April Hannah Llewellyn’s (no longer live) website.

The question is, then, whether we’re dealing with a particularly religious book or not. Well, the reference to the ornamentation of the book being used to worship the dryhtfolca helm (protector of the people) in lines 16b-17a does seem to imply a Christian context. If you’re not convinced, then perhaps the even more strongly religious implications of the final line and a half will change your mind: Nama min is mære, / hæleþum gifre ond halig sylf (My name is famous, / handy to heroes and holy in itself). So, it’s a religious book then (case closed!). But why quibble between Bible and Gospel Book? Because it seems that complete Bibles were fairly rare in early medieval England (see Niles, pages 118-19). This is not to say that the early English didn’t have access to biblical texts (whether in Old English or in Latin). Of course they did! It’s just that they didn’t necessarily all travel together in a tidy package. That’s why Gospel Book, or godspell-boc in Old English (or Cristes boc, as Niles solves it on page 141), is a solid suggestion.

Illuminated manuscript

Here is a VERY PRETTY picture of an 8th-century Latin gospel book known as the Codex Aureus of Canterbury (folios 9v and 10r). Photo (by David Stapleton (Dsmdgold) from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

But let’s look a bit more at the contents of the poem. The first thing that strikes me and likely strikes most people (probably since it’s…well…the first thing we read) is the nastiness of the opening lines. In identifying with whichever animal provided the raw material, the speaker accuses the book-maker of being feonda sum (a certain enemy) who robs and steals the animal’s life and strength. This may sound a bit out of place for a religious text: shouldn’t those who practice this religion believe the book’s making is a happy thing? Well, maybe in other cultures and literary traditions, but in early medieval England, I assure you that the tone is spot on. Not only is the movement from alive/free to dead/in service a common Old English riddling trope, but it also speaks to a broader interest in affliction throughout early medieval literature. To put it simply, Old English poets love a good martyr. In this literary context, if you aren’t suffering, then you probably aren’t doing it right. So, even though it might make a modern audience a bit uncomfortable to think that the clerical types making books and writing this poetry down were very much aware of the sacrifice that their enterprise required, it really does provide an excellent window into early medieval culture. Of course, biblical and apocryphal narratives are full of suffering and sacrifice, so why shouldn’t the manuscript that contains them be?

Manuscript open on cushion

A 8th/9th-century Italian medical manuscript, Glasgow University, Hunterian Library, MS Hunter 96 (own photo, with thanks to the library).

Speaking of manuscripts, how’s about a little intro to medieval book-making? Well, you really need look no further than the images of Riddle 26. K, maybe a little bit further, but that was a classy sentence and I reserve the right to include classy sentences in my writing from time to time. But, seriously, from the second line of the poem, we have a list of processes involved in making a manuscript. The soaking refers to the water and lime bath that helps loosen the skin’s hairs and fat. After scraping these away, the skin would be stretched on a frame and smoothed. When ready, it would be cut and folded, ruled and written on. This is where we get the lovely image of the fugles wyn (bird’s joy) making tracks upon the speaker. This little riddle within the riddle points toward the quill pen used for writing. We also have references to tracks in other, related riddles from early medieval England like Tatwine’s Latin Enigma 5, De membrano:

Efferus exuviis populator me spoliavit,
Vitalis pariter flatus spiramina dempsit;
In planum me iterum campum sed verterat auctor.
Frugiferos cultor sulcos mox irrigat undis;
Omnigenam nardi messem mea prata rependunt,
Qua sanis victum et lesis praestabo medelam.
(Glorie, vol. 133, page 172)

(A savage ravager robbed me of my clothing, and likewise deprived my pores of the breath of life; but a craftsman turned me into a level plain again. A cultivator soon irrigates fertile furrows with waves; my meadows render a harvest of balsam of every kind, with which I will supply nourishment to the healthy and healing to the sick.)

But the Old English text pays much closer attention to the nitty-gritty of book-making. After the preparation of the manuscript and writing of the text, the riddle alludes to additional steps: the stitched up gatherings of folded manuscript pages (or leaves) would be bound to the front and back boards and covered in leather. The riddle’s manuscript is also blinged out beyond mere functionality. It’s covered in gold and intricate metalwork. This sort of fancy-pants decoration was generally reserved for biblical and liturgical books in early medieval England (see Bitterli, page 177). There are lots and lots of lovely images of ornamented books available online, but check out the 12th-century Eadwine Psalter on Trinity College, Cambridge’s website for a particularly user-friendly, scrollable one that includes the front and back covers.

There’s lots more to say about this riddle’s style, diction, poetics, etc., but I think I’m going to leave it there. Mainly because I’m giving you homework! (I think you and I knew it would come to this eventually). Luckily for you, the homework is fun and optional! If you want to learn more about medieval book history, then I strongly suggest that you trot on over to the University of Nottingham’s website and take advantage of the resources (videos! photos! links!) provided on the materials and processes involved in manuscripting. I’ve just coined that verb. Or verbed that noun, rather. Which seems to me a good place to say good-bye for now. Go do your homework.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Bitterli, Dieter. Say What I Am Called: the Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book and the Anglo-Latin Riddle Tradition. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009.

Glorie, F., ed. Variae Collectiones Aenigmatum Merovingicae Aetatis. Corpus Christianorum Series Latina, vol. 133-133A. Turnhout: Brepols, 1968.

Niles, John D. Old English Enigmatic Poems and the Play of the Texts. Studies in the Early Middle Ages 13. Turnhout: Brepols, 2006.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 26 

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Exeter Riddle 27

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 26 Aug 2014
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 27

This week’s riddle comes to us from Wendy Hennequin (you may remember Wendy from Riddle 17). She has provided us with a poetic translation (and a few notes), as well as a prose translation. You’ll have to scroll all the way down to find the possible solutions. Take it away, Wendy!



Original text:

Ic eom weorð werum,      wide funden,
brungen of bearwum      ond of burghleoþum,
of denum ond of dunum.     Dæges mec wægun
feþre on lifte,      feredon mid liste
5     under hrofes hleo.      Hæleð mec siþþan
baþedan in bydene.      Nu ic eom bindere
ond swingere,      sona weorpe
esne to eorþan,      hwilum ealdne ceorl.
Sona þæt onfindeð,      se þe mec fehð ongean,
10     ond wið mægenþisan     minre genæsteð,
þæt he hrycge sceal      hrusan secan,
gif he unrædes     ær ne geswiceð,
strengo bistolen,      strong on spræce,
mægene binumen;      nah his modes geweald,
15     fota ne folma.     Frige hwæt ic hatte,
ðe on eorþan swa      esnas binde,
dole æfter dyntum     be dæges leohte.

Translation:

Poetic translation:

I am worthy to folk,    and found widely,
brought from forests      and fortress-hills,
from dales and from downs.      By day, feathers
brought me by craft,      carried me aloft
5     under house-roof’s shelter.     Heroes afterwards
bathed me in barrels.      Binder now I am,
striker and scourger (1),    and soon, hurler
of old freemen     even to the earth.
Who seizes me    and seeks to challenge
10     my mighty strength    soon will discover
that he must find the earth     flat on his back.
Unless he ceases earlier   to seek folly.
Stolen his might—      though strong his speech—
no power he has    of hands nor of feet
15     of mind or of soul (2).      Say what I am called (3),
who alone on earth,    by light of day,
so binds fellows (4)    with folly and blows.

Prose translation:

I am worthy to men, found widely, brought from the woods and fort-hills, from dales and mountains; wings carried me aloft by day, brought with skill under the roof’s shelter. Afterwards, heroes bathed me in a bucket. Now I am binder, striker, and soon, thrower of an old churl even to the earth. He who seizes me and against my might contends—soon finds that he must seek the earth with his back if he doesn’t leave off his folly beforehand. Stolen his strength, strong his speech, deprived of might, he does not have the possession of mind, feet, or hands. Learn what am I called, who on earth so binds men, foolish (or with folly) after blows, by day’s light.

Click to show riddle solution?
Mead, Whip, Sleep


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 107v of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), page 194.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 25: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 83-4.

Translation Notes

  • (1) There is only one word in the original, swingere, which can mean both striker and scourger. I use both meanings, as variations of each other, to fill the half-line.
  • (2) Line 14b of the original, when translated into modern English, has three stresses and had to be split between lines 14a and 15a of my translation. In order to fit the poem poetically into its original number of lines, I eliminated the variation in the original riddle’s line 14a.
  • (3) Instead of the familiar tag line, “saga hwæt ic hatte,” which appears in Riddle 19, among others, Riddle 27 says, “frige hwæt ic hatte,” “learn by asking what I am called.” I’ve reverted to the more familiar formula to match the alliteration.
  • (4) The original’s esnas seems to mean a man of lower social class: Clark-Hall defines the word esne as “labourer, slave, servant, retainer: youth, man” (esne, 107). It is difficult to convey this connotation in Modern English without resorting to old-fashioned words such as “peasant.”


Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 27 

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Exeter Riddle 27 in Spanish / en Español

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 22 Jun 2021

Dr. José Antonio Alonso Navarro holds a PhD in English Philology from the Coruña University (Spain) and a BA in English Philology from the Complutense University of Madrid (Spain). Currently, Alonso Navarro is a Full Professor of History of the English Language at the National University of Asuncion (Paraguay). His main interest revolves around the translation of Middle English texts into Spanish. Needless to say, he is also very enthusiastic about Old English riddles.

El Dr. José Antonio Alonso Navarro es Doctor en Filología Inglesa por la Universidad de La Coruña (España) y Licenciado en Filología Inglesa por la Universidad Complutense de Madrid (España). Actualmente, Alonso Navarro es Catedrático de Historia de la Lengua Inglesa en la Universidad Nacional de Asunción (Paraguay). Su principal interés gira en torno a la traducción de textos del inglés medio al español. No hace falta decir que también está muy entusiasmado con los acertijos en inglés antiguo.



Original text:

Ic eom weorð werum,      wide funden,
brungen of bearwum      ond of burghleoþum,
of denum ond of dunum.     Dæges mec wægun
feþre on lifte,      feredon mid liste
5     under hrofes hleo.      Hæleð mec siþþan
baþedan in bydene.      Nu ic eom bindere
ond swingere,      sona weorpe
esne to eorþan,      hwilum ealdne ceorl.
Sona þæt onfindeð,      se þe mec fehð ongean,
10     ond wið mægenþisan     minre genæsteð,
þæt he hrycge sceal      hrusan secan,
gif he unrædes     ær ne geswiceð,
strengo bistolen,      strong on spræce,
mægene binumen;      nah his modes geweald,
15     fota ne folma.     Frige hwæt ic hatte,
ðe on eorþan swa      esnas binde,
dole æfter dyntum     be dæges leohte.

Translation:
Yo soy de valor para los hombres, hallado por todas partes, traído de los bosques y de las pendientes montañosas, de los valles y de las colinas. De día las alas me llevaron en lo alto, y me transportaron con destreza bajo la protección de un techo. Después, los hombres me bañaron en un recipiente. Ahora yo ato y azoto; y a veces con rapidez arrojo a la tierra ora a un sirviente joven ora a un viejo campesino. En seguida aquel descubre que quien lucha contra mí y combate contra mi fuerza contundente con la espalda dará en la tierra si no desiste antes de su necio plan. Privado de la fuerza, poderoso de palabra, arrebatado el vigor, no ejerce ya el control de la mente ni de los pies ni de las manos. Pregunta cómo me llaman a mí que en la tierra ato así a los hombres necios después de golpearlos a la mañana siguiente.
Click to show riddle solution?
Hidromiel


Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  old english  riddle 27  José Antonio Alonso Navarro 

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Exeter Riddle 27

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 27

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 02 Sep 2014
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 27

Here’s Wendy Hennequin‘s follow-up to her translation:

 

The general consensus about Riddle 27 is that the solution is “mead” (Tupper Jr., page 132; Rodrigues, page 131; Niles, page 135). Tupper and Rodrigues note that whip and sleep have also been proposed (pages 132; 131). Niles has recently proposed a double solution: “nectar (honey-dew) and mead” to account for both the first part of the poem regarding the origins of honey and the second part of the riddle, which describes mead’s effects (pages 135-36). Certainly, Niles is correct in identifying two parts of the riddle—a sort of “before and after.” At first, the mysterious object is found everywhere: mountains, valleys, woods, and cities. Then, afterwards, the object fells men. The transition between these two stages is the bath in a barrel (or bucket). The other proposed solutions, whip and sleep, do not account for that transition.

320px-Honey-Fruit-Mead-Brewing

Here’s a picture of some home-brewed honey-fruit mead. Photo (by Evan-Amos) from Wikimedia Commons.

Except for Niles’ very brief discussion of word play in Riddle 27 (pages 135-36), I have not found any critical discussion of Riddle 27. Only a few of the Exeter Book Riddles have been examined extensively beyond the search for their solutions and their relationships to other riddles, Latin or Old Norse. [editorial note: Elinor Teele’s PhD thesis does devote a section to this riddle, but it is — very unfortunately — not widely available. If you are ever in Cambridge, a trip to the University Library to read it is highly recommended]

I am struck, however, by the image of the riddle’s object being a scourger, a hurler. This image is noteworthy not only for its vividness, but for its repetition: we are told twice that the riddle’s object can knock people flat on their backs. This wrestling imagery brings to mind the Snorri Sturluson’s Old Norse story of Thor’s journey to the house of Útgarða-Loki. While there, Thor wrestles an old woman named Elli in order to prove his strength and prowess. Elli forces him to kneel even though Thor is the god of strength (Sturluson, pages 44-45). Elli turns out to be Old Age. (Kevin Crossley-Holland retells this story as “Thor’s Journey to Utgard” in The Norse Myths; the story has also appeared frequently in children’s books). Elli, like the mead in the riddle, can fell anyone, “for there never has been anyone, and there never will be anyone, if they get so old that they experience old age, that old age will not bring them all down” (Sturluson, page 45).

In contrast, Riddle 27 emphasizes that overindulgence in mead is foolish (lines 12 and 17) and that it is a choice. We don’t have to wrestle with mead: we can stop seeking folly before it’s too late (line 12). Elli’s victory is inevitable. But mead wins only when we allow it. This emphasis on the imprudence of getting drunk—and that getting drunk is a choice—may indicate something of the early English attitude towards alcohol and drunkenness. Certainly, poems like Beowulf and The Wanderer tell us that sharing mead was an integral part of the communal culture of the comitatus (war-band) and the mead hall. But Riddle 27’s portrayal of drunkenness as folly and defeat, and its invocation of an image of defeat by an old woman, tells us that early medieval culture did not consider intoxication an inevitable part of mead sharing but rather as an unfortunate and foolish loss of self-control that leads to the defeat of one’s body and senses—if one is lucky. For some of Hrothgar’s thanes in Beowulf are not so lucky: their drunken boasts to defeat Grendel lead to their deaths (lines 480-87). Certainly, Riddle 27 emphasizes a metaphorical and temporary defeat: the loss of physical and mental control while intoxicated. But in a world of feuds and Viking incursions (let alone mythical monster attacks), a drunk warrior might well suffer a more permanent and lethal defeat if he chose to fall to the power of mead.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Beowulf. Ed. Francis Klaeber. 3rd ed. Lexington, Massachusetts: D.C. Heath, 1950.

Crossley-Holland, Kevin. The Norse Myths. New York: Pantheon, 1980.

Niles, John D. Old English Enigmatic Poems and the Play of Texts. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2006.

Rodrigues, Louis J. Sixty-five Anglo-Saxon Riddles. 2nd ed. Felinfach, Wales: Llanerch, 1998.

Sturluson, Snorri. Edda. Ed. and trans. Anthony Faulkes. London: Everyman / J.M. Dent, 2002.

Teele, Elinor. “The Heroic Tradition in the Old English Riddles.” Diss. University of Cambridge, 2004.

Tupper, Frederick, Jr., ed. and introduction. The Riddles of the Exeter Book. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1968.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 27  wendy hennequin 

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Exeter Riddle 28

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 09 Sep 2014
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 28
Original text:

Biþ foldan dæl      fægre gegierwed
mid þy heardestan      ond mid þy scearpestan
ond mid þy grymmestan      gumena gestreona,
corfen, sworfen,      cyrred, þyrred,
5     bunden, wunden,      blæced, wæced,
frætwed, geatwed,      feorran læded
to durum dryhta.      Dream bið in innan
cwicra wihta,      clengeð, lengeð,
þara þe ær lifgende      longe hwile
10     wilna bruceð      ond no wið spriceð,
ond þonne æfter deaþe      deman onginneð,
meldan mislice.      Micel is to hycganne
wisfæstum menn,      hwæt seo wiht sy.

Translation:

A portion of the earth is garnished beautifully
with the hardest and sharpest
and fiercest of treasures of men,
cut, filed, turned, dried,
5     bound, wound, bleached, weakened,
adorned, equipped, led far
to the doors of men. The joy of living beings
is within it, it remains, it lasts,
that which, while alive, enjoys itself
10     for a long time and does not speak against their wishes,
and then, after death, it begins to praise,
to declare in various ways. Great is it to think,
for wisdom-fast men, [to say] what the creature is.

Click to show riddle solution?
John Barleycorn, Wine cask, Beer, Ale, Mead, Harp, Stringed instrument, Tortoise lyre, Yew horn, Barrow, Trial of soul, Pattern-welded sword, Parchment, Biblical codex


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 107v of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), pages 194-5.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 26: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 84.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 28 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 28

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 16 Sep 2014
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 28

I know what you’re all thinking. You’re thinking: “Goodness gracious me! What a lot of past participles!” See – I’m psychic. But I’ll tell you what: not only does this riddle contain all the past participles in the world, it also has a ridiculous number of suggested solutions. Pretty much everyone who has a crack at it solves it differently. So we’re going to have to opt for a speedy run-through according to group. (I almost used the word “cluster” here, but then I decided not to because it sounds too much like “crusty” and that word can only legitimately be used of bread. True story.) Please note that I’m going to be skipping some solutions, specifically Barrow and Trial of Soul (suggested by Jember) because the poem’s direct reference to death makes these seem a bit too obvious (and because Jember suggests Trial of Soul for like a million riddles). If I were going to talk about barrows, I’d probably post a photo kind of like this one:

Barrow chamber

Photo inside Uley Long Barrow (by Pasicles) from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Group Number One: Alcohol

Forget picking up a quick bottle or two from a shop on your way to a party. And forget picturesque images of vineyards and stomping on grapes in giant barrels. And definitely forget every hipster-ish micro-brewery tour you’ve ever gone on. Because according to this poem, getting your hands on alcohol ain’t convenient and it certainly ain’t pleasant. One of the earliest suggested solutions for Riddle 28 was John Barleycorn, the barley-man known to us through folk literature and ballads (perhaps most famous from the Robbie Burns version). The harvesting of this much put-upon, personified cereal crop is depicted as torture and murder…hence the link to Riddle 28’s turning, cutting and binding. Of course, the speculative leaps required to trace John Barleycorn back to early medieval England mean that some scholars prefer Beer/Ale/Mead (or Wine Cask, for that matter, since there’s no mashing, boiling or fermenting in this riddle) as the solution – that’s beor/ealu/medu in Old English (and I suppose “wine cask” would be something like win-tunne, although this compound isn’t attested). These solutions are certainly possible, especially when we take into account the fact that the preceding riddle very likely describes alcohol. Mightn’t Riddle 28 be a companion riddle? Indeed, it might…or perhaps the scribe/compiler of the manuscript understood it that way. The power dynamics are flipped, of course, since Riddle 27 focuses on alcohol’s ability to completely thrash people, while those in charge of crafting whatever Riddle 28 describes are very much in control. But what about lines 7b onward? That’s where the next solution seems a better fit. But first, beer:

Riddle 28 GravityTap

This is what beer looks like today. Photo (by SilkTork) from the Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 2.5).

Group Number Two: Musical Instrument

If we’re completely honest with ourselves, we have to admit that the construction-y words at the beginning of the poem could really be applied to almost any object. They’re all vague enough that their meanings could be stretched to fit more than one solution, and some of them may well have been included simply because they rhyme. Old English poetry doesn’t often rhyme, by the way, so the poet is clearly interested in being a bit flashy. That means what we should be doing is focusing on the second half of the poem when we’re looking for a solution. Except that this is where things get confusing. Grammatically-speaking, these lines have a lot of people flummoxed. That’s right, flummoxed. Here are some of the reasons why: 1) we don’t really know what clengeð means (although we’ve got some good guesses based on similar words in Middle English), and 2) þara þe is plural, but the verbs in lines 9-10 are all singular. So the question is: does the relative phrase in lines 9-10 refer back to line 7b’s dream (joy) or line 8a’s cwicra wihta (of living beings)? Or should þara þe really read þær þær (there where) instead? (see Williamson, page 224) Your guess is as good as mine. What is clear from these lines is that there’s a living-dead, silent-vocal contrast going on: whatever object we have was made from a living thing that only gained a voice in death. It’s this suggestion that links the riddle to the earlier work of the Latin riddler, Symphosius. His Enigma 20, Testudo reads:

Tarda, gradu lento, specioso praedita dorso;
Docta quidem studio, sed saevo prodita fato,
Viva nihil dixi, quae sic modo mortua canto.
(Glorie, vol. 133A, page 641)

(Slow, with sluggish step, furnished with a beautiful back; shrewd indeed through study, but betrayed by fierce fate, living I said nothing, but dead I sing in this way.)

See the link? Quiet in life and singing in death? To really drive this link home, we should note that Old English dream, which I’ve translated as “joy” also means “song.” This is one of many reasons that Laurence K. Shook (building on earlier suggestions of harp/stringed instrument) solves Riddle 28 as Latin testudo (tortoise/musical instrument).

Lyre made from tortoise shell

In case you wondered just what exactly a tortoise lyre was. Photo © Trustees of the British Museum (licence: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

Craig Williamson isn’t so keen on this solution, but does agree with the musical instrument angle. And so, he raises the possibility of Yew-horn in his edition of the riddles (pages 218-24). Yew is a hard wood (hence, line 2a: heardestan (hardest)) and it’s poisonous (hence, lines 2b and 3a: scearpestan (sharpest) and grymmestan (fiercest)). He also points out that a yew-horn dating from between the eighth and tenth centuries was discovered in the River Erne in Northern Ireland. So make of that what you will.

Group Number Three: Other Crafted Object

Williamson’s suggestion was just barely in print by the time the next solution came ’round, so let’s pretend that Yew-horn hadn’t happened yet and jump back to tortoise-lyre briefly. We know that instruments made out of tortoise shells existed in other countries as far back as classical Greece, but the evidence for early medieval England is thin on the ground. And by thin, I mean there is none…except for the fact that Symphosius’ works were known in England at this time. Arguing that this lack of evidence rules out the tortoise-lyre solution (what about other instruments?!), Heidi and Rüdiger Göbel solve Riddle 28 as a “pattern-welded sword.” A pattern-welded sword (sweord in OE) is, of course, a weapon made by twisting multiple strips of metal together for extra strength. The Göbels give quite an in-depth breakdown of the processes involved in sword-making, but slightly undermine their interpretation by basing it upon “the desire to take the superlatives heardestan, scearpestan and grymmestan literally” (page 187). Is it just me, or is taking anything in a riddle literally kind of missing the point? At any rate, they also argue for a change in perspective at the end of the poem, when the owner of the sword who was so full of joy to receive the object (lines 7-8) is killed by it. Hence, they translate æfter deaþe deman onginneð, meldan mislice as “after death he changes his opinion and talks differently” (page 191).

Speaking of things that speak without speaking…do you remember Riddle 26? Well, I know that books don’t actually talk for realzies (unless you’ve got an audio-book or one of those birthday cards with the little chip in it that makes it sing really annoyingly whenever you open it), but they do contain words, and the idea that letters speak from the page is an old one. This leads to the final solutions I’m going to discuss: Parchment and Biblical Codex (Boc-fell or Cristes boc in OE).

Parchment being stretched on a rack

Here’s some parchment being stretched in Bede’s World, Jarrow. Photo courtesy of C.J.W. Brown.

Waltraud Ziegler argued for the first of these after looking at several Latin riddles that cover similar ground. Cattle/parchment-y imagery can be found in the enigmatic collections of the Anglo-Latin poets, Tatwine and Eusebius, as well as in other collections known in early medieval England. For example, the Bern riddle, Enigma 24, De membrana, reads:

Lucrum uiua manens toto nam confero mundo
Et defuncta mirum praesto de corpore quaestum.
Vestibus exuta multoque uinculo tensa,
Gladio sic mihi desecta uiscera pendent.
Manibus me postquam reges et uisu mirantur,
Miliaque porto nullo sub pondere multa.
(Glorie, vol. 133A, page 570)

(Remaining alive, I provide profit for the entire world, and dead I furnish remarkable gain from my body. Deprived of garments and pressed by many chains, cut by a sword my innards hang down. Afterward kings admire me with hands and sight, and I carry many thousands with no weight.)

Building on Ziegler, Dieter Bitterli suggests Biblical Codex is more apt than simply Parchment, since the object of Riddle 28 is bound and adorned (pages 178-89). You can look back at Riddle 26’s commentary for a discussion of book-making because many of the steps covered there could be applied to the past participle-y list at the beginning of this riddle (and I wouldn’t want to get repetitive, would I?). But for lines 7b onward, we now have a tidy little religious interpretation: the lasting nature of the living joy/song and the posthumous praising/declaring are down to the creature’s recruitment to a martyr’s higher purpose. Keep in mind that early English manuscripts were penned and maintained by clerics. And keep in mind that they were obsessed with martyrdom and general affliction. So obsessed, in fact, that the Old English reading group my co-editor and I used to attend had one rule and only one rule: if you don’t know what a word means, translate it as “affliction” and move on. I think I’ll take that advice now.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Bitterli, Dieter. Say What I Am Called: the Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book and the Anglo-Latin Riddle Tradition. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009.

Glorie, F., ed. Variae Collectiones Aenigmatum Merovingicae Aetatis. Corpus Christianorum Series Latina, vol. 133-133A. Turnhout: Brepols, 1968.

Göbel, Heidi, and Rüdiger Göbel. “The Solution of an Old English Riddle.” Studia Neophilologica, vol. 50 (1978), pages 185-91.

Jember, Gregory K., trans. The Old English Riddles: A New Translation. Denver: Society for New Language Study, 1976.

Shook, Laurence K. “Old-English Riddle 28—Testudo (Tortoise-Lyre).” Mediaeval Studies, vol. 20 (1958), pages 93-97.

Williamson, Craig, ed. The Old English Riddles of The Exeter Book. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977.

Ziegler, Waltraud. “Ein neuer Losungsversuch fur das altenglische Ratsel Nr. 28.” Arbeiten aus Anglistik und Amerikanistik, vol. 7 (1982), pages 185-190.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 28 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 26
Exeter Riddle 26

Exeter Riddle 29

MATTHIASAMMON

Date: Fri 26 Sep 2014
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 29
Original text:

Ic wiht geseah      wundorlice
hornum bitweonum      huþe lædan,
lyftfæt leohtlic,      listum gegierwed,
huþe to þam ham      of þam heresiþe;
5     walde hyre on þære byrig      bur atimbran
searwum asettan,      gif hit swa meahte.
Ða cwom wundorlicu wiht      ofer wealles hrof,
seo is eallum cuð      eorðbuendum,
ahredde þa þa huþe      ond to ham bedraf
10     wreccan ofer willan,      gewat hyre west þonan
fæhþum feran,      forð onette.
Dust stonc to heofonum,      deaw feol on eorþan,
niht forð gewat.      Nænig siþþan
wera gewiste      þære wihte sið.

Translation:

I saw a creature wondrously
carrying spoils between its horns,
a bright air-vessel, skillfully adorned,
the spoils to its home from the war-journey,
5     it wanted to build for itself a dwelling in that stronghold,
skilfully set it, if it could.
Then a wondrous creature came over the roof of the wall,
it is known to all earth-dwellers,
it liberated the spoils and drove the stranger
10     back to its home against its will, it departed west from there
going in strife, it hastened forth.
Dust rose to the heavens, dew fell on the earth,
the night departed. Afterwards none of men
knew the journey of that creature.

Click to show riddle solution?
Sun and moon, swallow and sparrow, cloud and wind, bird and wind


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 107v-108r of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), page 195.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 27: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 85.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 29 

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Exeter Riddle 20
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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 29

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 07 Oct 2014
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 29

Did you get this one without looking at the solution? It’s usually seen as one of the more obvious Riddles: the sun and the moon. And because it is so obvious, people haven’t really found very much else to say about it. But let’s run through it quickly: The “creature” carrying the booty “between its horns” is the waxing moon – the image below nicely shows the “horns” and the space “between” them that gets filled up with light as the moon grows fuller. Then the sun comes over the horizon (if that’s what we think “over the roof/top of the wall” means) and slowly “takes back” its light, until the waning moon disappears into the new moon – nobody knows where it went, as in the final two lines. That’s it, then – done, dusted, let’s head off to the pub, shall we (maybe not this one though)?

Waxing_Crescent_Moon_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1627064

Photo (by Christine Matthews) from the Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 2.0).

But I know you’ve got used to much more in-depth analysis here at The Riddle Ages, so let’s see what we can do, shall we? Sticking for the moment with the natural phenomena, what are we to make of the dew and dust in the final few lines of the poem? There was a medieval belief that the moon produced dew, so let’s run with that. But how can there be dew and dust at the same time? Wouldn’t you have to have some sort of muddy grit? Well, yes – nobody has really found a good explanation for this yet but maybe we shouldn’t take the riddle quite so literally here and just enjoy the nice balance between the rising dust and the falling dew.

However, as you may have come to expect by now, the riddle can also be read on an allegorical level: some scholars have argued that it also describes the Harrowing of Hell, where Christ overcomes Satan to rescue or liberate (ahreddan) condemned souls from hell and lead them into heaven. The sun is often a symbol for Christ in early medieval writings (and think back for example to Riddle 6). Occasionally we find the moon standing in for Satan (but not because of the horns!) and so the struggle described in the riddle can be seen as a battle between those two. The story of Satan’s uprising against God and his downfall was very popular in early medieval England and the language used in the riddle may give us a further hint here: like the moon in the riddle, Satan tries to build a home for himself in heaven, with the help of ill-gotten gains, and is eventually driven out into exile by God. There’s a nice play on the ham here: the moon is trying to establish a ham (in line 4) but is driven out of there into a different ham (line 9): his real home, the exile outside of heaven.

So even in riddles where everyone agrees on the solution, there’s usually still a lot more to be said if you get into it. That’s why the riddles are brilliant!

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Joyce, John H. “Natural Process in Exeter Book Riddle #29.” Annuale Mediaevale, vol. 14 (1974), pages 5-13.

Murphy, Patrick J. Unriddling the Exeter Riddles. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2011, pages 123-39.

Whitman, Frank H. “The Christian Background to Two Riddle Motifs.” Studia Neophilologica, vol. 41 (1969), pages 93-8.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 29 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 6

Exeter Riddles 30a and b

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 13 Oct 2014
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddles 30a and b

We have all sorts of treats for you today, so I hope you’re glued to your seats and screens. Not literally…that would be more than a little weird. First of all, we have a double riddle. That sounds amazing, I know, but it also requires explanation. Up until now, the riddles have all appeared one after another in the Exeter Book, but there are two versions of Riddle 30 — one here, and one later in the manuscript, following Homiletic Fragment II (absolutely scintillating name…). We’ve decided to do both versions of Riddle 30 at the same time, and for these we have a guest translator. Pirkko Koppinen completed her PhD at Royal Holloway, University of London, where she is currently a visiting lecturer. She also brings to us an expertise in museum and heritage studies, as well as Finnish. Pirkko has generously offered us not only English translations of both Riddle 30a and b, but also Finnish ones. Surely this can be described as nothing short of a cornucopia of riddle-fun. Take it away, Pirkko!



Original text:

Riddle 30a

Ic eom legbysig,      lace mid winde,
bewunden mid wuldre,      wedre gesomnad,
fus forðweges,      fyre gebysgad,
bearu blowende,      byrnende gled.
5     Ful oft mec gesiþas      sendað æfter hondum,
þæt mec weras ond wif      wlonce cyssað.
Þonne ic mec onhæbbe,      ond hi onhnigaþ to me
monige mid miltse,      þær ic monnum sceal
ycan upcyme      eadignesse.

 

 

 

 

 

Riddle 30b

Ic eom ligbysig,      lace mid winde,
w[……………..]dre gesomnad,
fus forðweges,      fyre gemylted,
b[ . ] blowende,      byrnende gled.
5     Ful oft mec gesiþas      sendað æfter hondum,
þær mec weras ond wif      wlonce gecyssað.
Þonne ic mec onhæbbe,      hi onhnigað to me,
modge miltsum,      swa ic mongum sceal
ycan upcyme      eadignesse.

Translation:

Riddle 30a

I am busy with fire, fight with the wind,
wound around with glory, united with storm,
eager for the journey, agitated by fire;
[I am] a blooming grove, a burning ember.
5     Very often companions send me from hand to hand
so that proud men and women kiss me.
When I exalt myself and they bow to me,
many with humility, there I shall
bring increasing happiness to humans.

A free rendering of Riddle 30a into Finnish:

Minä ahkeroin tulen kanssa, leikin tuulella. [Minä olen] kietoutunut kunniaan, yhdistetty myrskyyn. [Olen] innokas lähtemään, liekillä kiihotettu. [Olen] kukoistava lehto, hehkuva hiillos. Kumppanit kierrättävät minua usein kädestä käteen siellä, missä korskeat miehet ja naiset suutelevat minua. Kun ylistän itseäni ja he, monet, nöyränä kumartavat minua, siellä minä tuon karttuvaa riemua ihmisille.

 

Riddle 30b

I am busy with fire, fight with the wind,
[…] united […],
eager for the journey, consumed by fire;
[I am] a blooming […], a burning ember.
5     Very often companions send me from hand to hand
where proud men and women kiss me.
When I exalt myself, high-spirited [ones]
bow to me with humility, in this way I shall
bring increasing happiness to many.

A free rendering of Riddle 30b into Finnish:

Minä ahkeroin tulen kanssa. Leikin tuulella. […] on kiedottu […]. [Olen] innokas lähtemään, tulessa tuhottu. [Olen] kukoistava […], hehkuva hiillos. Useasti kumppanit kierrättävät minua kädestä käteen siellä, missä korskeat miehet ja naiset suutelevat minua. Kun ylistän itseäni, ja he, ylväät, nöyränä kumartavat minua. Täten minä tuon karttuvaa riemua monille.

Click to show riddle solution?
Beam, Cross, Wood, Tree, Snowflake


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 108r and 122v of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), pages 195-6 and 224-5.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 28a and b: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 85-6.

Textual Notes

The damaged words in Riddle 30b are marked with square brackets. I have highlighted the differences in the two texts in bold and translated accordingly. Line 7b in Riddle 30a reads on hin gað (which is a nonsensical form) in the manuscript and is emended to onhnigað by using the text of Riddle 30b (line 7b); see Krapp and Dobbie, page 338.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 30 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddles 30a and b

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 21 Oct 2014
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddles 30a and b

Like last week’s translations, Riddle 30a and b’s commentary once again comes to us from Pirkko Koppinen:

 

Riddle 30 exists as two separate texts in the manuscript, Riddle 30a and Riddle 30b (Krapp and Dobbie’s numbering). Such a double text is rare in Old English poetry. The reason why the riddle was copied in the manuscript twice will never be known for sure. There are some minor differences, however, which suggest to A. N. Doane that the scribe was copying the texts also “sonically” rather than just visually (page 49). The differences affect the interpretation of the two poems in terms of nuance, but in terms of solution they are of no major consequence (unless you wish to contest the accepted solution, of course). Riddle 30a is intact, but Riddle 30b has been damaged with a hot poker, which curiously fits the content of the poem; that is, the poem makes several references to fire.

Translating the first four lines of Riddle 30a and Riddle 30b is translating “earth, wind, and fire.” No, I do not mean that wonderful, American band that brought us many a disco tune; I mean the elements. At the beginning of the poem (of both texts) we learn about the riddle creature’s various preoccupations first with fire (line 1a), then wind (line 1b) and storm (line 2b), then fire (line 3b) again, then earth (“grove”, line 4a), and then once more its dealings with fire (line 4b). It is not surprising then that these lines have suggested to the solvers that we are dealing with a “tree.” Solving the rest of the riddle means understanding how trees were metamorphosed into wooden objects and matching those with the clues of the riddle.

As a cup, the riddle creature – transformed from wood into a material object – is passed from hand to hand and kissed by proud men and women (lines 5-6 in both riddles). The image recalls the communal drinking rituals in Beowulf where the men drink from their lord’s – or lady’s – cup as a gesture of loyalty (see e.g. Beowulf, lines 491-95a, 615-24, 1014b-17a, 1024b-25a, 1170, 1192-93a and 1231). The word wlonce (proud) in Riddle 30a and Riddle 30b, which in Old English is often used to describe princes and queens, suggests that we are indeed dealing with the high-ranking people, such as those depicted in Beowulf. The cup in the riddles may be a wooden cup decorated with an interlace collar, such as that found in the Sutton Hoo boat burial – a worthy drinking vessel of the early medieval royalty. It has been suggested that fus forweges (“eager for the journey,” line 3a) refers to a “ship” constructed of wood, but the phrase could also refer to the way a wooden log is quickly engulfed in flames once it ignites.

The last three lines of the poems explain how people show reverence to the riddle creature, and these lines have suggested to solvers that what we are dealing with is “a cross.” It was an important symbol for the newly converted early English Christian, as is demonstrated through the wonderful poem The Dream of the Rood (full translation here), which describes how the tree first grows free in the forest before it is cut down and transformed into gallows and then – washed with the Saviour’s blood – is transformed into a revered symbol of salvation. The cross, a narrator in The Rood, decorated with jewels is bewunden mid wuldre (“wound around with glory,” Riddle 30a, line 2a; Riddle 30b is damaged at this point). Just like the cross in The Rood, the riddle creature brings eadignesse (happiness/joy) to people when they bow to it; that is, when they pray to the cross for their salvation.

Wood as a material was of utmost importance for the early English. They built houses from timber, domestic objects from wood, and woodland trees were part of their economic landscape. Wood and trees were used in their food and drink production as a fuel and produce. In other words, wood was an integral part of the peoples' everyday life – not only in terms of their physical existence but also in terms of their religious beliefs (see Bintley and Shapland).

As a Finn, I understand this closeness to trees and wood as material of the everyday. I grew up in a house that was built in 1890 from wood and which was also heated solely with wood in the cold months. Wooden objects may not be as ubiquitous today as they were a hundred years ago, but, like the early medieval economy at the time, Finnish economy has been always also partially reliant on its forests. So translating Riddle 30a and Riddle 30b was a nostalgic affair to me. It made me think of how fire consumed wood when we heated the sauna in our wooden summer cottage. I remembered how we heated the coffee pot and cooked our meals on top of the wood burning stove where the logs turned into burning embers and still do in many Finnish houses and summer and winter cottages.

Wood burning fire

Photograph by Mira Suopelto

I remembered how we walked through the woods in a windy day and watched the trees bend and struggle in the wind and storm.

Trees blowing in wind

Photograph by P. Koppinen

Spoons, cups, jugs, and bowls would have been “kissed” by both men and women – of high status as well as others. Wooden objects are still crafted and used today, although not used as often as they were a hundred years ago.

Wooden dishes

Photograph by P. Koppinen

Our wooden churches were often built in the form of a cross and many a decorated altar piece is built from wood and “wound around with glory,” in front of which the congregation bow their heads in humility. This personal experience of trees, wood and woodlands of Finland created for me an intimate relationship with the riddle creature, which aided me in my attempt to translate the two riddles into Finnish. The Finnish translations are a little crude, literal translations, but they convey my nostalgia of Finnish forest, trees, and woodlands in my childhood so beautifully described in Riddle 30a and Riddle 30b. Of course, the riddle-texts may have led the solvers – along with me – astray and these riddles remain, as A. J. Wyatt has suggested, still unsolved. But that is the fun of riddles; there is always another way of reading the text, mystery to be solved and solution to be found. For now, I am happy to reminisce about the trees of my childhood.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Bintley, Michael D. J., and Michael G. Shapland, eds. Trees and Timber in the Anglo-Saxon World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Doane, A. N. “Spacing, Placing and Effacing: Scribal Textuality and Exeter Riddle 30 a/b.” In New Approaches to Editing Old English Verse. Ed. by Sarah Larratt Keefer and Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe. Cambridge: Brewer, 1998, pages 45-65.

Koppinen, Pirkko Anneli. “Breaking the Mould: Solving Riddle 12 as Wudu “Wood”.” In Trees and Timber in the Anglo-Saxon World. Ed. by Bintley and Shapland (see above), pages 158-76.

Liuzza, R. M. “The Texts of the Old English Riddle 30.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology, vol. 87 (1988), pages 1-15.

Niles, John D. Old English Enigmatic Poems and the Play of the Texts. Studies in Early Middle Ages, vol. 13. Turnhout: Brepols, 2006.

Wyatt, A. J., ed. Old English Riddles. The Belles Lettres Series, vol. 1. Boston, MA: Heath, 1912.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 30  pirkko koppinen  riddle 30a  riddle 30b 

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Exeter Riddles 30a and b

Exeter Riddle 31

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 13 Nov 2014
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 31

This week’s translation is a guest post from Christopher Laprade. Christopher is a PhD student at the University of Toronto, where he is working on book history and early modern drama.



Original text:

Is þes middangeard     missenlicum
wisum gewlitegad,     wrættum gefrætwad.
Ic seah sellic þing     singan on ræcede;
wiht wæs nower (1)      werum on gemonge
5     sio hæfde wæstum     wundorlicran.
Niþerweard      wæs neb hyre,
fet ond folme     fugele gelice;
no hwæþre fleogan mæg     ne fela gongan,
hwæþre feþegeorn     fremman onginneð,
10     gecoren cræftum,
     cyrreð geneahhe
oft ond gelome     eorlum on gemonge,
siteð æt symble,     sæles bideþ,
hwonne ær heo cræft hyre     cyþan mote
werum on gemonge.     Ne heo þær wiht þigeð
15     þæs þe him æt blisse     beornas habbað.
Deor domes georn,     hio dumb wunað;
hwæþre hyre is on fote     fæger hleoþor,
wynlicu woðgiefu.     Wrætlic me þinceð,
hu seo wiht mæge     wordum lacan
20     þurh fot neoþan,     frætwed hyrstum.
Hafað hyre on halse,     þonne hio hord warað,
baru (2), beagum deall,     broþor sine,
mæg mid mægne.     Micel is to hycgenne
wisum woðboran     hwæt sio (3) wiht sie.

Translation:

This middle earth is in manifold
ways made beautiful, with works of art adorned.
I saw a strange thing sing in a hall;
nowhere was there a creature among men
5     that had a more fantastic form.
Downward was her beak,
feet and hands like a bird;
she may not fly, however, nor walk much,
yet eager to go she begins to perform,
10     chosen with skill, she moves frequently
often and again among men,
sits at the feast, bides her time,
until when she might make known her skill
amidst the men. She consumes nothing
15     that the men there have for their pleasure.
Brave, eager for glory, she sits silent;
yet there is in her foot a fair sound,
a charming gift of song. It seems curious to me,
how that creature can play with words
20     through that foot from beneath, adorned with finery.
They have her by the neck, when she guards treasure,
bare, proud with rings, her brothers,
maid among an army. It is a great thing to think
for a wise songster what that creature may be.

Click to show riddle solution?
Bagpipes, Quill Pen and Fingers, Psaltery and Quill-pick, Fiddle, Portable Organ, Organistrum, Harp, Cithara


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 108r-108v of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), page 196.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 29: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 86-7.

Textual Notes

  • (1) nower is an editorial intervention that does not appear in the manuscript;
  • (2) note that Krapp and Dobbie retain the manuscript form bær, while Williamson emends to baru;
  • (3) sio also does not appear in the manuscript.

This page was edited for clarity on 30 November 2020.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 31 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 31

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Wed 17 Feb 2021
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 31

How do you solve a problem like a bird who sings through her foot? That, my friends, is the question on my mind.

Riddle 31 is a riddle (obv) about an object living her best life. What, precisely, she is…well, that’s up for debate. Most editors of the Old English riddles solve Riddle 31 as Bagpipes. They reckon that the multiple references to a creature singing and showing off mad skillz in the hall means this is a musical instrument. And they reckon that the fantastic form of the object – with her downward beak and musical foot – suggests the chanter and drones of the bagpipes. The guarding of treasure in line 21 becomes the breath of the performer, which the instrument takes in, controls and releases to musical effect. It’s quite common for birds to be associated with musicality in the riddles – I’m thinking here of Riddle 7’s swan and Riddle 57’s crows or swifts – but bagpipe tunes are perhaps less bird-like in their song than many other types of music.

Here are some very un-bird-like bagpipes being butchered:

Other musical instruments have also been mooted (I love the word mooted, btw…we should all use this word way more often) as the solution, partly because evidence for the use of bagpipes in early medieval England is, shall we say, lacking. But, as Jonathan Wilcox reassures us, this instrument was widespread in agricultural societies and there are plenty of later medieval references and drawings to suggest that early medieval bagpipes were probably a thing (pages 138-40).

In fact, even though there isn’t much evidence for their use in early medieval England, it is very possible that the protruding drones and bird-like feet in the early 11th-century image below could depict the instrument (Wilcox, page 144, note 41):

Bagpipes in Junius Manuscript

Image from the famous Junius Manuscript (p. 57) Photo: © Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford (licence: CC-BY-NC 4.0).

So, we could have a case of the ol’ bagpipes here in Riddle 31.

The other, non-musical instrument option is a Quill Pen and Fingers. Yes, Donald K. Fry grappled with the birdy imagery in this riddle and its references to songs, treasure and flying-not-flying, and decided this is clearly another riddle about the scriptorium. Unfortunately, I can’t get a hold of this article right now (#pandemic), but I’ve written myself a note to follow up on this later.*

Still, I imagine that to read the riddle as a quill pen, we’d assume the riddle’s birdy imagery stems from the feather used to create the quill, with the downward beak as its pointed tip. The references to the bird’s foot could perhaps point toward a feathery wing and line 8-9’s description of the object’s eagerness to perform despite being unable to fly or walk should make us think of feather pens furiously scribbling across a page. All those songs – well those are the words that the pen delivers, a veritable treasure-hoard of ideas.

Hand holding quill pen

Image from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

While we might imagine the hall setting with its music and feasting as a literal location for the use of the bagpipes, in order to solve the riddle as quill pen, the hall is probably best interpreted as a metaphor for the scriptorium. Songs are still appropriate in this setting if they’re words read out from the page. But the feasting? I don’t really know what to do with that, unless we imagine a scene change that moves us back into a literal hall where a written document is read out to frolickers. Hmm…not sure about that. Give me a shout if you have better ideas.

All in all, I prefer the bagpipes reading myself, in part because Jonathan Wilcox has made such a good case for interpreting the incongruity of this riddle as humorous. The monstrosity of this object with all the wrong sorts of body-parts could be priming us for humour, while the bagpipes attract humour because of the instrument’s “lack of subtlety as an object built on a literal windbag. Bagpipes can encode the windiness of unrestrained speech or the flatulent pouring forth of an unrestrained body” (page 140). The fact that the instrument is compared to bird-like song is all the funnier if you imagine a real bird letting out the sound of a bagpipe.

As a final gift to you, I’d also like to note that Wilcox’s essay led me to a range of truly brilliant medieval images including this fabulous late 11th-century Spanish musical duo:

Drawing of men playing instrument and bird

Illustration in Beatus of Liebena’s Commentary on the Apocalypse from London, British Library Add MS 11695, folio 86r (Photo: © British Library).

A work of genius. Truly, my life is now complete.

*Editorial Note (22 February 2021): I have now tracked down Fry’s article and it chimes with what I said above. Fry notes lots of examples of riddles in both Old English and Anglo-Latin that play with the following motifs: “banquet, bird, inability to speak, and words as treasure” (page 236). He points to a few instances where the tasting of wisdom or words might explain what the feast hall is doing in this riddle. I don’t personally think that any of the examples given are close enough to Riddle 31 to fully explain its scene of feasting, but feel free to read the article and judge for yourselves!

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Fry, Donald K. “Exeter Riddle 31: Feather-Pen.” In De Gustibus: Essays for Alain Renoir. Edited by J. M. Foley, C. J. Womack, and W. A. Womack. New York: Garland, 1992, pages 234-49.

Wilcox, Jonathan. “Humour and the Exeter Book Riddles: Incongruity in Feþegeorn (R.31).” In Riddles at Work in the Early Medieval Tradition: Words, Ideas, Interactions. Edited by Megan Cavell and Jennifer Neville. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020, pages 128-45.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 31 

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Exeter Riddle 32

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Sun 07 Dec 2014
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 32
Original text:

Is þes middangeard     missenlicum
wisum gewlitegad,     wrættum gefrætwad.
Siþum sellic     ic seah searo hweorfan,
grindan wið greote,     giellende faran.
5     Næfde sellicu wiht     syne ne folme,
exle ne earmas;     sceal on anum fet
searoceap swifan,     swiþe feran,
faran ofer feldas.     Hæfde fela ribba;
muð wæs on middan.     Moncynne nyt,
10     fereð foddurwelan,     folcscipe dreogeð,
wist in wigeð,     ond werum gieldeð
gaful geara gehwam     þæs þe guman brucað,
rice ond heane.     Rece, gif þu cunne,
wis worda gleaw,     hwæt sio wiht sie.

Translation:

This middle-earth is made beautiful
in various ways, adorned with ornaments.
At times I saw strange contraption move about,
grind against the grit, go screaming.
5     The strange creature did not have sight nor hands,
shoulders nor arms; on one foot must
the cunning contraption move, powerfully journey,
going over fields. It had many ribs;
its mouth was in the middle. Useful to mankind,
10     it bears an abundance of food, works for the people,
carries sustenance within, and yields to men
treasure every year that those men enjoy,
rich and poor. Tell, if you know,
wise and prudent in words, what that creature may be.

Click to show riddle solution?
Ship, Wagon, Millstone, Wheel, Wheelbarrow


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 108v of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), pages 196-7.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 30: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 87.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 32 

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