RIDDLE POSTS BY TAG: 'ANGLO SAXON'

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 71

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 11 Dec 2017
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 71

This week’s commentary post is once again by Judy Kendall, Reader in English and Creative Writing at Salford University. Off we go!:

 

Yet again another riddle with a hole in it, or several holes. Immediately, you’d expect the riddle to become more of a riddle for us twenty-first century would-be riddle-solvers: distance of time, language, cultural context compounded by lack of text. However, the situation is complicated further by the riddleless nature of this particular riddle. For many, the solution seems quite obvious, easy, “un”-riddle-like – the majority plump for Sword or Sword-hilt. There is not much evidence of the “decoding process” of false leads or indirect clues that Mercedes Salvador-Bello has noted occurring in so many riddles (page 39). Not that there hasn’t been disagreement. Other suggested solutions, as listed by Craig Williamson, include Cupping-glass, Iron Helmet, Iron Shield, Bronze Shield, Dagger, or “iron, first in the ore, then made into a weapon” (page 340). We can also add Phyllis Portnoy’s reading of Retainer, or a warrior in service to a lord, although, as we shall see, this is by no means her only solution.

But are we missing something? Of course we are – several letters and words in the last few lines. And the temptation is to add them in, like icing.

Riddle 71 Piping_buttercream_onto_cake

Photo (by Michael Prudhomme) from Wikipedia Commons (license: CC-BY-SA-3.0).

In this context, it is well worth heeding Williamson’s stern warning: “The doctoring of legitimate Old English passages to bolster one’s solution is not a sound editorial practice” (page 342). He was referring to Moritz Trautmann’s amendment of yþan to ywan in line 7, so as to fit his solution of Shield. It has to be said, however, that Williamson himself goes as near as can be not to follow his own advice, making keen use of his typographical eye to inform us in his footnotes to Riddle 71 of what might be, or is, just visible in the illegible areas of the manuscript (page 107):

  • 69.7: Two spaces before fe the tip of an ascender is visible.
  • 69.8: After bi either þ or l.
  • 69.10: The last letter of word preceding wlite has a long descender.

If that is not an invitation to fill in the gaps, then what is?

Plenty of other scholars have joined in the fun, as Portnoy, in her excellent piece on this riddle, notes when she lists the various ways different editors have glossed lacunae in the riddle. She also registers the difficulties created by apparent simplicity in riddle solutions which then seem too easily solved and not therefore sufficiently “clever” for the riddle genre.

This tendency to try and add in the missing words, rather than dealing with what is left does not bode well for the riddle. If the lines are so predictable that we are able to supply what is missing ourselves, this suggests not only a riddleless riddle but a rather poor poem. Portnoy acknowledges this, and sees her task as that of rescuing this and similar riddles (5, 20, 56 and 91) from such a fate. She accomplishes it admirably.

Her argument in the case of Riddle 71 – and you would do well to look her piece up yourself rather than rely on this rather skimpy gloss – is that the role of the Old English laf and the animate-inanimate associations it can call up (“what is left,” “remnant,” “survivor,” “widow,” “treasure,” “heirloom”, “sword,” “relic”) lead in fact to impressively complex readings. It is in this complexity that the artistry of Riddle 71 lies, mirroring the metalwork of the object it describes, whether this be a sword, sword-hilt, or indeed something else. Portnoy draws an analogy with the effects of a kenning (a poetic device that involves a compressed, often compounded, metaphor): “while the referent may be obvious, the point may be not so much to mystify the reader, but to present the familiar in an unusual way” (page 557).

She also emphasises an inclusiveness in reading. Thus, the reade of line one can refer not only to a victim’s blood, but also to red-gold decoration and to garnets, all of which might cover a sword or a retainer. In addition, reade, with its association with fire, prepares for a possible reference in the next lines to forges and the act of forging, another favoured interpretation.

Indeed, just to indulge in a short aside, for Kevin Crossley-Holland, iron forged into a weapon is the interpretation. He does not include this riddle in the main body of his collection, in which he decided to avoid “very badly damaged or impossibly obscure” riddles, but does still give space in his notes both for a translation of the riddle and a short commentary upon it (page xv). In his translation, he begins line 2 as “Once I was a tough, steep place,” and informs us that A. J. Wyatt’s description of this riddle as “iron, first in the ore then made into a weapon” is unlikely to be bettered, with line 2 referring either to the blade or the precipitous site from which it was quarried (page 107).

Portnoy, however, keeps her options open. She draws on Williamson and Frederick Tupper, Jr. in her reading of line 2’s stið ond steapwong, which she sees as comprising a number of readings: the ground from which iron ore is mined, the homeland of the warrior, the metal sides or “cheeks” of the warrior’s helmet or sword “face,” and/or indeed the channel running down the centre of a sword blade.

Riddle 71 Gilling Sword
Photo of the 9th-century Gilling Sword (by York Museums Trust Staff) from Wikimedia Commons (license: CC BY-SA 4.0)

References to what is inanimate and animate continue through the riddle as the sword/retainer meets its match – another sword or a warrior bearing gold. Thus, says Portnoy, “the subject’s identity, while perhaps simple to discover, is indeed complex to contemplate: “a laf “heirloom” which is a laf “remnant” of a laf “sword” which is a laf “survivor” (of the forge) confronts his match—either a human laf “survivor” (of a battle), or another equally compounded inanimate laf” (page 560).

Read in-depth, Portnoy’s argument is coherent, detailed and convincing. It is certainly helpful when grappling with the riddle’s apparent simplicity, but I am not convinced her approach allows us to see the whole picture. How could it? Surely the riddle’s credentials as a riddle cannot depend upon Portnoy’s or anyone else’s intricate analysis, as long as we are not working from the full text. The question for me therefore, particularly as a translator, is how to approach such a text in a way that acknowledges and respects its lacunae – how to avoid that temptation to “add in”.

Patrick Murphy’s Unriddling the Exeter Riddles points the way, though he does not refer to Riddle 71 explicitly. His argument, which builds on work by A. J. Wyatt and Archer Taylor, rests on the claim that the Exeter riddles are descriptions of objects that are intended to be both accurate and misleading, suggesting as solutions something entirely different to the apparently obvious descriptions.

In other words, what we see as an obvious solution may be a metaphor or a pointer to something else. Constrained perhaps by the gaps in the text, perhaps by our lack of cultural and contextual knowledge, we might be completely missing the boat. We read the riddle in a literal way because a more allusive interpretation eludes us, an interpretation that might perhaps be closer to hand if we had those missing words. Suspecting this to be the case, I welcomed Williamson’s stern warning as a guide to my own process of translation of the poem. I had initially chosen this riddle to translate because I thought it would be fun to attempt to write the missing ending lines, but, in the event, I decided, for the reasons given above, not to hazard any guesses at reconstructing those lost words. In this I follow not only Williamson’s warning and Murphy’s argument but the creative practice of John Porter. Porter’s principle when translating fragments, as he took the trouble to note in the introduction to his Anglo-Saxon Riddles, was “to translate only words which are entire, and to omit unintelligible letters and groups” (page 8). He worked with the words he could see, not the ones he couldn’t.

So, without making a commitment to any of the potential solutions other scholars have proffered, I also focused on the words we have been left. As much as possible I tried to leave open whether the riddle refers to a sword, sword-hilt, iron, retainer, warrior, spear…or even perhaps a caterpillar (well probably not caterpillar).

Riddle 71 Caterpillar
Photo (by Vengolis) from Wikimedia Commons (license: CC BY-SA 4.0)

Rather than closing down the options, I looked for translation choices that would keep them open. I wanted to hold on to those ambiguities because I suspect that none of the solutions that have been suggested are exact. Portnoy would agree with this perhaps, but also I wanted to leave open the possibility that there is a solution out there, but one that no one has come across.

Such thoughts affected many of my word choices. So, “clothed” was arrived at because it can refer to both object and person; “a hard and high promontory” fits the description of a piece or land or quarry but can also act as a metaphor for a retainer or even a sword blade; “the leavings of fury” allows us to keep the ambiguities in laf that Portnoy has highlighted – a suggestion of both victim and victor. As my choice of “hard” might already indicate, I also suspected the riddle included some sexual innuendo. This led me to replace the more obvious “weeps” with “groans” in line 5. Murphy helped me to this line of thinking with his analysis of the double meaning of wæpen in Riddle 20 (sword/penis), and his reference to the sexually-charged image of “rings” in traditional riddling (page 61 and 74). This awareness informed a number of my other word choices as well. I’ll leave you to spot which ones.

When it came to the fragmented ending I allowed myself some indulgence:

  • (a) not to be bound by a desire to make complete sense – if the fragments make perfect sense there would be no need for the missing words;
  • (b) to work with alliteration across the fragments we have, instead of within the lines we do not have. Why? Just because I can, but also because it binds the riddle, gives it a sense of coherence, while still retaining, through the gaps in sense/content, our awareness of those missing parts.

The relationship between the speaker/object and master seems to run through the riddle. It is referred to in line 1, possibly implied again in the “held fast” of line 4, and comes up again with the dryhtne min of the penultimate line. Additionally, as Williamson points out, the reference to rings also alludes to this: “Anglo-Saxon swords were sometimes adorned with rings or ring-knobs to symbolise liege-lord relationship – ring-sword” (page 198). Such a relationship is reflected in my translation of dryhtne min as “master of mine,” rather than, say, to “my master.” Because “master of mine” separates the two words beginning with “m,” it gives that alliterated “m” a little bit more space on the line, on the page and in the ear. Additionally, this phrase allows us to see the two (the “master” and “me”) as separate entities, which indeed they are in the poem, as well as being closely bound, whether in opposition or in thrall. I like the way the preposition “of” that separates these two words also binds them, suggesting a complex interdependency.

Such a suggestion also fits with the other curious interaction referred to in lines 5 and 6 between “he who groans/bears gold” and the one who grips or embodies the grip. In line 6, I deliberated over the possible selection of “at my grip,” which is a more colloquial way of phrasing, but decided to stick with the dictionary-accurate “before my grip.” It may sound a little unfamiliar to us but this unfamiliarity reminds us, albeit subliminally, that we don’t have full access to the riddle. Limited access is of course the case with any Old English riddle given that they were set and formulated so long ago, but the limitations are all the more pronounced with fragmented works. The words “before my grip” also, pleasingly, allow for an alliterative connection with “bears,” thus emphasising the double meaning of “bears” – as in carrying, but also enduring or suffering. The twinning of “bears” with “before” hints at the sense in “bears” of “bearing down,” as would happen when succumbing “before” a grip or when attempting to vanquish a grip that appears “before” one. Once again, in either case, a complex interaction of relationships is indicated here.

I was very happy to come up with “make good the face” – a great example of lack of perfect sense. What does it mean? We have no real idea. This allows us to hear in the translation the gaps left by those missing words. It also binds with the alliterated “m”s in the vicinity of “make” and allows an evocation of the wlite (or fair-faced flowers) of line 3, as also happens in the original. In addition, “make good the face” suggests a reversal of values or of appearance, a theme that also seems to run through the riddle, and, possibly, a righting of wrongs, or appearance of righting at any rate.

Thus, the gaps and lacunae provide us with the riddle we have left, and in our attempts to be faithful to this, we too could consider being left content with a riddle solution that is both attacker and victim, inanimate and animate. We could recognise what we have – the fragment we work with now, but also what we do not have – the riddle as it stood with Old English riddlers. I am haunted by Murphy’s allusion to Savely Senderovich’s survey of folk riddle research, in which he “concludes that solutions are “to be known” rather than to be guessed or induced by adding up the clues” (Murphy, page 33; quoting Senderovich, pages 19-20). This echoes the ethnographer John Blacking’s observation in his notes on riddle-telling in the Northern Transvaal: “Whenever someone knew a riddle well he answered it pat, as if the answer was an integral part of the question” (Blacking, page 5; quoted in Heller-Roazen, page 66). In the case of Riddle 71, that “known” or “pat” element seems to be something which we 21st-century riddle-solvers do not share. Perhaps we simply stand too far away – the riddle perpetrating and perpetuating riddling down the ages…..

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading

Blacking, John. “The Social Value of Venda Riddles.” African Studies, vol. 20, issue 1 (1961), pages 1-32.

Crossley-Holland, Kevin, trans. The Exeter Book Riddles. London: Enitharmon, 2008.

Heller-Roazen, Daniel. Dark Tongues: The Art of Rogues and Riddlers. New York: Zone Books, 2013.

Muir, Bernard J.  The Exeter Anthology of Old English Poetry. 2 vols. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1994.

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

Porter, John, trans. Anglo-Saxon Riddles. Hockwold-cum-Wilton: Anglo-Saxon Books, 1995 and 2013.

Portnoy, Phyllis. “Laf-Craft in Five Old English Riddles (K-D 5, 20, 56, 71, 91).” Neophilologus, vol. 97 (2013), pages 555–79.

Salvador-Bello, Mercedes. “Direct and Indirect Clues: Exeter Riddle No.74 Reconsidered.” Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, vol. 99 (1998), pages 17-29.

Senderovich, Savely. Riddle of the Riddle: A Study of the Folk Riddle’s Figurative Nature. London: Kegan Paul, 2005.

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

Tupper, Frederick, Jr. The Riddles of the Exeter Book. Boston: Ginn, 1910.

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

Wyatt, A. J. Old English Riddles. Boston: D.C. Heath, 1912.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 71  judy kendall 

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Exeter Riddle 72

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 11 Dec 2017
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 72

Our translation of (the somewhat damaged) Riddle 72 comes to us from Robert Stanton, Associate Professor of English at Boston College. Robert works on medieval literature, animal studies and translation…so he’s pretty perfect for this riddle. Read on to find out why!



Original text:

Ic wæs lytel …
fo …
… te geaf …
…pe         þe unc gemæne …
5   … sweostor min,
fedde mec …      oft ic feower teah
swæse broþor,         þara onsundran gehwylc
dægtidum me         drincan sealde
þurh þyrel þearle.         Ic þæh on lust,
10   oþþæt ic wæs yldra         ond þæt anforlet
sweartum hyrde;        siþade widdor,
mearcpaþas Walas træd,         moras pæðde,
bunden under beame,         beag hæfde on healse,
wean on laste         weorc þrowade,
15   earfoða dæl.         Oft mec isern scod
sare on sidan;         ic swigade,
næfre meldade         monna ængum
gif me ordstæpe         egle wæron.

Translation:

I was little…

…gave…
[was?] common to us two,
5   … my sister,
fed me … often I pulled four
favorite brothers; each of them separately
gave me a drink in the day-time
abundantly through a hole. I grew up in pleasure,
10   until I was older and gave that up
to a dark herder; I traveled more widely,
trod the paths of the Welsh marches, traveled the moors,
bound under a beam, had a ring on my neck,
on a path of woe endured toil,
15   a share of hardships. Often iron hurt me
sorely in the side; I was silent,
never accused any man
if goad-pricks were painful to me.

Click to show riddle solution?
Ox, Heifer, Cow


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 126r 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 232-3.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 70: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 107-8.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 72  robert stanton 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 72

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 19 Dec 2017
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 72

Riddle 72’s commentary is by Robert Stanton from Boston College. Take it away, Robert!

 

Welcome to the third Exeter Book riddle featuring the hardworking ox or cow. Will it be the last we see of the bovines? No spoilers! This one is slightly more enigmatic than average, because the manuscript is damaged towards the end and there’s a huge hole where the start of the riddle should be. But we get a general idea of nostalgia for early childhood: the speaker remembers being little, having a sister, and feeding happily. But the youthful scene quickly becomes more riddle-y: this kid pulled four brothers who dispensed drinks through separate holes??? Luckily, constant readers of the Exeter Book will have a giant clue, because the creature narrating Riddle 38 also had four springs shooting forth brightly, which made them murmur with delight, and probably meant lunchtime. So yes, we’ve once again got a young bovine here, feeding off his mum’s four teats and enjoying it a lot.

But where the brief Riddle 38 jumps straight to the punchline poser (“That creature, if she survives, breaks the hills; if he dies, binds the living”), this critter’s life takes a dark and mournful turn. They must give up “that,” i.e. their mother’s milk, to a dark herder, a human who consumes the nourishment the calf once had. Meanwhile, the older ox or cow is forced to tread a lot of paths with a ring on their neck, bound under a beam. Life is hard, and you are constantly being poked by an iron goad.

Bayeux Tapestry plough team
A plough-team races across the bottom margin of the Bayeux Tapestry…though this one appears to pulled by a donkey…
Image (by Urban) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0).

That’s a pretty melancholy ending for any riddle, right? Of course, the formulaic ending about living and breaking, then dying and binding, shared by the other two cow/ox Exeter riddles and several Latin riddles, is also kind of depressing. Riddle 72 reshuffles the deck with the bovine riddle motifs: youthful delight from four teats, subsequent toil, ploughing when alive, leather when dead.

The themes of deprivation and consumption run broad and deep, across gender and generational boundaries. Eusebius’ Latin Enigma 12, De bove (“Bullock”) catalogues the animal’s work for humans, and the sad lack of reward for it:

Nunc aro, nunc operor, consumor in omnibus annis;
Multae sunt cereres, semper desunt mihi panes;
Et segetes colui, nec potus ebrius hausi.
(Glorie, vol. 133, page 220)
(Now I plough, now I toil, I am consumed through all the years;
Many are the harvests, but there is never bread for me;
I tilled the fields, but never drank strong drinks.)

Dexter
A very fine Dexter ox from Bede’s World in Northumbria. Photo courtesy of C.J.W. Brown.

In the following Eusebian riddle, Enigma 13, De vacca (“Cow”), a mother cow grieves that although she has fed many children, she herself consumes only cibis aliis (other food) and aquis alienis (someone else’s waters), because her own mother’s milk is long gone. The previous riddles, of course, have pointed out that the cow’s children are themselves consumed by a life of toil and deprived of their mother’s milk (just like in Riddle 72):

Sunt pecudes multae mihi, quas nutrire solebam;
Meque premente fame non lacteque carneue uescor,
Cumque cibis aliis et pascor aquis alienis;
Ex me multi uiuunt, ex me et flumina currunt.
(Glorie, vol. 133, page 223)
(My cattle are many, whom I used to feed;
And when hunger presses me I take no milk or meat,
Since I am fed with other food and someone else’s waters;
Many live off me, and rivers flow from me.)

The poetic tradition of lamenting the lives and fates of domesticated agricultural animals goes at least as far back as Virgil, whose Georgics famously catalogue the toil of cattle, the fact that they never get to enjoy themselves with booze like humans do, and the nasty diseases they can catch:

Ecce autem duro fumans sub vomere taurus
concidit et mixtum spumis vomit ore cruorem
extremosque ciet gemitus. it tristis arator,
maerentem abiungens fraterna morte iuvencum,
atque opere in medio defixa relinquit aratra.
(But lo, the bull, smoking under the ploughshare’s weight, falls; from his mouth he spurts blood, mingled with foam, and heaves his dying groans. Sadly goes the ploughman, unyokes the steer that sorrows for his brother’s death, and amid its half-done task leaves the share rooted fast.) (pages 212-13)

Bovines also featured heavily in the Old Testament, frequently signifying the wealth of an individual or a people, the transfer of wealth between people or groups, or the loss of property resulting from illness or death. A popular passage from Deuteronomy 25.4 about an ox threshing grain (“thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn”) was quoted twice by St Paul, to signify that everyone needs to be able to get on with his or her work or office, and in particular that priests and preachers should always be free to go about their business. In First Corinthians 9.9, however, Paul asks a provocative question: Numquid de bubus cura est Deo? Does God care about oxen? No; he insists on the allegorical force of the textual ox, explicitly rejecting any literal compassion for actual oxen (a number of other patristic writers also rejected the idea that humans should care about individual animals).

Highland cow
How could you not care about such a magnificent creature?! Image (by Eirik Newth) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY 2.0).

The riddlers’ sympathy for the animals’ toil and loss extends further, across boundaries between species, and even animate and inanimate objects. Jennifer Neville has written about riddles that use tools (sword, bellows, battering ram, bow, key, reed pen, etc.) to explore issues of servitude, binding, and exploitation. The narrator of Riddle 21 (“Plough”) laments its own hard labour, objectification, and even abuse at the hands of its lord, while transferring some sympathy to the ploughman, perhaps a slave, who steers it, and maybe even the ox who pulls it. In their deeply emotional identification with suffering, both the Exeter ox/cow riddles and the implement riddles have a lot in common with elegiac poems like The Wanderer and The Seafarer, which also feature emotional scenes of deprivation and loss. Most of the implement riddles share some of the ox/cow riddles’ traumatic deprivation of comfort in youth followed by violent handling and/or consumption in a human system of servitude; Jonathan Wilcox has eloquently summarized this as “the lament for a movement from natural innocence to manufactured suffering” (Wilcox, page 398).

In our current riddle, bovines who plough (and then get used for leather) are further associated with the Welsh, who often stand in for general foreigners or slaves in worrying ways (as in Riddle 12, with the drunken Welsh slave girl manipulating a leather object by the fire). Line 12, mearcpaþas Walas træd, moras pæðde (trod the paths of the Welsh marches [borderlands]) causes a problem because it has too many syllables, but the presence of Walas points implicitly to the theme of slavery, or at least captivity, perhaps along the English/Welsh border; Lindy Brady has recently raised the possibility that the ox in this riddle is part of a cattle drive in this part of the island (pages 94-96).

So what do we do with the emotion and sympathy evoked by this poem and its nearest relatives: the other cow/ox riddles, other animal riddles, and the implement riddles? The ambiguous nature of riddles, especially the first-person “say what I am” variety, both hinders and helps us here. The confusion caused by an apparently animate narrator who turns out to be an inanimate object is part of the humor, like when the plough says “my nose in downward,” but it’s really part of a broader project, the blurring between subject and object, that uses confusion to elicit pleasure. If a tool made of wood and iron can talk, that’s slightly unsettling and funny; if a working animal can talk, that’s even more confusing, still a bit funny, but maybe even a bit more emotional. A fictional ox narrator can carry all sorts of baggage from all the other works that influenced it (Bible verses, Virgil’s Georgics, other riddles), but can still jump off the page and demand your care and attention in ways that no poetic genres can fully contain.

 

Furthermore, both the writers and readers of the Exeter Book riddles would have been fully aware of just how much they depended on both the labour of bovines (ploughing and hauling goods) and the materials taken from their bodies. People have been talking a lot lately about the fundamental connection between animal slaughter and medieval manuscript production. In eighth- and ninth-century England (roughly the time period of the riddles), all major monasteries kept livestock, larger ones sold meat and dairy products for income, and establishments producing large calf-skin manuscripts produced higher dairy yields, since more calves producing manuscripts meant more lactating cows, and hence, more milk. Monastic economies, like those of manors, depended on the ploughing capability of oxen, the yield of meat from slaughtered animals, the production of milk, cream, cheese, and other dairy commodities, and the manufacture of useful objects from other parts of the animal’s body – especially hide, whether tanned into leather or not, but also including horn and bone.

While the people who wrote and read riddles about cows and oxen living lives of toil and despair had to be aware of the animals’ central place in their own human lives, the literary representations of those beasts could reach across species boundaries to forge emotional and sympathetic bonds. The battered plough, the shivering ploughman, and the exhausted ox share a life of servitude on the losing side of consumption, but in a few brief, painful lines of poetry, they can gain a voice.

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.

Brady, Lindy. Writing the Welsh Borderlands in Anglo-Saxon England. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017.

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

Holsinger, Bruce. “Of Pigs and Parchment: Medieval Studies and the Coming of the Animal.” PMLA, vol. 124 (2009), pages 616-23.

Kay, Sarah. Animal Skins and the Reading Self in Medieval Latin and French Bestiaries. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017.

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

Neville, Jennifer. “The Unexpected Treasure of the ‘Implement Trope’: Hierarchical Relationships in the Old English Riddles.” Review of English Studies new series, vol. 62 (2011), pages 505-19.

Virgil. Eclogues, Georgics, Aeneid Books I-VI. Loeb Classical Library, vol. 63. Trans. by H. Rushton Fairclough. Revised by G.P. Goold. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1935.

Wilcox, Jonathan. “New Solutions to Old English Riddles: Riddles 17 and 53.” Philological Quarterly, vol. 69 (1990), pages 393-408.

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 72 

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Exeter Riddle 73

VICTORIASYMONS

Date: Tue 30 Jan 2018
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 73
Original text:

Ic on wonge aweox,     wunode þær mec feddon
hruse ond heofonwolcn,     oþþæt me onhwyrfdon
gearum frodne,     þa me grome wurdon,
of þære gecynde     þe ic ær cwic beheold,
5     onwendan mine wisan,     wegedon mec of earde,
gedydon þæt ic sceolde     wiþ gesceape minum
on bonan willan     bugan hwilum.
Nu eom mines frean     folme bysigo[.
…..]dlan dæl,     gif his ellen deag,
10     oþþe æfter dome     [.]ri[………
…………]an     mæ[.]þa fremman,
wyrcan w[………………..
……]ec on þeode     utan we[……
…………………..]ipe
15     ond to wrohtstæp[……………….
…………]eorp,     eaxle gegyrde,
wo[……………………….]
ond swiora smæl,     sidan fealwe
[………………..]     þonne mec heaþosigel
20     scir bescineð     ond mec [……..]
fægre feormað     ond on fyrd wigeð
cræfte on hæfte.     Cuð is wide
þæt ic þrista sum     þeofes cræfte
under hrægnlocan  […]
25     hwilum eawunga     eþelfæsten
forðweard brece,     þæt ær frið hæfde.
Feringe from,     he fus þonan
wendeð of þam wicum,     wiga se þe mine
wisan cunne.     Saga hwæt ic hatte.

Translation:

I grew on a plain, lived where the earth
and the clouds of heaven fed me, until the ones who were hostile to me
took me, wise in years,
from the native place which I previously held when alive,
5     changed my ways, shook me from the earth,
made it so that I must – against my nature –
sometimes bow in a killer’s service.
Now I am busy in my lord’s hand[.
…..] share, if his valour avails,
10     until after judgement […………
……………….] to advance,
to work [.………………..
……..] to the people let us [……
……………………..]
15     and to strife-stepping(?)[……………….
………….…], girded shoulders,
[…………………………]
and a small neck, dark sides
[………………..] when the bright battle-sun
20     shines on me and me […….]
nourishes well, and wields in war
with skill by the haft. It is widely known
that with a thief’s skill, I (go) alone among the bold,
into the brain-pan […]
25     at times I break forth openly
in a familiar fortress, that previously had peace.
Then eagerly he turns from that place,
bold for the journey, the warrior who
knows my nature. Say what I am called.

Click to show riddle solution?
Spear, Bow, Cross


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 126r-126v 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 233-4.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 71: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 108-9.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 73 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 73

VICTORIASYMONS

Date: Mon 11 Dec 2017
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 73

If you read Riddle 73 and didn’t immediately think of The Dream of the Rood, well then you clearly haven’t read The Dream of the Rood as recently as is good for you, and should probably go and do that now (full translation here). Are you back? Then on with the commentary!

Even with substantial damage to the riddle’s central lines, its parallels with The Dream of the Rood aren’t exactly hard to spot. Both feature monologues spoken by trees, for a start. In both, the trees begin by describing their place in the land. Both trees are old – in The Dream of the Rood, we’re told it was geara iu (“years ago”, line 28a) that the tree lived on the edge of a forest, while the speaker in Riddle 73 is gearum frodne (“wise in years”, line 3a). Eventually people arrive, fell these ancient trees, and transform them into… something else. In The Dream of the Rood, that something is a cross, soon to become the Cross. In Riddle 73, it’s some manner of weapon.

Exactly what weapon our speaker becomes is up for grabs, to a point. There’s been a modicum of support for Moritz Trautmann’s solution “battering ram”, mainly because of similarities with Riddle 53. There are a few obstacles to this reading, however. As Craig Williamson points out (page 354), our speaker is held in its wielder’s hand (line 8), is slender (line 18), and it moves about quietly (line 23). I don’t know about you, but when I picture something small, hand-held, and quiet, the first thing that springs to mind isn’t this:

Battering ram

Stealthy.
Photo of battering ram (by Clarinetlover) from Wikimedia Commons (licence CC BY-SA 3.0).

The riddle’s more popular solutions are either spear (Old English gar) or bow (OE boga). According to Williamson, spears were perhaps the most common offensive weapon in the early medieval arsenal, and they’re certainly abundant in Old English poetry. One verse of the Old English Rune Poem may be describing a tree-turned-spear, in a way that’s somewhat suggestive of Riddle 73:

Æsc biþ oferheah,     eldum dyre,
stiþ on staþule,     stede rihte hylt,
ðeah him feohtan on     firas monige. (Rune Poem, lines 81-83)

(The ash is very high,     dear to men,
strong in its stead; it holds its right place,
though many men fight against it.)

Yes, there’s always a way of shoehorning runes into a riddle commentary. And while we’re shoehorning, we can’t really talk about early medieval folks and their spears without some mention of The Battle of Maldon (a.k.a. “the poem with all the spears”; full translation here). Maldon’s most famous line is almost certainly Byrhtnoth’s rejoinder to the Vikings’ offer of a truce in return for tribute:

Gehyrst þu, sælida,     hwæt þis folc segeð?
Hi willað eow to gafole     garas syllan,
ættrynne ord and ealde swurd. (The Battle of Maldon, lines 45-47)

(Do you hear, seafarer, what this people says?
They wish to give you spears for tribute,
the poisoned point, and old swords.)

More reminiscent of Riddle 73, though, are lines much later in the poem when, in the thick of the battle, we’re told that gar oft þurhwod / fæges feorhus (“the spear often pierced the life-house of the fated”, lines 296b-97a). When the speaker of Riddle 73 describes itself entering into strongholds, it might be speaking literally, of besieged towns. But it could just as easily be speaking figuratively of the human body (Williamson, page 348).

The Battle of Maldon is also a useful reminder that spears were projectiles as well as close-combat weapons. The speaker’s description of itself going alone with the craft of a thief (line 23) certainly puts me in mind of something being thrown across a distance. In fact, it mostly reminds me of this scene from the lid of the Franks Casket:

Riddle 73 Franks Casket 1
Yes, these particular arrows are coming out from, rather than going into, the stronghold. But you get the idea.
Photo (by FinnWikiNo) from Wikimedia Commons (licence CC BY-SA 3.0).

This brings us to the second popular solution: bow (and/or arrow). Those who know about early medieval woodworking point out that while spears aren’t made from the wood of old trees, bows are (Doane, page 254). There’s also that reference to the speaker being compelled to bugan (“bend”, line 7b) in the hand of its wielder. I’m no expert, but that certainly sounds more like a bow than a spear.

Franks Casket front panel

For comparison, here are some spears from the back of the Franks Casket (top left). Notice: very straight. Notice also: more runes. There’s always room for more runes.
Photo (by Michel wal) from Wikimedia Commons (licence CC BY-SA 3.0).

So Riddle 73, like Riddle 53 and The Dream of the Rood, is one of several Old English poems in which “a tree is taken from a state of innocence and treated savagely to create an instrument of destruction” (Wilcox, page 398). Whether the specific instrument is a spear or a bow, the suffering that the speaker experiences through the course of its transformation is, as Wilcox points out, all the more ironic “when the manufactured object is one which brings suffering on men” (page 399).

That irony is certainly not lost on our poet. At the start of the riddle, the speaker is living in what Corinne Dale calls almost “Paradisal” peace (page 110), until hostile humans onwendan mine wisan (“changed my nature”, line 5a). This change is emphatically manufactured, in the sense that it’s brought about by human hands, and it forces the speaker to go wiþ onsceape (“against [my] creation”, line 6b). It’s through this human-wrought change that our speaker becomes, in turn, hostile to humans: sneaking into strongholds, and dispatching warriors through its newly bestowed wisan (“nature”, line 29a).

This is where the parallels with The Dream of the Rood become particularly poignant. In The Dream of the Rood, the speaker is likewise transformed into an instrument of death. But it also finds redemption in spite of – or rather, through – this transformation. As it towers above those who made it into a gallows, the tree-speaker contemplates how easily it could bugan to eorðan (“bend to earth”, line 42b) and wipe them out. But it ne dorste… bugan (“does not dare… bend”, lines 35a-36a), and instead obeys divine will by standing tall. The speaker of Riddle 73, on the other hand, has no such noble role to play. It simply on bonan willan bugan (“bends to a killer’s will”, line 7), and brings violence to places that ær frið hæfde (“previously had peace”, line 26b).

My favourite part in this riddle about transformation is actually the transformation that takes place in the very final half line. Here, the speaker takes what is probably the most conventional phrase in the Exeter Book riddles, saga hwæt ic hatte (line 29b) and turns it into something altogether more sinister. Call me paranoid, but it seems to me there’s a sort of implied threat in these closing lines: “Humans gave me this nature, and now my nature kills any human who knows it,” the speaker seems to say, before turning to its human audience and adding “So… do you know what I am?”

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading

Dale, Corinne. The Natural World in the Exeter Book Riddles. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2017.

Doane, A. N. “Three Old English Implement Riddles: Reconsiderations of Numbers 4, 49, and 73.” Modern Philology, vol. 84, issue 3 (1987), pages 243-57.

Halsall, Maureen, ed. The Old English Rune Poem: A Critical Edition. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1981.

Wilcox, Jonathan. “New Solutions to Old English Riddles: Riddles 17 and 52.” Philological Quarterly, vol. 69, issue 4 (1990), pages 393-408.

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 73 

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Exeter Riddle 74

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 12 Feb 2018
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 74

Riddle 74’s translation is by returning guest contributor James Paz, lecturer in early medieval literature at the University of Manchester. Welcome back, James!



Original text:

Ic wæs fæmne geong,      feaxhar cwene,
ond ænlic rinc      on ane tid;
fleah mid fuglum      ond on flode swom,
deaf under yþe      dead mid fiscum,
ond on foldan stop,      hæfde ferþ cwicu.

Translation:

I was a young girl, a grey-haired woman,
and a singular warrior at the same time;
I soared with the birds and swam in the water,
dove under the waves, dead among the fish,
and stepped on land. I held a living spirit.

Click to show riddle solution?
Cuttlefish, Boat and oak, Quill pen, Ship’s figurehead, Siren, Water


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 126v 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 234.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 72: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 109.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 74  james paz 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 74

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 19 Dec 2017
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 74

Riddle 74’s commentary is once again by guest contributor James Paz at the University of Manchester. Take it away, James!

 

Riddle 74 is a shapeshifter. The speaker has been identified as everything from a made artefact to a living creature, a wonder of nature to a mythological being. Even the first two lines of the riddle are mind-bending. The riddling voice tells us that it was a fæmne geong. I’ve translated this neutrally as a “young girl” but the Old English noun fæmne could be rendered more specifically as “virgin” or “maiden.” In the next half-line, the speaker says that it was also a feaxhar cwene, that is, a grey-haired, older woman. The speaker has aged before our eyes in the first line, and in the second line it suddenly shifts gender, as well. A rinc is a man, perhaps a warrior, and an ænlic rinc is a singular warrior who is “unlike” anything or anyone else, surpassingly noble, beautiful or elegant. The speaker claims that this changing of identity all occurred on ane tid. Since the Old English tid is a vague term for an indefinite period of time (an hour? a year? several years? a season? an age or era?), this phrase could be translated in a number of different ways: “at the same time” or “in a single hour” or “all at once” or even “once upon a time.”

As if this weren’t perplexing enough, the riddle then presents us with a further puzzle: the speaker is capable of flight (fleah mid fuglum) and it can swim (ond on flode swom) and walk on dry land (ond on foldan stop). This amphibious creature says that it was “dead” among the fish and yet, in the last half-line of the poem, it states that it hæfde ferþ cwicu. The most obvious rendering would be “I had a living spirit” but “I held” or even “I contained” a living spirit are equally plausible translations and, as the verb hæfde can be read in the pluperfect sense and the noun ferþ could also be grammatically plural, “I had held living spirits” is another possible interpretation. Is the speaker a living animal, then? Or an artefact that was formerly alive? Or maybe a container or vessel of some kind, something dead bearing something living?

Riddle 74 plays with the tension between transformation and continuity: transformation, because the speaker takes on multiple forms and roles; continuity, because it possesses a single voice and memory, and perhaps a single quickening spirit, depending on how we read the final half-line. The riddle either expands or contracts our perception of time, again depending on how we read the term tid: the metamorphoses from a young girl to a grey-haired woman might seem wondrous if it occurs overnight, but what if the riddle has condensed an entire season or age into a few lines of verse? As a poem, therefore, this riddle raises complex questions about identity. Is it possible to change age, gender and environment so many times and yet still be a nameable, classifiable creature? Can language capture such a multifaceted life experience with a single solution? Or do words ultimately fail to fix this amorphous, slippery speaker in its proper place?

This riddle has sent scholars of Old English away shaking their heads in confusion. Many have ventured an answer, but those answers differ wildly from one another. Over the years, solutions have included: barnacle goose, cuttlefish, ship’s figurehead, oak and boat, quill pen, sea eagle, shadows, siren, soul, sun, swan and water. It would take a good deal of time (and patience!) to cover every solution in detail, so I’ll only discuss some of the highlights (for a more comprehensive survey, see the Niles article under Suggested Reading below).

Riddle 74 Cuttlefish
Photo of a cuttlefish (by João Carvalho) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 2.5)

Squid or cuttlefish was one solution offered by earlier scholars such as Franz Dietrich in 1859. The Roman author, Pliny, had reported in his Natural History that squid could “fly” above the sea and the Anglo-Latin author, Aldhelm, penned an enigma about the luligo (squid or cuttlefish) which parallels some aspects of Riddle 74. In A. M. Juster’s recent translation of Aldhelm’s Latin Enigma 16 (pages 10-11), we read:

Nunc cernenda placent nostrae spectacula vitae;
Cum grege piscoso scrutor maris aequora squamis.
Cum volucrum turma quoque scando per aethera pennis,
Et tamen aethereo non possum vivere flatu.

(Seeing life’s spectacles now entertains;
With fishy, scaly flocks, I search sea plains.
With mobs of birds I also rise through sky,
And yet I can’t survive in breeze that’s high.)

Here, the luligo searches the waters of the deep with fish and ascends through the air with birds, but an ability to change age and sex, and to walk on land as well as swim and fly, is not accounted for by Aldhelm’s enigma. So this answer can’t be deemed completely satisfactory.

Could it be a siren? This was the answer proposed by Frederick Tupper in 1903. The mythological siren is both aged and young, centuries old and yet with the face of a girl. It is not only a woman but sometimes a man.

Riddle 74 Siren from Bestiary (1230-1240), f.47v_-_BL_Harley_MS_4751
An image of a siren in a 13th-century bestiary from British Library Harley MS 4751 (folio 47v), via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

Tupper claimed that at an early period of the Middle Ages, the Teutonic conception of a fish-woman met and mingled with the Graeco-Roman idea of a bird-maiden. The combined bird and fish aspects of this partly classical, partly medieval creature explain line 3 of the riddle (“I soared with the birds and swam in the water”). As for line 4 (“dove under the waves, dead among the fish”) Tupper draws our attention to what “every student of myths” apparently knows: the sirens threw themselves into the sea and were transformed into rocks when Ulysses or the Argonauts had passed by in safety. Sceptics of this solution point to the peripheral place of the siren in early medieval lore, which makes this interpretation a little farfetched.

Quill pen was the solution of F. H. Whitman in 1968. This was the answer that first leapt into my mind when I read the riddle, due to some similarities with Riddle 51, which links the penna (feather) of the bird with the penna (quill pen) of the scribe. Feathers literally fly through air (and sometimes dive in water and walk the land) when attached to a living bird. The voyage is repeated in the scriptorium, where the writing pen “flies” as the scribe lifts the quill, dips it into the watery inkwell, and then the pen “steps” on the dry land of the parchment, leaving tracks on the page. However, a couple of phrases are harder to account for with the quill pen solution: why would a pen be described as a “singular warrior” and in what sense is it dead among the fish?

Riddle 74 Quills
Photo of feathers being turned into quill pens (by Jonathunder) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0)

Ship’s figurehead was suggested by Craig Williamson (pages 349-52). The speaker is to be imagined as carved in the form of young girl who gradually turns ashen and visibly “ages” as the wood becomes weathered over time, through exposure to the salty waves. As an artefact, the figurehead is “dead” but was made from once living wood. It charges the waves like a warrior. Critics of this solution cite a lack of archaeological evidence for figureheads in the shape of a girl: only those in the form of dragons and other beasts survive from the early medieval English and Viking periods.

Water or, more precisely, water in its various forms is an attractive solution, first proposed by Moritz Trautmann in 1894 and then refined in 1905 and 1915. Snow flies through the air, ice floats on water as an iceberg and, when it melts away and mingles with the sea, could be said to “die” among the fish, while streams and rivers flow across the land. The young girl is a stream, the grey-haired woman is an iceberg and the singular warrior is snow. Trautmann uses grammatical gender as a clue to solving the riddle. For instance, the Old English word for stream is burne, a feminine noun, while snaw is a masculine noun. Water itself doesn’t have a living spirit but it might be said to “hold” or contain living sea creatures.

Another ingenious solution which relies, in part, on grammatical gender is the one offered by John D. Niles in 1998. For Niles, the speaker is an ac (oak tree) which has been cut down and made into a bat (boat). The tree changes from sapling to a hoary, old oak before it is turned into a warrior-like ship. This answer relies on us taking the oak tree as feminine and the boat as masculine, based on the fact that in Old English ac is a feminine noun, whereas bat is masculine. Niles argues that this reading is consistent with gender biases that were firmly entrenched in early medieval society, whereby trees are rooted to one spot in the same way that “women are traditionally associated with hearth and home” whereas ships are “daring rovers, as men have been known to be” (page 190). And yet, by having one speaker embody both of these gendered roles, the riddle could be said to question, rather than reinforce, the categories that have traditionally divided men from women, perhaps inviting the audience to rethink such biases.

Niles’s reading is unsettled somewhat if the speaker is understood as having been a sapling (young girl) and old tree (grey-haired woman) and ship (warrior) all at the same time: on ane tid. One way out is to punctuate the riddle differently from modern convention, so that it reads along the lines of: “at a single time, / I soared with the birds and swam in the water, / dove under the waves, dead among the fish, /and stepped on land.” Another way to resolve this problem is to take the term tid as indicating a long stretch of time. The first two lines of the riddle then become a bit like a wildlife documentary using time-lapse photography to compress the rhythms of nature into a few seconds.

There’s still no consensus on the correct solution. As you can see, each proposal has potential flaws. If I had to choose one, then I’d probably opt for water. I find this one appealing because it expresses both endurance across time and a continuous shifting in form. It’s also a pleasingly “fluid” solution. What I mean by this is that the solution is not simply “water.” It is “water” and then “ice” and then “snow” and then “water” again. Just as we attempt to freeze the shapeshifting speaker with a spoken word, the warmth of our breath causes it to crack and melt once more, changing its form and function as the hydrologic cycle goes ever on and on.

Riddle 74 is therefore a perfect illustration of how things always exceed our names for them – and of how riddles always exceed their solutions.

Riddle 74 Feathery Snow Crystals
A photo of some very fine snowflakes (by Jason Hollinger) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY 2.0)
Notes:

References and Suggested Reading

Dietrich, Franz Eduard. “Die Räthsel des Exeterbuchs: Würdigung, Lösung und Herstellung.” ZfdA, vol. 11 (1859), pages 448-90.

Erhardt-Siebold, Erika von. “The Anglo-Saxon Riddle 74 and Empedokles’ Fragment 117.” Medium Ævum, vol. 15 (1946), pages 48-54.

Juster, A. M., trans. Saint Aldhelm’s Riddles. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015.

Klein, Thomas. “Of Water and the Spirit: Metaphorical Focus in Exeter Book Riddle 74.” Review of English Studies, vol. 66, issue 273 (2014), pages 1-19.

Niles, John D. “Exeter Book Riddle 74 and the Play of the Text.” Anglo-Saxon England, vol. 27 (1998), pages 169-207.

Paz, James. Nonhuman Voices in Anglo-Saxon Literature and Material Culture. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017, pages 78-83.

Salvador Bello, Mercedes. “Direct and Indirect Clues: Exeter Riddle no. 74 Reconsidered.” Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, vol. 99 (1998), pages 17-29.

Trautmann, Moritz. “Die Auflösungen der altenglischen Rätsel.” Beiblatt zur Anglia, vol. 5 (1894), pages 46-51.

Tupper, Frederick. “Originals and Analogues of the Exeter Book Riddles.” Modern Language Notes, vol. 18 (1903), pages 97-106.

Whitman, F. H. “OE Riddle 74.” English Language Notes, vol. 6 (1968), pages 1-5.

Williamson, Craig, ed. and trans. The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977, pages 349-52.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 74  james paz 

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Exeter Riddles 75 and 76

VICTORIASYMONS

Date: Sun 18 Mar 2018
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddles 75 and 76

It’s another two-for-one this week! Most editors treat the first two lines as one riddle, and the third as a seperate riddle. Krapp and Dobbie are among them. Others, including Craig Williamson, edit this as a single poem. Also there are runes, so scroll down for a screenshot if you can't see them. Enjoy…



Original text:

Ic swiftne geseah     on swaþe feran
.ᛞ ᚾ ᛚ ᚻ.
[Riddle 76] Ic ane geseah idese sittan.

Translation:

I saw a swift one travel on the way
.d n l h.
[Riddle 76] I saw a woman sit alone.

Click to show riddle solution?
Hound, Piss, Hound and Hind, Christ


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 127r 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 234.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 73: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 110.

Screen shot for the runes:

Riddle 75 runes



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 75  riddle 76 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddles 75 and 76

VICTORIASYMONS

Date: Mon 26 Mar 2018
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddles 75 and 76

Here’s a riddle for you: what do a dog, Jesus, and someone taking a pee all have in common? Answer: they’re all possible solutions for this week’s riddle. Or riddles. Yes, there’s quite a bit of mystery about Riddle 75 and/or Riddle 76, and the mystery starts with how many poems it or they actually is. Or are.

For reasons that will become clear below, I’m going to set the runes aside for a moment and focus on the two longer lines of poetry. The way they’re written in the manuscript strongly suggests that they’re two separate texts – each begins with capitalisation and on a new line, and closes with the kind of punctuation flourish normally reserved for endings. This is how a lot of editors, including Krapp and Dobbie, treat them. The problem is… there isn’t much there. These might be the opening lines of two longer riddles, but if so the scribe forgot to include the rest. Other editors have preferred to combine these two lines into a single text. This has the advantage of providing a little more bulk to work with, and nods to the structural similarities between the lines. In fact, there’s a sort of chiasmus – a balancing of two parallel clauses – in the contrast between the subject of the first line moving swiftly and the subject of the second line sitting alone. My feeling is that these two riddles are, in fact, a single text even if that’s not how they’re presented in the manuscript.

However we choose to edit the poem/s, one thing we can be confident about is that the runes are later additions. You see, when we find runes in the Exeter Book riddles they’re usually integrated into the metre, meaning that they (or rather, the words they signify) carry alliteration. The first rune in Riddle 19, for example, is ᛋ (line 1b), whose name sigel picks up the s- alliteration from the preceding half line.

But that’s not what happens here. These runes are just hanging out on the end of the first line, with not the slightest regard for alliteration or metrical stress or any of the things that make Old English poetry poetic. So what are they doing there?

The answer is that these runes have been interpolated – i.e. moved – from the margins into the text proper. This happens when a scribe is copying from one manuscript to another and mistakes a note in the margin for a continuation of the line. We see another of this kind of mistake in Riddle 36, and Andy Orchard argues it’s also the source of Riddle 23’s opening line (page 290). In both cases, these stray words were originally written into the margins of earlier copies of the poems, to provide cryptic clues for the riddles’ solutions.

Now, if you’re the sort of person who gets excited by manuscript-y stuff (aren’t we all?), this is actually pretty cool. Today, all but one of the Old English riddles comes to us from the Exeter Book. Everything we think we know about these riddles – that they were written without solutions, for example – is based on this one manuscript. But what we get here is a glimpse of the earlier manuscript from which th Exeter Book itself was copied. Preserved in this odd mish-mash of a poem is the relic of what that lost manuscript looked like. It’s the manuscript equivalent of finding dino DNA preserved in amber.

insect trapped in amber

Sort of.
Photo credit: Brocken Inaglory, via Wikimedia Commons (licence: GNU Free Documentation Licence).

Once we’ve finished geeking out about palaeography, though, it’s time to get down to the real business: solving this thing. As you can see, there isn’t a great deal to go on. Taking only the poetic lines, we have either two riddles describing one thing moving quickly, and one thing sitting alone. Or we have one riddle describing both those things in tandem. No wonder someone thought it might be a good idea to include a little runic hint to help us along. What wise clue did our medieval runester grace us with?

Dnlh.

No, that’s not an Old English sneeze. That’s what the runes say. Dnlh.

It may come as no surprise that “dnlh” isn’t a word, not in Old English nor in modern. But there are a couple of ways it might become a word, with some creative thinking and a loose approach to spelling. Reverse the letter order and add in some much-needed vowels and we might get hælend (lord). This solution was originally proposed by W. S. Mackie, who argued that the first line is a standalone riddle depicting Christ “as a hunter in pursuit of sin” (page 77). Playing around with letter order and vowels are two fairly common gambits in medieval cryptography – they’re used in Riddle 19 and Riddle 23 (reversed letters), or Riddle 36 (changed vowels). That’s solution one.

Christ stabbing devil in hellmouth

Solution one. Image from Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

But there’s actually a way of finding some vowels without adding anything to the runes at all. When written in manuscripts, runic ᛚ (l) often ends up looking similar to runic ᚢ (u). And if there’s one thing we can say for sure about the Exeter Book scribe, it’s that he or she isn’t particularly good at writing runes consistently. Changing the “l” for a “u” and reversing the letter order gives us hund (hound). So the riddle may be as simple as that: a poem about a dog running really fast, to which someone’s helpfully added the word dog so that we know it’s definitely about a dog. This is solution two, and it’s a popular one (Bitterli, pages 105-10).

Dog running

Solution two.
Image credit: Sheila Sund via Wikimedia Commons (licence: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic).

Solution three comes courtesy of Craig Williamson, who opines that “the pursuit of sin has no place in this riddle” (page 353), and that the word signified by our runic quartet is actually hland (urine). Williamson’s reading supports combining the two lines into one poem; the contrast between them speaks to the contrast between male and female peeing… postures.

Field of tulips

Solution three: not pictured. I’ll leave it to your imagination. Image credit: Tuxyso via Wikimedia Commons (licence: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0).

Which one is the correct solution? It’s honestly impossible to know. We don’t even know for sure that the runes have anything to do with conveying a solution. But that ambiguity is pretty fun. In fact, I’d argue one of the best things about this poem (or these poems) is how evocative it is. These two little lines may represent the shortest of the Exeter Book riddles, but they’ve provoked page upon page of critical commentary encompassing a truly eclectic range of solutions and creative readings. And thus we get from Jesus Christ to peeing postures, via one happy hound!

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.

Mackie, W. S. “Notes on the Text of the Exeter Book.” Modern Language Review, vol. 28 (1933), pages 75-78.

Orchard, Andy. “Enigma Variations: The Anglo-Saxon Riddle-tradition.” In Latin Learning and English Lore: Studies in Anglo-Saxon Literature for Michael Lapidge. Edited by Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe and Andy Orchard (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005), pages 284-304.

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 75  riddle 76 

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Exeter Riddle 77

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Wed 11 Apr 2018
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 77

Once again, there’s a bit of burn damage toward the end of this particular riddle indicated by “…”



Original text:

Sæ mec fedde,         sundhelm þeahte,
ond mec yþa wrugon         eorþan getenge
feþelease.         Oft ic flode ongean
muð ontynde.         Nu wile monna sum
min flæsc fretan,         felles ne recceð,
siþþan he me of sidan         seaxes orde
hyd arypeð,         …ec hr… …þe siþþan
iteð unsodene         ea… …d.

Translation:

The sea sustained me, the water-helm covered me,
and the waves concealed me lying on the ground,
foot-less. Often I, facing the flood,
opened my mouth. Now a certain person wishes
to devour my flesh, he does not care for my skin,
when he rips my hide from my side
with the point of a knife, … then
eats me uncooked …

Click to show riddle solution?
Oyster


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 127r 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 234.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 74: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 110.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 77 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 77

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 17 May 2018
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 77

GOODness gracious me. I’m clearly very out of practice, since this post took a veritable age and a half to write up. This is strange, in a way, since Riddle 77 is one of the least controversial riddles when it comes to solution-hunting: scholars are pretty much agreed that this watery tale of violent captivity, death and consumption concerns an oyster. But, even with this uncharacteristic scholarly agreement, there’s still lots to say about this and other early medieval oysters. Settle in and let us begin.

Riddle 77 Olympia oyster cluster
Photo (by Matthew Gray) of an Olympia oyster cluster from Wikimedia commons (licence: CC BY-SA 2.0). These little guys aren’t native to England, but they’re pretty, so…

I should start by saying that – as with all the riddles toward the end of the Exeter Book – there’s some damage from the infamous hot poker here (not a metaphor…apparently, some very bad person put a literal hot poker on this fabulous manuscript, and they shall be forever damned in the eyes of medievalists). It’s strangely and gruesomely appropriate that the riddle ends with a reference to the solution’s uncooked-ness, just as the book itself heats up (sorry). But more on the riddle’s reference to cooking in a moment.

First, let’s think a little bit about the importance of environment. I’m thinking especially of the emphasis on sea and waves, which are represented here as a sundhelm (water-helm) (line 1b). This brilliant compound, when taken together with the reference to the ocean having concealed (wrugon) the oyster, reminds me of another truly fab word: heoloþhelm (helmet of invisibility). That’s right: the early English had a term for this…and not just them, since it exists in continental Old Saxon as well! Too. Good.

Anywho, a heoloþhelm is a particularly diabolic object. The devil sports this particular head-gear in Genesis B (line 444a) and in The Whale:

                he him feorgbona
þurh sliþen searo    siþþan weorþeð,
wloncum ond heanum,    þe his willan her
firenum fremmað,    mid þam he færinga,
heoloþhelme biþeaht,    helle seceð,
goda geasne,    grundleasne wylm
under mistglome,    swa se micla hwæl,
se þe bisenceð    sæliþende
eorlas ond yðmearas. (lines 41b-9a)
(he then becomes a murderer to them, through savage cunning, to the proud and to the lowly, those who sinfully perform his will here; with those, surrounded by a helmet of invisibility, deprived of virtues, he suddenly seeks out hell, the bottomless surge under the mist-gloom, just like the great whale, which sinks sea-travellers, men and their wave-horses.)

Okay so, there’s a link between helmets and the ocean and concealment and the devil in Old English poetry. Got it. But that’s not really what we’re dealing with here. This sundhelm (water-helm) is a protective and sustaining force for a creature with seemingly little agency when removed from the right environment. I like to imagine this poem being read out by David Attenborough on Blue Planet or similar. “The oyster, cleverly concealed below the depths, thinks it’s safe…until…” Alas, I couldn’t find any relevant clips from a nature doc online, but you may enjoy this somewhat-cheesily-narrated time-lapse video of oysters feeding:

The opening and closing of all those oysters’ shells is what we see in this riddle: Oft ic flode ongean / muð ontynde (Often I, facing the flood, opened my mouth) (lines 3b-4a). Karl Steel says these lines form a loop with the opening half-line: “Then, almost halfway through, with the “muð ontynde,” the opened mouth, it is as if the riddle reaches back to its first line, “sae mec feede,” the sea fed me, closing the loop on the opening to circulate the sea again and again through the oyster’s cavernous body. In the loop we have distinction without antagonism, difference disentangled from the struggle for recognition.” Nicely put, Karl.

The riddler sets up the oyster’s open mouth in opposition to human mouths…or, rather, the riddler shows how the oyster goes from having an open mouth into the mouth of another: Nu wile monna sum / min flæsc fretan (Now a certain person wishes to devour my flesh) (lines 4b-5a). This desire to devour is realised at the end of the (fragmentary) poem when the person iteð unsodene (eats [the oyster] uncooked) (line 8a). Several scholars have commented on the differences between the verbs fretan and etan (iteð is a form of this verb): the first is generally used of animals, and suggests a voracious sort of eating when it’s applied to humans, while etan is generally reserved for human use (Magennis, pages 74-76). Mercedes Salvador-Bello also chimes in here, emphasizing that fretan is often used “in literary passages that, regardless of animal or human context, explicitly or implicitly disapprove of the action that is being described” (pages 402-3). This is the sort of eating we should be judgey about, in other words.

Riddle 77 European flat oyster
Photo (by H. Zell) of a European flat oyster’s shell from Wikimedia commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0)

Eating is, of course, one of many activities that invited judgement in the highly religious context of this riddle’s production. Most of the folks who write about this poem link it to another, called The Seasons for Fasting:

sona hie on mergan         mæssan syngað
and forþegide,         þurste gebæded,
æfter tæppere         teoþ geond stræta.
Hwæt! Hi leaslice         leogan ongynnað
and þone tæppere         tyhtaþ gelome,
secgaþ þæt he synleas         syllan mote
ostran to æte         and æþele wyn
emb morgentyd,         þæs þe me þingeð
þæt hund and wulf         healdað þa ilcan
wisan on worulde         and ne wigliað
hwæne hie to mose fon,         mæða bedæled.
(Dobbie, page 104, lines 213-23)
(immediately in the morning they sing their masses and, consumed, compelled by thirst, go through the streets looking for a tavern-keeper. Behold! They begin to lie deceptively and pressure the tavern-keeper frequently, say that he can give them oysters to eat and good wine without sin at that time of the morning, so it seems to me that the hound and wolf have the same manner in the world and do not know when they may seize food, lacking moderation.)

This poem is especially incensed by the idea that a fasting priest might get away with gluttony because oysters weren’t prohibited during fasts (Salvador-Bello, page 405). Like fish, they could be eaten, but in moderation only. And they certainly shouldn’t be wolfed down, raw or otherwise.

Drawing of oyster in manuscript

An oyster from the early 12th-century English bestiary in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Laud Misc. 247, fol. 166v. Photo: Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, 2018.

We know that oysters were eaten in large quantities in early medieval England, and not just in coastal areas (Hagen, pages 169-70). They were so common, in fact, that monastic sign language (yes, monks had sign language…is this the coolest thing you’ve ever heard?) included a sign for oysters. The 11th-century Old English version of Monasteriales Indicia includes the following description:

Gif þu ostran habban wylle þonne clæm þu þine wynstran hand ðam gemete þe þu ostran on handa hæbbe and do mid sexe oððe mid fingre swylce þu ostran scenan wyll.
(If you want an oyster, then close your left hand, as if you had an oyster in your hand, and make with a knife or with your fingers as if you were going to open the oyster.) (Banham, pages 36-7, no. 72)

Here’s what it looks like in the manuscript:

Monasteriales Indicia oysters.png
A passage from Monasteriales Indicia in London, British Library, Cotton MS Tiberius A III, fol. 99v.

Rules in monastic communities were particularly firm after the late tenth-century Benedictine reform, and sign language was an important way of keeping things running at times when monks weren’t allowed to speak. Debby Banham notes that the Old English version of Monasteriales Indicia in particular has very few signs for sea creatures: just one for fish in general, and one each for eels and oysters (Food and Drink, page 65). This suggests oysters were very common in the monastic refectory.

But despite their commonness, the oyster in this particular riddle is unique. Did you notice the violence of the oyster-shucking scene? This doesn’t seem to be driven by your run-of-the-mill “don’t be a glutton” rhetoric. And, in fact, the poem’s imagery is really quite strange: Riddle 77’s creature speaks of its fell (skin) and hyd (hide), using terms that are more familiarly associated with mammals. In fact, this riddle is the only case where either term refers to a shell. And there’s another link to a mammal when the oyster describes the seaxes orde (point of a knife) tearing the shell of sidan (from [its] side) (line 6). This reminds me of the end of Riddle 72, when the ox describes his stoic resignation in the face of the ploughman’s goad:

                  Oft mec isern scod
sare on sidan;         ic swigade,
næfre meldade         monna ængum
gif me ordstæpe         egle wæron. (lines 15b-18)
(Often iron hurt me sorely in the side; I was silent, never accused any man if goad-pricks were painful to me.)

Heide Estes argues that the “foregrounding of violence to the animal as a prelude to human consumption in Riddle 77 […] suggests that the Anglo-Saxons had some sense that avoiding meat consumption was spiritually superior, though from the point of view of human asceticism rather than out of any concern for the animal” (page 122). In other words, monks ate meat rarely, not for ethical reasons, but because discipline and moderation brought them closer to their God. Given that the ox in Riddle 72 receives similarly violent treatment but is removed from the context of eating, I think we can push Heide’s argument further. The riddles show an understanding of and queasy discomfort with the pain that humans inflict upon other animals.

Bit of a depressing way to end a post, I know. Here, enjoy this bizarre infantilization of oysters from Alice and Wonderland by way of compensation:

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading

Banham, Debby. Food and Drink in Anglo-Saxon England. Stroud: Tempus, 2004.

Banham, Debby, ed. and trans. Monasteriales Indicia: The Anglo-Saxon Sign Language. Middlesex: Anglo-Saxon Books, 1991.

Dobbie, Elliott van Kirk Dobbie, ed. The Anglo-Saxon Minor Poems. New York: Columbia University Press, 1942.

Estes, Heide. Anglo-Saxon Literary Landscapes: Ecotheory and the Environmental Imagination. Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam Press, 2017).

Hagen, Ann. Anglo-Saxon Food and Drink: Production, Processing, Distribution and Consumption. Hockwold cum Wilton: Anglo-Saxon Books, 2006.

Magennis, Hugh. Anglo-Saxon Appetites: Food and Drink and their Consumption in Old English and Related Literature. Dublin: Four Courts, 1999.

Salvador(-Bello), Mercedes. “The Oyster and the Crab: A Riddle Duo (nos. 77 and 78) in the Exeter Book.” Modern Philology, vol. 101, issue 3 (Feb. 2004), pages 400-19.

Steel, Karl. “Exeter Riddle 77: The Oyster.” Medieval Karl, 30 January 2017 https://medievalkarl.com/2017../../../riddles/post/exeter-riddle-77-the-oyster/



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 77 

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Exeter Riddle 78

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Sun 18 Mar 2018
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 78

Riddle 78 is a bit of a super-damaged mess…wish me luck writing the commentary!



Original text:

Oft ic flodas…
…s         cynn… minum
ond…
…yde me to mos…
…swa ic him…
…ne æt ham gesæt
…flote cwealde
þurh orþonc…         yþum bewrigene.

Translation:

Often I … floods
… to my kin
and …
… had as food for me
… so I … to it/him/them
… did not sit at home
… killed floating
with cunning … concealed by the waves.

Click to show riddle solution?
Crab, Oyster, Fish, Lamprey


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 127r 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 234-5.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 75: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 110.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 78 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 78

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Wed 06 Jun 2018
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 78

How do you solve a problem like a GIANT HOLE IN A MANUSCRIPT?

The damage to the Exeter Book is so extensive when it comes to Riddle 78 that nearly the entire riddle is wiped out. We have a handful of words at the beginning of the first few lines, and then just nothing at all until nearly the end of the text block. I suppose this means there are lots of exciting opportunities to fill in the gaps? That’s me trying to be an optimist (not my usual thing, so not sure whether it worked!).

Right, well I suppose what we can do is approach this problem from the zero point, and start with a list of things we do know about what’s going on in this riddle. Here we are:

1) There’s a first-person speaker.
2) The speaker can be found under the water, concealed by the waves.
3) The speaker has family or kin.
4) The speaker eats another creature.
5) Either the speaker or its victim travels through the water rather than staying at home.
6) The speaker’s hunting methods are particularly clever.

As in the previous riddle – usually solved as Oyster – there’s an overall focus on water and the concealment that comes from living in such an element, including some rather specific verbal overlap (flod, , (be-)wreon). Even so, this concealment doesn’t protect the speaker’s victim.

But what sort of animal is the speaker? Reacting to previous scholarship’s lack of interest in this mangled little poem – most folks just wrote it off as yet another Oyster riddle – Craig Williamson argues for Lamprey (pages 357-9). He interprets the clues (well…the ones we can actually read) as referring to a migratory creature with an interesting hunting adaptation. This leads him to suggest the fearsome sea lamprey: jawless, parasitic fish who feed by attaching their suctiony mouths to other fish and then chewing through the scales and flesh with their sharp teeth in circular rows until they can suck their blood.

640px-Boca_de_lamprea.1_-_Aquarium_Finisterrae
Photo of a sea lamprey’s mouth (by Drow male) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0)

Wow. You’re not going to sleep tonight, are you?

Williamson’s solution is, however, more than a tad speculative, considering how little of this riddle survives. Much tidier is Mercedes Salvador(-Bello)’s suggestion that the aquatic predator of Riddle 78 may well be preying on an oyster not unlike the one being devoured by a human right before this poem in the manuscript (page 410). The predator and subject of Riddle 78, then, is likely a crab – because crabs were known as the fierce enemies of oysters.

640px-Carcinus_maenas
Photo of a shore crab (by Hans Hillewaert) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 4.0)

Strangely enough, crabs were reputed to have a particularly clever hunting behaviour: a number of sources from St Ambrose to Isidore of Seville (and beyond!) suggest that they waited for oysters to open their shells and then stuck stones inside to prevent them from closing properly. This enabled them to feast to their little hearts’ delight.

Of course, crabs don’t need to use stones in this way…their pinchers are actually super-efficient:

But this still got me thinking about animal tool use, and I went down the rabbit hole of the internetz to find out more. Interestingly, some types of crab have been observed using tools, even if not – as far as I can tell – in the manner described above (other aquatic animals do use rocks for bashing shells though!). A number of species of crab actually carry plants/algae, shells and rocks, or even deck themselves out with anemones for camouflage and protection (Mann and Patterson). Don’t say I never teach you cool facts.

Crab tool use isn’t just pretty amazing – it also kind of makes you think that late antique and medieval stories about crabs pummeling oysters with stones aren’t really that far-fetched. Unfortunately, we don’t have any of these in Old English, but this may well be what the 7th-century Aldhelm of Malmesbury was getting at in his Latin Enigma 37, Cancer (Crab):

‘Nepa’ mihi nomen ueteres dixere Latini:
Humida spumiferi spatior per litora ponti;
Passibus oceanum retrograda transeo uersis:
Et tamen aethereus per me decoratur Olimpus,
Dum ruber in caelo bisseno sidera scando;
Ostrea quem metuit duris perterrita saxis.
(Glorie, vol. 133, page 421)
(Ancient Romans called my name ‘Nepa’: I stroll along the sodden shores of the foaming sea; I cross the ocean in reverse with turned steps, and yet celestial heaven is embellished by me, when I, rosy, ascend into the sky with twelve stars: the oyster dreads me, frightened by hard stones.)

Could this intimidating use of stones be the clever hunting method that the heavily damaged Riddle 78 was referring to? That’s certainly what Salvador(-Bello) reckons! She suggests that the audience of the Exeter Book riddles would likely have known about the oyster and crab’s association, and that they may have even interpreted the two allegorically. They clearly did so for oysters (see Riddle 77’s commentary), and we have early theological texts that suggest crabs were up for grabs, allegorically-speaking, as well. Here’s an excerpt from St Ambrose’s fourth-century Hexameron:

Sunt ergo homines, qui cancri usu in alienae usum circumscriptionis irrepant, et infirmitatem propriae virtutis astu quodam suffulciant, fratri dolum nectant, et alterius pascantur aerumna. Tu autem propriis esto contentus, et aliena te damna non pascant. Bonus cibus est simplicitas innocentiae. (book 5, chapter 8, number 22; Patrologia Latina sections 216A–216B)
(Now, there are people who, like crabs, skillfully creep into the trust of other people, and bolster the weakness of their own virtue by a certain cunning; they bind deceit to their brother, and feed on another’s hardship. Conversely, be content with what is your own, and do not feed on others’ misfortunes. An honest meal is the simplicity of innocence.)

This truly fabulous allegory leads Salvador(-Bello) to suggest that Riddles 77 and 78 make a very tidy thematic and moralistic pairing: innocent and defenseless oyster vs voracious crab.

We all know who wins in real life.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading

St Ambrose. Hexaemeron. Patrologia Latina Database. Vol. 14.

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

Mann, Janet, and Eric M. Patterson. “Tool Use by Aquatic Animals,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, volume 368 (2013), online here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4027413/

Salvador(-Bello), Mercedes. “The Oyster and the Crab: A Riddle Duo (nos. 77 and 78) in the Exeter Book.” Modern Philology, vol. 101, issue 3 (Feb. 2004), pages 400-19.

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 78  latin 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 77

Exeter Riddles 79 and 80

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 26 Jul 2018
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddles 79 and 80

Krapp and Dobbie’s edition treats the first line as Riddle 79 and the remainder of the poem as Riddle 80. Williamson’s edition and most scholars tackle them together as one poem. I’m going with that!



Original text:

Ic eom æþelinges         æht ond willa.
Ic eom æþelinges         eaxlgestealla,
fyrdrinces gefara,         frean minum leof,
cyninges geselda.         Cwen mec hwilum
hwitloccedu         hond on legeð,
eorles dohtor,         þeah hio æþelu sy.
Hæbbe me on bosme         þæt on bearwe geweox.
Hwilum ic on wloncum         wicge ride
herges on ende;         heard is min tunge.
Oft ic woðboran         wordleana sum
agyfe æfter giedde.         Good is min wise
ond ic sylfa salo.         Saga hwæt ic hatte.

Translation:

I am a prince’s property and desire.
I am a prince’s shoulder-companion,
a warrior’s follower, beloved by my lord,
a king’s comrade. Sometimes a fair-haired
lady lays her hand on me,
a nobleman’s daughter, although she is dignified.
I have in my bosom what waxed in a wood.
Sometimes I ride on a bold steed
on the border of a host; my tongue is hard.
Often I give a speech-bearer after a song
a certain reward for words. My manner is good,
and I am dusky of self. Say what I am called.

Click to show riddle solution?
Horn, Falcon, Hawk, Spear, Sword, Scabbard


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 127r 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 235.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 76: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 111.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 79  riddle 80 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddles 79 and 80

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Fri 31 Aug 2018
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddles 79 and 80

Riddle 79/80 is an unpopular little fella. You’d think that being a relatively unproblematic text in the middle of a fire-damaged collection of riddles would throw some scholarly love in this poem’s direction! But, alas, Riddle 79/80 remains unpopular. I couldn’t find many articles on it at all, which means I’ve had to do some work myself (*shakes fist at riddlers-of-the-past).

First things first: I guess I’d better address the opening lines. I said this was a relatively unproblematic text, after all, but the opening lines aren’t as smooth sailing as we might like. The first line ends with clear punctuation in the manuscript, and the next begins with a capitalized “IC,” which is what led Krapp and Dobbie to edit line 1 as “Riddle 79” and the rest as “Riddle 80.” But line 1 makes no sense as a complete riddle! It’s much more likely that this opening repetition is a false start, scribal error, or suggests that the scribe was copying from a defective text (Williamson, page 360).

Mercedes Salvador-Bello has recently argued that “this phase of the [manuscript’s] compilation was carried out in a rather awkward and rushed way. It seems to me that the scribe of the Exeter exemplar was probably rewriting and improvising as (s)he copied the riddles from the sources at hand” (pages 399-400). I like the idea of an improvising scribe meddling with an earlier version of this riddle. I also like that Salvador-Bello doesn’t jump to any conclusions about the gender identity of the scribe. Take THAT, patriarchy!

Ahem.

But what, I hear you asking, is this riddle actually about? What’s the solution, Queen of Riddlers? Impart upon us thy wisdom, Mighty and Great One! (okay, I’m willing to admit that the audience in my mind may not be quite the same as the *actual* audience of this post, but please leave me to my illusions)

Drinking Horn from British Museum
Here are some early medieval drinking horns (or part of them) at the British Museum. Pardon my terrible photography skillz.

Well, most people reckon this is a horn riddle, though several birds of prey and various weapons have also had a look in. All that companion-y stuff, not to mention the queenly handling of the object in question, pretty clearly signals a solution of heroic importance. The reason Horn has gained momentum is because of the multiple uses such an object could be put to: it can be used for sounding in battle – so it’s a prince’s or king’s companion, rides with an army and has a harsh tongue (i.e. it’s loud). Think Boromir and the horn of Gondor.

The riddle object leads a double life, since it can also be used as a drinking horn – fill that horn up with mead, and you’re all set for a nice little ritual or raucous celebration. Coincidentally, if it’s mead that’s being referred to in line 7’s Hæbbe me on bosme þæt on bearwe geweox (I have in my bosom what waxed in a wood), then we have a pretty good parallel in Riddle 27’s reference to a solution that’s brungen of bearwum (brought from forests). Riddle 27 is, after all, usually solved as Mead.

But back to Riddle 79/80. Line 3’s talk of the object being frean (beloved) to its lord may speak not only to its value, but also to the intimate nature of a horn’s use – drinking from it or sounding it means kissing it, in a way. And we’ve seen that sort of thing elsewhere. Do you remember all the way back to Riddle 14? That riddle described a horn in very similar terms, and had men kissing it in line 3b. And then there’s Riddle 63’s glass beaker. Well, that object was configured as a high-status woman being kissed and pressed by a tillic esne (capable servant). In Riddle 79/80 we have a swapping of gender roles, so this riddle object becomes a heroic and masculine figure being handled by a high-status lady. And this leads me to a second point: riddles related to drinking vessels are often more than a little eroticized.

Ringlemere claw beaker
Have you ever seen a drinking vessel quite as erotic as this claw beaker from Ringlemere Farm, Kent? via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

 

These sorts of riddles also frequently describe an interplay between different sexes in the hall, which makes me think of the (far less titillating) exchange in Beowulf:

                                   Eode Wealhþeow forð,
cwen Hroðgares,         cynna gemyndig,
grette goldhroden         guman on healle,
ond þa freolic wif         ful gesealde
ærest Eastdena         eþelwearde (612b-16)
(Wealhtheow went forth, Hrothgar’s queen, mindful of customs, the gold-adorned one greeted men in the hall, and the noble woman gave a cup first to the protector of the lands of the East-Danes)

No hanky panky whatsoever. How disappointing. But it does serve to demonstrate that ritualistic drinking in the hall was an important trope in the world of Old English poetry. Perhaps one that riddlers liked to poke fun at…

And speaking of fun: I reckon there’s a fairly meta view of poetic performances going on toward the end of Riddle 79/80. These lines describe the object giving a reward to a woðboran (speech-bearer) for words and a song, suggesting that the object itself gives the reward (as opposed to it being given *as* the reward, which seems to rule out any weapon-based solutions). I take this as the mead-horn being passed to a poet as a reward for a good recitation. I can’t help but wonder if the riddler was calling for a little treat too!

Come to think of it…it’s Friday and I would also like a treat…

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Davis, Adam. “Agon and Gnomon: Forms and Functions of the Anglo-Saxon Riddles.” In De Gustibus: Essays for Alain Renoir. Edited by John Miles Foley. New York: Garland, 1992, pages 110-50, esp. 140-2.

Salvador-Bello, Mercedes. Isidorean Perceptions of Order: the Exeter Book Riddles and Medieval Latin Enigmata. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2015.

Swaen, A.E.H. “The Anglo-Saxon Horn Riddles.” Neophilologus, vol. 26, issue 4 (1941), pages 298-302.

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 79  riddle 80 

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Exeter Riddle 81

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 27 Sep 2018
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 81

Judy Kendall, Reader in English and Creative Writing at Salford University, returns with a translation of Riddle 81.



Original text:

Ic eom byledbreost,      belcedsweora,
heafod hæbbe      ond heane steort,
eagan ond earan      ond ænne foot,
hrycg ond heardnebb,      hneccan steapne
ond sidan twa,      sag[ol]* on middum,
eard ofer ældum.      Aglac dreoge,
þær mec wegeð      se þe wudu hrereð,
ond mec stondende      streamas beatað,
hægl se hearda,      ond hrim þeceð,
[.]orst […..]eoseð,      ond fealleð snaw
on þyrelwombne,      ond ic þæt [.]ol[………..
………..] mæ[.]      wonsceaft mine.

Translation:

I am bulging-breasted, big-throated;
I have a head and my tail is elevated,
eyes and ears and a single leg,
a spine and stiff beak, a stretched-out neck
and two sides, with a stake up the middle,
my place set high above the people. I put up with the strain
when that which shakes the wood strikes me,
and streaming rain sluices over me standing,
harsh hail and rime hood me
frost grips, and snow falls
on my hollow stomach; and I so …
….… measured my misfortune

Click to show riddle solution?
Weathercock, Ship, Visored helmet


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 127v 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 235.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 77: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 111.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 81  judy kendall 

Related Posts:
Exeter Riddle 26
Exeter Riddle 65
Exeter Riddle 71

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 81

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 01 Oct 2018
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 81

This week’s commentary post is once again by Judy Kendall, Reader in English and Creative Writing at Salford University:

“Weathercock” is the generally accepted solution to this riddle, although alternatives include “ship” and “visored helmet.”

Sutton Hoo Helmet

A photo of the reconstructed Sutton Hoo Helmet taken by Judy Kendall.

We know weathervanes existed long before this riddle was in circulation. Indeed, references have been made to weathervanes mounted on buildings centuries earlier, in the 1st-century De Architectura, by the Roman author and architect Vitruvius. However, the idea of a weathercock is more recent. The oldest surviving weathercock is the early 9th-century Gallo di Ramperto in the Museo di Santa Giulia, Brescia, Italy:

360px-Gallo_di_Ramperto2

Photo (by RobyBS89) from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

And the 9th century is when Pope Nicholas decreed that all church towers bear a “tower-cock” as a symbol of vigilance, and perhaps a reminder of Peter’s three times denial of Jesus before the cock crew.

This relatively recent arrival of the weathercock is also suggested by its etymology. Craig Williamson reports the earliest Germanic word for “weathercock” as 12th-century, no known Latin word before the 13th century, and the first English occurrence in the 13th century (1977, pages 361-2). So, while weathervanes are more ancient, this riddle refers to a new “weathercock” technology. Hence, the opening emphasis on the cock’s physical attributes and construction.

In a number of ways, this riddle falls into two halves. The tone and content of the second half of the riddle contrasts markedly with that of the first. It is as if the weathercock itself has turned in the wind, with a distinctive shift in rhythm and sounds. The first half reads jerkily and is almost clumsy or awkward, like the uncomfortable circumstances of the riddle’s subject – unable to move of its own volition, with swollen breast and throat and stretched tail and neck all building towards a picture of unpleasant prison-like constraint.

424px-Appeville_weathercock.jpg
Photo (by Stanzilla) of a weathercock on the church Saint-André in Appeville-Annebault from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 4.0).

John Porter translates the first line’s byledbreost, belcedsweora as the wonderful and very earthy “bulge-breasted, belch-throated” (page 111). I adapt this to “bulging-breasted, big-throated,” so as to emphasise that sense of discomfort more. For similar reasons I select “spine” not “back” as a translation of line 4’s hyrcg, evoking a hard, bony length rather than the broader, flatter attributes of a “back.”

1911_Britannica-Bird-Sacrum_of_a_Fowl.png
The “sacrum” of a young fowl in the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

I also opt for a “stretched-out” neck rather than one that is “protruding,” “prominent,” “long,” or, in Porter’s case, the unusual but perhaps slightly too beautiful “sheer.”

Such emphasis on discomfort contrasts with Patricia McCarthy and Kevin Crossley-Holland’s translations. In The Word Exchange, McCarthy uses line 2 and 4 to express exuberance: “I’m blessed with a noble head, swaying tail” and “I’ve a grand long neck” (page 503). In Crossley-Holland’s collection, his weathercock takes time to boast of his “fine head,” a double entendre possibly hovering here (page 75). But a sense of discomfort is more in tune with earlier conventions, as Patrick Murphy notes:

“A rapid-fire listing off of sufferings [is] strongly reminiscent of patterns we see elsewhere in oral traditional riddles … [I]t shows up again and again in the Exeter Book, where innumerable suffering riddle creatures endure the process of manufacture from raw material to useful product” (page 224).

In the first half of the riddle, the cock’s suffering, “stretched-out” and “elevated,” is passive. External forces have placed it where it is.

Riddle 81 1911_Britannica_-_Bayeux_Tapestry_-_Funeral_of_Edward1
A cock being installed on the new Westminster Abbey as depicted in the 11th-century Bayeux Tapestry (on the right hand side of the image) from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

This strong sense of containment and confinement informed my decision to make use of the doubly-binding effect of alliteration and end-rhyme in the riddle’s first half. However, the demands of these end-rhymes have resulted in the somewhat compromised translation of “foot” as “leg,” so any improvements gratefully received….

There is an inescapable innuendo in sag[ol] on middum, whether it be seen as a “rod,” “pole,” “shaft,” “stake” or a “stick” (poor cock). I went for “stake” since this evokes both impalement and punishment at the stakes, and allows it to provide a somewhat hidden link to the last line’s “misfortune” (i.e. “stakes of fortune”). This fits, in reverse, with the incipient wordplay of the last line’s wonsceaft (misery or misfortune), which holds within its bounds the word sceaft (pole). So is that uncomfortable stick up the cock’s middle connected to its misery, becoming unstuck in the last line ( – thanks to Phyllis Wick of the Old English Companions for the “stick”/“unstuck” wordplay)? It certainly brings the attention back to sag[ol], surely a key indication of the weathercock’s identity.

309px-Tower_Rooster_Saint-Ouen
Photo (by Stanzilla) from Wikimedia Commons (license: CC BY-SA 4.0).

The poem’s hinge at line 6 is not only marked with significant changes in rhythm, sound patterns and tone, but with changes in syntax and sentence parts, and an increase in direct action. The preponderance of nouns in the first half of the riddle transform into a series of active, aggressive verbs. The cock remains passive but, as if turning on its stake, is actively attacked with very physical misfortunes. The staccato list of body parts is replaced by a mellifluous syntactical flow through lines that articulate an apparently continuous stream of troubles. This is particularly evident in line 7. Hence my choice in modern English of internal rhymes, “strain” both prefiguring and looping into the streaming rain of line 8. Together they evoke both that inflexible pole up the cock’s middle, and the fluid non-stop battering of heavy rain.

 

Further actions perpetrated upon the bird are listed in lines 8-10, with the role of the weather definitively established in the references to haegl, hrim, [f]orst and snaw in lines 9 and 10.

While the lines become both smoother and more active, they also visibly recede in time for the modern reader. The gaps in the manuscript mean we are uncertain if the frost is freezing or falling – [fr]eoseð or, as Frederick Tupper suggested, [hr]eoseð (page 220)? It is true that “hreoseð” does not appear near frost in the Old English corpus. However I prefer it, because it avoids the tautological “freezing frost” (albeit a tautology attested elsewhere in the OE poetic corpus; see Maxims I, line 71a: Forst scealfreosan “Frost must freeze”) (full translation here).

McCarthy, Crossley-Holland and Porter all avoid that tautology too, although none of them opt for “fall,” presumably for the same reasons as me – that it is hard for the modern mind to accept frost as falling. McCarthy goes for “coats,” and Crossley-Holland for “attacks,” but Porter’s choice, “settles,” is the neatest. It not only works as an ornamental alliteration with “snow,” but manages to retain the downward motion of “falls,” while avoiding the conflict with current scientific understanding of how frost is formed. However, because “settles” normally applies to snow, and snow is the next item described, I go for “grips.” This does not indicate downward motion but does evoke well the riddle’s opening emphasis on hard, difficult conditions.

Soft_rime_crystals_on_fence_in_Central_Oregon_USA
Photo (by Michelepenner) of rime crystals on a fence after freezing fog from Wikimedia Commons (license: CC BY-SA 3.0).

The many missing parts of the last two lines of the riddle leave the translator and reader’s options open. Porter’s principle was “to translate only words which are entire and to omit unintelligible letters and groups” (page 8):

and frost settles, and snow falls
on me with my pierced belly, and I
my misery.

McCarthy and Crossley-Holland guess. Crossley-Holland, as if in response to the active and aggressive weathering the cock endures, refers to it as deliberately withholding action, the action being a reciprocal pouring out of misery:

        snow half-hides me,
I must endure all this, not pour out my misery. (page 75)

McCarthy makes a much stronger allusion to song. Perhaps mimicking the trajectory of Riddle 7, her translation here ends with a reference to the bird’s call. The cockadoodledo-ing might also suggest betrayal, as in Peter’s denial of Jesus. This possible analogy with Peter or indeed with Christ’s passion has been noted by Williamson (2011, page 201):

    snow buries me. I must hold up,
refrain from cockadoodledo-ing my misery. (McCarthy, page 503)

However, reference to the sound or crowing of the weathercock could also be an allusion to a peculiar feature of its construction. The 1340 weathercock on the spire of the Devonshire parish church of Ottery St Mary was designed to make use of sound in its measurement of the wind. Its hollow copper tubes are intended to whistle as air passes through them, although they are now blocked off for the sanity of the nearby residents.

My translation assumes that the missing parts of the riddle contain some reference to the weathercock’s function, namely its role as a device to measure the force and direction of the wind and weather that it confronts. To achieve this, I read the fragmented , which Williamson notes is possibly followed by the letter “g” or “t,” as mæt (meted, appraised or measured). Such a reference acts as a final definitive clue, and it also fits the poem’s trajectory, since the bird’s function can only be carried out once it has been affected by the weather.

The bird’s passivity still remains. McCarthy’s bird “refrains,” Porter’s does “not” pour, and, while my cock’s movement allows measurement to take place, this movement is instigated not by the cock but by the wind. However, perhaps the cock can be seen as a more active figure. In the 10th century, Wulfstan of Winchester refers to the way a rooster on top of Old Minster at Winchester actively turns itself in wind,

Imperat et cunctis euectus in aera gallis
et regit occiduum nobilis imperium.
Impiger imbriferos qui suscipit undique uentos
seque rotando suam prebet eis faciem
(page 388, lines 199-202)

(Thus raised aloft this noble fowl commands all other birds and rules the western domain. It is eager to receive the rainy winds from all directions and, turning itself, it offers its face to them) (page 389).

Does the distinctive turn in the middle of the riddle suggest something of this, the lines, the syntax, and the bird itself, only becoming alive and sonorous in that interaction, however painful, with the wind? Or is it the case that, even if the cock can be considered as turning itself, the emphasis on action still lies elsewhere, with measurement of that turn taken not by the cock but by us, as observers, listeners, readers, riddle-solvers, whether we are aiming to assess the wind, a range of riddle solutions, or indeed the extent of turbulence and misery the bird in question suffers. The bird thus becomes a landmark, a wind-mark, and indeed a riddle mark, as Wulfstan also describes:

A longe adueniens oculo uicinus adheret,
figit et aspectum dissociante loco.
(page 389, lines 207-8)

(Someone coming from afar off fastens on it, once in its vicinity, with his eye and, though still far off, fixes his sights in that direction.) (page 389)

Now of course that someone is us – far distant into the riddle’s future. The new technology of the weathercock is now old, and the written riddle so worn that we can no longer make out all the words. We can’t really travel back there, weathercock or no. However, if we fix our sights upon that weathercock, fragmented though it is through the mists (or streaming rain) of time, we are able to guess at some of its features as we stare.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Crossley-Holland, Kevin, trans. The Exeter Book Riddles. London: Enitharmon, 2008.

Harris, Alexandra. Weatherland: Writers and Artists under English skies. London: Thames & Hudson, 2016.

Maitland, Karen. “The Cockerel That Whistled.” The History-Girls Blogspot. 8 October, 2004.

McCarthy, Patricia. “Look at My Puffed-Up Breast.” The Word Exchange: Anglo-Saxon Poems in Translation. Edited by Greg Delaney and Michael Matto. London: W. W. Norton, 2012.

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

Needham, A. English Weathervanes: Their Stories and Legends from Medieval to Modern Times. London: Pryor, 1953.

Porter, John. Anglo-Saxon Riddles. Hockwold-cum-Wilton: Anglo-Saxon Books, 1995 and 2013.

Tupper, Frederick, Jr. Riddles of the Exeter Book. Boston: Ginn, 1910.

Vitruvius. On Architecture [De Architectura]. Edited and translated by Frank Grainger. 2 vols. Loeb Library Series. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1931-34.

Williamson, Craig, ed. and trans. Feast of Creatures: Anglo-Saxon Riddle-Songs. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2011.

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

Wulfstan of Winchester. Preface to his “Life of St Swithun.” Translated by Michael Lapidge, in The Cult of St Swithun. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

 

Featured image at top of page (by Bill Nicholls) from Wikimedia Commons (license CC BY-SA 2.0)



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 81  judy kendall 

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Exeter Riddle 82

VICTORIASYMONS

Date: Sun 21 Oct 2018
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 82
Original text:

Wiht is [………………….
……] gongende,     greate swilgeð,
[…………………….
……] fell ne flæsc,     fotum gong[..
………………………..]eð,
sceal mæla gehwam [……………………….]

Translation:

A creature is…
… advancing, swallows grit,
… …
…hide nor flesh, goes on feet…
… …
must each time…

Click to show riddle solution?
Crab, harrow


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 127v 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 236.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 78: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 112.



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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 82

VICTORIASYMONS

Date: Tue 30 Oct 2018
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 82

Where to start with Riddle 82? Barely 13 words survive of the original poem’s presumably 6 lines and yet, you may or may not be surprised to hear, we actually have a couple of competing solutions, both with suggestive evidence in their favour. Never let a lack of actual poem get in the way of a good theory.

Our first solution, courtesy of Holthausen, is “crab.” While there’s no direct reference to the sea in what’s left of our riddle, the greot (“grit,” line 2b) that the creature swallows could well refer to sand, as it does on the 8th-century Franks Casket.

Franks Casket

The Franks Casket’s description of a whale stranding: “The [whale] grew sad where it swam on the grit.” Solid joke.
Photo (by Michel wal) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0).

Crabs are, of course, notable for their many feet (line 4b).

Land crab

Many feet. Photo of a land crab (by gailhampshire) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY 2.0)

Most significant, in support of this theory, is the line fell ne flæsc (“[neither] hide nor flesh,” line 4a). Crabs, of course, don’t have skin and they’re not “fleshy” in the same way as a mammal or fish.

Land crab

“Cuddle?” Photo of a land crab (by gailhampshire) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY 2.0)

However. They may not be squishy on the outside, but crabs do have flesh and, as Craig Williamson points out (page 365), it was a bit of an early medieval delicacy. So that clue might not clinch the crab argument quite as convincingly as we could hope. Rather, Williamson suggests, the line is meant as a hint that our wiht is not a living creature at all. We’re back in the realm of the implement riddles, and the implement Williamson argues for is a harrow (pages 365-66).

Harrow

Like this, only more medieval looking. Photo of a cultivator-harrow (by Rasbak) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0)

A harrow, for those not in the know, is a farming tool that’s dragged over a freshly-ploughed field to break up the smaller clods of earth in preparation for sowing. The earliest European depiction of a harrow is in the lower margins of the Bayeux Tapestry, and it’s an implement that may have been considered somewhat cutting-edge technology (ha!) in the period surrounding the Norman Conquest.

Riddle 82 Bayeux Tapestrry
How harrowing. Bayeux Tapestry detail (by Ulrich Harsh) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: Public Domain)

Back to our riddle. The swallowed grit in line 2 comes to the fore here – greot could be sand, but it can also mean regular old dirt. The multiple fotum that carry the creature suggest a larger tool such as a harrow (which would have been pulled by oxen or draught horses) rather than a smaller, hand-held rake.

horse and ox ploughing

“Ox or horse, you say?”. Image from the German Federal Archive via Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0 de)

What seems to be an emphasis on the movement of the creature (gongende and gong[…], lines 2a and 4b) would fit with a tool whose primary function is to move up and down a field. There’s also, possibly, a parallel emphasis on the tool’s mouth (this is entirely my own speculation now!). I’ve translated mæl as “time”: mæla gehwæm (“each time,” line 6a) could refer either to the annually recurring season for ploughing, or to the more immediate repetition of the tool’s laps back and forth across a field.

Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

Both kinds of repetition depicted rather neatly in this lovely scene from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (c. 1412-16). Image via Wikimedia Commons (licence: public domain)

But in other Old English texts, mæl can refer specifically to meal-time, or simply to meals. In Maxims I (also in the Exeter Book; full translation here), we have the sage observation:

Muþa gehwylc mete þearf,     mæl sceoldon tidum gongan (Maxims I, line 110)
Every mouth needs meat, meals must come in time.

So, in our riddle, mæla gehwam might refer both to the movement of the harrow across the field and to the meal it makes of the ground as it goes. And it’s not hard to see how the design of the harrow could be suggestive of a gaping mouth, teeth and all, gobbling up the earth as it passes.

Riddle 82 Harrow 2
Om nom nom. Tapestry c. 1460; image from Wikimedia Commons (licence: Public Domain)

That is… probably all I have to say about Riddle 82. You’ll be glad to hear that next week’s riddle is substantially more fleshed out. Unlike Holthausen’s crab.

Land crab

Photo of a land crab (by gailhampshire) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY 2.0)

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading

Holthausen, Ferdinand. “Zu den altenglischen Ratseln.” Anglia Beiblatt 30 (1919), pages 50-55.

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 82 

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Exeter Riddle 83

VICTORIASYMONS

Date: Sun 18 Nov 2018
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 83
Original text:

Frod wæs min fromcynn     […]
biden in burgum,     siþþan bæles weard
[…] wera     lige (1) bewunden,
fyre gefælsad.     Nu me fah warað
eorþan broþor,     se me ærest wearð
gumena to gyrne.     Ic ful gearwe gemon
hwa min fromcynn     fruman agette
eall of eard;     ic him yfle ne mot,
ac ic on hæftnyd     hwilum arære
wide geond wongas.     Hæbbe ic wundra fela,
middangeardes     mægen unlytel,
ac ic miþan sceal     monna gehwylcum
degolfulne dom      dyran cræftes,
siðfæt mine.     Saga hwæt ic hatte.

Translation:

Ancient was my lineage […]
I abided in towns, after the flame’s guardian
[…] of men, wound up with flame,
cleansed by fire. Now the hostile [one] holds me,
the earth’s brother, who first of men
brought grief to me. I very clearly remember
who first severed my lineage
entirely from my dwelling; I may not do him evil,
but I sometimes raise up bonds of captivity
far throughout the fields. I have many wonders,
no small strength on earth,
but I will conceal from each of men
the secret power of [my] precious skill,
my course. Say what I am called.

Click to show riddle solution?
Ore; metal; gold; coins; revenant; spirit


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 127v 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 236.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 79: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 112.

Textual Note:

(1) the manuscript and Krapp and Dobbie read life here, though lige is a common emendation because it makes more sense. I’ve followed Williamson here (see pages 112 and 367).



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 83 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 83

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 01 Mar 2018
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 83

Hi all! Sorry it has been so long since our last post, but LIFE has been happening. And it has an irritating tendency to get in the way of writing. Still, I’m here now…let’s do this thing.

Riddle 83 has Alanis Morissette levels of irony in its opening lines (too dated a cultural reference? pish tosh!). That good ol’ burn mark that we’ve seen wreaking havoc upon the riddles toward the end of the Exeter Book extends down into this poem…just far enough to mess with its description of fire. Good joke, universe. Good joke.

And fire is essential to this riddle, which speaks of the production process involved in turning molten metal into coins.

640px-Pouring_gold
Photo of molten gold (by Allen Drebert) from Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

Ore does it? (see what I did there?)

Yes, yes it does. The riddle is generally solved as Ore (Old English ora), though some read it as referring more specifically to gold or to currency. It has been read alongside the late antique, North African riddler Symphosius’ take on the topic. His Enigma 91, Pecunia (Money) reads:

terra fui primo, latebris abscondita terrae.
nunc aliud pretium flammae nomenque dederunt,
nec iam terra vocor, licet ex me terra paretur.
(Leary, page 50)

(At first I was earth, hidden in the secret places of the earth. Now flames and a name have granted me a different worth, no longer am I called earth, although earth is obtained with me.)

Lots of similar ideas, yes? We can see a real focus on the earth and concealment here before the ore is mined, purified and enters into circulation. Then it comes to have aliud pretium (a different worth). This is certainly something we see in the Old English riddle as well, but with a lot more drama. Whichever metal Riddle 83 describes, its relationship with humans is clearly a contentious one: the ore tells us that entering the domain of humans brings it to grief and cuts it off from its family and history.

But ore will get its revenge.

Just as it is held against its will, it too has the power to imprison: it raises up hæftnyd (bonds of captivity). And if you aren’t sure what these bonds are, just think Gollum.

640px-Giant_Gollum_sculpture_in_Wellington_Airport
Although he looks quite cheery here! Photo of Gollum at the Wellington Airport from Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

Money and treasure corrupt. This is not a new idea. And, as Craig Williamson points out (page 366), we see it in other Old English poems, like Beowulf:

                        Sinc eaðe mæg,
gold on grunde,         gumcynnes gehwone
oferhigian,         hyde se ðe wylle. (lines 2764b-6)

(Treasure, gold in the ground, easily overpowers every one of humankind, let him hide it who will.)

Clearly, Riddle 83 is riffing off these two ideas: that treasure holds a power over humans and that people like to hide it in the ground. In this case, what the earth conceals is ore in its unrefined state – so just potential treasure. When it’s converted into actual, circulating currency…shit gets real.

But what’s going on with this riddle’s focus on fromcynn (lineage) and who’s that broþor (brother) of the earth who first brought ore to gyrne (grief)? Well. WELL now. People have had many clever thoughts on this topic.

Patrick Murphy builds on earlier suggestions that the unnamed enemy of ore is Tubalcain, the biblical grandson of Cain (as in Adam and Eve’s son of the Cain-vs-Abel fame) (page 142). Tubalcain is strongly associated with metalworking and was reputed to be the first smith because of a brief reference in Genesis 4.22.  Murphy then goes on to suggest that Riddle 83 conflates Tubalcain with Cain himself: “the two figures are linked in their signature innovations: Cain invents murder, and Tubalcain invents weapons for more efficient murder” (page 146). Hence the bit about brothers. And hence all that hostility.

449px-Formella_06,_tubailkan,_andrea_pisano,_1334-1336
Here’s a nice 14th-century wood cut of Tubalcain at work. Photo (by Sailko) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY 2.5)

Tracing Riddle 83’s obsession with fromcynn (lineage) and old age (as in the word frod) back to the Old Testament creates a tidy sense of history within the riddle (Murphy, page 149). Thomas Klein argues that this riddle carries not only a sense of history, but also metaphorical echoes of a fallen angel – perhaps even Lucifer himself. There is ore’s (or specifically gold’s to Klein ) ancient lineage, its removal from his homeland, all that fire, and its ability to place people in bonds despite being captive itself (Klein, page 12).

380px-Paradise_Lost_1.jpg
The war in heaven imagined by Gustave Doré for John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Image from Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

So, gold is the devil then. And never forget: it owns you as much as you own it.

Righto, I’m going to leave you there to ponder your own relationship with treasure now. I’m not saying I agree with Riddle 83 in its gold-shaming, but then…I am a millennial, and we apparently have it in for the diamond industry. Why stop there, amirite?

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading

Dale, Corinne. The Natural World in the Exeter Book Riddles. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2017, esp. pages 123-44.

Klein, Thomas. “The Metaphorical Cloak of Exeter Riddle 83, “Ore/Gold/Metal”,” American Notes and Queries, volume 28, issue 1 (2015), pages 11-14.

Leary, T. J., ed. Symphosius: The Aenigmata: An Introduction, Text and Commentary. London: Bloomsbury, 2014.

Murphy, Patrick. Unriddling the Exeter Riddles. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011, esp. pages 139-51.

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 83 

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Exeter Riddle 84

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 31 May 2018
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 84

Riddle 84 is translated by Beth Whalley, a PhD candidate at King’s College London. She works on (SOLUTION SPOILER ALERT!) water and waterways in early medieval culture and the contemporary arts.

Note that this riddle is another of the heavily damaged poems in the Exeter Book (so there are going to be A LOT of the ellipses below):



Original text:

An wiht is on eorþan      wundrum acenned,
hreoh ond reþe,      hafað ryne strongne,
grimme grymetað      ond be grunde fareð.
Modor is monigra      mærra wihta.
5     Fæger ferende      fundað æfre;
neol is nearograp.      Nænig oþrum mæg
wlite ond wisan      wordum gecyþan,
hu mislic biþ      mægen þara cynna,
fyrn forðgesceaft;      fæder ealle bewat
10     or ond ende,      swylce an sunu,
mære meotudes bearn,      þurh [……….]ed,
ond þæt hyhste mæge[…..]es gæ[….
………………] dyre cræft [.
………………………
15     .]onne hy aweorp[…………………….
..]þe ænig þara [……………………
……]fter ne mæg […………………
……..] oþer cynn      eorþan […….
…………..] þon ær wæs
20     wlitig ond wynsum, [………..]
Biþ sio moddor      mægene eacen,
wundrum bewreþed,      wistum gehladen,
hordum gehroden,      hæleþum dyre.
Mægen bið gemiclad,      meaht gesweotlad,
25     wlite biþ geweorþad      wuldornyttingum,
wynsum wuldorgimm      wloncum getenge,
clængeorn bið ond cystig,      cræfte eacen;
hio biþ eadgum leof,      earmum getæse,
freolic, sellic;      fromast ond swiþost,
30     gifrost ond grædgost      grundbedd trideþ,
þæs þe under lyfte      aloden wurde
ond ælda bearn      eagum sawe,
swa þæt wuldor wifeð,      worldbearna mægen,
þeah þe ferþum gleaw      * * *(1)
35     mon mode snottor      mengo wundra.
Hrusan bið heardra,      hæleþum frodra,
geofum bið gearora,      gimmum deorra;
worulde wlitigað,      wæstmum tydreð,
firene dwæsceð,
40     oft utan beweorpeð      anre þecene,
wundrum gewlitegad,      geond werþeode,
þæt wafiað      weras ofer eorþan,
þæt magon micle      [………..]sceafte.
Biþ stanum bestreþed,      stormum [……….
45     …………]len [………]timbred weall,
þrym[………………………..]ed,
hrusan hrineð, h[……………
………………]etenge,
oft searwum biþ [……………
50     ……………]      deaðe ne feleð,
þeah þe […………………….
……]du hreren,      hrif wundigen,
[……………………]risse.
Hordword onhlid, hæleþum ge[….
55     ……..]wreoh,      wordum geopena,
hu mislic sy      mægen þara cy[…]

Translation:

On earth there is a creature born from wonders,
turbulent and fierce, she has a strong course.
She roars cruelly and proceeds across the depths.
She is mother to many great creatures,
5     the fair one travelling, she always hastens;
deep down is her tight grasp. No one may
with wise words make known her countenance
or the diversity of her kin,
the ancient creation. The father watches over all,
10     beginning and end, as the son,
glorious child of God through …
and that highest …
… secret skill …

15     … they cast away …
… any of them …
… may not after …
… other kindred … earth …
… which earlier was
20     beautiful and joyous, …
This mother is pregnant with virtue,
buoyed with wonders, laden with food,
bedecked with treasures, beloved by heroes.
Her strength is magnified, her might is revealed,
25     her form made worthy by her glorious uses.
This joyous glory-gem hastens to the bold.
She is eager for purity, bountiful, skill-swollen;
she is dear to the prosperous, helpful to the poor,
noble, extraordinary; boldest and strongest,
30     most covetous and greediest, she tramples on the foundation
of everything grown under the heavens
that men of old have seen.
So that she weaves glory, the power of earth’s children
as she is wise of mind * * *
35     a man more prudent of mind, a multitude of wonders.
She is harder than earth, older than heroes,
is more giving than gifts, more beloved than jewels;
she beautifies the world, produces plants,
extinguishes sin,
40     often from outside she casts a roof,
wondrously beautiful, throughout the nations,
that amazes men over the earth,
they are able greatly …
It is heaped up with stones, with storms
45     … timbered wall,
glory …
touches the earth, …
… near,
often is skillfully …
50     … nor feels death,
although …
… shaken, belly wounded

Un-close the word-hoard, for heroes …
55     …cover, open with words,
how diverse is power of those …

Click to show riddle solution?
Water


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 127v-128v 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 236-8.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 80: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 113-15.

Textual Note:

(1) Although there’s no problem with the manuscript at this point, the sense suggests that something is missing from the text here.



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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 84

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 20 Jun 2019
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 84

Riddle 84’s commentary is by Beth Whalley, a PhD candidate at King’s College London. She works on water and waterways in early medieval culture and the contemporary arts, so she has a lot of fabulous insights into this poem! Take it away, Beth:

 

Well, what d’ya know? Our old friend the hot poker rears its head again in this riddle, comprehensively mangling a good one-third of our text. Solving this one should be a doddle, then…

Actually, we’re helped by the fact that Riddle 84 is unapologetically lengthy in riddling terms. At 56 lines it’s the third longest, storming in behind Riddle 3 and Riddle 40 (pun intended). So, although lots of it has been damaged, lots of it still survives. And from what’s left, it’s pretty clear what the solution is. The riddling subject births monigra mærra wihta (many great creatures). It is always on the move. It carries wistum gehladen (food-laden) ships from place to place, it wæstmum tydreð (produces plants) and it erases finere (sin). It is grædgost (greedy) but is also geofum (giving). This riddle is a protracted celebration of powerful, contradictory, dangerous, complex, life-giving, extraordinary water in all its forms.

One of the main reasons that editors of the riddles are in uncharacteristic agreement about this one is because the text is very conventional, in many ways, sharing a close relationship with other classical and medieval poetry and prose about water. Franz Dietrich notices how Riddle 84 borrows from Aldhelm’s seventh-century Latin riddles (those are the ones that were helpfully written down with their solutions) (page 484). Aldhelm’s Enigma 29, Aqua (water), says: Nam volucres caeli nantesque per aequora pisces / Olim sumpserunt ex me primordia vitae (page 109) (“The birds of the sky and the fish swimming in the sea once drew from me the beginnings of their life”: Lapidge and Rosier, pages 75-6, lines 4-5). In Enigma 73, Fons (fountain), we read: Quis numerus capiat vel quis laterculus aequet, / Vita viventum generem quot milia partu? (page 130) (“what number could embrace or what calculation encompass the many thousands of living creatures which I engender through birth?”: Lapidge and Rosier, page 86, lines 4-5). Compare that with Exeter Book Riddle 84’s Modor is monigra mærra wihta (she is mother to many great creatures). Sounds quite familiar, right?

Meanwhile, Frederick Tupper points out that Riddle 84’s account of water is similar to that of the Roman author Pliny the Elder in his 1st-century Natural History (page 222). Just as our riddler goes into exhaustive detail about water’s many different forms and powers, so too does Pliny. He describes waters which can cure insanity and lovesickness, cause drunkenness, improve your singing voice, change hair and skin colour, induce laughter and weeping, and turn things to stone (see Book XXXI, Chapters 1-37). Handy stuff!

However, it’s safe to say that Riddle 84 won’t be winning any popularity contests any time soon. Whether it’s because it’s a bit spun-out or because it pilfers ideas from other texts, the editors and translators of Riddle 84 generally don’t hold it in very high esteem. A. J. Wyatt, who edited the riddles in 1912, wrote that Riddle 84 “holds out a certain promise of beauty which is hardly fulfilled” (page 118). In the introduction to his own 1979 translation, Kevin Crossley-Holland says that the final lines are “fresh,” but the riddle is overall “repetitive” and “wooden” (page 111). Ouch.

Ok, maybe they have a point, especially because there is some fierce competition where water-riddles are concerned. In the face of Riddle 33 (where water is depicted as a totally badass iceberg-woman-warrior) and Riddle 74 (in which the speaker is a watery, fishy, siren-like shapeshifter), poor old Riddle 84 doesn’t really stand a chance.

I do feel compelled to jump to Riddle 84’s defence a bit, though, because it does have some cracking moments, if you ask me.

I especially love, for example, how water is associated with skill (cræft or searwum) not once, not twice, but THREE times in this riddle. How great is the imagery of mægene eacen (skill-swollen) water in line 21? You might have noticed that many of the Exeter Book’s riddles are preoccupied with the idea of skilled human craft as a form of violence against non-human things (run a search on “violence” in the search bar on the right and you’ll see what I mean). Here, however, it is water which is imagined as being the talented crafter; in line 34, it is said that she wuldor wifeð (weaves glory), a lovely image of material making which you should all go and read about in Megan Cavell’s book (page 275).

The riddler himself, meanwhile, and by extension all humans, are framed as somewhat lacking in the skills department. This becomes clear near the beginning of Riddle 84, where we read:

… nænig oþrum mæg
wlite ond wisan      wordum gecyþan,
hu mislic biþ      mægen þara cynna

(… no one may
with wise words make known her countenance
or the diversity of her kin)

The point is that water’s powers are beyond humankind’s descriptive capabilities, evading capture even by the verbal skills of the word-weaving riddler. We know (and medieval society knew too) that water is a uniquely strange substance, but according to the riddle it is only God, the fæder (father) who ealle bewat (watches over all), who has the power to fix its extraordinariness in words. Brian McFadden has pointed out that the word wundor (wonder) occurs a whopping four times in this riddle (page 337). It’s as though the riddler is reaching for, but can’t quite find, the right words to do justice to water in all its rich diversity.

Riddle 84 Cuthbert
This manuscript miniature from a twelfth-century version of the Life of St Cuthbert gives us a great sense of water’s ability to evade human cultural frameworks – check out the way it bursts from the manuscript page’s border and flows from one folio to the next! (From Chapter 3 of Bede’s prose Life of St Cuthbert, produced in Durham in the late 12th century. It appears in the following manuscript: © British Library Board, Yates Thompson MS 26, folios 10v-11r.)

So yes, I suppose what I’m saying is that Riddle 84 is kinda long, repetitive and a bit predictable at times on purpose, repeating, reiterating and re-tracing its words in order to try and come to terms with exactly what water is. The riddle makes the point that sometimes – and even though we literary folks love them – words aren’t quite enough.

And I haven’t yet even touched on the interesting stuff that this riddle does with gender. I’m sure you’ve noticed that water – like in Riddles 33, 41 and 74 – is explicitly made a woman (and a mother) here. The relationship between women, water, motherhood and the monstrous is an old, complex and sticky one which I don’t have the room to do justice to here – I’ve suggested some further reading below, instead.

I’m going to leave you with a video of people surfing on the Severn bore, of all things. I live in the South-West of England, and whenever I read Riddle 84’s opening lines it always makes me think of our strange local annual phenomenon. Several British rivers were given the names of goddesses, and the Severn is perhaps the most famous one of all, named for the British princess turned river-goddess Sabrina/Hafren who was drowned in the river by the order of her step-mother (if Geoffrey of Monmouth’s twelfth-century account is to be believed). Witnessing the bore make its way down the river channel, the idea of water as a powerful divine agent really starts to make sense – don’t you think?

 

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading

Aldhelm [in Latin]. Aldhelmi Opera. Edited by Rudolf Ehwald. For the series Monumenta Germaniae Historica Scriptores, Auctores Antiquissimi, vol. 15. Berlin, 1919. Online here.

Cavell, Megan. Weaving Words and Binding Bodies: The Poetics of Human Experience in Old English Literature. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016.

Crossley-Holland, Kevin, trans. The Exeter Book Riddles. London: Enitharmon, 2008.

Dale, Corinne. “(Re)viewing the Warrior Woman: Reading the Old English “Iceberg” Riddle from an Ecofeminist Perspective.” Neophilologus, vol. 103, issue 3 (2019), pages 435-49, online here.

Dietrich, Franz Eduard. ”Die Räthsel des Exeterbuchs: Würdigung, Lösung und Herstellung.“ Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum, vol. 11 (1859), pages 448-90.

Lapidge, Michael, and James L. Rosier, trans. Aldhelm: The Poetic Works. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1985.

Lees, Clare A., and Gillian R. Overing. “Women and Water: Icelandic Tales and Anglo-Saxon Moorings.” GeoHumanities, vol. 4 (2018), pages 1-15.

McFadden, Brian. “Raiding, Reform and Reaction: Wondrous Creatures in the Exeter Book Riddles.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, vol. 50, issue 4 (2008), pages 329-51.

Mize, Britt. “The Representation of the Mind as an Enclosure in Old English Poetry.” Anglo-Saxon England, vol. 35 (2006), pages 57-90.

Pliny the Elder. Natural History. Trans. by John Bostock for Perseus Digital Library (ed. Gregory R. Crane), online here.

Tupper, Frederick, ed. The Riddles of the Exeter Book. Boston: Ginn and Company, 1910.

Wyatt, A. J., ed. Old English Riddles. Boston: D. C. Heath, 1912.

 

The image at the top of the post is “Waterdrops” by Sander van der Wel via Wikimedia Commons, license: CC BY-SA 2.0



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 84  beth whalley 

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Exeter Riddle 85

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 20 Jun 2019
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 85
Original text:

Nis min sele swige,         ne ic sylfa hlud
ymb * * *(1) unc dryhten scop
siþ ætsomne.         Ic eom swiftre þonne he,
þragum strengra,         he þreohtigra.
Hwilum ic me reste;         he sceal yrnan forð.
Ic him in wunige         a þenden ic lifge;
gif wit unc gedælað,         me bið deað witod.

Translation:

My house is not silent, nor am I loud myself
about … the lord created for us two
a journey together. I am swifter than he,
stronger at times, he the more enduring.
Sometimes I rest myself; he must run forth.
I always dwell within him for as long as I live;
if we two are divided, death is certain for me.

Click to show riddle solution?
Fish and River, Body and Soul


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 128v 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 238.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 81: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 115.

Textual Note:

(1) There’s a blank space in the manuscript here with room for about seven letters



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 85 

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Exeter Riddle 85 in Spanish / en Español

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 20 Jul 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.



Original text:

Nis min sele swige,         ne ic sylfa hlud
ymb * * * unc dryhten scop
siþ ætsomne.         Ic eom swiftre þonne he,
þragum strengra,         he þreohtigra.
Hwilum ic me reste;         he sceal yrnan forð.
Ic him in wunige         a þenden ic lifge;
gif wit unc gedælað,         me bið deað witod.

Translation:

Mi casa no es silenciosa, ni yo mismo soy ruidoso cerca de (…) Dios creó para nosotros dos una empresa (un viaje) en conjunto. Yo soy más veloz que él, algunas veces más fuerte, él, más imperecedero. En ocasiones, yo descanso (de mi labor); él, sin embargo, debe seguir moviéndose. Yo siempre habito en él mientras estoy vivo; si se nos separa, entonces la muerte vendrá a mí con toda certeza.

Click to show riddle solution?
El pez y el río, El cuerpo y el alma


Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  riddle 85  José Antonio Alonso Navarro 

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