RIDDLE POSTS BY TAG: 'RIDDLES'

Eusebius Riddle 6: De terra

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Quos alo—nascentes, crescentes—scindor ab illis,
Pascunturque bonis, etsi me calce subigunt;
Unde seducam nunc multos et supprimo natos,
Nam perdent quod amant, et nulli morte carebunt.

Translation:

I am torn apart by those whom—as they are born and grow—I feed,
And they are nourished on good things, even though they subjugate me under foot;
And so I now restrain many of my children and press them down,
For they will lose what they love, and none will escape death.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the earth


Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Tatwine Riddle 6: De penna

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Wed 05 Jan 2022
Original text:

Nativa penitus ratione, heu, fraudor ab hoste,
Nam superas quondam, pernix, auras penetrabam.
Vincta tribus, nunc, in terris persolvo tributum.
Planos compellor sulcare per aequora campos.
Causa laboris amoris tum fontes lacrimarum
Semper compellit me aridis infundere sulcis.

Translation:

I am, alas, completely defrauded of my native essence by an enemy,
For formerly, swift, I used to pierce the upper winds.
Now, I pay tribute, bound by three things on earth.
I am compelled to plow level fields through the plains.
Then the cause of my labour of love always compels me
To pour onto the arid ditches fountains of tears.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the pen


Tags: riddles  latin  Tatwine 

Aldhelm Riddle 6: Luna

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Thu 10 Mar 2022
Original text:

Nunc ego cum pelagi fatis communibus insto
Tempora reciprocis convolvens menstrua cyclis:
Ut mihi lucifluae decrescit gloria formae,
Sic augmenta latex redundans gurgite perdit.

Translation:

Now I am present at the commonplace fate of the sea, 
Causing monthly stages with alternating cycles:
For as the glory of my shining shape decreases, 
Thus does the overflowing sea lose its swells in the water.

Click to show riddle solution?
Moon


Notes:

This edition is based on Rudolf Ehwald, ed. Aldhelmi Opera Omnia. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi, 15. Berlin, Weidmann, 1919, pages 59-150. Available online here.



Tags: riddles  latin  Aldhelm 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 6

MATTHIASAMMON

Date: Mon 06 May 2013
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 6

As we have already seen with the other riddles, the poet here employs language familiar from other contexts to show the sun in a new light (if you’ll excuse the pun). In Riddle 5, elegiac exile imagery was transferred to an object intimately associated with the social world of heroic poetry; here, a part of the natural world is described as a warlike thing. Again, the language of the relationship between a lord and his follower is evoked. The emphasis on Christ as commanding the sun also serves to set this riddle very much in a Christian context. This coming together of heroic imagery and Christian themes is something that is quite common in Old English poetry. In this case, for example, some scholars have argued that the dual nature of the sun, which is sometimes pleasant and sometimes painful, reflects the nature of Christ himself – his "warmth" is pleasant to faithful believers and painful to sinners. There is thus a metaphorical focus within the poem that raises it beyond the playful description of a natural object, which is something worth bearing in mind when reading the riddles in general. At any rate, I’m sure we can agree that the riddle shows a certain early medieval ambiguity about the sun (which some might say has persisted up to the present day).

In the manuscript, the text of the riddle is followed by a single rune, usually taken as representing the letter "s" and standing for Old English sigel or possibly Latin sol. Both of these words mean "sun," so the rune might be a further hint towards the solution of the riddle. We will come back to runes with some of the other riddles.

Actual_Sunset

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

Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 6 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 6

Exeter Riddle 7

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Fri 17 May 2013
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 7

This week’s translation is a guest post from the wonderful Jessica Lockhart. Jessica is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto, and she clearly knows a thing or two about stylish translating. Stay tuned next week for her commentary.



Original text:

Hrægl min swigað,      þonne ic hrusan trede,
oþþe þa wic buge,      oþþe wado drefe.
Hwilum mec ahebbað      ofer hæleþa byht
hyrste mine,      ond þeos hea lyft,
5     ond mec þonne wide      wolcna strengu
ofer folc byreð.      Frætwe mine
swogað hlude      ond swinsiað,
torhte singað,      þonne ic getenge ne beom
flode ond foldan,      ferende gæst.

Translation:

My clothing keeps quiet, when I step on earth
or settle down on dwellings or disturb the waters.
Sometimes my dress and this lofty air
lift me over the home of heroes;
5     and widely, then, does the clouds’ strength
bear me over mankind. My adornments
sound out loud and entune sweetly,
sing clearly, when I am not touching
flood and fold, a soul faring.

Click to show riddle solution?
Swan


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 103r 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 184-5.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 5: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 72.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 7 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 73
Exeter Riddle 3
Exeter Riddle 40

Eusebius Riddle 7: De littera

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Innumerae sumus, et simul omnes quaeque sonamus.
Una loqui nequit; nos tetrae ludimus albis,
Et licet alta loquemur, non sonus auribus instat.
Praeteritum loquimus, praesens, et multa futura.

Translation:

We are innumerable, and we all resound at the same time.
One cannot speak; black, we play on white,
And although we speak loudly, the sound does not reach the ears.
We speak of the past, the present, and many future things.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the letter


Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Tatwine Riddle 7: De tintinno

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Wed 05 Jan 2022
Original text:

Olim dictabar proprio sub nomine "Caesar,"
Optabantque meum proceres iam cernere vultum.
Nunc aliter versor superis, suspensus in auris,
Et, caesus, cogor late persolvere planctum
Cursibus haut tardis cum ad luctum turba recurrit.
Mordeo mordentem labris mox dentibus absque.

Translation:

Once I was called "Caesar" under my own name,
And princes then desired to behold my face.
Now I am occupied otherwise, suspended in the upper winds, 
And, beaten, I am forced to perform a lamentation far and wide
When the crowd resorts to mourning with not-at-all slow steps.
I soon bite the biter with lips without teeth.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the bell


Tags: riddles  latin  Tatwine 

Aldhelm Riddle 7: Fatum

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Thu 10 Mar 2022
Original text:

Facundum constat quondam cecinisse poetam:
“Quo Deus et quo dura vocat Fortuna; sequamur!”
Me veteres falso dominam vocitare solebant,
Sceptra regens mundi dum Christi gratia regnet.

Translation:

It is certain that an eloquent poet once sang: 
“Where God and where hard Fortune calls, let us follow!”
The ancients were erroneously accustomed to calling me mistress, 
The one ruling the sceptres of the world, until the grace of Christ shall reign.

Click to show riddle solution?
Fate


Notes:

This edition is based on Rudolf Ehwald, ed. Aldhelmi Opera Omnia. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi, 15. Berlin: Weidmann, 1919, pages 59-150. Available online here.



Tags: riddles  latin  Aldhelm 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 7

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Fri 24 May 2013
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 7

This post once again comes to us from Jessica Lockhart. Enjoy!

I still remember how baffled I was the first time I came across this riddle in undergrad. A person who walks on earth, inhabits a home, riles up water, and has a singing garment that lifts them over houses? Could it be a saint? Some kind of spirit? A medieval Boba Fett with a jetpack and some jingle bells?

Although Riddle 7 may sound bizarre to our ears at first, it is actually one of those riddles about which scholars feel confident in their solution. Franz Dietrich solved the riddle definitively as "swan" (OE swon or swan) in 1859 – more specifically, as some scholars since have pointed out, the riddle refers to the mute swan, cygnus olor, a species which was resident year-round in early medieval England and found widely throughout Europe.

Mute Swan

This photo (by Arpingstone) is from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

The pivotal clue is the singing of the creature’s clothing in the final lines:

                   Frætwe mine
swogað hlude         ond swinsiað,
torhte singað,         þonne ic getenge ne beom
flode ond foldan,   ferende gæst.
(My adornments sound out loud and entune sweetly, (1) sing clearly, when I am not touching flood and fold, a soul faring.)

This is a beautiful description of the sound the mute swan’s feathers make when the swan is beating its wings in flight. Once we know the solution, the riddle’s earlier clues make sense as well: "treading the land" becomes the swan’s waddle, the dwelling it settles on becomes its nest, and "disturbing the waters" becomes an apt description of the paddling of the swan’s oary feet. Only when the swan is travelling in its third element, the windy air, does the swan’s clothing demonstrate its twin marvellous potentials for flight and song.

But as Megan would say, the fun doesn’t stop there. As you’ve probably noticed, this riddle uses a set of four alliterating verbs to describe the swan’s clothes: first they swigað (keep silent), and then they swogað (make a sound), *swinsiað (make melody), and singað (sing). These similar-sounding words lend the riddle some nice unity (and anticipate the final "sw-" word of "swan"), but as Dieter Bitterli has recently shown, they also work on another level. In the Middle Ages, common wisdom held that the Latin word for swan, cygnus, came from the verb canere, "to sing." Isidore of Seville gives this origin in his Etymologies, and claimed this was because the swan actually sings beautifully with its long throat. (Our legend about the dying "swan-song" actually goes all the way back to ancient Greece). By connecting the swan to singing, this riddle evokes this etymology. But interestingly, instead of going with Isidore’s explanation, the Exeter riddle poet has created a set of clues that explains the mute swan’s "song" using the actual behaviour of the bird, and also implies that the Old English word "swan", too, reveals the bird’s connection with these verbs, especially "swinsiað." (2) Neat, eh?

So, what else is interesting about this riddle? Let’s look at how this riddle establishes a worldview. The first and last sentences of this riddle do a lot of work: they convey all the essential etymological and behavioural clues for "swan" and set up the rhetorical antithesis (poetic contrast) between silence and sound that forms the riddle’s semantic core. These sentences do so much work that if you were to eliminate everything but these first and last sentences, arguably the riddle would still be perfectly complete. (Short pithy riddles like it were very much the style of the Latin riddler Symphosius and several of his English followers.) But what else the riddle does, is create for us a moving meditation on the place of this extraordinary bird in a human-inhabited world. The creature lives in a dwelling, wears adornments, and treads the ground like a human, (3) and when it is carried astonishingly through the air, the riddle emphasizes how close it remains to human civilization:

Hwilum mec ahebbað         ofer hæleþa byht
hyrste mine,         ond þeos hea lyft,
ond mec þonne wide         wolcna strengu
ofer folc byreð.
(Sometimes my dress and this lofty air lift me over the home of heroes; and widely, then, does the clouds’ strength bear me over mankind.)

This is a trick we should watch out for in later riddles: the speaker playfully offers a perspective down on those who (if looking up) would not see an amazing speaker with singing clothes, but the bird we’d know and recognize.

There’s a playful artistry involved in making a riddle very specific while at the same time very misleading, and a new bonus level of artistry when a riddle takes something we have always accepted as normal (a water-bird, a name, a genre, an idea) and uses that concept to crack open reality like an eggshell, to show us wonder and potential that we ignore. Riddles like Exeter 7 work to show us how much more curious we should be than we are.

Notes:

(1) For translating "swinsiað," I adapted the Middle English verb "entune" to convey this idea of music, and added "sweetly" to preserve the "sw" alliteration – it’s also my own secret clue for those who know Chaucer’s description of birdsong in The Book of the Duchess , line 309 as "So mery a soun, so swete entewnes."

(2) Even more impressively, he may have been right; etymologically, the word "swan" does have to do with sound.

(3) Exeter 7 is the first of a series of riddles on birds and other animals in the Exeter Book, and later riddles often closely parallel its wording. Watch out for especially close similarities when we get to Riddle 10, which I won’t spoil here.

References and Further Reading:

Bitterli, Dieter. “Tell-Tale Birds: The Etymological Principle.” In 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, pages 35-46.

Kitson, Peter. “Swans and Geese in Old English Riddles.” Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History, vol. 7 (1994), pages 79-84.

Meaney, Audrey. “Birds on the Stream of Consciousness: Riddles 7 to 10 of the Exeter Book.” Archaeological Review from Cambridge, vol. 18 (2002), pages 120-52.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 7 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 10

Exeter Riddle 8

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Wed 29 May 2013
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 8
Original text:
Ic þurh muþ sprece             mongum reordum,
wrencum singe,             wrixle geneahhe
heafodwoþe,             hlude cirme,
healde mine wisan,             hleoþre ne miþe,
5       eald æfensceop,            eorlum bringe
blisse in burgum,             þonne ic bugendre
stefne styrme;             stille on wicum
sittað nigende.             Saga hwæt ic hatte,
þe swa scirenige             sceawendwisan
10       hlude onhyrge,             hæleþum bodige
wilcumena fela             woþe minre.
Translation:
I speak through my mouth with many sounds,
I sing with modulation, frequently vary
my voice, call loudly,
stick to my ways, I do not stifle my speech,
5       an old evening-singer, I bring delight
to dwellers in the cities, when I bellow
with bending voice; still in their homes,
they sit silently. Say what I am called,
who, like an actress, loudly imitates
10       the entertainer’s song, proclaims to people
many greetings with my speaking.
Click to show riddle solution?
Nightingale (likely), Pipe or Flute, all manner of other birds, etc


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 103r 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 185.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 6: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 72.



Tags: riddle 8  anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions 

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Exeter Riddle 23
Exeter Riddle 24
Exeter Riddle 33

Eusebius Riddle 8: De vento et igne

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Dissimiles sumus, et mos non similis tenet ambos.
Unus contingi patitur, nec forte videri,
Sed prope aspicitur pulcher nec tangitur alter.
Subvolat unus per caelos; stat alter in imis.

Translation:

We are dissimilar, and unlike characters rule us both.
One allows itself to be touched, but not, as it happens, to be seen,
But the other, beautiful, is seen up close, but is not touched.
The one flies up through the heavens; the other stands in the depths.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the wind and fire


Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Tatwine Riddle 8: De ara

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Wed 05 Jan 2022
Original text:

Quadripedis pulchri quamvis constat mihi forma,
Sponte, tamen, nullus me usquam lustrare videbit.
Bis binis, certe, per quadrum cornibus armor,
Quosque meis dapibus dignos satiare solesco.
Indignis potumque cibumque referre negabo.
Ex alta clarum merui re nomen habere.

Translation:

Although my form is that of a beautiful quadruped, 
None will, however, see me walk anywhere on my own.
Certainly, I am armed with twice-two horns in a square,
And I am accustomed to satisfy those worthy with my feasts.
I deny to bring to the unworthy both food and drink.
I fittingly took my brilliant name from high things.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the altar


Tags: riddles  latin  Tatwine 

Aldhelm Riddle 8: Pliades

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Thu 10 Mar 2022
Original text:

Nos Athlante satas stolidi dixere priores;
Nam septena cohors est, sed vix cernitur una.
Arce poli gradimur nec non sub Tartara terrae;
Furvis conspicimur tenebris et luce latemus
Nomina de verno ducentes tempore prisca.

Translation:

Ignorant ancestors said that we were the children of Atlas.
Our cohort is seven-fold, but one can hardly be seen.
We walk at the top of the sky and under Tartarus in the earth;
We are seen in shadowy darkness and we hide in the light,
Drawing our former name from springtime. 

Click to show riddle solution?
Pleiades


Notes:

This edition is based on Rudolf Ehwald, ed. Aldhelmi Opera Omnia. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi, 15. Berlin: Weidmann, 1919, pages 59-150. Available online here.



Tags: riddles  latin  Aldhelm 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 8

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 14 Feb 2013
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 8

Who knew that early medieval England had such a vibrant nightlife? Whenever I read this poem, I’m struck with the image of lounge lizard monks clubbing and singing karaoke (thanks to Elaine Treharne for tweeting this suggestion!). It’s actually rather distracting when it comes to writing the commentary.

But since you’re no doubt dying to hear more about this riddle, let’s start with the solution. Well, like all of the Exeter Book riddles, this one has had a variety of proposed solutions. According to Fry’s list of riddle solutions (which you really should be getting familiar with by now, but I’ll give you the reference below anyway!), scholars have argued for: Nightingale, Pipe, Woodpigeon, Bell, Jay, Chough, Jackdaw, Thrush, Starling, Crying Baby, Frogs, Soul and Devil as Buffoon. I’ve missed out Flute, but I’m too far away from a library at the minute to check that this suggestion came early enough for Fry to include it in his list. Homework: someone go check this and let us know! But at any rate the solutions are mainly a lot of birds and a few other noisy things. Obviously, sound is the motif we want to tune into (pardon the pun), considering the sheer volume of song/speech words repeated throughout this poem.

But we’ll get to that in a moment. For now, solution-wise, I’m going to throw my lot in with Nightingale, or Old English, Nihtegale. Why?, you might ask, and the reason to that question would be what Dieter Bitterli has dubbed the “etymological principle.” The riddle makes it very clear that what we’re dealing with here is something that sings (galan) in the night (niht). So that would be a night- (niht) singer (gale). A niht-gale. Nihtegale. Got it?

Nightingale

This photo (by J. Dietrich) is from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0).

Another thing to point out is that our previous riddle dealt with the mute swan. Now we’ve got the noisy nightingale and (spoiler alert!) we’ll continue on with a few more birds in the riddles immediately following. These runs of connected riddles are found throughout the Exeter Book collection, as we saw with Riddles 1-3, and I think they’re very useful in narrowing down the general subject matter of a lot of the poems.

As for the sorts of words this riddle makes use of, we have the ever-popular sound/voice range: reord, heafodwoþ, hleoþor, stefn and woþ. Noise-making verbs include: sprecan, singan, wrixlan (sort of), cirman, styrman, onhyrian and bodian. Then, of course, we have the muþ (mouth) and two references to hlude (loudly), etc. etc. which is all contrasted to the stillness of human-life (stille on wicum / sittað nigende).

But human-life is also present very much in the personification of the birds, which tends to take on some fairly off-the-wall diction from time to time. For example, we’ve got heafodwoþe (literally, “head-voice”), a compound word that is only found here and whose elements collocate (that is, appear close together) nowhere else in the Old English corpus. Both parts of the compound are common, although woþ is especially mentioned along with other “voice,” “mouth” and “speech” words in poems about animals, such as The Phoenix (lines 127-8, 547-8), The Panther (lines 42-4) and The Whale (line 2), or animalistic and demonic forces in Guthlac A and B (lines 263-5, 390-3, 898-900).

Another unique compound is æfensceop (evening-singer), which is basically a way of talking around the riddle’s solution: evening/night + a word for a singer = nihtegale, as above. Scirenige is, perhaps, more exciting because it may be an actress-word. Editors frequently emend it (that is, take an educated guess at a correction) to the form scericge, which describes the entertaining St. Pelagia elsewhere in Old English (see Bosworth and Toller). Unfortunately for my dream of becoming an early medieval actress, though, Mercedes Salvador(-Bello) makes a good case for understanding this word not in terms of acting, but as a reference to light and to the Latin form for nightingale, luscinia. Finally, sceawendwis appears to be linked to entertainers as well, gesturing to a sort of jester-type of silliness: elsewhere, we find the compound sceawendspræc, which glosses the Latin scurrilitas (buffoonery). Bosworth and Toller’s dictionary defines this second Old English compound as “the speech of the theatre.” Although, of course, “theatre” may be slightly anachronistic for an early medieval context.

But there’s certainly something theatrical going on here in the bird-community that may or may not be a bit annoying to those quiet city-folk.

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.

Bosworth, Joseph, and T. Northcote Toller. An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1898). Digital edition (Prague: Faculty of Arts, Charles University, 2010): http://bosworth.ff.cuni.cz/.

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

Salvador(-Bello), Mercedes. “The Evening Singer of Riddle 8 (K-D).” Selim, vol. 9 (1999), pages 57-68 (esp. 61-3).



Tags: riddle 8  anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 8

Exeter Riddle 9

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Sun 16 Jun 2013
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 9

This week’s translation is a guest post from the very clever Jennifer Neville. Jennifer is a Reader in Early Medieval Literature at Royal Holloway University of London where she is currently working on a book about the Old English riddles. Stay tuned for her commentary in the next post.



Original text:

Mec on þissum dagum      deadne ofgeafun
fæder on modor;      ne wæs me feorh þa gen,
ealdor in innan.      Þa mec an ongon,
welhold mege,      wedum þeccan,
5     heold ond freoþode,      hleosceorpe wrah
swa arlice      swa hire agen bearn,
oþþæt ic under sceate,      swa min gesceapu wæron,
ungesibbum wearð      eacen gæste.
Mec seo friþe mæg      fedde siþþan,
10     oþþæt ic aweox,      widdor meahte
siþas asettan.      Heo hæfde swæsra þy læs
suna ond dohtra,      þy heo swa dyde.

Translation:

In these days my father and mother
gave me up for dead. There was no spirit in me yet
and no life within. Then someone began
to cover me with clothing;
5     a very loyal kinswoman protected and cherished me,
and she wrapped me with a protective garment,
just as generously as for her own children,
until under that covering, in accordance with my nature,
I was endowed with life amongst those unrelated to me.
10     The protective lady then fed me
until I grew up and could set out on wider journeys.
She had fewer dear sons and daughters because she did so.

Click to show riddle solution?
Cuckoo


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 103r-103v 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 185.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 7: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 72-3.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 9  jennifer neville 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddles 1-3
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 77
Exeter Riddle 42

Eusebius Riddle 9: De Alpha

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Dux ego linguarum, resonans et prima per orbem,
Dicor et unum, quingentos, vel mille figuro,
Atque vocari primus per me coepit Adamus.
Do, domina linguae, pueris me vim resonare.

Translation:

I am said to be the prince of speech, echoing and first throughout the world,
And I represent the numbers one, five hundred, even one thousand,
And Adam was the first who began to be called with me. 
Mistress of language, I give children the power to voice me.

Click to show riddle solution?
On Alpha, the first letter in the Greek alphabet


Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Tatwine Riddle 9: De cruce Christi

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Wed 05 Jan 2022
Original text:

Versiculor cernor nunc, nunc mihi forma nitescit.
Lege, fui quondam cunctis iam larbula servis,
Sed modo me, gaudens, orbis veneratur et ornat.
Quique meum gustat fructum iam sanus habetur,
Nam mihi concessum est insanis ferre salutem.
Propterea sapiens optat me in fronte tenere.

Translation:

Now I appear multicoloured, now my form shines.
Once, by law, I was then a terror to all slaves,
But now, rejoicing, the world venerates and decorates me.
He who tastes my fruit is now kept healthy,
For it is granted to me to bring health to the unwell.
Therefore the wise man wishes to hold me on his front.

Click to show riddle solution?
On Christ’s cross


Tags: riddles  latin  Tatwine 

Aldhelm Riddle 9: Adamas

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Sat 12 Mar 2022
Original text:

En ego non vereor rigidi discrimina ferri
Flammarum neu torre cremor, sed sanguine capri
Virtus indomiti mollescit dura rigoris.
Sic cruor exsuperat, quem ferrea massa pavescit.

Translation:

Behold, I do not fear separation through hard iron,
Nor am I burned in a furnace of flames, but by a goat’s blood
Is the hard strength of my indomitable firmness softened. 
Thus blood overcomes what an iron mass fears. 

Click to show riddle solution?
Adamant


Notes:

This edition is based on Rudolf Ehwald, ed. Aldhelmi Opera Omnia. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi, 15. Berlin: Weidmann, 1919, pages 59-150. Available online here.



Tags: riddles  latin  Aldhelm 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 9

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 09 Jul 2013
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 9

This post once again comes to us from Jennifer Neville. Enjoy!

However you look at it, Riddle 9 is a sad story. On the surface, it’s the story of a monster-child, a revenant who rewards a well-meaning foster-mother with the murder of her beloved children. Most readers don’t worry too much about that monster, though; already primed to recognise anthropomorphism when they see it, they interpret that loyal kinswoman as a hapless bird that’s had the ill-fortune of a visit from a cuckoo. We are less familiar with cuckoos than we used to be, and so the ornithology may not be more mysterious now than it was during the early medieval period.

Black and white drawing

Drawing of a cuckoo from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

The basic scenario is this: some—not all—cuckoo species do not care for their own chicks. Instead, they lay their eggs one by one in the nests of other birds and leave foster-parents to feed and protect them. When they hatch, these chicks are often bigger than their "brothers and sisters," and they often hatch first. They are not only bigger and earlier, however; they are also louder. In fact, one cuckoo chick on its own makes as much noise as a whole brood of ordinary chicks. Unsurprisingly enough, the most demanding chick wins the most attention, and the most food, from its hard-working parents. The usurper also sometimes tries to edge the other chicks out of the nest; even worse, parent birds finding their own chicks perched precariously on the edge sometimes mistake them for outsiders and finish the job themselves. As a result, once mature enough to fly away, the cuckoo chick leaves its foster-parents with smaller or fewer offspring of their own, or even none at all.

The story is tragic, yet the Old English riddle restrains itself strictly to the cuckoo-chick’s point of view: we hear plenty of praise for the generous mother-bird who is so helpful to the growing parasite, but no sorrow at all for her or for her dead babies, only a classically wry comment that there were fewer of them as a result of their mother’s generosity.

That may be all that is needed to be said. Certainly the natural history of the cuckoo was (and is) interesting enough in its own right (see Bitterli for the literary tradition surrounding the cuckoo). Yet there’s an emotional charge here, despite—or perhaps because—of the poet’s restraint. We aren’t told about the weeping mother, but she’s still there, lurking inside the anthropomorphised bird. And so I wonder whether this riddle might also be seen as a commentary on the social institution of fostering: the custom, particularly among noble families, of sending children to be raised in other households or courts. Beowulf seems to have benefitted, for example, from being raised in the household of his grandfather, King Hrethel (Beowulf, lines 2428-34). In his case, the system seems to have been mutually beneficial: the fosterling maintained a staunch loyalty for the family in which he was brought up, fighting bravely on Higelac’s behalf throughout his kingship and then supporting the rule of Higelac’s young son, Heardred, even though the queen offered him the kingship. Yet it is easy to imagine that the system might not always have worked so well.  What if the visiting prince used up more than his fair share of scarce resources? What if he entered into competition with his foster-parents’ children? What if he "accidently" killed them in a "friendly" duel? The riddle presents precisely the sorrowful outcome that might come out of honourably fulfilling the obligations of fosterage, if one were unfortunate enough to be cursed with a "cuckoo chick".

Cuckoo chick with crow

A cuckoo chick and crow from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 4.0).

Again, that may be all that is needed to be said. It’s worth noting, however, that Riddle 9 neither begins nor ends with an explicit riddling tag, and that the absence of solutions in the manuscript means that there is always the possibility that we should carry on with the interpretive process. After all, we have in the manuscript three entries from the Physiologus: descriptions of animals that lead to allegorical readings. And, in fact, Riddle 9’s narrative can be translated into a story that might have been useful for preachers. Thus the mother bird can be seen as the soul living in the world (souls are often represented as birds). Her "offspring" are her good thoughts, stored in the nest of her heart. Too often, however, the devil (the cuckoo) insinuates himself (or, strictly speaking, herself) into that heart and leaves behind a sinful thought that grows ever larger, more attractive, and more demanding until those other nest-mates dwindle and disappear. The end result, once again, is dryly understated: the absence of good thoughts ultimately means eternal damnation.

As I’ve already said, there is no need in Riddle 9 for an allegorical reading or for social commentary. On the other hand, there is no reason why these things should not be there: Riddle 43 contains an allegory of body and soul, and several of the riddles include considerations of social roles (see, for example, Riddle 20, in which the sword reflects on its relationship with its lord). With no prologue, instructions, or solutions, Riddle 9, like all the Exeter Book riddles, invites a plethora of interpretive strategies. More importantly, it rules none out.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Bitterli, Dieter. “The Survival of the Dead Cuckoo: Exeter Book Riddle 9.” In Riddles, Knights and Cross-dressing Saints: Essays on Medieval English Language and Literature. Edited by Thomas Honegger. Variations, vol. 5. Bern: Peter Lang, 2004, pages 95-114

Neville, Jennifer. “Fostering the Cuckoo: Exeter Book Riddle 9.” The Review of English Studies, vol. 58 (2007), pages 431-46 [the full text of this article, among others, is available on Jennifer’s university webpage]



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 9  jennifer neville 

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Exeter Riddle 9

Exeter Riddle 10

MATTHIASAMMON

Date: Thu 25 Apr 2013
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 10
Original text:

Neb wæs min on nearwe,         ond ic neoþan wætre,
flode underflowen,         firgenstreamum
swiþe besuncen,         ond on sunde awox
ufan yþum þeaht,         anum getenge
5     liþendum wuda         lice mine.
Hæfde feorh cwico,         þa ic of fæðmum cwom
brimes ond beames         on blacum hrægle;
sume wæron hwite         hyrste mine,
þa mec lifgende         lyft upp ahof,
10     wind of wæge,         siþþan wide bær
ofer seolhbaþo.         Saga hwæt ic hatte.

Translation:

My nose was in a tight spot, and I beneath the water,
underflowed by the flood, sunk deep
into the ocean-waves, and in the sea grew
covered with waves from above, my body
5     touching a floating piece of wood.
I had living spirit, when I came out of the embrace
of water and wood in a black garment,
some of my trappings were white,
then the air lifted me, living, up,
10     wind from the water, then carried me far
over the seal’s bath. Say what I am called.

Click to show riddle solution?
Barnacle goose


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 103v 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 185-6.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 8: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 73.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 10 

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Exeter Riddle 12
Exeter Riddle 24
Exeter Riddle 7

Eusebius Riddle 10: De sole

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Omnis, quaque via pergit, venit ut requiescat.
Non mea sic via; non mihi sedes subditur ulla.
Sed iuge restat iter et semper non finitur in annis.
Non populi et reges cursum prohibere valebunt.

Translation:

Everyone, no matter the road they take, comes so that they may rest. 
My road is not thus; no seat is supplied for me.
Rather, the journey perpetually remains and is forever unfinished over the years. 
Neither nations nor kings will have the strength to prevent my course.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the sun


Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Tatwine Riddle 10: De recitabulo

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Wed 05 Jan 2022
Original text:

Angelicas populis epulas dispono frequenter,
Grandisonisque aures verbis cava guttura complent.
Succedit vox, sed mihi nulla aut lingua loquendi,
Et bina alarum fulci gestamine cernor,
Quis sed abest penitus virtus iam tota volandi,
Dum solus subter constat mihi pes sine passu.

Translation:

I frequently bequeath angelic food to the people,
And hollow throats fill ears with lofty words.
Voice follows, but I have no tongue for speaking,
And I am seen to be supported by conveyance of two wings,
Which, however, are now completely without the full strength to fly,
While below I have only one foot without a footprint.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the lectern


Tags: riddles  latin  Tatwine 

Aldhelm Riddle 10: Molosus

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Sat 12 Mar 2022
Original text:

Sic me iamdudum rerum veneranda potestas
Fecerat, ut domini truculentos persequar hostes;
Rictibus arma gerens bellorum praelia patro
Et tamen infantum fugiens mox verbera vito.

Translation:

Long ago a venerable power of things made me
Such that I will hunt my master’s cruel enemies;
Bearing arms in my mouth I effect war’s battles, 
Though I will immediately flee a child to escape beatings. 

Click to show riddle solution?
The Molossus Dog


Notes:

This edition is based on Rudolf Ehwald, ed. Aldhelmi Opera Omnia. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi, 15. Berlin: Weidmann, 1919, pages 59-150. Available online here.



Tags: riddles  latin  Aldhelm 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 10

MATTHIASAMMON

Date: Thu 08 Aug 2013
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 10

While the solutions that have been proposed for this riddle range from "alchemy" and "baptism" to "bubble" and "water lily," the most commonly accepted solution is "barnacle goose" (Old English byrnete). This puts this riddle in line with the preceding bird riddles – once again the bird speaks of itself in the first person and tells the audience of its particular identifying characteristic: in this case, the genesis of the bird from wood and water. It was commonly believed in medieval times that barnacle geese were somehow grown from the barnacle shells that cling to driftwood floating in the sea. In fact, the word "barnacle" stems from the name for the bird rather than the other way around! And while this folk belief in the origin of the barnacle goose pops up a lot in the later Middle Ages, this riddle is in fact the earliest evidence that people thought this. Dieter Bitterli, whose work on the bird riddles has already been mentioned in some of the other commentaries, suggests that this myth may have originated in Britain where the arctic barnacle geese spend the winter and was handed down over generations to the authors of later medieval zoology text books.

The process of the birth of the barnacle goose is somewhat obscurely referred to in lines 4b-5 (with the bird’s body "touching" a floating piece of wood) and in the first half-line, which might allude to the bird’s hanging from the piece of wood by its beak, thus obtaining nourishment. Another characteristic is the "black garment" with "white trappings" which the speaker describes (see below for visual proof of this, though there are probably many other creatures to whom this might apply!). And barnacle geese are indeed "carried widely over the seal’s bath" – they breed on islands in the North Atlantic and come south to winter in Great Britain and the Netherlands (nothing like a balmy British winter to take the chill off…).

Goose

A goose! Photo (by Andrey) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY 2.0).

One interesting expression in this riddle is the feorh cwico of l. 6. I’ve translated this as "living spirit," but Leslie Lockett discusses feorh as meaning something more like "life-force," something that has to enter a thing to give it life – even one born from wood and water (page 44)! If you look back at Riddle 9, the cuckoo likewise explains that it did not have feorh when it was in the egg, so it’s something that comes with being born. And like the cuckoo, which was covered in a protective garment, the barnacle goose is protected by water which allows it to grow and become lifgende.

For those of you who might now be worrying that early medieval folks were a bit obsessed by birds, stay tuned for the next post’s change in direction.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Lockett, Leslie. Anglo-Saxon Psychologies in the Vernacular and Latin Traditions. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 10 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 10

Exeter Riddle 11

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 12 Aug 2013
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 11
Original text:

Hrægl is min hasofag,      hyrste beorhte,
reade ond scire      on reafe minum.
Ic dysge dwelle      ond dole hwette
unrædsiþas,      oþrum styre
5     nyttre fore.      Ic þæs nowiht wat
þæt heo swa gemædde,      mode bestolene,
dæde gedwolene,      deoraþ mine
won wisan gehwam.      Wa him þæs þeawes,
siþþan heah bringað      horda deorast,
10     gif hi unrædes      ær ne geswicaþ.

Translation:

My garment is stained dark, my ornaments bright,
red and shining on my robe.
I delude the fool and urge the idiot
on reckless tracks; others I steer
5     from suitable ones. I do not know why
they, thus mad, robbed of reason,
deluded in deed, praise my
shadowy way to everyone. Woe to them for that habit,
when they bring the most beloved of hoards on high,
10     if they do not first retreat from recklessness.

Click to show riddle solution?
Wine or Cup of Wine


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 103v 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 186.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 9: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 73-4.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 11