RIDDLE POSTS BY TAG: 'RIDDLES'

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 14

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 28 Oct 2013
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 14

So, revealing that my childhood nickname was “Moo Moo” (thanks, Dad) is endearing, right? Well, maybe it’s because of that personal connection, but I really have a soft spot for the Old English cattle riddles. Hopefully you’ll all remember the potential “Ox and Ox-hide” of Riddle 12, and I’ll go ahead and hint that you haven’t seen the last of early medieval oxen (say that twelve times fast) in this collection. Admittedly, this riddle is more interested in the horn itself, rather than the animal that provided it, but still.

The author holding a drinking horn

Me with Corpus Christi College, Cambridge’s aurochs drinking horn at my matriculation ceremony in 2008. Photo courtesy of James Brown. But not THE James Brown.

I guess the first order of business concerns the solution. But, unfortunately for the purposes of filling out a full post, there really hasn’t been a great deal of debate for this one. In fact, because the solution “Horn” – which is the same word in Old and Modern English – has received such wide support, the riddle hasn’t been hugely popular in scholarship. But even if the solution is a bit…well…obvious, the poem still deserves to be read!

In fact, it’s a very stylish poem, as far as Old English poetics are concerned. Many of the lines employ double alliteration, which is when two words (or elements of a compound word) in the first half-line share the same initial sound as a word in the second half-line. Like “w” in line 1: Ic wæs wæpenwiga. Nu mec wlonc þeceð. In fact, there, we’ve got three “w”s in the first half-line! Calm down, poet! Sheesh! Old English poetry doesn’t require double alliteration by any stretch – the poem would still be nice and poetic-like if the half-lines were linked by only one alliterating word in each (like “g” in line 2: geong hagostealdmon golde ond sylfore). So 12+ lines of double alliteration is extra fancy. The reason I say “12+” is because it could be argued that lines 4 and 11 doubly alliterate too…it’s just that adverbs like hwilum (sometimes) don’t usually contribute to the alliteration.

But this is all getting terribly technical. Let’s pause over the use of hwilum for a moment. It certainly deserves attention because this word is used no fewer than 10 times in 19 lines! It’s as though the horn is saying: “Look at all the things I can do! I’m a multitasker!” In the very least, the poet is emphasizing the horn’s versatility through repetition. Also, I wonder if maybe all these “hw” sounds are meant to recall the shape of the mouth when blowing a horn and the actual sound that it would make. I don’t want to read too much into alliteration (sorry…back to that), but “w” and “h” alliterate A LOT in this poem. This is significant not only on an aural level, but also because Horn starts with an “h.” I get the sense that the poet wants us to solve this riddle a bit too much.

A feasting scene from the Bayeux Tapestry

A feasting scene from the Bayeux Tapestry scene (I don’t know what’s going on with the guy on the right’s hand), excerpted from an image on Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Okay, enough with the sounds now. I get it: you want themes and imagery. Well, this poem is not about to let you down. In it, we have all the trappings of the early medieval, aristocratic warrior lifestyle: treasure, horses, ships (sea-steeds!), drinking, battle and chasing off enemies. And there appears to be a bit of kissing going on, but I’ll let you read into that what you will (check out Riddle 63 too…this seems to be a thing).

One aspect I like most about this riddle is the tension between the object-as-object and the object-as-agent. Of course, this is a theme we see throughout the riddles, but I think it’s especially interesting here with all the emphasis on actions, as opposed to just attributes. In only 19 lines, the horn characterizes itself as the passive object of the following actions: it’s covered with treasure, kissed, borne by horses and ships, filled up with drink, despoiled, carried and forced to hang on the wall. These are all things done to what used to be a wæpenwiga (armed warrior) but is now an object of heroic use. However, a shift takes place in the final lines after the horn is forced to swallow someone’s breath, which seems to draw on the idea that the early English understood speech as coming from the chest (see Jager, full ref below). I find that image powerfully weird. It’s almost like it’s undergoing mouth-to-mouth, and, when it takes in the person’s breath, it gains a voice. In fact, after the ingesting of air, the horn begins to take action: it calls warriors to a feast, reclaims stolen goods and puts enemies to flight. This little theory is slightly marred by the early reference to the horn calling warriors to battle in lines 4-5, but perhaps we can assume that the calling to action is another mouth-to-mouth image…after all, it takes place just after the kissing. At any rate, all this object-agent tension is nicely summed up by the use of wlonc (proud) twice – once in line 1 and once in line 17. This is an envelope pattern that ties together the proud retainer who uses the horn and the horn itself, which proudly calls together the retainers for wine-sodden bonding. Good times.

Righto, before I let you go, there’s one final thing I want to draw your attention to. Riddle-objects that relate to drinking are not just a remnant of the past. Has anyone seen the San Miguel commercial? Watch it…I’m sure someone on the creative team was a student of Old English!:

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Jager, Eric. “Speech and the Chest in Old English Poetry: Orality or Pectorality?” Speculum, vol. 65 (1990), pages 845-59.

I also published an academic version of this post recently: Cavell, Megan. “Sounding the Horn in Exeter Book Riddle 14.” The Explicator, vol. 72 (2014), pages 324-7.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 14 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 63

Exeter Riddle 15

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 04 Nov 2013
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 15
Original text:

Hals is min hwit      ond heafod fealo,
sidan swa some.      Swift ic eom on feþe,
beadowæpen bere.      Me on bæce standað
her swylce swe on hleorum.      Hlifiað tu
5     earan ofer eagum.      Ordum ic steppe
in grene græs.      Me bið gyrn witod,
gif mec onhæle      an onfindeð
wælgrim wiga,      þær ic wic buge,
bold mid bearnum,      ond ic bide þær
10     mid geoguðcnosle,      hwonne gæst cume
to durum minum,      him biþ deað witod.
Forþon ic sceal of eðle      eaforan mine
forhtmod fergan,      fleame nergan,
gif he me æfterweard      ealles weorþeð;
15     hine berað breost.      Ic his bidan ne dear,
reþes on geruman,      (nele þæt ræd teale),
ac ic sceal fromlice      feþemundum
þurh steapne beorg      stræte wyrcan.
Eaþe ic mæg freora      feorh genergan,
20     gif ic mægburge mot      mine gelædan
on degolne weg      þurh dune þyrel
swæse ond gesibbe;      ic me siþþan ne þearf
wælhwelpes wig      wiht onsittan.
Gif se niðsceaþa      nearwe stige
25     me on swaþe seceþ,      ne tosæleþ him
on þam gegnpaþe      guþgemotes,
siþþan ic þurh hylles      hrof geræce,
ond þurh hest hrino      hildepilum
laðgewinnum,      þam þe ic longe fleah.

Translation:

My neck is white and my head dusky,
my sides just the same. I am fast on my feet,
I bear a battle-weapon. On my back stands
hair, likewise on my cheeks. Two ears
5     tower over my eyes. On spears I step
in the green grass. Sorrow is ordained for me,
if someone finds me hidden,
a slaughter-cruel warrior, where I inhabit a house,
a dwelling with my children, and I remain there
10     with my young family, when the stranger comes
to my doors, death is ordained for them.
Therefore I must carry my children out of the homeland,
frightened at heart, defend them by flight,
if he pursues me at all afterward;
15     his breast bears him. I do not dare await his
cruel [nature] in the room, (good advice will not require that),
but I must boldly with walking-hands
produce a path through a high hill.
I can easily defend the lives of the precious ones,
20     if I may lead my kindred
on a secret track through a hole in the hill
the near and the dear ones; afterward I do not need
to concern myself at all with the slaughter-whelp’s attack.
If the evil-enemy on a narrow trail
25     seeks my track, he will not lack
a war-meeting on the hostile path,
when I reach through the hill’s roof,
and ferociously strike with battle-spears
the loathed-foe, from whom I have long fled.

Click to show riddle solution?
Badger, Fox, Porcupine, Hedgehog, Weasel


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 104v 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 188.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 13: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 76-7.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 15 

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Exeter Riddle 20
Exeter Riddle 23
Exeter Riddle 63

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 15

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 12 Nov 2013
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 15

Well, at least we can agree on one thing: the subject of Riddle 15 is an animal of some sort. But just which animal has been the cause of much discussion and a fair amount of scholarly squabbling. The options include: Badger, Fox, Porcupine, Hedgehog, Weasel, etc.

Badger (OE brocc) is one of the earliest suggestions. Badgers burrow, which fits nicely with this poem’s description of the besieged creature’s situation. While the badger’s colouring also seems to tally with the poem’s description of the white neck and fealo head, I’d like to mention (as I’ve done before) that colour terms in Old English are very difficult to define. For this particular one, the Dictionary of Old English notes that its “varied meaning” encompasses a sort of pale or dull yellow with shades of red, brown and/or grey. I reckon this term applies to most of the animal options discussed here, so I’m not sure it’s particularly handy in sorting out a solution.

Badger

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

Badger-wise, the weapon imagery (beadowæpen bere (I bear a battle-weapon); Ordum ic steppe (On spears I step); ond þurh hest hrino hildepilum (and ferociously strike with battle-spears)) refers to the creatures’ teeth and claws. The enemy itself, the so-called wælhwelp (slaughter-whelp) could be any one of a number of predators if we take hwelp metaphorically, or the dogs used by hunters if we’re going for a more literal reading. Also note that dogs and wolves are associated with violent men elsewhere in Old English: The Battle of Maldon describes Vikings as wælwulfas (slaughter-wolves) in line 96b; Judith refers to the heroine’s nasty opponent Holofernes as þone hæðenan hund (that heathen hound) in line 110a; and Wulf and Eadwacer revolves around the relationships between a woman, a figure identified as “Wulf” and an earmne hwelp (miserable whelp) who is borne away in lines 16-17. So the canine enemy shouldn’t come as a shock.

At any rate, Badger has seemed like a decent option to many scholars in the past, although Dieter Bitterli isn’t too keen on it for the following reasons: the poem doesn’t mention the animal’s most striking feature (stripey head!), badgers aren’t particularly fast-moving, which contradicts line 2’s statement: Swift ic eom on feþe (I am fast on my feet), and they don’t get a lot of attention in early works of zoology (pp. 472-5). I don’t think these strike a death-blow to the Badger-reading, although Bitterli’s argument for his preferred solution (discussed below) is convincing. His article is also very thorough, by the way, so if you’re interested in this riddle, I suggest you read it. There’s a link at the bottom of this commentary.

The next animal on the list is the fox.

Fox

Photo (by Rob Lee (Evergreen, CO, USA)) from the Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY 2.0).

This is the solution that John D. Niles includes in his list of Old English riddle solutions: OE fox ond hund (fox and hound) (at p. 141). Fox is quite widely accepted as a solution to this riddle, especially by recent editors of the riddles and the Exeter Book, including Williamson and Muir. However, again Bitterli notes that foxes, which aren’t burrowers or diggers – they tend to use other animals’ dens or natural features of the landscape – are more known for their wisdom in medieval literature, an attribute that doesn’t appear in this list (p. 476). One part of the poem that seems to describe the fox particularly well is the ears that tower over the creature’s eyes (Hlifiað tu / earan ofer eagum), although Bitterli argues that these may be attributed to any animal in contrast to human ears. I like to think of them as the ears of a Monty Python-esque battle-rabbit, personally. You can beg to differ.

Weasel standing up

Photo (by Steve Hillebrand, USFWS) from the Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Making our way speedily along, Weasel (OE wesle) has been pretty soundly rejected. This one was suggested in the 1940s by Jean I. Young, who notes that weasels walk almost entirely on their toes. The implication is that line 5b’s statement, Ordum ic steppe, should be translated as “I step on points.” Yes, ord means “point,” but more specifically the point of a blade, so I read this as more weapon imagery referring to claws. Young further argues that the enemy attacking the weasel is a snake because of the reference to the creature crawling (hine berað breost) – a similar characteristic to Satan-in-snake-form in lines 906-7 of Genesis A. Unfortunately for Young, weasels are the ones that eat snakes. Of course, we could still accept Weasel as the solution without accepting Snake as the predator. But Bitterli points out that weasels don’t burrow, and that medieval Latin weasel-riddles and classical lore make a big deal out of the weasel’s apparent conception in the ear (say wha?) (p. 477). At any rate, there’s a better solution awaiting you!

It’s not Hedgehog (OE igil), although that’s getting closer.

European hedgehog sniffing a leaf

Photo (by Lars Karlsson) from the Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 2.5).

A spiny creature like this involves re-reading some of the weapon imagery – as spikes rather than teeth (having recently put a cactus through my hand at a party, I totally get this association). The problem with the hedgehog for Bitterli is that it doesn’t burrow or shoot its spines (p. 487). His preferred solution is therefore Porcupine, which is referred to as se mara igil (the larger hedgehog) in an Old English gloss of the Latin word for porcupine: hystrix (p. 478).

Porcupine resting

Photo (by Eloquence) from the Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

You may have gathered that this is Bitterli’s solution from the title of his article. It’s a very good title with both puns AND alliteration. So you know the article is going to be good. Content-wise, Bitterli lists several medieval analogues (pp. 479-81), and notes that porcupines – though not native to England – were known from widely-circulated works of natural history (p. 485). Where Bitterli’s argument is strongest is in his discussion of the porcupine’s quills, which can easily lodge into other animals (p. 482-3). He also notes that porcupines are diggers and that their burrows tend to have multiple entrances and holes for escaping (p. 484). Porcupine meets all the criteria and does it well. Still, it’s probably only a matter of time before someone writes another article arguing for Badger or Fox. So keep your eyes peeled.

Phew, right…those are the options for you to pick and choose from (or suggest more!). But I personally think the solution isn’t as significant as the fact that THIS POEM FREAKING ROCKS! So much action. So much heart-break. A rousing battle and a change of fortunes. It’s an exciting, elegiac beauty of a poem. Do we really want to spend all our time squabbling about which animal this is, or should be maybe focus on the fact that the poem makes us identify so strongly with her?

That reminds me…other things I should mention: gender! Did you realize that this animal is a female one? I’m not just saying that because there are chilluns involved, and female animals tend to spend more time with their young than males. In addition to this, line 7a includes a dead giveaway in the form of grammar (wonderful, wonderful grammar!). In case we aren’t all obsessed with grammar, a quick lesson: Old English nouns have grammatical genders. They are either masculine, feminine or neuter. This does not have to relate to “natural” gender – the classic example is that wif, which means woman, is neuter. Sorry, ladies. Anywho, adjectives change their endings based on whether they’re referring to a masculine, feminine or neuter word. So when line 7a includes the feminine form of the adjective onhæle (hidden), this is kinda important. Given that all of the proposed solutions to this riddle are likely masculine nouns except for the weasel, it’s likely that the adjective is referring to the animal’s natural, rather than grammatical, gender. Which means we have a badass lady-warrior going to town on the enemy trying to break into her house. Eat your heart out, Eowyn.

Okay, I should stop writing now. I have lots more I could say…heck, I haven’t even mentioned style (rhyme! envelope patterns! weird compounds!). But in the interests of rewarding those of you who’ve gotten to the end of this – admittedly rather long – commentary, here’s a little quote from Edward B. Irving, Jr.’s discussion of the heroic world of the riddles: “Of course this riddle is not about an animal – how could it be? – but about people driven to act like animals and about how that would feel: women (and men) attacked mercilessly in their houses, hiding in forests or bogs, dragging children, their hands clapped over screaming mouths, out of the way of some marauder. It may not be action at the high and significant heroic level, but the riddler knows it is important action, to be viewed with empathy and respect. It is fighting any way we can for the survival of those we love” (p. 204). I’m inclined to read the poem’s human/animal balancing act in a slightly more nuanced way…but I still think this quotation is a poignant one.

 

[Editorial update: I recently published a note on this riddle, which hopefully doesn’t disagree with this post too, too much (like all academics, I do like to change my mind from time to time)! Email me if you’d like an electronic copy, but don’t have access to the journal: Cavell, Megan. “The Igil and Exeter Book Riddle 15.” Notes and Queries, vol. 64, issue 2 (2017): 206-10]

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading

Bitterli, Dieter. “Exeter Book Riddle 15: Some Points for the Porcupine.” Anglia, vol. 120 (2002), pages 461-87. (postprint available on the University of Zurich’s Open Repository and Archive)

Irving, Edward B. “Heroic Experience in the Old English Riddles.” In Old English Shorter Poems: Basic Readings. Edited by Katherine O’Brian O’Keeffe. New York: Garland, 1994, pages 199-212.

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

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

Young, Jean I. “Riddle 15 of the Exeter Book.” Review of English Studies, vol. 20 (1944), pages 304-6.

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 15 

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Exeter Riddle 15

Exeter Riddle 16

MATTHIASAMMON

Date: Thu 21 Nov 2013
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 16
Original text:

Oft ic sceal wiþ wæge winnan      ond wiþ winde feohtan
somod wið þam sæcce,      þonne ic secan gewite
eorþan yþum þeaht;      me biþ se eþel fremde.
Ic beom strong þæs gewinnes,      gif ic stille weorþe;
5     gif me þæs tosæleð,      hi beoð swiþran þonne ic
ond mec slitende      sona flymað,
willað oþfergan      þæt ic friþian sceal.
Ic him þæt forstonde,      gif min steort þolað
ond mec stiþne wiþ      stanas moton
10     fæste gehabban.      Frige hwæt ic hatte.

Translation:

Often I must struggle against the waves, and fight against the wind,
war against them both together, then I endeavour to seek out
the ground covered by waves; the land is alien to me.
I am strong in that fight, if I become still;
5     if it should go wrong for me, they will be stronger than I,
and, ripping, will straightaway put me to flight,
they want to ferry away what I am meant to protect.
I prevent them from that, if my end endures
and stones are able to keep me fixed
10     resolutely fast. Figure out what I am called.

Click to show riddle solution?
Anchor


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 104v-105r 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 188-9.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 14: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 77.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 16 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 16

MATTHIASAMMON

Date: Tue 24 Dec 2013
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 16

Happily (or boringly, you decide), this is one of the few riddles for which there is little to no argument about the solution. Ever since Franz Dietrich proposed "anchor" in the 19th century, people have looked at it, nodded appreciatively and moved on. So, what can we say about it? Well, first of all, it’s (presumably) based on a Latin riddle by a chap called Symphosius (whose name literally means "party-er" – which is not only cool in and of itself but may also give us a hint about when riddles might have been performed), though the Old English riddler expands on the original. So, for example, the anchor (an inanimate object) speaks of itself as if it were a living creature – it has a steort (which I have translated as"‘end" but can also mean "tail") and, as Dieter Bitterli puts it, strives against wind water like a restless exile or a wild beast (page 101). The paradox is that despite these struggles it remains stiff and still, a description that tells us that it’s probably not an actual living thing.

Anchor

A reconstruction of an early medieval anchor from Poland from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 4.0).

But let’s look a bit more carefully at this riddle. Like a lot of Old English riddles, this one can be read on two levels – on the one hand we have the literal solution of "anchor," an everyday object, but on the other we can again draw comparisons with the character of the exile in Old English poetry (such as in The Wanderer, which we have already referred to in Riddle 4). The exile has been cast out of his homeland which has become alien to him (compare line 4 – eþel usually specifically means "homeland"). He yearns for stability in his life because the transience and constant movement of his restless earthly existence seem horrible to him. What he wants is a place of security, something fixed and unchanging – which he can ultimately only find with God in the afterlife. But like the anchor striving against the elements, he needs to resist the pulls of worldly possessions and enjoyments because they want to "ferry away what he is meant to protect," i.e. his soul and spirit. He needs to find a place where he can be still and fastened to something, otherwise the "bad things" will be stronger than him and overcome him. In this way, what looks like a fairly straightforward riddle about an object that would have been familiar to many early medieval folks becomes a metaphorical description of the trials of an individual soul, anchored in faith.

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.

Jember, Gregory K. “Literal and Metaphorical: Clues to Reading the Old English Riddles.” Studies in English Literature (Tokyo), vol. 65 (1988), pages 47-56.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 16 

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Exeter Riddle 16

Exeter Riddle 17

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 24 Dec 2013
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 17

This week’s translation is a guest post from Wendy Hennequin. Wendy is an Associate Professor at Tennessee State University where she is currently researching the connection between Grendel’s mother and Beowulf’s kings, as well as the comitatus bond in contemporary literature. We’re posting her translation and commentary back-to-back because the commentary discusses issues of translation and so is best read alongside the poem.



Original text:

Ic eom mundbora      minre heorde,
eodorwirum fæst,      innan gefylled
dryhtgestreona.      Dægtidum oft
spæte sperebrogan;      sped biþ þy mare
5     fylle minre.      Frea þæt bihealdeð,
hu me of hrife fleogað      hyldepilas.
Hwilum ic sweartum      swelgan onginne
brunum beadowæpnum,      bitrum ordum,
eglum attorsperum.      Is min innað til,
10     wombhord wlitig,      wloncum deore;
men gemunan      þæt me þurh muþ fareð.

Translation:

I am herd-protector,      hand-ruler of the flock,
fast in wire-fences,      and filled inside
with army-treasures.      Often, in daytime,
I spit spear-terror.      My success is greater,
5     luck-might, with fullness.      The lord sees how
battle-arrows      from my belly fly.
Sometimes, I begin      to swallow dark
brown battle-arms,      bitter spear-points,
painful poison-spears.      Precious to the proud
10     is my bright womb-hoard,      wonderful stomach.
People remember      what passes through my mouth.

Click to show riddle solution?
Ballista, Fortress, Quiver, Bee-skep, etc


Notes:

Here are some notes on my translation.

  • Line 1. I have rendered mundbora twice in this line, though it appears only once in the original text. Clark Hall glosses mundbora as “protector” (242), though it literally breaks down to “hand-ruler.” I have used the second half-line, translated literally as “of my flock,” to make a kenning in the first half-line and preserve the line’s alliteration.
  • Line 5a: This half-line translates literally as “with my fullness,” which doesn’t have enough stresses to complete a half-line. I have added, “luck-might,” as a variation of sped in the previous half-line, to fill out 5a.
  • Line 9a: “Painful poison-spears” is a literal translation; as a poet, I would have preferred the stronger meter of “Poison pain-spears.”
  • Lines 9b-10b: I have rearranged these three half-lines for grammatical sense and alliteration. I have taken a slight liberty with the meaning of the word til, “good, apt, suitable, useful, profitable: excellent: brave: astounding,” by rendering it “wonderful” (Clark Hall 341).

This riddle appears on folio 105r 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 189.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 15: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 77-8.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 17 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 17

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 24 Dec 2013
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 17

This post once again comes from Wendy Hennequin:

Translation is a tricky business at its best. Lines 4b-5a, for instance, has a grammatical structure that we rarely use in Modern English, and its first word, sped, has multiple and varied meanings.  Which one of these meanings should I choose? How should I render that grammatical structure?  Riddles add another layer to the problems, as riddles often play on multiple meanings, sounds, and puns. The word fylle, “fullness,” in line 5a, may be a pun on fiell, also spelled fyll, “destruction, death, fall.” How do I translate a pun which doesn’t exist anymore?

To make matters more difficult for myself, I like to render my Modern English translations into the correct Old English poetic form, as much as is possible without losing meaning. Meaning must be the ultimate priority, since a translation is useless if it doesn’t tell the reader, as far as is possible, what a text says.

But it is also good to preserve the poetry, to give the reader an idea of the sound and feel of the original text. I therefore try to put the text into the correct Old English meter and adhere to the rules of Old English alliteration. I use Sievers’ types for the meter (Sievers’ types, named for the scholar who codified them, are the five patterns of stress in Old English half-lines. You can read about them here), though I don’t try to match the meter of the original half-line with the meter of the translation. It is often impossible to match the original metrical type and preserve the meaning, though sometimes it does happen.

Sometimes, it is not possible to translate meaning and render proper meter and alliteration. In those cases, I preserve meaning but relax the poetry. Generally, it is possible to keep the meter if I let the alliteration go. But in some cases, I am able to rescue both meter and alliteration by using the Old English poetic technique of variation. Line 1b in Riddle 17, when translated literally into Modern English, doesn’t have enough syllables to make a half-line: “I am protector of my flock.”  In cases like these, I often use an alternate meaning for a word already in the line: mundbora, “protector,” is literally “hand-ruler.” By putting both meanings in the line—in other words, repeating mundbora as a variation of itself—I can render the poetry without adding or losing meaning, though it does regrettably add emphasis.

Even in the best of times, my Modern English translations are not as poetic as the originals. Modern English grammar sometimes makes for clumsy Old English poetry, as it does in lines 4a and 9a of my translation. And Modern English syntax often necessitates moving words from one line to another, and even moving entire half-lines, in order to make grammatical sense.

Perhaps my translations are not the best or most accurate, nor even the most poetic. But I hope to preserve the meaning of the poem and give at least a good idea of what Old English poetry sounds like.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Clark Hall, J. R. A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary. 4th ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1960.

Osborn, Marijane. “‘Skep’ (Beinenkorb, *beoleap) as a Culture-Specific Solution to Exeter Book Riddle 17.” ANQ, vol. 18 (2005), pages 7-18.

Sorrell, Paul. “A Bee in My Bonnet: Solving Riddle 17 of the Exeter Book.” In New Windows on a Woman’s World: Essays for Jocelyn Harris. Edited by Colin Gibson and Lisa Marr. Dunedin, NZ: University of Otago Press, 2005, pages 544-53.

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

Note that this post and the related translation were edited and restructured for clarity on 15 January 2021.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  riddle 17  translation style  wendy hennequin 

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Exeter Riddle 17

Exeter Riddle 18

MATTHIASAMMON

Date: Mon 06 Jan 2014
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 18
Original text:

Ic eom wunderlicu wiht;      ne mæg word sprecan,
mældan for monnum,      þeah ic muþ hæbbe,
wide wombe
Ic wæs on ceole      ond mines cnosles ma.

Translation:

I am a strange creature, I cannot speak words,
nor talk with men, although I have a mouth,
and a broad belly.
I was on a boat with more of my kin.

Click to show riddle solution?
Jug, Amphora, Cask, Leather bottle, Inkhorn, Phallus


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 105r 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 189.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 16: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 78.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 18 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 85
Exeter Riddle 19
Exeter Riddles 79 and 80

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 18

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 30 Jan 2014
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 18

I know, guys, you’re dying to hear more about this riddle. But word on the street is: it’s kinda short. And so shall you be, commentary. So shall you be.

Solution-wise, most of the options are pretty similar: Jug, Amphora, Cask or Leather Bottle…so, an object for carrying/storing liquid (the Old English word for this sort of vessel is crog). Riddle-editor Craig Williamson points out that there’s archaeological evidence for the transportation of liquids in pottery vessels, although he notes that leather bottles were less likely to be used for shipping (think of the mess!) (p. 184). He also points out that there’s no evidence for wooden casks until after the Norman Conquest…but, then, wood does break down fairly quickly.

Pottery jug

An early-5th-to-middle-7th-century pottery jug, © Trustees of the British Museum (licence: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

The Inkhorn option also involves liquid, so you can see the relation. Note, however, that this solution doesn’t really account for the ship at the end of the poem. I also personally doubt this one, seeing as the speaker specifically says that it can’t speak, and writing implements in the riddles often riff on the fact that they have the ability to communicate. And finally, WHO keeps suggesting Phallus? Seriously, someone has suggested this for nearly every riddle. Stop acting like school children, riddle-scholars of the past. And get it together.

British Museum jug

10th-century Spouted Jug, © Trustees of the British Museum (licence: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

Now, things to note: having human-ish body parts but not being able to speak is very common in the riddles. This particular object has a muþ (mouth), which is why I like the Jug- (or Amphora-) reading of the poem. It also has a womb/wamb (belly). This is a very riddley word as far as Old English poetry is concerned. Of the fourteen poetic instances only two are outside of the riddles: Riddles 3, 17, 18, 36, 37, 62, 81, 86, 87, 88, 89, 93, The Phoenix (line 307a) and An Exhortation to Christian Living (line 41b). It also comes up in prose quite a bit. Slight support for the Cask-reading comes in the form of Aldhelm’s Anglo-Latin Enigma 78, Cupa Vinaria (wine-cask), lines 5-7 of which describe the object’s swollen body and innards.

Bayeux Tapestry men carrying arms and wagon with cask

A scene from the Bayeux Tapestry of men carrying arms and a cask on a wagon, excerpted from an image on Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Another thing to note: self-identified “wonderful creatures” (braggarts) are also pretty common in Old English riddles. In fact, we find the formulaic half-line Ic eom wunderlicu wiht (I am a wonderful creature) applied to riddle-subjects four times: here and in Riddles 20, 24 and 25. Similarly, the half-line Ic wiht geseah wundorlice (I saw a wonderful creature) is repeated at the beginning of Riddles 29 and 87 (here, wiht actually appears at the end of the half-line), while wundorlic is dropped into various other phrases in Riddles 29, 31 and 88. I can’t remember how much I’ve talked about Old English “formulas” in previous posts, but you should certainly get used to seeing these repeated phrases cropping up in multiple contexts (outside of the riddles, as well). This is pretty essential to Old English poetics (and I can recommend some great formulaic theory readings for our hardcore readers).

Another-another thing to note: this riddle appears to have a missing half-line. Did the poet just get bored and lose the will to live? Is this some sort of crazy otherwise-unheard-of metrical pattern or device? Notice that lines 1 and 3 both alliterate on “w,” so there’s potential linking going on here. It seems likely, though, that the scribe writing this poem down lost track of a half-line. There is some damage to the manuscript (blotting), but it appears to affect the following line more than this one. At least, Williamson doesn’t attribute the gap to damage, saying only: “Though single half-lines are known to exist in Old English poetry […], the sense of the riddle seems to demand something more here” (p. 185).

Finally, I should nod to the comments about the final line in this riddle’s translation post. Although the reference to ceol (boat) works nicely if this object is imagined as being transported by ship (along with its great-big-happy-family of other jugs/amphorae/casks), commenter-Conan pointed out the easy mix-up that might occur with a similar word: ceole (throat). The grammar certainly seems to point to the first and we should note that these words likely sounded a bit different because ceol has a long diphthong and ceole a short one. But still, given that we’re looking at a situation that involves drinking (and therefore throats), I find that mix-up rather charming. But maybe it’s just that I’m thirsty…

Good-bye for now, readers. I think there’s an amphora at my local pub that’s calling my name.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Glorie, F., ed. Variae Collectiones Aenigmatum Merovingicae Aetatis. Corpus Christianorum Series Latina, vol. 133-133A. Turnhout: Brepols, 1968 [you’ll find an edition and translation of Aldhelm’s Latin enigmata in here].

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 18 

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Exeter Riddle 18

Exeter Riddle 19

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 24 Feb 2014
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 19

We have a slight complication this week, folks: RUNES! Runes are great, but they can be a bit of a technological nightmare, so bear with me. If you can’t see the runes in the Old English riddle below, scroll down to the bottom of this post where you'll find a screenshot. Not ideal, I know, but this way everyone should get to revel in the glory of runes. Aaaaaaaaand, go!



Original text:

Ic on siþe seah      . ᛋ ᚱ ᚩ
ᚻ . hygewloncne,      heafodbeortne,
swiftne ofer sælwong      swiþe þrægan.
Hæfde him on hrycge      hildeþryþe
5     . ᚾ ᚩ ᛗ .      nægledne rad
. ᚪ ᚷ ᛖ ᚹ.      Widlast ferede
rynestrong on rade      rofne . ᚳ ᚩ
ᚠᚩ ᚪ ᚻ .      For wæs þy beorhtre,
swylcra siþfæt.      Saga hwæt ic hatte.

Translation:

I saw on a journey a mind-proud,
bright-headed S R O H,
the swift one running quickly over the prosperous plain.
It had on its back a battle-power,
5     the N O M rode the nailed one
A G E W. The far-stretching track conveyed,
strong in movement on the road, a valiant C O
F O A H. The journey was all the brighter,
the expedition of such ones. Say what I am called.

Click to show riddle solution?
Ship, Falconry/Horseman and hawk [sometimes with wagon/servant] and Writing


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 105r 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 189-90.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 17: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 78.

Screen shot for the runes:
Riddle 19 with runes

Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 19 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 19
Exeter Riddle 24
Exeter Riddle 58

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 19

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Fri 24 Jan 2014
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 19

Warning: a LOT of ink has been spilled on this bad boy. I’ll try to sum it up as best I can, but if you’re interested in this riddle in particular, you really ought to follow up with the suggested reading below, which should provide you with a fuller scholarly back-story. Why so popular, you might ask? Well…that’s easy…RUNES! And horses and hawks and all the other lovely things that spring to mind when we think of early medieval England. Here, have a picture of a horse. Because I can.

Horse looking at camera

Well, that’s a very nice horse, you might say, but where, oh where, is the horse in this poem? Of course, it’s the runes that hold the key. The four groups of runes spell out words in reverse. If you flip the first, ᛋ ᚱ ᚩ ᚻ (SROH), you get hors (horse). Similarly, the second, ᚾ ᚩ ᛗ (NOM) spells mon (man) and the fourth, ᚳ ᚩ ᚠ ᚩ ᚪ ᚻ (C O F O A H), haofoc (hawk). These largely equate with the closely-related Riddle 64’s runic horse/man/hawk. You may be wondering why I’ve skipped the third, ᚪ ᚷ ᛖ ᚹ (A G E W), and that is of course because people fight about it a lot. We’re talking mega scholarly bloodbath when it comes to interpreting wega. Okay, maybe it’s not quite that dramatic, but there are certainly a few options to pick from. One is that it is a variant spelling of wiga (warrior), which would mean we have two people in the runes (or perhaps poetic variation). Another option is a form of wægn (wagon), but that’s a bit of a stretch. Better options include a plural form of weg (way/path) or weg with a long e (wave). What we have, then, is a man with a hawk travelling on a horse over some paths or waves. Sounds like a nice little holiday.

Of course, when it comes to solutions, some people stop right there. Donald K. Fry’s list of proposed riddle solutions (at p. 23) points to quite a few scholars who feel that decoding the runes leads directly to the solution, which they take to be Falconry, Hunting or even just a Horseman and Hawk (sometimes wega is interpreted as another person leading to a warrior/servant reading and sometimes these creatures are assumed to be accompanied by a wagon, as mentioned above). Here, have a drawing of what this group might look like. Because I can.

Line drawing

But this all seems a little obvious. And we know that early medieval riddlers are really quite clever, which is why some people push this poem a little further. Metaphorical interpretations of the riddle include Norman E. Eliason’s: Writing. According to Eliason, the swiftly travelling group represents the fingers and pen tip, as well as the hand (with a pun on nægledne (nailed) pointing to finger-nails) and the pen’s plume, which together leave tracks of ink on the page. I get the plume/hawk equation, but I must admit I’m a bit stumped as to how the fingers, pen tip and hand represent a horse and man. I guess it would look something like this:

Line drawing

Now you understand why I’ve gotten into cartooning…you try finding a ready-made picture of this craziness!

But there’s another metaphorical reading available to us, and it works better for many reasons. This is of course: Ship. Craig Williamson suggested this solution in his edition of the riddles and developed it in his later translation (pp. 186-92 and 173, respectively). The key, he claims, lies in the common Old English kenning that associates the ship with a sea-horse. This explains why it is nailed and works nicely with the reading of wega as “ways” or “waves” (although Williamson takes it as a “man” word). If the horse is a ship, then the hawk is its sail and the man its sailor. Not convinced yet? You soon will be. Indeed, Mark Griffith developed this solution by pointing out a nifty linguistic feature. Questioning why the runes are written in reverse, Griffith demonstrates that the first rune of each cluster (or final letter of each word) together spells SNAC. Rather than a tasty treat, an Old English snac(c) refers to a swiftly sailing war-ship. Oh snap. This is why it is so, so, so, so, so, so important to solve the riddles in their original language and not just using Modern English words/concepts.

Riddle 19 Oseberg Ship

The Oseberg ship in Oslo, Norway. Photo (by Grzegorz Wysocki) from the Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY 3.0).

So, those are our solutions. But of course we’re not done yet. We still have to talk quickly about emendations (or changes made to the manuscript reading by its editors). First of all, you should note that on siþe (on a journey) doesn’t actually appear in the manuscript. Editors have added it in to lengthen out the first half-line and preserve the poem’s metrics. A less major change is to the beginning of line 3, which actually reads swist ne, not swiftne. But even scribes make mistakes, so modern editors occasionally have to reinterpret bits like this to make sense of them. We run into trouble, though, when editors read errors where there are none and emend in ways that change the poem’s interpretation. This is what Jonathan Wilcox argues Craig Williamson has done in his edition. Williamson changes the final half-line from Saga hwæt ic hatte (Say what I am called) to Saga hwæt hit hatte (Say what it is called). This is an attempt to make the final question more logical – the poem isn’t written in the first person, so why would it ask a who-am-I question at the end? Surely, it should ask what all this hullabaloo the riddler has just described indicates instead. Well, Wilcox argues that the complexity of the riddle, the concatenation of descriptive details and the use of runes are all intended to trick the solver and distract him or her from answering the simple question at the end: Who am I? To which we should respond: “You are the riddler! And who cares about all that other stuff!” This, Wilcox takes as a mock-riddle that parodies normal riddling conventions (at pp. 186-7). That’s “conventions” as in “practices” rather than “gatherings”…although a Comic-Con-style riddle convention would be worth seeing. Costume ideas, anyone?

Right, this post is already quite long, so I think I should start to wrap it up. But before I do, I feel I ought to at least allude to the wider discussion of runes and how they functioned in Old English. The question of runic pronunciation came up in the previous post’s comments, although unfortunately whether runes in Old English poetry were read out as letters, read out by their runic name or merely a written device that was never intended to be spoken is open for debate. What is clear is that – whatever their origins – they were often written or copied in a Christian context. To quote Robert DiNapoli’s rather eloquent conclusions about runic use in Old English: “The runes, for Anglo-Saxon poets at least, are ambiguity incarnate. However much assimilated to scribal and authorial practice in a monastic setting, their angular forms continue to point to their origins outside the cloister and outside the grand edifice of Christian literacy erected in Anglo-Saxon England by the Church. With only vague and scant knowledge of what the runes may have meant to their pagan forebears in the poetic craft, the poets who use them in surviving texts make them very much their own, emblems of an ancient and venerable verbal art whose authority they continued to honour alongside that of the institutional authorities of Scripture and the Church Fathers” (p. 161). How wonderfully syncretistic.

I’ll leave you on that note. I need to go pursue my newfound (and promising, no doubt) career in obscure cartooning.

Riddle 19 Runic Sign Off

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, esp. pages 86-91.

DiNapoli, Robert. “Odd Characters: Runes in Old English Poetry.” In Verbal Encounters: Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse Studies for Roberta Frank. Edited by Antonina Harbus and Russell Poole. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005, pages 145-61.

Eliason, Norman E. “Four Old English Cryptographic Riddles.” Studies in Philology, vol. 49 (1952), pages 553-65.

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

Griffith, Mark. “Riddle 19 of the Exeter Book: SNAC, an Old English Acronym.” Notes and Queries, new series, vol. 237 (1992), pages 15-16.

Wilcox, Jonathan. “Mock-riddles in Old English: Exeter Riddles 86 and 19.” Studies in Philology, vol. 93 (1996), pages 180-7.

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

Williamson, Craig, trans. A Feast of Creatures: Anglo-Saxon Riddle-Songs. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 19 

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Exeter Riddle 19

Exeter Riddle 20

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 25 Mar 2014
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 20
Original text:

Ic eom wunderlicu wiht,      on gewin sceapen,
frean minum leof,      fægre gegyrwed.
Byrne is min bleofag,      swylce beorht seomað
wir ymb þone wælgim      þe me waldend geaf,
5     se me widgalum      wisað hwilum
sylfum to sace.      Þonne ic sinc wege
þurh hlutterne dæg,      hondweorc smiþa,
gold ofer geardas.      Oft ic gæstberend
cwelle compwæpnum.      Cyning mec gyrweð
10     since ond seolfre      ond mec on sele weorþað;
ne wyrneð wordlofes,      wisan mæneð
mine for mengo,      þær hy meodu drincað,
healdeð mec on heaþore,      hwilum læteð eft
radwerigne      on gerum sceacan,
15     orlegfromne.      Oft ic oþrum scod
frecne æt his freonde;      fah eom ic wide,
wæpnum awyrged.      Ic me wenan ne þearf
þæt me bearn wræce      on bonan feore,
gif me gromra hwylc      guþe genægeð;
20     ne weorþeð sio mægburg      gemicledu
eaforan minum      þe ic æfter woc,
nymþe ic hlafordleas      hweorfan mote
from þam healdende      þe me hringas geaf.
Me bið forð witod,      gif ic frean hyre,
25     guþe fremme,      swa ic gien dyde
minum þeodne on þonc,      þæt ic þolian sceal
bearngestreona.      Ic wiþ bryde ne mot
hæmed habban,      ac me þæs hyhtplegan
geno wyrneð,      se mec geara on
30     bende legde;      forþon ic brucan sceal
on hagostealde      hæleþa gestreona.
Oft ic wirum dol      wife abelge,
wonie hyre willan;      heo me wom spreceð,
floceð hyre folmum,      firenaþ mec wordum,
35     ungod gæleð.      Ic ne gyme þæs compes…

Translation:

I am a marvelous creature, shaped for battle,
dear to my lord, beautifully clothed.
My mail-coat is particoloured, likewise bright wire
stands about the slaughter-gem that my ruler gave me,
5     he who sometimes directs me,
wandering widely, to battle. Then I carry treasure,
throughout the clear day, the handiwork of smiths,
gold in the courtyards. Often I kill
soul-bearers with battle-weapons. The king clothes me
10     with treasure and silver and honours me in the hall;
he does not withhold words of praise, proclaims my nature
to the company, where they drink mead,
he holds me in confinement, sometimes he allows me again,
travel-weary, to hasten unrestricted,
15     battle-bold. I often injured another,
fierce to a friend; I am widely hostile,
accursed among weapons. I do not need to expect
that a son should avenge me on the life of my killer
if a certain enemy should attack me in battle,
20     nor will the race into which I was born
become increased by my children
unless I may turn lord-less
from the protector who gave me rings.
Hence it is certain for me, if I obey my lord,
25     take part in battle, as I have already done
for my lord’s satisfaction, that I must forfeit
the wealth of descendants. I must not be intimate
with a bride, but he now denies me
that pleasant play, who earlier
30     laid bonds upon me; therefore I must enjoy
the treasure of warriors in celibacy.
Often I, foolish in wires, infuriate a woman,
frustrate her wish; she speaks terribly to me,
strikes me with her hands, reviles me with words,
cries unkindness. I do not care for that conflict…

Click to show riddle solution?
Sword, Falcon/Hawk, Phallus


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 105r-105v 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 190-1.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 18: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 78-80.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 20 

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Exeter Riddle 63
Exeter Riddle 73
Exeter Riddles 79 and 80

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 20

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 04 Mar 2014
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 20

This week’s riddle has layers. Not the sort of layers that an onion has (you’ll have to wait for those). But, still, layers. Also: controversy! Like so many of the riddles that offer multiple solutions and interpretations, this riddle has caused scholars to regress to childhood and offer an over-abundance of passive-aggressive digs at each other. I shall try to refrain from such behaviour myself…even though a chatty website is really the only format in which writing something like “stupid-face” is acceptable for an academic.

But actually, there is nothing stupid (or face-ish, for that matter) about the main solutions proposed for this particular riddle. In fact, they’re all so good that it can be quite difficult to pick a side. Let’s start with Falcon or Hawk. Here’s a particularly charming one:

Falcon

Photo (by Jjron/John O’Neill) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0).

Suggested by an early riddle-editor, this solution was fairly unpopular until Laurence K. Shook rehabilitated it in 1965. His article points out that taking into account a poetic compound word in another poem brings the Falcon solution into line with the more popular Sword solution. This compound is heoruswealwe, which means literally “sword-swallow” (as in the type of bird, rather than the throat action), and appears in the beautiful and at times depressing Fortunes of Men (full translation here). The relevant lines are usefully descriptive of the trained falcon’s relationship with its human captor and so worth quoting in full:

Sum sceal wildne fugel      wloncne atemian,
heafoc on honda,      oþþæt seo heoroswealwe
wynsum weorþeð;      deþ he wyrplas on,
fedeþ swa on feterum      fiþrum dealne,
lepeþ lyftswiftne      lytlum gieflum,
oþþæt se wælisca      wædum ond dædum
his ætgiefan      eaðmod weoþeð
ond to hagostealdes      honda gelæred. (85-92)

(One shall tame the proud, wild bird,
the hawk on the hand, so that the sword-swallow
becomes pleasant; he puts jesses on,
feeds thus in fetters the one proud in feathers,
gives the air-swift one little morsels,
until the alien creature becomes easy-minded
toward his food-giver in dress and deeds
and used to the young warrior’s hands.)

It’s also worth noticing that hagosteald, which refers to a celibate young man who lives in the household of his lord (so likely a warrior/retainer) or to the state of being such a man, appears in both this passage and in Riddle 20 (at line 31a).

In general, then, a close reading of the riddle-as-Falcon would go something like this: all the references to clothing, wires and treasure refer to the jesses and varvels (cords and rings) that are attached to the bird’s legs/feet. These are the poetic trappings of the warrior bird whose battle is the hunt, yet they also hold it in confinement and so provide an ironic context of forced servitude. Likewise, the colourful byrne (mail-coat) mentioned in line 3a is the bird’s plumage. If you’re unconvinced of this detail, take a look at lines 305-6 of The Phoenix, in which that creature’s feathers are described using jewel/armour diction (esp. rings: hring/beag and interlocking construction: brogden). The compwæpna (battle-weapons) of line 9a are of course the beak and talons, but far more elusive is the wælgim (slaughter-gem) of line 4a. Your guess is as good as mine on this one. It could be a general adornment-term and so connote weaponry. Or it could refer to the bird’s eyes, gimm being elsewhere connected to the orbs of the sun and the head (see the Dictionary of Old English, senses 2.-3. The “eyes” reference is from Guthlac B, line 1302a).

As for line 5a’s reference to the riddle-subject “wandering widely” (similarly line 14a’s travel-weariness), Shook argues that this better fits a living creature than a weapon. That being said, the broad strokes of a sword could be described in this way. Generally accepted as more in line with falcons than swords is the description of the riddle-subject’s inability to procreate in lines 17b-31a. Shook explains that this passage relates to the tendency not to allow the captive birds to mate. The only way these hawks can have widdle baby birds is to abandon their lord. This is what separates avian retainers from human ones (although also see Tanke’s article for more on the sexual restraints of young warriors).

Finally, the much-debated last four lines of the riddle (before it trails off due to the loss of at least one manuscript leaf) deserve attention. Why are they much-debated? Because they refer to a woman. As you may have inferred from previous riddles and from other texts, Old English poetry tends to shy away from lady-folks in a rather annoying way. So when a clear reference to a woman does come up, medievalists get excited. The fact that this particular woman seems to have been upset by the riddle-solution has led to a great array of speculations, which I’ll briefly deal with below in relation to the Sword reading. Shook’s interpretation, though, is lovely. He links this female figure to the falcon-subject itself, noting both that more than one bird would often be placed on the same perch and that captive birds are given to “bating” or the occasional beating of their wings as though about to take off. All this flapping about and squawking may well appear to the casual onlooker as a confrontation between the mixed company of male and female falcons.

Shook’s interpretation is supported by Marie Nelson, who reads a combination of bird, warrior and monk connotations in the riddle’s approach to sexuality and by Eric G. Stanley in his treatment of the riddles’ heroic content (at pp. 207-8). In general, the Falcon/Hawk solution has a lot going for it, not least the fact that the verb galan (to sing/call), which is invoked in relation to the woman at the end of the poem, carries specific connotations of birdsong in lines 20b-3 of The Husband’s Message and lines 52b-3a of Elene (see the Dictionary of Old English entry for galan, sense B.). If you want to learn more about falconry, there are plenty of resources in print (see Oggins, for example) and online. Here’s a video of a rescued peregrine falcon and its trainer to start you off:


Right, that’s an awful lot of material about falcons. Sorry about that…it’s just that they’re  really cool. Also cool is the other solution-contender for Riddle 20: the sword! The Sword-reading is the more popular solution amongst scholars, and there’s a slew of research that aims to work out the ins and outs of this interpretation. The gist of it is as follows. The various references to treasure, clothing and the hondweorc smiþa (handiwork of smiths) are obvious here: the sword is made of metal and is itself a treasure with adornments on the hilt and sheath. The courtly context (praise! mead! battle!) is also pretty run-of-the-mill if we’re talking about a sword, since it is the heroic accoutrement par excellence. The confinement references relate to the sheathing of the weapon or perhaps to the tying of it onto the belt, and it is of course here that the voice of the weapon-as-a-retainer becomes ironic: it’s not generally advisable to tie up your followers…unless they’re actually weapons.

rusted sword

The Sutton Hoo Sword © Trustees of the British Museum (licence: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

As for the procreation bit, well this is where things get a bit dicey. If we stick with Sword, then H. R. E. Davidson would have us believe this passage may refer to the re-forging of old swords (pp. 152-4). There’s certainly a pun on the use of streona, which can mean both literal treasures and those metaphorical little treasures some people call children. But if we’re really honest with ourselves, the procreation passage is where the Sword reading breaks down. And this is where the third suggestion comes in: Phallus. Obviously, I’m not going to include a picture, but I will just leave this little link to the Icelandic Phallological Museum right here (it’s a museum. So it’s legit). Anyway, the scholar who most ardently argued for the Phallus-reading was Donald Kay (too bad his name wasn’t Richard or William…I would have had a world of puns to work with). Kay was all like “don’t you think Sword is…well…a bit obvious?” (not a direct quote!), and certainly given the reference to offspring, the poem seems to offer a way into his reading.

The way in, though, seems to be through a metaphorical relationship between the sword and a man. In fact, John D. Niles indicates that this sword/man imagery-play actually derives from an Old English play on the word wæpen, literally “weapon,” but also occasionally used in compounds referring to men as wæpnedmen (weaponed-humans) (p. 141). But this sword is not a human or a body part and therefore will never procreate. It’s sad.

As for the woman at the end of the poem, scholars go a bit off the rails with speculation here, given the lack of textual evidence. Some suggest that the woman is angry because the celibate sword has denied her desire (obviously, this works better with a sword-phallus metaphor), or that the reference is to a sexual crime (because wom can mean “shame” or “defilement”). I don’t think either of these readings really stands up to scrutiny. Better is Melanie Heyworth’s suggestion that “the sword is self-condemnatory because he has diminished the wife’s joy – her marriage – presumably by killing her husband” (p. 176). And best is Patrick J. Murphy summary of the poem’s conclusion: “The rage of the woman in Riddle 20 could be explained by any number of unfortunate incidents: swords can slaughter enemies and friends, husbands and wives, children as well as kings. Perhaps the sword has slaughtered the hawk? The riddling point, however, is simply that one kind of wæpen causes pleasure, another causes pain. One can be conventionally desired, the other painfully reviled. Whatever its imagined literal cause, the displeasure the woman takes in the solution (a sword) is described in terms that echo the pleasures of the riddle’s phallic focus” (p. 214).

And so we come to the end of another post. I’ll leave you with one final tidbit. Andy Orchard in his as-of-yet-unpublished edition of the early English riddle tradition offers one last solution, or rather a synthesis of those discussed above. The Old English word secg can, usefully, be translated as both “sword” and “man.” This would seem to put the matter to rest when it comes to sorting out the complicated sword/phallus/procreation/infuriated-woman details. But I’m afraid you still have to choose between secg and heoruswealwe. I’ll leave that to you.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Davidson, Hilda Roderick Ellis. The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England: its Archaeology and Literature. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962.

Heyworth, Melanie. “Perceptions of Marriage in Exeter Book Riddles 20 and 61.” Studia Neophilologica, vol. 79 (2007), pages 171-84.

Kay, Donald. “Riddle 20: A Reevaluation.” Tennessee Studies in Literature, vol. 13 (1968), pages 133-9.

Murphy, Patrick J. Unriddling the Exeter Riddles. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011, pages 206-15.

Nelson, Marie. “Old English Riddle 18 (20): a Description of Ambivalence.” Neophilologus, vol. 66 (1982), pages 291-300.

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

Oggins, Robin S. The Kings and Their Hawks: Falconry in Medieval England. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.

Shook, Laurence K. “Old English Riddle No. 20: Heoruswealwe.” In Franciplegius: Medieval and Linguistic Studies in Honor of Francis Peabody Magoun, Jr. Edited by Jess B. Bessinger and Robert P. Creed. New York: New York University Press, 1965, pages 194-204.

Stanley, Eric G. “Heroic Aspects of the Exeter Book Riddles.” In Prosody and Poetics in the Early Middle Ages: Essays in Honour of C. B. Hieatt. Edited by M. J. Toswell. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995, pages 197-218.

Tanke, John W. “The Bachelor-Warrior of Exeter Book Riddle 20.” Philological Quarterly, vol. 79 (2000), pages 409-27.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 20 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 20

Exeter Riddle 21

MEGANCAVELL

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

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

Translation:

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

Click to show riddle solution?
Plough


Notes:

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

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

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



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

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 21

MEGANCAVELL

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

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

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

Riddle 21 Anglo-Saxon plough

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

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

Rusted coulter from several angles

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

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

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

Oxen grazing

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

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

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

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

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Editorial Note:

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



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

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Exeter Riddle 21

Exeter Riddle 22

MATTHIASAMMON

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

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

Translation:

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

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


Notes:

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

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

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



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

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 22

MEGANCAVELL

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

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

 

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

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

Punting on River Cam

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

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

Icelandic horse in snow

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

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

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

Big dipper

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

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

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

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

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

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

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

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

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

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



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

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Exeter Riddle 23

MEGANCAVELL

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

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

Translation:

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

Click to show riddle solution?
Bow


Notes:

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

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

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



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

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Exeter Riddle 40
Exeter Riddle 73

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 23

MEGANCAVELL

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

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

Scene from Bayeux Tapestry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riddle 23 Franks Casket Lid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

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

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

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

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

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



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

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Exeter Riddle 24

MEGANCAVELL

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

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



Original text:

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

Translation:

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

Click to show riddle solution?
Jay, Magpie, Woodpecker


Notes:

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

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

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

Screen shot for the runes:
Riddle 24 with runes

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

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Exeter Riddles 79 and 80

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 24

MEGANCAVELL

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

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

Goose and goslings

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Irish Wolfhound from side

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

 

There’s a bleaty goat:

Goats

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

 

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

There’s a yelly hawk:

Hawk and chicks

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

 

There’s an ashy eagle:

Golden eagle

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

 

There’s a vocal kite:

Milvus_migrans_2005-new

Kite in flight. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

 

And there’s a singy gull:

Gull on snow

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

 

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

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

Good luck with that.

Over and out.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

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

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

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



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

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Exeter Riddle 25

MEGANCAVELL

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

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

Translation:

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

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


Notes:

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

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

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



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

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 25

MEGANCAVELL

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

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

Phallus.

(I did warn you)

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

Uprooted red onions on ground

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

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

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

Uprooted leeks on table

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

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

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

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

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

Phallus.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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Exeter Riddle 26

MEGANCAVELL

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

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

Translation:

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

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


Notes:

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

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

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



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

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 26

MEGANCAVELL

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

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

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

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

Parchment being stretched on a racks

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

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

Illuminated manuscript

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

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

Manuscript open on cushion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

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

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

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



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

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