RIDDLE POSTS BY TAG: 'RIDDLES'

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 13

MATTHIASAMMON

Date: Tue 08 Oct 2013
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 13

Having moved into the realm of four-footed animals with Riddle 12, we now leave the oxen to plough his lone furrow and return – supposedly – to the realm of birds. That being said, we immediately encounter the riddle’s first paradox: both the first and last half line refer to the riddle object’s ability to walk or tread (tredan) on the ground (turf and lond). However, some of the motifs used in this riddle may be familiar by now: the feorg cwico (living spirit) mentioned in line 3 takes us back to Riddles 9, 10 and 12 and strongly suggests that we are dealing with an animal. The hrægl of line 9 recalls the swan’s feathers being described by the same term back in Riddle 7. And thus, the argument goes, we are dealing with a kind of bird. At the centre of the riddle is again the transformation that this creature undergoes, when it is awoken through God’s might and gains its living spirit. However, the riddler wants us to puzzle over a more serious paradox: what kind of creature lives, walks and eats even though its skin is hanging on the wall? And who are the six brothers and four sisters of the first two lines?

Early solutions to this riddle focused on the transformation aspect and suggested, for example, a caterpillar which metamorphoses into a butterfly. But I’m sure you’ll agree that this does not really cover all the clues the riddle gives us. A more metaphorical solution was that of ten fingers in a glove (which accounts for the numerological clue and gloves were made out of a fell or skin, but the second part of the riddle doesn’t really fit the metaphor). It was the German scholar Moritz Trautmann who first hit upon the solution of "chick" or "chicken." This quickly gained general acceptance as it matches something we know from the real world: in this reading, the "skin on the wall" is the membrane on the inside of the egg that a newly-hatched chick leaves behind, its "renewed" garment is its new down. Furthermore, the idea of the chick shedding its skin as its distinctive aspect seems to have been part of a wider riddle tradition. There are several Latin riddles that play on this phenomenon; in fact most of them are boiled down (the pun is courtesy of Martha Bayless, who edited one of these Latin riddles) to a couple of lines or so but they all mention the shedding of the skin. On the other hand, one of our readers, Linden Currie, suggests that the "skin hanging on the wall" may in fact refer to the caul of a new-born calf which was used in early medieval Iceland to cover the window-holes in houses when stretched over a frame and made translucent to let light in. Might we not imagine something similar for early medieval England? Such an object, Linden argues, could easily be described as sweotol in the sense of "transparent" as well as "visible" (gesyne). And would the description of something "treading the ground" not fit a calf better than a chicken? Such a solution would also yoke (or yolk?) this riddle to its predecessor.*

At any rate, I hear you cry, what of the six brothers and four sisters? Back in 1950, Erika von Erhardt-Siebold hit on an ingenious solution to this part: she suggested that the answer to the riddle in Old English is ten ciccenu or "ten chickens." Now count the number of consonants and vowels in this phrase and what do you get? Six…and four! Brilliant! Only…the word ciccenu doesn’t really exist in Old English, at least in the texts we have. The standard Old English (or West Saxon) version of this word would be cicenu which ruins our nice solution (and it should really be tien, but we won’t mention that). But we can’t rule out that this is a possible Northern spelling, and nobody has really come up with a better solution – the most recent commentators also accept it, though Patrick Murphy is slightly unhappy with the fact that the "ten" of the answer refers both to the number of chickens in the solution and to the letters in the "name" of the solution (though this is again not unknown in medieval riddle tradition in general).

Hen with 9 chicks

Ten chickens! What are the chances of finding a photo with the right number? Image from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 4.0).

Murphy has also pointed out that this riddle may evoke other associations: some creatures who lose their garments, are "awoken" by their creator and have to walk the earth and are forced to eat what they can get through their own toil? I hope you’ve realised this is of course the story of Adam and Eve being cast out of Eden. Murphy finds some parallels between the language of this riddle and Old English poetic versions of the Edenic story. Somebody who focuses on this allusive metaphorical reading might come up with the solution Adam ond Eue – and if we count the consonants and vowels there…I assume you can guess what the answer is. Murphy is not necessarily disputing the accepted solution but it is a reminder that it is worth keeping in mind that riddles can work on several levels.

By the way, despite all this work, there are some bits in the riddle that have so far defied solution, in particular the haswe blede of line 9. Both of these words have a range of meanings – if we look at the work of previous translators and commentators, the average meaning is something like "grey(ish) fruit," though nobody has been able to come up with a convincing explanation beyond "the stuff that new-born chicks eat" – which, like greyish fruit, is slightly unsatisfying. Any thoughts on this (and anything else) would be welcome in the comments!

Not wishing to overegg the pudding, I have chickened out of giving you the full arguments, but if you want to brood on it a bit more, here are some references you can follow up on:

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, pages 115-21.

Murphy, Patrick J. Unriddling the Exeter Riddles. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011, pages 53-60 and 91-95.

von Erhardt-Siebold, Erika. “Old English Riddle 13.” Modern Language Notes, vol. 65 (1950), pages 97-100.

Williamson, Craig, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1977, pages 168-70.

 

*If you want to know more details, Linden can be contacted under linden.currie(at)gmail.com.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 13 

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Exeter Riddle 13

Exeter Riddle 14

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 28 Oct 2013
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 14
Original text:

Ic wæs wæpenwiga.      Nu mec wlonc þeceð
geong hagostealdmon      golde ond sylfore,
woum wirbogum.      Hwilum weras cyssað,
hwilum ic to hilde      hleoþre bonne
5     wilgehleþan,      hwilum wycg byreþ
mec ofer mearce,      hwilum merehengest
fereð ofer flodas      frætwum beorhtne,
hwilum mægða sum      minne gefylleð
bosm beaghroden;      hwilum ic bordum sceal,
10     heard, heafodleas,      behlyþed licgan,
hwilum hongige      hyrstum frætwed,
wlitig on wage,      þær weras drincað,
freolic fyrdsceorp.      Hwilum folcwigan
on wicge wegað,      þonne ic winde sceal
15     sincfag swelgan      of sumes bosme;
hwilum ic gereordum      rincas laðige
wlonce to wine;      hwilum wraþum sceal
stefne minre      forstolen hreddan,
flyman feondsceaþan.      Frige hwæt ic hatte.

Translation:

I was an armed warrior. Now a bold
young retainer covers me with gold and silver,
twisted coils of wire. Sometimes men kiss me,
sometimes I call close comrades
5     to battle with my voice, sometimes a horse bears me
over the bounds, sometimes a sea-steed
draws me over the depths, brightly decorated,
sometimes one of the girls fills
my bosom, ring-adorned; sometimes I must lie
10     on boards, hard, headless, despoiled,
sometimes I hang decorated with ornaments,
appealing on the wall, where men drink,
comely army-attire. Sometimes battle-warriors
carry me on a horse, when I must swallow,
15     treasure-stained, breath from a certain one’s breast;
sometimes I proudly call with cries
warriors to their wine; sometimes I have to reclaim
stolen goods from enemies with my voice,
put to flight fiendish foes. Reveal what I am called.

Click to show riddle solution?
Horn


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 104r 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 187.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 12: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 75.



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

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Eusebius Riddle 14: De X littera

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Post alias reliquas augustus (1) me creat auctor.
Utor in alterius, nam non specialis imago
Concessa est mihi, cum pro denis sola videbor,
Unaque sum forma sed vim retinebo duarum.

Translation:

The venerable creator makes me after the others.
I am used in the place of something different, for no special idea
Is given to me, though I am seen on my own for ten,
And I am single in form but retain the power of two.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the letter “X”


Notes:

(1) There is scholarly debate over whether this may be the name of or an epithet for a Roman emperor. 



Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Tatwine Riddle 14: De caritate

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Wed 05 Jan 2022
Original text:

Haud tristis, gemino sub nexu vincula gesto.
Vincta resolvo ligata iterumque soluta ligabo.
Est mirum dictu ardent quod mea viscera flammis.
Nemo, tamen, sentit fera vinctus dampna cremandi:
Sed mulcent ea plus vinctum quam dulcia mella.

Translation:

Not sad, I bear fetters under a twin bond.
I free those bound and tied and in turn I will bind the free. 
It is miraculous to say how my insides burn with flames.
No one who is bound, however, feels the cruel injuries of burning: 
Rather, they appease the bound more than sweet honey.

Click to show riddle solution?
On charity


Tags: riddles  latin  Tatwine 

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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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 63

Eusebius Riddle 15: De igne et aqua

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Proelia nos gerimus cum iungimur ambo rebelles,
Sed tamen ut multis bene prosint bella peracta.
Non facie ad faciem conflictu belligeramur;
Murus inest medius ne statim corruat unus.

Translation:

Opposed, we enter battle when we are both joined,
Yet in such a way that the finished battles benefit many.
We do not fight face-to-face;
A wall is in the middle lest one fall down immediately.

Click to show riddle solution?
On fire and water


Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Tatwine Riddle 15: De nive, grandine, et glacie

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Wed 05 Jan 2022
Original text:

Aethereus ternas genitor nos iam peperit hoc
Sub miserae fato legis de matre sorores,
Invida namque patris cogit sors frangere fatum.
Una tamen spes est tali sub lege retentis:
Quod mox regalem matris remeamus in alvum.

Translation:

An ethereal father begot us three sisters now
From our mother under this fate of a wretched law,
For envious destiny forces father’s fate to diminish.
Held under such a law, there is nevertheless one hope:
That soon we may return to our mother’s royal womb.

Click to show riddle solution?
On snow, hail, and ice


Tags: riddles  latin  Tatwine 

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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Exeter Riddle 3
Exeter Riddle 20
Exeter Riddle 23

Eusebius Riddle 16: De flasca

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Me terrent proprii, quos vobis refero, mores.
Vinum, laetificans homines, non laeta bibebam,
Osque reducit de ventre quae suscipit ore.
Claudendi oris vel reserandi est vis mihi numquam.

Translation:

My own ways, which I announce to you, frighten me.
While I delight men, I tend not to be joyful drinking wine,
And my mouth leads out from my stomach what the stomach receives by mouth.
The power to close or open my mouth is never mine.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the flask


Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Tatwine Riddle 16: De praepositione utriusque casus

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Wed 05 Jan 2022
Original text:

Emerita gemina sortis sub lege tenemur,
Nam tollenti nos, stabiles, servire necesse est.
Causanti, contra, cursus comitamur eundo,
Sicque vicissim bis binae coniungimur ambis
Quippe sorores decreta stat legibus urna.

Translation:

We are held under tried-and-tested, two-fold law of fate,
For it is necessary that we, stationary, serve that which removes. 
Moving, on the contrary, we join that which advances a cause,
And thus we twice-two sisters are joined to both in turn;
Indeed, our decreed lot stands subject to these laws.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the preposition governing two cases


Tags: riddles  latin  Tatwine 

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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Exeter Riddle 23
Exeter Riddle 27
Exeter Riddle 60

Eusebius Riddle 17: De cruce

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Per me mors adquiritur et bona vita tenetur.
Me multi fugiunt, multique frequenter adorant,
Sumque timenda malis, non sum tamen horrida iustis,
Dampnavique virum: sic multos carcere solvi.

Translation:

Through me death is won and the good life reached.
Many flee me, and many frequently adore me,
And I am to be feared by the wicked, yet I am not frightful to the just,
And I condemned a man: thus I freed many from bondage.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the cross


Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Tatwine Riddle 17: De scyrra

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Wed 05 Jan 2022
Original text:

Celsicolae nascor foecunda matris in alvo,
Quae superas penitus sedes habitare solescit.
Sum petulans agilisque fera, insons, corporis astu.
Ardua, ceu pennis, convecta cacumina scando,
Veloci vitans passu discrimina Martis.

Translation:

I am born from the fecund womb of a mother who dwells on high,
Who tends to live inside the upper settlements.
I am an insolent and agile creature, innocent of bodily guile.
I climb, as if on wings, the lofty vaulted peaks,
Avoiding by speed in step the dangers of Mars.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the squirrel


Tags: riddles  latin  Tatwine 

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

Eusebius Riddle 18: De iniquitate et iustitia

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Tempore quo factae fuimus, pugnare solemus.
Querimus armatos post nosque venire rogamus,
Seque sequentibus una solet sub melle venenum
Largiri; altera dat sub tristi tegmine vinum.

Translation:

From the time we were made, we have been accustomed to fight.
We seek armed men and ask that they come after us,
And one makes a practice of bestowing poison under honey
Unto her followers; the other gives wine under bitter covering.

Click to show riddle solution?
On iniquity and justice


Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Tatwine Riddle 18: De oculis

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Wed 05 Jan 2022
Original text:

Discernens totum iuris, natura locavit
Nos pariter, geminos, una de matre creatos,
Divisi haud magno parvi discrimen collis,
Ut numquam vidi illum, nec me viderat ipse,
Sed cernit sine me nihil, illo nec sine cerno.

Translation:

Separating us completely by her laws, nature placed
Us, twins, created equally from one mother,
Divided by the not-at-all big division of a little hill,
So that I have never seen that one, nor has that one seen me,
But he sees nothing without me, nor do I see without him.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the eyes


Tags: riddles  latin  Tatwine 

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

Eusebius Riddle 19: De V littera

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Quinta vocor princeps vocum; est mihi trina potestas.
Nam nunc sola sonans loquor; aut nunc consono verbis;
Nunc medium pactum retinens nil dicor haberi.
Me malus Arrius expellit de iure fidei.

Translation:

The fifth, I am called the first of speech; my power is threefold. 
For now, sounding alone, I speak; or now, I harmonise with words;
Now, keeping to the middle way, I am said to be nothing.
Wicked Arius expelled me from the law of faith. (1)

Click to show riddle solution?
On the letter “V”


Notes:

(1) “Fifth” here in the first line could refer either to the fact that “V” is the Roman numeral for five or that the letter “u” (interchangeable with “v” in early Latin) is the fifth vowel. The three “powers” of “v” are as vowel (meaning “u”), consonant, and its “nothing” role following “q” in “qu-.”



Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Tatwine Riddle 19: De strabis oculis

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Wed 05 Jan 2022
Original text:

Inter mirandum cunctis est cetera quod nunc 
Narro quidem: nos produxit genitrix, uterinos,
Sed quod contemplor, mox illud cernere spernit,
Atque quod ille videt secum, mox cernere nolo.
Est dispar nobis visus, sed inest amor unus.

Translation:

For all to wonder at: among the things that indeed
I now say: our mother produced us, born of the same uterus,
But that which I observe, he afterwards scorns to behold,
And what he himself sees, I do not wish then to see.
Our sight is unequal, but our desire is one.

Click to show riddle solution?
On strabismus-eyes


Tags: riddles  latin  Tatwine 

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.



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Exeter Riddle 19