RIDDLE POSTS BY TAG: 'RIDDLES'

Tatwine Riddle 9: De cruce Christi

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Wed 05 Jan 2022
Original text:

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

Translation:

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

Click to show riddle solution?
On Christ’s cross


Tags: riddles  latin  Tatwine 

Aldhelm Riddle 9: Adamas

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Sat 12 Mar 2022
Original text:

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

Translation:

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

Click to show riddle solution?
Adamant


Notes:

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



Tags: riddles  latin  Aldhelm 

Symphosius Riddle 9: Pluvia

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Fri 01 Jul 2022
Original text:

Ex alto venio longa delapsa ruina;
De caelo cecidi medias transmissa per auras;
Sed sinus excepit, qui me simul ipse recepit.

Translation:

From on high I come, a long, descended rushing-down;
I fell from the sky, sent through mid-air,
But the basin draws me out that at the same time receives me.

Click to show riddle solution?
Rain


Notes:

This edition is based on Raymond T. Ohl, ed. The Enigmas of Symphosius. PhD dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1928.



Tags: riddles  solutions  latin  symphosius 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 9

MEGANCAVELL

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

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

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

Black and white drawing

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

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

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

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

Cuckoo chick with crow

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

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

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

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

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

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



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

Related Posts:
Exeter Riddle 9

Exeter Riddle 10

MATTHIASAMMON

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

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

Translation:

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

Click to show riddle solution?
Barnacle goose


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 103v of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), pages 185-6.

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



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

Related Posts:
Exeter Riddle 12
Exeter Riddle 24
Exeter Riddle 7

Eusebius Riddle 10: De sole

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

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

Translation:

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

Click to show riddle solution?
On the sun


Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Tatwine Riddle 10: De recitabulo

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Wed 05 Jan 2022
Original text:

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

Translation:

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

Click to show riddle solution?
On the lectern


Tags: riddles  latin  Tatwine 

Aldhelm Riddle 10: Molosus

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Sat 12 Mar 2022
Original text:

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

Translation:

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

Click to show riddle solution?
The Molossus Dog


Notes:

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



Tags: riddles  latin  Aldhelm 

Symphosius Riddle 10: Glacies

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Fri 01 Jul 2022
Original text:

Unda fui quondam, quod me cito credo futuram.
Nunc rigidi caeli duris conexa catenis
Nec calcata pati possum nec nuda teneri.

Translation:

I was once a wave, which I believe I will be again before long.
Now bound by the hard chains of rigid heaven,
I can neither endure being walked upon nor be held bare.

Click to show riddle solution?
Ice


Notes:

This edition is based on Raymond T. Ohl, ed. The Enigmas of Symphosius. PhD dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1928.



Tags: riddles  solutions  latin  symphosius 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 10

MATTHIASAMMON

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

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

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

Goose

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

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

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

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

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



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

Related Posts:
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 10

Exeter Riddle 11

MEGANCAVELL

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

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

Translation:

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

Click to show riddle solution?
Wine or Cup of Wine


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 103v of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), page 186.

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



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

Eusebius Riddle 11: De luna

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Non labor est penitus pergenti in lumine Phoebi,
Sed mihi difficilis longas discurrere noctes.
Umbriferis varias in noctibus intro figuras.
Post ego deficiens, tunc offert lumina frater.

Translation:

It is no labor to continue completely in the light of Phoebus,
But it is difficult for me to traverse the long nights.
I assume various shapes in shadowy darkness.
After I leave, then my brother provides light.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the moon


Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Tatwine Riddle 11: De acu

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Wed 05 Jan 2022
Original text:

Torrens me genuit fornax de viscere flammae,
Conditor invalido et finxit me corpore, luscam,
Sed constat nullum iam me sine vivere posse.
Est mirum dictu cludam ni lumina vultus,
Condere non artis penitus molimina possum.

Translation:

A burning furnace engendered me from a flame’s viscera,
And my maker shaped me, one-eyed, with a weak body,
But it is certain that none can now live without me.
It is strange to say that if I do not shut my eyes, (1)
I am not at all able to create my art’s effort.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the needle


Notes:

(1) The Latin phrase lumina vultus literally translates as "the lights of the face," which means "eyes."



Tags: riddles  latin  Tatwine 

Aldhelm Riddle 11: Poalum

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Sat 12 Mar 2022
Original text:

Flatibus alternis vescor cum fratre gemello;
Non est vita mihi, cum sint spiracula vitae.
Ars mea gemmatis dedit ornamenta metallis:
Qratia nulla datur mihi, sed capit alter honorem.

Translation:

With my twin brother, I am fed by alternating blasts.
I am not alive, although I do have air holes. 
My craft gives ornament to jewelled metals: 
No thanks are given to me, but another takes the honour. 

Click to show riddle solution?
Bellows


Notes:

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



Tags: riddles  latin  Aldhelm 

Symphosius Riddle 11: Nix

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Fri 01 Jul 2022
Original text:

Pulvis aquae tenuis modico cum pondere lapsus,
Sole madens, aestate fluens, in frigore siccus,
Flumina facturus totas prius occupo terras.

Translation:

Delicate dust of water, fallen with modest weight,
Dripping in the sun, flowing in the summer, dry in the cold,
About to make rivers, I first occupy whole lands.

Click to show riddle solution?
Snow


Notes:

This edition is based on Raymond T. Ohl, ed. The Enigmas of Symphosius. PhD dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1928.



Tags: riddles  solutions  latin  symphosius 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 11

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 12 Aug 2013
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 11

That’s right, folks, it’s the one you’ve been waiting for. Were you starting to worry that popular conceptions of early medieval England were all made up? Well, here comes the alcohol-riddle (and not the only one at that!), to make things right again. Of course, this is not a carousing drinking party of early medieval boisterousness, but quite a stern look at the effects of too much wine on one’s table manners and mortal soul. That is, of course, if we accept the solution Wine (OE Win) or Cup/Vessel of Wine (OE Winfæt), which most scholars do. Some, however, prefer the solutions Night, Gold and Phallus. I’m going to leave that last one to your imaginations, but will say that both Night and Gold have a little something going for them.

Much of the difficulty in choosing between Night, Gold and Wine lies in the translation of the word, hasofag. In fact, both parts of this unique compound have quite a few meanings. To start with the second element, fah can mean "hostile" or even "foe," as well as "variegated," "discoloured," "bright" or "adorned." I’ve chosen to translate it as "stained," hoping to get across both the sense of colour and bad behaviour. The first element, hasu, is also tricky to translate. It can mean "grey," "ash-coloured" or "tawny". But how can it be both dark/grey and yellowy-brown?, you might ask. The simple answer is that early medieval folks didn’t think of colours in quite the same way that we do. The slightly-more-complicated answer is that, while modern colour theory is more interested in identifying different hues, the early medieval English tended to differentiate based on brightness. I guess if most of your possessions are a dull brownish-grey, the bright glinting of a sword would be far more interesting than that fact that it’s a similar colour (in our sense of the word). Because of the complexities of translating Old English colours into Modern English ones, we can similarly argue that read doesn’t necessarily mean what we think of as "red." And so the first few lines of the riddle can be said to represent some sort of dark thing that has other, shinier things on it! Stars on the face of the night sky? Or light glinting off gold? (gold and read are a common pair in Old English poetry) Or the glistening of wine in a glass? These are all decent options.

The next few lines, then, go on to talk about the silly people who get all turned around and misled by whatever our riddle-object is. Night would, of course, make sense here, but it seems a bit obvious. Early medieval poets like metaphors, so a riddle about people who actually go out and get lost may have less going for it. Gold (like Wine) works, though. Both hoarding and drinking excessively are, after all, clearly no-no’s according to the church. There is, of course, another hoard mentioned in the last two lines, although, again, hord could be translated a number of ways, including as just "treasure." The treasure raised on high, then, may be the riddle-object, i.e. a glass of wine or a piece of gold (though I think it makes more sense to raise up a glass than a piece of gold…unless you’re Gollum). But this may also be a reference to a metaphorical hoard: the soul. Old English poetry often describes the body as a kind of fancy treasure-chest for storing the spirit. According to this metaphorical reading, the raising up bit is of course death, at which point the repentant soul hopes to go to heaven.

Native_gold_nuggets

Gold nuggets! Image from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

So, the wordplay-ish reference to raising things on high has me leaning toward Wine now, over Gold. Not literally. And there are a few other parts of the poem that imply this is the right direction to take. One is the reference to the owner of the riddle-object being mode bestolene (robbed of reason). The deprivation of sense associated with drinking is also mentioned in the equal-parts-awesome-and-gross Old English Judith. This poem tells the story of a woman who chops off the head of her invading enemy, Holofernes, when he’s drunk. Early on in the poem, we hear: Gefeol ða wine swa druncen / se rica on his reste middan, swa he nyste ræda nanne / on gewitlocan (67b-9a) (Then the powerful one fell in the middle of his bed, so drunk from wine that he did not know any reason in his mind). Although these poems don’t share the same words in Old English, they certainly share a similar sense: drinking is bad…it causes you to pass out and/or do stupid things.

Finally, the clincher for the Wine solution, as far as I’m concerned, is the very last line of the poem, gif hi unrædes ær ne geswicaþ. This line is repeated almost word for word at the end of (SPOILER ALERT) Riddle 27, which is commonly solved as Mead. I should also say that the line has close approximations in Juliana, line 120 (gif þu unrædes ær ne geswicest) and Elene, line 516 (ond þæs unrihtes eft geswicaþ), which are more interested in blasphemy than alcohol…but still.

I’m feeling quite thirsty now, so I’m going to leave you there.

Red wine in glass

Red, red wine. In a non-medieval glass. Obv. Image (by André Karwath) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0).

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

Related Posts:
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 27

Exeter Riddle 12

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 22 Aug 2013
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 12

This week’s translation is a guest post from the enigmatic Cameron Laird. Cameron is PhD student at the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto, where he is working on a thesis about this very riddle collection! Stay tuned for his commentary in the next post.



Original text:

Fotum ic fere,      foldan slite,
grene wongas,      þenden ic gæst bere.
Gif me feorh losað,      fæste binde
swearte Wealas,      hwilum sellan men.
5     Hwilum ic deorum      drincan selle
beorne of bosme,      hwilum mec bryd triedeð
felawlonc fotum,      hwilum feorran broht
wonfeax Wale      wegeð ond þyð,
dol druncmennen      deorcum nihtum,
10     wæteð in wætre,      wyrmeð hwilum
fægre to fyre;      me on fæðme sticaþ
hygegalan hond,      hwyrfeð geneahhe,
swifeð me geond sweartne.      Saga hwæt ic hatte,
þe ic lifgende      lond reafige
15     ond æfter deaþe      dryhtum þeowige.

Translation:

I travel on feet, tear the ground,
the green fields, while I bear my spirit.
If life leaves me, I bind fast
swarthy slaves, sometimes better people.
5     Sometimes I give drink to a brave man
from my breast; sometimes a bride treads on me
so proudly with her feet.  Sometimes a dark-haired
slave girl brought from far away clutches and crushes me;
the dim drunken maid in dark nights
10     wets me in water, sometimes warms me
pleasantly by the fire.  A lustful hand
shoves me to a bosom, turns just enough,
and touches me throughout the dark. Say what I am called,
who, living, ravages the land
15     and after death serves men.

Click to show riddle solution?
Ox, Ox-hide, Leather (object), etc.


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 103v-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 186.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 10: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 74.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 12 

Eusebius Riddle 12: De bove

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Nunc aro, nunc operor: consumor in omnibus annis.
Multae sunt cereres, semper desunt mihi panes,
Et segetes colui nec potus ebrius hausi.
Tota urbs (1) pallebat signum quo verba sonabam.

Translation:

Now I plough, now I work: I am worn out every year. 
There are many harvests, and I always want for bread,
And I cultivated the fields and did not, intoxicated, drink the draughts.
The whole city grew fearful at the sign by which I spoke my words.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the ox


Notes:

(1) This city is glossed in both manuscripts as “Rome.”
 



Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Tatwine Riddle 12: De patena

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Wed 05 Jan 2022
Original text:

Exterius cernor pulcher formaque decorus.
Interius minus haud mulcent mea viscera caros.
Quot horae diei sunt, tot mihi lumina lucent,
Et sena comptus potior sub imagine crurum,
Unius sed amoena quidem pedis est mihi forma.

Translation:

On the outside I am perceived to be pleasing and beautiful in form.
On the inside my entrails are not less charming to my friends.
There are as many hours in the day as there are lights that shine from me,
And I have an adornment of six legs,
But in fact my pleasant form has one foot.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the paten


Tags: riddles  latin  Tatwine 

Aldhelm Riddle 12: Bombix

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Sat 12 Mar 2022
Original text:

Annua dum redeunt texendi tempora telas,
Lurida setigeris redundant viscera filis,
Moxque genestarum frondosa cacumina scando,
Ut globulos fabricans tum fati sorte quiescam.

Translation:

Until the yearly time for weaving cloths returns, 
My pale innards abound with silken threads, 
And I soon climb up the leafy peaks of broom,
So that, after making the little balls, I may then rest in fate’s destiny.

Click to show riddle solution?
Silkworm


Notes:

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



Tags: riddles  latin  Aldhelm 

Symphosius Riddle 12: Flumen et piscis

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Fri 01 Jul 2022
Original text:

Est domus in terris clara quae voce resultat.
Ipsa domus resonat, tacitus sed non sonat hospes.
Ambo tamen currunt hospes simul et domus una.

Translation:

There is a house in the earth which resounds with clear voice.
The house itself reverberates, but the silent guest does not make a sound.
Yet both run, guest and house at the same time, as one.

Click to show riddle solution?
River and Fish


Notes:

This edition is based on Raymond T. Ohl, ed. The Enigmas of Symphosius. PhD dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1928.



Tags: riddles  solutions  latin  symphosius 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 12

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Sat 07 Sep 2013
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 12

This post once again comes to us from Cameron Laird:

The solution to this one is the ever-helpful Ox (OE Oxa), who not only pulled the plough for planting crops but also provided leather for all sorts of useful things in early medieval England. Ælfric (c. 955-1010), an abbot of the monastery at Eynsham, tells us that the farmer or ploughman (OE yrþlingc) led his oxen to the field early in the morning and yoked them to the plough (OE sulh), which was fitted with blades to cut and turn over the soil (Colloquy, lines 5-11, 94-97). Using a sharp poker to motivate the poor oxen, the farmer guided the plough back and forth across the field before seeding. Since there were no big work horses in those days, the early English used the ox as their go-to beast for plowing fields, though some poorer folks who couldn’t afford to buy, feed, and house these expensive animals had to push their ploughs around by hand – just wait till Riddle 21 to see how much fun they had! But if you were a farmer in early medieval England, you’d definitely want to have some oxen so that they could do all the hard work for you. So valuable were livestock, in general, that the very word for money in Old English, feoh, also means cattle or livestock. No wonder farmers had someone called an ox-herd (OE oxanhyrde) watch over and protect their oxen from thieves whenever they weren’t ploughing. Even after death, the ox was good to have around, providing meat to eat and also skin for leather. According to Ælfric, the early medieval shoe-maker (OE sceowyrhta) made a lot more than just shoes (OE sceos) with this leather, including bags (OE pusan), bottles (OE butericas), pouches (OE fætelsas) and stuff for riding horses like reins (OE bridelþwancgas) and straps for the spurs (OE spurleþera). Oh, and did I mention the leather pants?! (OE leþerhosa).

Though there’s – perhaps, regrettably – no mention of leather pants in Riddle 12, it’s the ox’s many uses, especially after death, that take up most of the riddle. Lines 3b-4b portray the speaker as leather straps (“I bind fast swarthy slaves, sometimes better people”). In lines 5a-6a, the speaking leather has been made into a drinking vessel (“I give drink to a brave man from my breast”). Then, lines 6b-7a describe a woman walking on him as if he were shoes (“a bride treads on me so proudly with her feet”). Finally, a fourth object is described in lines 7b-13a, but what it is exactly is the subject of much debate, and I’ll return to it later. But besides leather objects, Riddle 12 also portrays the ox as a living beast (“I travel on feet, tear the ground, the green fields, while I bear my spirit”) and again at the end (“I … who, living, ravages the land”). In both cases, the ox’s life is immediately contrasted with its fate after death as leather (first at line 3a “If life leaves me …” and also at line 15 “and after death serves men”). In fact, this contrast of the ox’s life and death in Riddle 12 is one of the main reasons we can be sure the answer to this one is, in fact, an Ox. Let me explain.

Gaurs

The gaur is not technically an ox, but it sure is impressive!

Although almost all the riddles in the Exeter Book are unanswered, many share – at times striking – similarities to Latin riddles, most of which were composed by early English folks too. They really loved riddles! Most manuscripts of these Latin riddle collections include solutions, so we can be fairly certain what their answers are. Riddle 12 is closely related to not just one but a whole bunch of Latin riddles which are solved as Young Bull (Latin Iuvencus) or a Calf (Latin Vitulus) and the like (see Bitterli, pages 26-34). All these contrast the animal’s life of labour and its uses after death, like the one by Aldhelm (c. 639-709), where the young bull says “while living I break up the deepest clods of earth with a great exertion of force, but when my spirit leaves these cold limbs, I can restrain men with terrible bonds” (1). Later Latin versions retain the same duality of life and death as well as describing various uses for leather like bonds and shoes, so there seems to be a tradition of riddling this topic using the same sort of clues. In fact, besides Riddle 12, two other Exeter Book riddles share details with these same Latin enigmas and are solved unanimously by scholars as Ox (and/or Leather: OE Leþer or Ox-hide: OE Oxanhyd) (2).

What makes Riddle 12 unique within this tradition is all that funny business between lines 7b-13a. What is that dumb, drunk girl doing to that piece of leather? Doing is right! She clasps, crushes, wets, warms, and generally has her way with our long-gone ox. Nina Rulon-Miller points out that the description fits a process of hardening leather called cuir bouilli (literally, “cooked leather”) in which soaked leather is molded into a desired shape, heated over a straw fire, and sealed with a mixture of beeswax, soot, and resin from pine trees (pages 119-21). In this case, the girl may be making something like a hard leather flask, though it’s also possible that the scene portrays the girl using an object such a leather shammy for cleaning dishes. Regardless, amid all the confusing flurry of activity performed by the girl, the description takes on another meaning altogether, which seems to be – wait for it – female masturbation with a leather dildo! To reflect this double-meaning, Nina provides two translations of Riddle 12, culminating in lines 11b-13a: the clean version, describing the cuir bouilli process, reads, “she pierces my surface with her skillful hand; she turns me often, rotates me through a black substance,” while the lewd version reads, “with her wanton hand she thrusts me into her womb; she writhes excessively, she swivels me all around her blackness” (Baum, page 125). As Paull Baum first pointed out, the last verb performed by the girl, swifan, which typically means “to sweep” or “to revolve,” is also related to the Middle English Word swiven, which means “to have sex” (page 24).

The sexuality of Riddle 12 has sparked questions about the audience who read this and other lewd riddles in the Exeter Book: how religious were they? Did they view this scene with laughter, with scorn, or both? These questions are further complicated by the identity of the girl in question, whose low social status is highlighted several times. First, she is called a wale, a word which means both “Welsh woman” and “female slave,” since the early English often took their Welsh neighbours into captivity. It is unclear which sense is meant in Riddle 12, as both could be described as brought from afar (line 7b) and dark-haired (OE won-feax). But despite her low-class, she is, at least, not tied-up like her male counterparts are in line 4a (OE swearte wealas). And, in addition to giving her an active role throughout the riddle, the poet has gone to much effort to render the slave-girl a figure of poetic interest by dedicating three of four compound-words to describe her: she is dark-haired and a drunk-handmaiden (or drunk-slave- girl: OE drunc-mennen) whose hand is lustful or wanton (OE hyge-gal: hyge = thought, mind, heart; gal = wanton, lascivious, wicked). All three appear nowhere else in Old English, though it seems like they probably have pejorative connotations. Still, by being complex, compound words they add to the ambiguity of the action portrayed in lines 7b-13a where the poet evokes his raunchy scene.

That’s all for this week, folks. Now here’s a special treat for those of you who’ve managed to plough through this post to the end:

Highland cow

Technically this is a Highland Cow, as opposed to an early medieval ox. But still…Photo courtesy of C.J.W. Brown.

Notes:

(1) Aldhelm's Enigma 83, lines 3-6: “vivens nam terrae glebas cum stirpibus imis nisu virtutis validae disrumpo feraces; at vero linquit dum spiritus algida membra, nexibus horrendis homines constringere possum.”

(2) Spoiler alert! It's Riddles 38 and 72.

References and Suggested Reading:

Baum, Paull F. Anglo-Saxon Riddles of the Exeter Book. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1963.

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 26-34.

Cameron, Esther. “Leather-work.” In The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Edited by M. Lapidge et al. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999, pages 280-1.

Higley, Sarah L. “The Wanton Hand: Reading and Reaching Into Grammars and Bodies in Old English Riddle 12.” In Naked before God: Uncovering the Body in Anglo-Saxon England. Edited by Benjamin C. Withers and Jonathan Wilcox. Medieval European Studies, vol. 3. Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press, 2003, pages 29-59.

Rulon-Miller, Nina. “Sexual Humor and Fettered Desire in Exeter Book Riddle 12.” In Humour in Anglo-Saxon Literature. Edited by Jonathan Wilcox. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2000, pages 99-126.

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

Note that this post was edited for clarity on 15 January 2021.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 12  cameron laird 

Related Posts:
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 21

Exeter Riddle 13

MATTHIASAMMON

Date: Thu 12 Sep 2013
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 13
Original text:

Ic seah turf tredan,      X wæron ealra,
VI gebroþor      ond hyra sweostor mid;
hæfdon feorg cwico.      Fell hongedon
sweotol ond gesyne      on seles wæge
5     anra gehwylces.      Ne wæs hyra ængum þy wyrs,
ne siðe þy sarre,      þeah hy swa sceoldon
reafe birofene,      rodra weardes
meahtum aweahte,      muþum slitan
haswe blede.      Hrægl bið geniwad
10     þam þe ær forðcymene      frætwe leton
licgan on laste,      gewitan lond tredan.

Translation:

I saw them walk on the ground, there were ten of them in all,
six brothers and their sisters with them;
they had living spirits. The skins of each of them hung
clear and visible on the walls
5     of the hall. It was not worse for any of them,
nor the journey more grievous, though thus they,
bereft of their clothing, awoken through the might
of heaven’s guardian, were compelled to tear with their mouths
the dusky harvest. The garments are renewed
10     for them who, before having come forth, left their trappings
lying in their wake, they depart to walk on the ground.

Click to show riddle solution?
Ten chickens (this is the generally accepted one), ten pheasants, butterfly cocoon, alphabet, moth, fingers and gloves


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 11: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 74-5.



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

Related Posts:
Exeter Riddle 22
Exeter Riddle 26
Exeter Riddle 39

Eusebius Riddle 13: De vacca

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Sunt pecudes multae mihi quas nutrire solebam,
Meque premente fame non lacteque carneve vescor
Cumque cibis aliis et pascor aquis alienis.
Ex me multi vivunt ex me et flumina currunt.

Translation:

I have many herds which I used to feed,
And when hunger presses me, I do not eat either milk or meat
Because I graze on other foods and another’s waters.
From me many live and from me streams flow.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the cow


Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Tatwine Riddle 13: De acu pictili

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Wed 05 Jan 2022
Original text:

Reginae cupiunt animis me cernere necnon
Reges mulcet adesse mei quoque corporis usus,
Nam multos vario possum captare decore.
Quippe, meam gracilis faciem iugulaverat hospes,
Nobilior tamen adcrescit decor inde genarum.

Translation:

Queens desire to see me in their hearts and also
It pleases kings to be present at the use of my body as well,
For I am able to attract many with my varied beauty. 
Indeed, a slender guest cuts my face,
Yet the charm of my cheeks grows more noble.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the embroidery needle


Tags: riddles  latin  Tatwine