RIDDLE POSTS BY TAG: 'RIDDLES'

Eusebius Riddle 26: De die bissextili

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Cum proprii generis viginti quattuor horis,
Unusquisque creatur. Non ego solus adesse
Possum, sed neque perficiar nec forte creabor,
Semper decursis nisi in ordine quattuor annis.

Translation:

With the twenty-four hours of my kind,
Everyone is created. I cannot exist 
Alone, but I will neither be caused nor created by chance,
Only in order, always with the lapse of four years.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the bissextile day


Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Tatwine Riddle 26: De quinque sensibus

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Wed 05 Jan 2022
Original text:

Nos quini vario fratres sub nomine templum
Concessum nobis colimus constanter ab ortu.
Nam thuris segetem fero, fercula et ille saporis;
Hic totum, presens, affert tangi, ille vindendum;
Ast laetam quintus famam tristemque ministrat.

Translation:

We five brothers, of various names, inhabit 
A temple granted to us continually from the beginning.
For I bear a crop of frankincense, him, flavourful dishes; 
This one, when present, causes everything to be touched, that one, to be seen;
And the fifth gives happy and sad report.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the five senses


Tags: riddles  latin  Tatwine 

Aldhelm Riddle 26: Gallus

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Sat 12 Mar 2022
Original text:

Garrulus in tenebris rutilos cecinisse solebam
Augustae lucis radios et lumina Phoebi;
Penniger experto populorum nomine fungor.
Arma ferens pedibus belli diserimina faxo
Serratas capitis gestans in vertice cristas.

Translation:

Garrulous in the darkness, I was accustomed to predicting the radiant
Rays of venerable light and the glory of Phoebus;
Feathered, I go by the known name of a people.
Carrying weapons on my feet I undertake the hazards of war,
Bearing a serrated crest on top of my head. 

Click to show riddle solution?
Cock


Notes:

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



Tags: riddles  latin  Aldhelm 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 26

MEGANCAVELL

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

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

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

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

Parchment being stretched on a racks

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

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

Illuminated manuscript

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

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

Manuscript open on cushion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

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

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

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



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

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Exeter Riddle 27

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 26 Aug 2014
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 27

This week’s riddle comes to us from Wendy Hennequin (you may remember Wendy from Riddle 17). She has provided us with a poetic translation (and a few notes), as well as a prose translation. You’ll have to scroll all the way down to find the possible solutions. Take it away, Wendy!



Original text:

Ic eom weorð werum,      wide funden,
brungen of bearwum      ond of burghleoþum,
of denum ond of dunum.     Dæges mec wægun
feþre on lifte,      feredon mid liste
5     under hrofes hleo.      Hæleð mec siþþan
baþedan in bydene.      Nu ic eom bindere
ond swingere,      sona weorpe
esne to eorþan,      hwilum ealdne ceorl.
Sona þæt onfindeð,      se þe mec fehð ongean,
10     ond wið mægenþisan     minre genæsteð,
þæt he hrycge sceal      hrusan secan,
gif he unrædes     ær ne geswiceð,
strengo bistolen,      strong on spræce,
mægene binumen;      nah his modes geweald,
15     fota ne folma.     Frige hwæt ic hatte,
ðe on eorþan swa      esnas binde,
dole æfter dyntum     be dæges leohte.

Translation:

Poetic translation:

I am worthy to folk,    and found widely,
brought from forests      and fortress-hills,
from dales and from downs.      By day, feathers
brought me by craft,      carried me aloft
5     under house-roof’s shelter.     Heroes afterwards
bathed me in barrels.      Binder now I am,
striker and scourger (1),    and soon, hurler
of old freemen     even to the earth.
Who seizes me    and seeks to challenge
10     my mighty strength    soon will discover
that he must find the earth     flat on his back.
Unless he ceases earlier   to seek folly.
Stolen his might—      though strong his speech—
no power he has    of hands nor of feet
15     of mind or of soul (2).      Say what I am called (3),
who alone on earth,    by light of day,
so binds fellows (4)    with folly and blows.

Prose translation:

I am worthy to men, found widely, brought from the woods and fort-hills, from dales and mountains; wings carried me aloft by day, brought with skill under the roof’s shelter. Afterwards, heroes bathed me in a bucket. Now I am binder, striker, and soon, thrower of an old churl even to the earth. He who seizes me and against my might contends—soon finds that he must seek the earth with his back if he doesn’t leave off his folly beforehand. Stolen his strength, strong his speech, deprived of might, he does not have the possession of mind, feet, or hands. Learn what am I called, who on earth so binds men, foolish (or with folly) after blows, by day’s light.

Click to show riddle solution?
Mead, Whip, Sleep


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 107v of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), page 194.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 25: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 83-4.

Translation Notes

  • (1) There is only one word in the original, swingere, which can mean both striker and scourger. I use both meanings, as variations of each other, to fill the half-line.
  • (2) Line 14b of the original, when translated into modern English, has three stresses and had to be split between lines 14a and 15a of my translation. In order to fit the poem poetically into its original number of lines, I eliminated the variation in the original riddle’s line 14a.
  • (3) Instead of the familiar tag line, “saga hwæt ic hatte,” which appears in Riddle 19, among others, Riddle 27 says, “frige hwæt ic hatte,” “learn by asking what I am called.” I’ve reverted to the more familiar formula to match the alliteration.
  • (4) The original’s esnas seems to mean a man of lower social class: Clark-Hall defines the word esne as “labourer, slave, servant, retainer: youth, man” (esne, 107). It is difficult to convey this connotation in Modern English without resorting to old-fashioned words such as “peasant.”


Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 27 

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Exeter Riddle 23
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Eusebius Riddle 27: De humilitate et superbia

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Curva licet maneam vel strata soloque depressa,
Me tamen hinc omnes nunc exaltabo tenentes.
Effera stans, inimica mea sustollitur alta
Atque suos sternit vel comprimit illa sequaces.

Translation:

Although I remain crooked or thrown down and crushed to the ground,
From here I will nevertheless exalt all those who now keep me.
Standing untamed, my enemy is lifted high
And that one casts down or rebukes her followers.

Click to show riddle solution?
On humility and pride


Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Tatwine Riddle 27: De forcipe

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Wed 05 Jan 2022
Original text:

Iamque meum, tibi quod narrow, mirabile dictu,
Fatum, nam geminis constat mihi robur in armis,
Captandi sub rictibus est fiducia grandis.
Non praedura vel aspera neu fervida terrent,
Rictibus intrepidis sed cuncta capessere tempto.

Translation:

And now my fate, which I tell you, marvelous 
to say, for my strength lies in a twinned weapon,
is great confidence in seizing things in my jaws.
Neither hard nor bitter nor hot things scare me,
But with fearless jaws I try to grasp everything.

Click to show riddle solution?
On tongs


Tags: riddles  latin  Tatwine 

Aldhelm Riddle 27: Coticula

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Sat 12 Mar 2022
Original text:

Frigidus ex gelido prolatus viscere terrae
Duritiem ferri quadrata fronte polibo
Atque senectutis vereor diserimina numquam,
Mulcifer annorum numerum ni dempserit igne;
Mox rigida species mollescit torribus atris.

Translation:

Brought forth cold from the frozen innards of the earth,
I will polish the hardness of iron with my squared face,
And I will never fear the hazards of old age
Unless Vulcan take away from my number of years with fire;
My rigid appearance immediately becomes soft in dark flames.

Click to show riddle solution?
Whetstone


Notes:

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



Tags: riddles  latin  Aldhelm 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 27

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 02 Sep 2014
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 27

Here’s Wendy Hennequin‘s follow-up to her translation:

 

The general consensus about Riddle 27 is that the solution is “mead” (Tupper Jr., page 132; Rodrigues, page 131; Niles, page 135). Tupper and Rodrigues note that whip and sleep have also been proposed (pages 132; 131). Niles has recently proposed a double solution: “nectar (honey-dew) and mead” to account for both the first part of the poem regarding the origins of honey and the second part of the riddle, which describes mead’s effects (pages 135-36). Certainly, Niles is correct in identifying two parts of the riddle—a sort of “before and after.” At first, the mysterious object is found everywhere: mountains, valleys, woods, and cities. Then, afterwards, the object fells men. The transition between these two stages is the bath in a barrel (or bucket). The other proposed solutions, whip and sleep, do not account for that transition.

320px-Honey-Fruit-Mead-Brewing

Here’s a picture of some home-brewed honey-fruit mead. Photo (by Evan-Amos) from Wikimedia Commons.

Except for Niles’ very brief discussion of word play in Riddle 27 (pages 135-36), I have not found any critical discussion of Riddle 27. Only a few of the Exeter Book Riddles have been examined extensively beyond the search for their solutions and their relationships to other riddles, Latin or Old Norse. [editorial note: Elinor Teele’s PhD thesis does devote a section to this riddle, but it is — very unfortunately — not widely available. If you are ever in Cambridge, a trip to the University Library to read it is highly recommended]

I am struck, however, by the image of the riddle’s object being a scourger, a hurler. This image is noteworthy not only for its vividness, but for its repetition: we are told twice that the riddle’s object can knock people flat on their backs. This wrestling imagery brings to mind the Snorri Sturluson’s Old Norse story of Thor’s journey to the house of Útgarða-Loki. While there, Thor wrestles an old woman named Elli in order to prove his strength and prowess. Elli forces him to kneel even though Thor is the god of strength (Sturluson, pages 44-45). Elli turns out to be Old Age. (Kevin Crossley-Holland retells this story as “Thor’s Journey to Utgard” in The Norse Myths; the story has also appeared frequently in children’s books). Elli, like the mead in the riddle, can fell anyone, “for there never has been anyone, and there never will be anyone, if they get so old that they experience old age, that old age will not bring them all down” (Sturluson, page 45).

In contrast, Riddle 27 emphasizes that overindulgence in mead is foolish (lines 12 and 17) and that it is a choice. We don’t have to wrestle with mead: we can stop seeking folly before it’s too late (line 12). Elli’s victory is inevitable. But mead wins only when we allow it. This emphasis on the imprudence of getting drunk—and that getting drunk is a choice—may indicate something of the early English attitude towards alcohol and drunkenness. Certainly, poems like Beowulf and The Wanderer tell us that sharing mead was an integral part of the communal culture of the comitatus (war-band) and the mead hall. But Riddle 27’s portrayal of drunkenness as folly and defeat, and its invocation of an image of defeat by an old woman, tells us that early medieval culture did not consider intoxication an inevitable part of mead sharing but rather as an unfortunate and foolish loss of self-control that leads to the defeat of one’s body and senses—if one is lucky. For some of Hrothgar’s thanes in Beowulf are not so lucky: their drunken boasts to defeat Grendel lead to their deaths (lines 480-87). Certainly, Riddle 27 emphasizes a metaphorical and temporary defeat: the loss of physical and mental control while intoxicated. But in a world of feuds and Viking incursions (let alone mythical monster attacks), a drunk warrior might well suffer a more permanent and lethal defeat if he chose to fall to the power of mead.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Beowulf. Ed. Francis Klaeber. 3rd ed. Lexington, Massachusetts: D.C. Heath, 1950.

Crossley-Holland, Kevin. The Norse Myths. New York: Pantheon, 1980.

Niles, John D. Old English Enigmatic Poems and the Play of Texts. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2006.

Rodrigues, Louis J. Sixty-five Anglo-Saxon Riddles. 2nd ed. Felinfach, Wales: Llanerch, 1998.

Sturluson, Snorri. Edda. Ed. and trans. Anthony Faulkes. London: Everyman / J.M. Dent, 2002.

Teele, Elinor. “The Heroic Tradition in the Old English Riddles.” Diss. University of Cambridge, 2004.

Tupper, Frederick, Jr., ed. and introduction. The Riddles of the Exeter Book. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1968.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 27  wendy hennequin 

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Exeter Riddle 28

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 09 Sep 2014
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 28
Original text:

Biþ foldan dæl      fægre gegierwed
mid þy heardestan      ond mid þy scearpestan
ond mid þy grymmestan      gumena gestreona,
corfen, sworfen,      cyrred, þyrred,
5     bunden, wunden,      blæced, wæced,
frætwed, geatwed,      feorran læded
to durum dryhta.      Dream bið in innan
cwicra wihta,      clengeð, lengeð,
þara þe ær lifgende      longe hwile
10     wilna bruceð      ond no wið spriceð,
ond þonne æfter deaþe      deman onginneð,
meldan mislice.      Micel is to hycganne
wisfæstum menn,      hwæt seo wiht sy.

Translation:

A portion of the earth is garnished beautifully
with the hardest and sharpest
and fiercest of treasures of men,
cut, filed, turned, dried,
5     bound, wound, bleached, weakened,
adorned, equipped, led far
to the doors of men. The joy of living beings
is within it, it remains, it lasts,
that which, while alive, enjoys itself
10     for a long time and does not speak against their wishes,
and then, after death, it begins to praise,
to declare in various ways. Great is it to think,
for wisdom-fast men, [to say] what the creature is.

Click to show riddle solution?
John Barleycorn, Wine cask, Beer, Ale, Mead, Harp, Stringed instrument, Tortoise lyre, Yew horn, Barrow, Trial of soul, Pattern-welded sword, Parchment, Biblical codex


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 107v of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), pages 194-5.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 26: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 84.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 28 

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Eusebius Riddle 28: De candela

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Quod reliquis in me libet hoc mihi vile defectum
Prebet, et extinguor quo multis lumina praesto.
Cumque aliis possim splendescere, non mihi lux sum.
Pars quoque quae multis lucet tam tetra videtur.

Translation:

That in me which is pleasing to the rest provides me with a worthless 
Absence, and I am extinguished by that with which I supply light to many.
Although I am able to brighten for others, I am not a light for myself.
Even the part which shines for many seems very foul.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the candle


Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Tatwine Riddle 28: De incude

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Wed 05 Jan 2022
Original text:

Grande caput, collo consertum, sumere cernor,
Cui penitus nulli constant in vertice crines.
Heu, fato miser: inmobili qui sto pede fixus
Cedere tantundem siniturus verticis arcem,
Insons, vindictam sed nolo referre nocenti.

Translation:

I am seen to have a large head, connected to my neck,
On top of which there are absolutely no hairs. 
Alas, unhappy fate: I who stand fixed on an immobile foot,
About to allow just so much of my head to yield,
Am innocent, but I do not wish to punish the one harming me.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the anvil


Tags: riddles  latin  Tatwine 

Aldhelm Riddle 28: Minotaurus

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Tue 15 Mar 2022
Original text:

Sum mihi dissimilis vultu membrisque biformis:
Cornibus armatus, horrendum cetera fingunt
Membra virum; fama clarus per Gnossia rura
Spurius incerto Greta genitore creatus
Ex hominis pecudisque simul cognomine dicor.

Translation:

I am hybrid, different in my face and limbs: 
I am armed with horns, my other limbs form 
A horrible man; known by report through Knossian fields,
Born illegitimate with an unknown father in Crete, 
I am said in name to be of man and beast at the same time.

Click to show riddle solution?
Minotaur


Notes:

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



Tags: riddles  latin  Aldhelm 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 28

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 16 Sep 2014
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 28

I know what you’re all thinking. You’re thinking: “Goodness gracious me! What a lot of past participles!” See – I’m psychic. But I’ll tell you what: not only does this riddle contain all the past participles in the world, it also has a ridiculous number of suggested solutions. Pretty much everyone who has a crack at it solves it differently. So we’re going to have to opt for a speedy run-through according to group. (I almost used the word “cluster” here, but then I decided not to because it sounds too much like “crusty” and that word can only legitimately be used of bread. True story.) Please note that I’m going to be skipping some solutions, specifically Barrow and Trial of Soul (suggested by Jember) because the poem’s direct reference to death makes these seem a bit too obvious (and because Jember suggests Trial of Soul for like a million riddles). If I were going to talk about barrows, I’d probably post a photo kind of like this one:

Barrow chamber

Photo inside Uley Long Barrow (by Pasicles) from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Group Number One: Alcohol

Forget picking up a quick bottle or two from a shop on your way to a party. And forget picturesque images of vineyards and stomping on grapes in giant barrels. And definitely forget every hipster-ish micro-brewery tour you’ve ever gone on. Because according to this poem, getting your hands on alcohol ain’t convenient and it certainly ain’t pleasant. One of the earliest suggested solutions for Riddle 28 was John Barleycorn, the barley-man known to us through folk literature and ballads (perhaps most famous from the Robbie Burns version). The harvesting of this much put-upon, personified cereal crop is depicted as torture and murder…hence the link to Riddle 28’s turning, cutting and binding. Of course, the speculative leaps required to trace John Barleycorn back to early medieval England mean that some scholars prefer Beer/Ale/Mead (or Wine Cask, for that matter, since there’s no mashing, boiling or fermenting in this riddle) as the solution – that’s beor/ealu/medu in Old English (and I suppose “wine cask” would be something like win-tunne, although this compound isn’t attested). These solutions are certainly possible, especially when we take into account the fact that the preceding riddle very likely describes alcohol. Mightn’t Riddle 28 be a companion riddle? Indeed, it might…or perhaps the scribe/compiler of the manuscript understood it that way. The power dynamics are flipped, of course, since Riddle 27 focuses on alcohol’s ability to completely thrash people, while those in charge of crafting whatever Riddle 28 describes are very much in control. But what about lines 7b onward? That’s where the next solution seems a better fit. But first, beer:

Riddle 28 GravityTap

This is what beer looks like today. Photo (by SilkTork) from the Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 2.5).

Group Number Two: Musical Instrument

If we’re completely honest with ourselves, we have to admit that the construction-y words at the beginning of the poem could really be applied to almost any object. They’re all vague enough that their meanings could be stretched to fit more than one solution, and some of them may well have been included simply because they rhyme. Old English poetry doesn’t often rhyme, by the way, so the poet is clearly interested in being a bit flashy. That means what we should be doing is focusing on the second half of the poem when we’re looking for a solution. Except that this is where things get confusing. Grammatically-speaking, these lines have a lot of people flummoxed. That’s right, flummoxed. Here are some of the reasons why: 1) we don’t really know what clengeð means (although we’ve got some good guesses based on similar words in Middle English), and 2) þara þe is plural, but the verbs in lines 9-10 are all singular. So the question is: does the relative phrase in lines 9-10 refer back to line 7b’s dream (joy) or line 8a’s cwicra wihta (of living beings)? Or should þara þe really read þær þær (there where) instead? (see Williamson, page 224) Your guess is as good as mine. What is clear from these lines is that there’s a living-dead, silent-vocal contrast going on: whatever object we have was made from a living thing that only gained a voice in death. It’s this suggestion that links the riddle to the earlier work of the Latin riddler, Symphosius. His Enigma 20, Testudo reads:

Tarda, gradu lento, specioso praedita dorso;
Docta quidem studio, sed saevo prodita fato,
Viva nihil dixi, quae sic modo mortua canto.
(Glorie, vol. 133A, page 641)

(Slow, with sluggish step, furnished with a beautiful back; shrewd indeed through study, but betrayed by fierce fate, living I said nothing, but dead I sing in this way.)

See the link? Quiet in life and singing in death? To really drive this link home, we should note that Old English dream, which I’ve translated as “joy” also means “song.” This is one of many reasons that Laurence K. Shook (building on earlier suggestions of harp/stringed instrument) solves Riddle 28 as Latin testudo (tortoise/musical instrument).

Lyre made from tortoise shell

In case you wondered just what exactly a tortoise lyre was. Photo © Trustees of the British Museum (licence: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

Craig Williamson isn’t so keen on this solution, but does agree with the musical instrument angle. And so, he raises the possibility of Yew-horn in his edition of the riddles (pages 218-24). Yew is a hard wood (hence, line 2a: heardestan (hardest)) and it’s poisonous (hence, lines 2b and 3a: scearpestan (sharpest) and grymmestan (fiercest)). He also points out that a yew-horn dating from between the eighth and tenth centuries was discovered in the River Erne in Northern Ireland. So make of that what you will.

Group Number Three: Other Crafted Object

Williamson’s suggestion was just barely in print by the time the next solution came ’round, so let’s pretend that Yew-horn hadn’t happened yet and jump back to tortoise-lyre briefly. We know that instruments made out of tortoise shells existed in other countries as far back as classical Greece, but the evidence for early medieval England is thin on the ground. And by thin, I mean there is none…except for the fact that Symphosius’ works were known in England at this time. Arguing that this lack of evidence rules out the tortoise-lyre solution (what about other instruments?!), Heidi and Rüdiger Göbel solve Riddle 28 as a “pattern-welded sword.” A pattern-welded sword (sweord in OE) is, of course, a weapon made by twisting multiple strips of metal together for extra strength. The Göbels give quite an in-depth breakdown of the processes involved in sword-making, but slightly undermine their interpretation by basing it upon “the desire to take the superlatives heardestan, scearpestan and grymmestan literally” (page 187). Is it just me, or is taking anything in a riddle literally kind of missing the point? At any rate, they also argue for a change in perspective at the end of the poem, when the owner of the sword who was so full of joy to receive the object (lines 7-8) is killed by it. Hence, they translate æfter deaþe deman onginneð, meldan mislice as “after death he changes his opinion and talks differently” (page 191).

Speaking of things that speak without speaking…do you remember Riddle 26? Well, I know that books don’t actually talk for realzies (unless you’ve got an audio-book or one of those birthday cards with the little chip in it that makes it sing really annoyingly whenever you open it), but they do contain words, and the idea that letters speak from the page is an old one. This leads to the final solutions I’m going to discuss: Parchment and Biblical Codex (Boc-fell or Cristes boc in OE).

Parchment being stretched on a rack

Here’s some parchment being stretched in Bede’s World, Jarrow. Photo courtesy of C.J.W. Brown.

Waltraud Ziegler argued for the first of these after looking at several Latin riddles that cover similar ground. Cattle/parchment-y imagery can be found in the enigmatic collections of the Anglo-Latin poets, Tatwine and Eusebius, as well as in other collections known in early medieval England. For example, the Bern riddle, Enigma 24, De membrana, reads:

Lucrum uiua manens toto nam confero mundo
Et defuncta mirum praesto de corpore quaestum.
Vestibus exuta multoque uinculo tensa,
Gladio sic mihi desecta uiscera pendent.
Manibus me postquam reges et uisu mirantur,
Miliaque porto nullo sub pondere multa.
(Glorie, vol. 133A, page 570)

(Remaining alive, I provide profit for the entire world, and dead I furnish remarkable gain from my body. Deprived of garments and pressed by many chains, cut by a sword my innards hang down. Afterward kings admire me with hands and sight, and I carry many thousands with no weight.)

Building on Ziegler, Dieter Bitterli suggests Biblical Codex is more apt than simply Parchment, since the object of Riddle 28 is bound and adorned (pages 178-89). You can look back at Riddle 26’s commentary for a discussion of book-making because many of the steps covered there could be applied to the past participle-y list at the beginning of this riddle (and I wouldn’t want to get repetitive, would I?). But for lines 7b onward, we now have a tidy little religious interpretation: the lasting nature of the living joy/song and the posthumous praising/declaring are down to the creature’s recruitment to a martyr’s higher purpose. Keep in mind that early English manuscripts were penned and maintained by clerics. And keep in mind that they were obsessed with martyrdom and general affliction. So obsessed, in fact, that the Old English reading group my co-editor and I used to attend had one rule and only one rule: if you don’t know what a word means, translate it as “affliction” and move on. I think I’ll take that advice now.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

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

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

Göbel, Heidi, and Rüdiger Göbel. “The Solution of an Old English Riddle.” Studia Neophilologica, vol. 50 (1978), pages 185-91.

Jember, Gregory K., trans. The Old English Riddles: A New Translation. Denver: Society for New Language Study, 1976.

Shook, Laurence K. “Old-English Riddle 28—Testudo (Tortoise-Lyre).” Mediaeval Studies, vol. 20 (1958), pages 93-97.

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

Ziegler, Waltraud. “Ein neuer Losungsversuch fur das altenglische Ratsel Nr. 28.” Arbeiten aus Anglistik und Amerikanistik, vol. 7 (1982), pages 185-190.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 28 

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Exeter Riddle 26

Exeter Riddle 29

MATTHIASAMMON

Date: Fri 26 Sep 2014
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 29
Original text:

Ic wiht geseah      wundorlice
hornum bitweonum      huþe lædan,
lyftfæt leohtlic,      listum gegierwed,
huþe to þam ham      of þam heresiþe;
5     walde hyre on þære byrig      bur atimbran
searwum asettan,      gif hit swa meahte.
Ða cwom wundorlicu wiht      ofer wealles hrof,
seo is eallum cuð      eorðbuendum,
ahredde þa þa huþe      ond to ham bedraf
10     wreccan ofer willan,      gewat hyre west þonan
fæhþum feran,      forð onette.
Dust stonc to heofonum,      deaw feol on eorþan,
niht forð gewat.      Nænig siþþan
wera gewiste      þære wihte sið.

Translation:

I saw a creature wondrously
carrying spoils between its horns,
a bright air-vessel, skillfully adorned,
the spoils to its home from the war-journey,
5     it wanted to build for itself a dwelling in that stronghold,
skilfully set it, if it could.
Then a wondrous creature came over the roof of the wall,
it is known to all earth-dwellers,
it liberated the spoils and drove the stranger
10     back to its home against its will, it departed west from there
going in strife, it hastened forth.
Dust rose to the heavens, dew fell on the earth,
the night departed. Afterwards none of men
knew the journey of that creature.

Click to show riddle solution?
Sun and moon, swallow and sparrow, cloud and wind, bird and wind


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 107v-108r 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 195.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 27: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 85.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 29 

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Exeter Riddle 34
Exeter Riddle 56

Eusebius Riddle 29: De aetate et saltu

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Rite, vicenis cum quadragies octies una
Quaeque sororum formatur de more mearum
Nempe momentis. Tunc ego sola, peracta, videbor
Cicli nondecimus cum deficit extimus annus.

Translation:

In due manner, every twenty-four hours (1)
Each one of my sisters is formed according to custom
Without doubt. Then I alone will be seen, completed,
When the nineteenth and final year of the cycle is passed.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the age and leap of the moon


Notes:

(1) Literally “with forty-eight by twenty momenta.”



Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Tatwine Riddle 29: De mensa

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Wed 05 Jan 2022
Original text:

Multiferis omnes dapibus saturare solesco,
Quadripedem hinc felix ditem me sanxerat aetas.
Esse tamen pulchris fatim dum vestibus orner,
Certatim me praedones spoliare solescunt.
Raptis nudata exuviis mox membra relinquunt.

Translation:

It is my custom to satisfy everyone with sumptuous feasts,
So happy age rendered me quadruped and rich.
Yet while I am sufficiently adorned with beautiful vestments,
Robbers tend to strip me eagerly.
When my spoils have been seized, then my limbs are left naked.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the table


Tags: riddles  latin  Tatwine 

Aldhelm Riddle 29: Aqua

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Tue 15 Mar 2022
Original text:

Quis non obstupeat nostri spectacula fati,
Dum virtute fero silvarum robora mille,
Ast acus exilis mox tanta gestamina rumpit?
Nam volucres caeli nantesque per aequora pisces
Olim sumpserunt ex me primordia vitae:
Tertia pars mundi mihi constat iure tenenda.

Translation:

Who would not be stupefied at the spectacle of my fate,
While with strength I bear a thousand oaks of the forests,
But a thin needle immediately ruptures such loads? 
For birds of the sky and fish swimming through the seas 
Once received from me the beginnings of life:
A third part of the world belongs to me according to law.

Click to show riddle solution?
Water


Notes:

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



Tags: riddles  latin  Aldhelm 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 29

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 07 Oct 2014
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 29

Did you get this one without looking at the solution? It’s usually seen as one of the more obvious Riddles: the sun and the moon. And because it is so obvious, people haven’t really found very much else to say about it. But let’s run through it quickly: The “creature” carrying the booty “between its horns” is the waxing moon – the image below nicely shows the “horns” and the space “between” them that gets filled up with light as the moon grows fuller. Then the sun comes over the horizon (if that’s what we think “over the roof/top of the wall” means) and slowly “takes back” its light, until the waning moon disappears into the new moon – nobody knows where it went, as in the final two lines. That’s it, then – done, dusted, let’s head off to the pub, shall we (maybe not this one though)?

Waxing_Crescent_Moon_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1627064

Photo (by Christine Matthews) from the Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 2.0).

But I know you’ve got used to much more in-depth analysis here at The Riddle Ages, so let’s see what we can do, shall we? Sticking for the moment with the natural phenomena, what are we to make of the dew and dust in the final few lines of the poem? There was a medieval belief that the moon produced dew, so let’s run with that. But how can there be dew and dust at the same time? Wouldn’t you have to have some sort of muddy grit? Well, yes – nobody has really found a good explanation for this yet but maybe we shouldn’t take the riddle quite so literally here and just enjoy the nice balance between the rising dust and the falling dew.

However, as you may have come to expect by now, the riddle can also be read on an allegorical level: some scholars have argued that it also describes the Harrowing of Hell, where Christ overcomes Satan to rescue or liberate (ahreddan) condemned souls from hell and lead them into heaven. The sun is often a symbol for Christ in early medieval writings (and think back for example to Riddle 6). Occasionally we find the moon standing in for Satan (but not because of the horns!) and so the struggle described in the riddle can be seen as a battle between those two. The story of Satan’s uprising against God and his downfall was very popular in early medieval England and the language used in the riddle may give us a further hint here: like the moon in the riddle, Satan tries to build a home for himself in heaven, with the help of ill-gotten gains, and is eventually driven out into exile by God. There’s a nice play on the ham here: the moon is trying to establish a ham (in line 4) but is driven out of there into a different ham (line 9): his real home, the exile outside of heaven.

So even in riddles where everyone agrees on the solution, there’s usually still a lot more to be said if you get into it. That’s why the riddles are brilliant!

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Joyce, John H. “Natural Process in Exeter Book Riddle #29.” Annuale Mediaevale, vol. 14 (1974), pages 5-13.

Murphy, Patrick J. Unriddling the Exeter Riddles. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2011, pages 123-39.

Whitman, Frank H. “The Christian Background to Two Riddle Motifs.” Studia Neophilologica, vol. 41 (1969), pages 93-8.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 29 

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Eusebius Riddle 30: De atramentorio

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Armorum fueram vice meque tenebat in armis
Fortis, et armigeri gestabar vertice tauri.
Vas tamen intus habens sum nunc intestina amara
Viscera, sed ructans bonus ibit nitor odoris.

Translation:

I was in the weapons’ role, and a strong one held me
In battle, and I was carried on the head of an armed bull.
I am now a vessel, however, holding bitter entrails and viscera 
Inside, but when I belch, good and elegant perfume will issue.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the inkhorn


Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Tatwine Riddle 30: De ense et vagina

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Wed 05 Jan 2022
Original text:

Armigeri dura cordis compagine fingor,
Cuius et hirsuti extat circumstantia pepli,
Pangitur et secto cunctum de robore culmen
Pellibus exterius strictim; quae tegmina tute
Offensam diris defendunt imbribus aulam.

Translation:

I am shaped by the hard framework of a warlike heart,
which is encircled in a hairy cloak,
And whose whole top, cut from oak, is fastened 
Tightly on the outside by skins; these coverings safely
Defend the home from damage by dreadful rains.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the sword and sheath


Tags: riddles  latin  Tatwine 

Exeter Riddles 30a and b

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 13 Oct 2014
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddles 30a and b

We have all sorts of treats for you today, so I hope you’re glued to your seats and screens. Not literally…that would be more than a little weird. First of all, we have a double riddle. That sounds amazing, I know, but it also requires explanation. Up until now, the riddles have all appeared one after another in the Exeter Book, but there are two versions of Riddle 30 — one here, and one later in the manuscript, following Homiletic Fragment II (absolutely scintillating name…). We’ve decided to do both versions of Riddle 30 at the same time, and for these we have a guest translator. Pirkko Koppinen completed her PhD at Royal Holloway, University of London, where she is currently a visiting lecturer. She also brings to us an expertise in museum and heritage studies, as well as Finnish. Pirkko has generously offered us not only English translations of both Riddle 30a and b, but also Finnish ones. Surely this can be described as nothing short of a cornucopia of riddle-fun. Take it away, Pirkko!



Original text:

Riddle 30a

Ic eom legbysig,      lace mid winde,
bewunden mid wuldre,      wedre gesomnad,
fus forðweges,      fyre gebysgad,
bearu blowende,      byrnende gled.
5     Ful oft mec gesiþas      sendað æfter hondum,
þæt mec weras ond wif      wlonce cyssað.
Þonne ic mec onhæbbe,      ond hi onhnigaþ to me
monige mid miltse,      þær ic monnum sceal
ycan upcyme      eadignesse.

 

 

 

 

 

Riddle 30b

Ic eom ligbysig,      lace mid winde,
w[……………..]dre gesomnad,
fus forðweges,      fyre gemylted,
b[ . ] blowende,      byrnende gled.
5     Ful oft mec gesiþas      sendað æfter hondum,
þær mec weras ond wif      wlonce gecyssað.
Þonne ic mec onhæbbe,      hi onhnigað to me,
modge miltsum,      swa ic mongum sceal
ycan upcyme      eadignesse.

Translation:

Riddle 30a

I am busy with fire, fight with the wind,
wound around with glory, united with storm,
eager for the journey, agitated by fire;
[I am] a blooming grove, a burning ember.
5     Very often companions send me from hand to hand
so that proud men and women kiss me.
When I exalt myself and they bow to me,
many with humility, there I shall
bring increasing happiness to humans.

A free rendering of Riddle 30a into Finnish:

Minä ahkeroin tulen kanssa, leikin tuulella. [Minä olen] kietoutunut kunniaan, yhdistetty myrskyyn. [Olen] innokas lähtemään, liekillä kiihotettu. [Olen] kukoistava lehto, hehkuva hiillos. Kumppanit kierrättävät minua usein kädestä käteen siellä, missä korskeat miehet ja naiset suutelevat minua. Kun ylistän itseäni ja he, monet, nöyränä kumartavat minua, siellä minä tuon karttuvaa riemua ihmisille.

 

Riddle 30b

I am busy with fire, fight with the wind,
[…] united […],
eager for the journey, consumed by fire;
[I am] a blooming […], a burning ember.
5     Very often companions send me from hand to hand
where proud men and women kiss me.
When I exalt myself, high-spirited [ones]
bow to me with humility, in this way I shall
bring increasing happiness to many.

A free rendering of Riddle 30b into Finnish:

Minä ahkeroin tulen kanssa. Leikin tuulella. […] on kiedottu […]. [Olen] innokas lähtemään, tulessa tuhottu. [Olen] kukoistava […], hehkuva hiillos. Useasti kumppanit kierrättävät minua kädestä käteen siellä, missä korskeat miehet ja naiset suutelevat minua. Kun ylistän itseäni, ja he, ylväät, nöyränä kumartavat minua. Täten minä tuon karttuvaa riemua monille.

Click to show riddle solution?
Beam, Cross, Wood, Tree, Snowflake


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 108r and 122v 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 195-6 and 224-5.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 28a and b: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 85-6.

Textual Notes

The damaged words in Riddle 30b are marked with square brackets. I have highlighted the differences in the two texts in bold and translated accordingly. Line 7b in Riddle 30a reads on hin gað (which is a nonsensical form) in the manuscript and is emended to onhnigað by using the text of Riddle 30b (line 7b); see Krapp and Dobbie, page 338.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 30 

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Aldhelm Riddle 30: Elementum

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Tue 15 Mar 2022
Original text:

Nos decem et septem genitae sine voce sorores
Sex alias nothas non dicimus annumerandas.
Nascimur ex ferro rursus ferro moribundae
Necnon et volucris penna volitantis ad aethram;
Terni nos fratres incerta matre crearunt.
Qui cupit instanter sitiens audire docentes,
Tum cito prompta damus rogitanti verba silenter.

Translation:

We, ten and seven sisters, born without a voice, 
Say that the six other illegitimates are not to be included. 
We are born of iron, will also die by iron, 
Or indeed by the feather of a bird flying through the sky.
Three brothers created us from an unknown mother.
Whoever in their thirst earnestly wishes to hear our teachings,
We quickly, silently give prepared words, then, to the one asking.

Click to show riddle solution?
Alphabet


Notes:

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



Tags: riddles  latin  Aldhelm 

Commentary for Exeter Riddles 30a and b

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 21 Oct 2014
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddles 30a and b

Like last week’s translations, Riddle 30a and b’s commentary once again comes to us from Pirkko Koppinen:

 

Riddle 30 exists as two separate texts in the manuscript, Riddle 30a and Riddle 30b (Krapp and Dobbie’s numbering). Such a double text is rare in Old English poetry. The reason why the riddle was copied in the manuscript twice will never be known for sure. There are some minor differences, however, which suggest to A. N. Doane that the scribe was copying the texts also “sonically” rather than just visually (page 49). The differences affect the interpretation of the two poems in terms of nuance, but in terms of solution they are of no major consequence (unless you wish to contest the accepted solution, of course). Riddle 30a is intact, but Riddle 30b has been damaged with a hot poker, which curiously fits the content of the poem; that is, the poem makes several references to fire.

Translating the first four lines of Riddle 30a and Riddle 30b is translating “earth, wind, and fire.” No, I do not mean that wonderful, American band that brought us many a disco tune; I mean the elements. At the beginning of the poem (of both texts) we learn about the riddle creature’s various preoccupations first with fire (line 1a), then wind (line 1b) and storm (line 2b), then fire (line 3b) again, then earth (“grove”, line 4a), and then once more its dealings with fire (line 4b). It is not surprising then that these lines have suggested to the solvers that we are dealing with a “tree.” Solving the rest of the riddle means understanding how trees were metamorphosed into wooden objects and matching those with the clues of the riddle.

As a cup, the riddle creature – transformed from wood into a material object – is passed from hand to hand and kissed by proud men and women (lines 5-6 in both riddles). The image recalls the communal drinking rituals in Beowulf where the men drink from their lord’s – or lady’s – cup as a gesture of loyalty (see e.g. Beowulf, lines 491-95a, 615-24, 1014b-17a, 1024b-25a, 1170, 1192-93a and 1231). The word wlonce (proud) in Riddle 30a and Riddle 30b, which in Old English is often used to describe princes and queens, suggests that we are indeed dealing with the high-ranking people, such as those depicted in Beowulf. The cup in the riddles may be a wooden cup decorated with an interlace collar, such as that found in the Sutton Hoo boat burial – a worthy drinking vessel of the early medieval royalty. It has been suggested that fus forweges (“eager for the journey,” line 3a) refers to a “ship” constructed of wood, but the phrase could also refer to the way a wooden log is quickly engulfed in flames once it ignites.

The last three lines of the poems explain how people show reverence to the riddle creature, and these lines have suggested to solvers that what we are dealing with is “a cross.” It was an important symbol for the newly converted early English Christian, as is demonstrated through the wonderful poem The Dream of the Rood (full translation here), which describes how the tree first grows free in the forest before it is cut down and transformed into gallows and then – washed with the Saviour’s blood – is transformed into a revered symbol of salvation. The cross, a narrator in The Rood, decorated with jewels is bewunden mid wuldre (“wound around with glory,” Riddle 30a, line 2a; Riddle 30b is damaged at this point). Just like the cross in The Rood, the riddle creature brings eadignesse (happiness/joy) to people when they bow to it; that is, when they pray to the cross for their salvation.

Wood as a material was of utmost importance for the early English. They built houses from timber, domestic objects from wood, and woodland trees were part of their economic landscape. Wood and trees were used in their food and drink production as a fuel and produce. In other words, wood was an integral part of the peoples' everyday life – not only in terms of their physical existence but also in terms of their religious beliefs (see Bintley and Shapland).

As a Finn, I understand this closeness to trees and wood as material of the everyday. I grew up in a house that was built in 1890 from wood and which was also heated solely with wood in the cold months. Wooden objects may not be as ubiquitous today as they were a hundred years ago, but, like the early medieval economy at the time, Finnish economy has been always also partially reliant on its forests. So translating Riddle 30a and Riddle 30b was a nostalgic affair to me. It made me think of how fire consumed wood when we heated the sauna in our wooden summer cottage. I remembered how we heated the coffee pot and cooked our meals on top of the wood burning stove where the logs turned into burning embers and still do in many Finnish houses and summer and winter cottages.

Wood burning fire

Photograph by Mira Suopelto

I remembered how we walked through the woods in a windy day and watched the trees bend and struggle in the wind and storm.

Trees blowing in wind

Photograph by P. Koppinen

Spoons, cups, jugs, and bowls would have been “kissed” by both men and women – of high status as well as others. Wooden objects are still crafted and used today, although not used as often as they were a hundred years ago.

Wooden dishes

Photograph by P. Koppinen

Our wooden churches were often built in the form of a cross and many a decorated altar piece is built from wood and “wound around with glory,” in front of which the congregation bow their heads in humility. This personal experience of trees, wood and woodlands of Finland created for me an intimate relationship with the riddle creature, which aided me in my attempt to translate the two riddles into Finnish. The Finnish translations are a little crude, literal translations, but they convey my nostalgia of Finnish forest, trees, and woodlands in my childhood so beautifully described in Riddle 30a and Riddle 30b. Of course, the riddle-texts may have led the solvers – along with me – astray and these riddles remain, as A. J. Wyatt has suggested, still unsolved. But that is the fun of riddles; there is always another way of reading the text, mystery to be solved and solution to be found. For now, I am happy to reminisce about the trees of my childhood.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Bintley, Michael D. J., and Michael G. Shapland, eds. Trees and Timber in the Anglo-Saxon World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Doane, A. N. “Spacing, Placing and Effacing: Scribal Textuality and Exeter Riddle 30 a/b.” In New Approaches to Editing Old English Verse. Ed. by Sarah Larratt Keefer and Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe. Cambridge: Brewer, 1998, pages 45-65.

Koppinen, Pirkko Anneli. “Breaking the Mould: Solving Riddle 12 as Wudu “Wood”.” In Trees and Timber in the Anglo-Saxon World. Ed. by Bintley and Shapland (see above), pages 158-76.

Liuzza, R. M. “The Texts of the Old English Riddle 30.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology, vol. 87 (1988), pages 1-15.

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

Wyatt, A. J., ed. Old English Riddles. The Belles Lettres Series, vol. 1. Boston, MA: Heath, 1912.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 30  pirkko koppinen  riddle 30a  riddle 30b 

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Exeter Riddles 30a and b

Eusebius Riddle 31: De caera

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Aequalem facie, scindit me vomer acutus,
At sulcata manens semper sum seminis expers.
Scissa premor post haec, sed sum speciosior inde.
Nunc ego verba tenens; nunc saepe repello tenebras.

Translation:

A sharp plough cuts me, smooth of face,
But although I remain grooved, I always lack seed. 
Cut, I am pressed afterwards, but I am then more beautiful. 
Now I hold words; now often I repel the darkness.

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On the wax tablet


Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius