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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 38

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 04 May 2015
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 38

So, what am I gonna say about Riddle 38, eh? That’s the question, my friends. That is the question.

I suppose I could talk about how this riddle seems to depict a young ox or bullock, i.e. a castrated bull. This makes for a rather ironic use of the lovely Old English compound wæpned-cynn, which literally means “weaponed kind” and metaphorically means “dudes” (or maybe “the male sex”…depends on whether you’re translating for the internet or for an essay/exam/any-academic-enterprise-in-which-the-word-dude-is-unfortunately-a-no-go).

Riddle 38 isn’t the only Old English text to use the term wæpned-cynn or the related compounds wæpned-bearn/-cild (male child), wæpned-had (male sex), wæpned-hand/-healf (male side/line), wæpned-man (male person). In fact, these compounds are fairly common in prose and appear in several poetic texts, including Beowulf, Exodus and Genesis A. The last of these poems also includes the first element of the compound on its own in the formula wif and wæpned (women and men) (lines 195a and 2746a).

Distinguishing men by the weapons they carried seems to have roots in Germanic tradition. In fact, a Thuringian law-code that survives in a tenth-century manuscript refers to the male line as lancea (spear) and the female line as fusus (spindle) (von Schwerin, page 61, line 25). The ox of Riddle 38 is obviously not carrying a spear or sword (because hooves!), but horns and antlers are characterized as weapony in other riddles (Spoiler Alert!: Riddles 14, 88 and 93). Of course, that’s not to say that there isn’t another sort of weapon in this riddle. The Old English term wæpen was a euphemism for a particular part of the male anatomy, if you know what I mean (penis…what I mean is obviously penis…you may all stop giggling now). This is where I read the irony in Riddle 38. The poem refers to an ox – although obviously still a male creature with a penis, the castrated beast of burden is lacking in other rather obvious features of the male body (testicles…now I’m referring to testicles…seriously, STOP laughing). Is this riddle making fun, perchance? Possibly. Although I should also note that the reference to ploughing in this poem is problematic, as I’ll discuss below. So, maybe we’re wrong to assume this fella is a castrated ox…maybe he’s just a run of the mill, fully intact young bull.

I hope I haven’t put you all to sleep by musing about cattle genitalia. If not, let’s move on to some other, slightly less physical compounds: geoguðmyrþe in line 2a and ferðfriþende in line 3a. Geoguðmyrþe means something like “youthful joy,” which goes quite nicely with the fantastic image in my head of a frolicking calf following his mum around a field. This is what the calf in my head looks like:

Highland calf

FLUFFY! Photo (by Aconcagua) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0).

The manuscript actually reads geoguð myrwe, but most scholars accept the change to geoguðmyrþe, since myrwe presents all manner of linguistic problems, which I promise not to bore you with (if you want to know more, see Williamson, page 256). As for ferðfriþende, this compound means “life-saving,” and it’s a bit unclear what it refers to (i.e. the mother cow – which is how I read it – or the four springs). In fact, lines 2b-4 are quite tricksy in general and have been translated all sorts of different ways (see Williamson, pp. 256-7).

I should also mention the weird shift in grammatical gender (grammar, wonderful grammar!) that comes at the end of the riddle. Line 6 begins with what is clearly the feminine form of the third-person pronoun (i.e. Modern English “she/he/it”…here “she” = hio), while line 7 includes the masculine form of the third-person pronoun (he). The first, feminine instance may refer back to the grammatical gender of seo wiht (the creature) and the second, masculine instance may refer to the natural gender of the ox/bull. Why shift, though? Most scholars/translators just elide the shift entirely and translate with “he” or “it,” but I suppose it’s possible that the “she” is the mother cow, who will go on to become a beast of burden, while the “he” is the calf, who will go on to become leather. Debby Banham and Rosamond Faith have recently pointed out that female cattle may have also played a role in ploughing, particularly in small-scale agriculture (page 108). So, we can’t make the claim that only an ox would be appropriately placed to “break the hills.”

Still, this explanation may be reaching slightly when we take the clunkiness of the final lines into account. Because the real problem with Riddle 38 is that the beginning and the end kinda jar. We start off with a nice little pastoral poem, which seems poised to build into one of those riddles that contrasts the happy freedom of youth with the sad incarceration of age. There are unique compounds and careful metrics. And then, where we’d expect a turn in the poem, we get a quick formulaic ending in a verse style that’s full of strange metrical irregularities (Williamson, page 257). This has led some scholars to suggest that the end of the poem may have actually been prose, which was tacked on to the beginning of a poem for some reason (Williamson, pages 257-8).

In fact, you may remember the formulaic ending from Riddle 12 and its commentary. Lines 13b-15 of that riddle read:

                         Saga hwæt ic hatte,

þe ic lifgende      lond reafige

ond æfter deaþe     dryhtum þeowige.

(Say what I am called, I who living ravage the land and after death serve the masses.)

Similar sentiment, eh? Even closer to Riddle 38 is the Latin prose riddle of pseudo-Bede: Vidi filium inter quatuor fons nutritum: si uiuus fuit, disrupit montes; si mortuus fuit, alligauit uiuos (Bayless and Lapidge, page 144, no. 144) (I saw a son raised among four springs: if he was living, he shattered mountains; if he was dead, he fettered the living). Springs and shattering mountains and fetters! We know that these elements were travelling around in a bundle because we also have similar depictions of the living/dead bovine binary in Aldhelm’s Latin Enigma 83, De iuvenco and the Lorsch riddle, Enigma 11, De tauro.

But, actually, the closest Latin enigma to Riddle 38 is from the collection of the Anglo-Latin poet Eusebius. His Enigma 37, De vitulo goes a little something like this:

Post genitrix me quam peperit mea saepe solesco

Inter ab uno fonte riuos bis bibere binos

Progredientes; et si uixero, rumpere colles

Incipiam; uiuos moriens aut alligo multos. (Glorie, vol. 133, page 247)

(After my mother bore me, I often used to go forth to drink among two by two [i.e. four] streams from one source; and if I live, I will begin to break the hills; or dying I bind many of the living.)

Scholars like to comment that these two poems are very closely related (Bitterli, pages 28-9), and they most certainly seem to be. But I’d also like to point out that Eusebius has two other bovine riddles in his collection: Enigma 12, De bove and 13, De vacca. The first of these is all about the toil of ploughing, while the second is about the nourishing nature of the cow. De vacca reads:

Sunt pecudes multae mihi, quas nutrire solebam;

Meque premente fame non lacteque carneue uescor,

Cumque cibis aliis et pascor aquis alienis;

Ex me multi uiuunt, ex me et flumina currunt. (Glorie, vol. 133, page 223)

(There are many creatures for me, which I used to nourish; but with hunger oppressing me I do not consume milk or meat, since I feed on other foods and different drinks; many live from me, and from me streams flow.)

I can’t help but wonder if the emphasis on the mother as life-saver in Riddle 38 draws not only on Eusebius’ calf poem, but also his cow riddle. Either way, I think it’s time for me to moo-ve on and stop milking this post for all it’s worth.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Banham, Debby, and Rosamond Faith. Anglo-Saxon Farms and Farming. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Bayless, Martha, and Michael Lapidge, eds and trans. Collectanea Pseudo-Bedae. Scriptores Latini Hiberniae 14. Dublin: School of Celtic Studies, Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies, 1998.

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.

von Schwerin, Claudius, ed. Leges Saxonum und Lex Thuringorum. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Fontes Iuris Germanici Antiqui. Hanover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1918.

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



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 38 

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Exeter Riddle 39

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Wed 01 Apr 2015
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 39 | Response to Exeter Riddle 39
Original text:

Gewritu secgað      þæt seo wiht sy
mid moncynne     miclum tidum
sweotol ond gesyne.      Sundorcræft hafað
maran micle,      þonne hit men witen.
5     Heo wile gesecan      sundor æghwylcne
feorhberendra,      gewiteð eft feran on weg.
Ne bið hio næfre      niht þær oþre,
ac hio sceal wideferh      wreccan laste
hamleas hweorfan;     no þy heanre biþ.
10     Ne hafað hio fot ne folme,      ne æfre foldan hran,
ne eagena     ægþer twega,
ne muð hafaþ,      ne wiþ monnum spræc,
ne gewit hafað,      ac gewritu secgað
þæt seo sy earmost      ealra wihta,
15     þara þe æfter gecyndum     cenned wære.
Ne hafað hio sawle ne feorh,     ac hio siþas sceal
geond þas wundorworuld     wide dreogan.
Ne hafaþ hio blod ne ban,      hwæþre bearnum wearð
geond þisne middangeard     mongum to frofre.
20     Næfre hio heofonum hran,     ne to helle mot,
ac hio sceal wideferh      wuldorcyninges
larum lifgan.      Long is to secganne
hu hyre ealdorgesceaft      æfter gongeð,
woh wyrda gesceapu;      þæt is wrætlic þing
25     to gesecganne.      Soð is æghwylc
þara þe ymb þas wiht      wordum becneð;
ne hafað heo ænig lim,      leofaþ efne seþeah.
Gif þu mæge reselan     recene gesecgan
soþum wordum,      saga hwæt hio hatte.

Translation:

Writings say that the creature is
among humankind much of the time
plain and perceivable. She has a special skill
much greater, when people know it.
5     She will seek specially every one
of life-bearers, departs again to travel away.
She is never there a second night,
but she must roam the wretched path
homeless for a long time; she is not humbled by that.
10     She does not have a foot nor hand, she has not ever touched the earth,
nor does she have either of two eyes,
nor a mouth, nor speaks with humans,
nor has a mind, but writings say
that she is the saddest of all creatures,
15     of those who were born naturally.
She does not have a soul nor life, but she must endure
journeys widely throughout this wonder-world.
She does not have blood nor bone, but is a comfort
for many children throughout this middle-earth.
20     She has never touched heaven, nor may she [go] to hell,
but she must for a long time live in the teachings
of the glory-king. It is long to tell
how her life-condition goes afterwards,
the twisted shapes of events; that is a wondrous thing
25     to say. Everything is true
of that which is indicated with words about this creature;
she does not have any limbs, yet lives even so.
If you may say the solution straightaway
with true words, say what she is called.

Click to show riddle solution?
Dream, Death, Cloud, Speech, Faith, Day, Moon, Time, Comet


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 109v-110r 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 199-200.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 37: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 90-1.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 39 

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Response to Exeter Riddle 39
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Eusebius Riddle 39: De I littera

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Effigie gracilis sum, usurpans famina regum.
Nempe, mearum grossior est me quaeque sororum,
Sed me vis sequitur maior, nam sola duarum
Et regimen hominis aliaque sceptra patrabo.

Translation:

Slender in appearance, I carry out the speech of kings.
Certainly, each of my sisters is stouter than I,
But greater strength follows me, for alone of two 
I achieve the control of man and other powers.

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


Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Tatwine Riddle 39: De cote

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Wed 05 Jan 2022
Original text:

Natam me gelido terrae de viscere dicunt,
Inclita Romanis sed et urbs dudum vocitabar.
Sordida, calcantum pedibus nunc sternor, inermis.
Ridet acumine qui rodens me lingit abunde.

Translation:

They say I was born from the icy inside of the earth,
But previously I used to be called a famous city by the Romans.
Now, dirty, unarmed, I am scattered underfoot.
The nibbling one who licks me plentifully smiles with a sharpened point.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the whetstone


Tags: riddles  latin  Tatwine 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 39

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 08 Jun 2015
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 39

I can’t help it, guys, I keep thinking about Harry Potter. “But you’re a grown-up academic, Megan! Whatcha doin’ thinking about children’s books?” I hear you saying. To which, I reply, respectfully of course, that people from all walks of life can (and should) read Harry Potter, and it’s totally steeped in medieval references, and, anyway, who do you think you are questioning my life-choices and acting all hoity-toity?

But, imagined attacks based on what I keep my bookshelf aside, I keep thinking about Harry Potter because of one of the proposed solutions to this riddle: Death (see Erhardt-Siebold). In fairness, interpreting this riddle as Death also has me thinking about Chaucer, but that’s sort of encouraged in my line of work. Not familiar with either of those references? Allow me to expand.

Chaucer’s Pardoner’s Tale tells the story of three greedy, boastful chaps who set out to defeat Death, only to be tricked by an old man into killing each other. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows picks up on this personification of Death and the folktale motif of three brothers trying to outwit him, and includes it in a story within the story (meta, right?). And, yes, I know that Riddle 39 doesn’t have three dudes in it, but, according to some, it most certainly does have a personified Death character who – neither properly alive nor dead – wanders in exile and seeks out each and every mortal. I know what you’re thinking: grim reaper, much?

LEGO Grim Reaper

Photo by kosmolaut, subject to a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

But the Old English depiction is less scary, and more, well…wistful…I suppose. The figure is the earmost ealra wihta (saddest/poorest of all creatures) (line 14), but also a comfort (frofre) (line 19b) to people (the poem says bearnum, “children,” but this is a fairly common way of speaking about all human beings). Marie Nelson points out that the obsession with the lives of saints and martyrs in the medieval period may have meant that some viewed death in a fairly positive light (see page 430, footnote 22).

Of course, this Death figure is also depicted as female in Riddle 39. Notably, the Old English term deað is NOT grammatically feminine, which means – if we accept this solution – we’re dealing with a deliberate choice on the part of the poet. There are other words for “death” that are feminine, but these tend to be quite specific (like cwalu, meaning “violent death”) or fairly rare (like the various “travelling forth” terms, forþferednes / forþfering / forþgeleoredness / forþfor, which typically appear as translations or glosses of Latin terms).

But Death is not the only solution. In fact, if we push Death to one side (I HAVE DEFEATED DEATH! KNEEL BEFORE ME, MORTALS!), we find quite a few other contenders in our path. Suggested in the past, but not greatly taken up, are Day, Moon and Time. Despite those being unpopular, the closely related Cloud has attracted a following. The Old English term wolcen, notably, is a feminine one. And two separate chaps in the 1970s pointed out the appropriateness of the riddle-subject’s wandering, suspension between heaven and earth, lack of body, and visibility, in relation to this solution (see Kennedy and Meyvaert).

Ruined castle

Photo of clouds courtesy of yours truly. The castle is an added bonus.

Paul Meyvaert also suggested that Riddle 39 derives from Aldhelm’s Anglo-Latin Enigma 3, De nube (on the cloud):

 Versicolor fugiens caelum terramque relinquo,

Non tellure locus mihi, non in parte polorum est:

Exilium nullus modo tam crudele ueretur;

Sed madidis mundum faciam frondescere guttis.

(Glorie, vol. 133, pages 384-5)

(With changing colours, I, fleeing, abandon sky and land, there is no place for me on the earth, nor in the region of the heavens: no one else fears so cruel an exile; but with wet drops I make the world flourish.)

Of course, as Stanley B. Greenfield points out, this Latin riddle has a few clues that the Old English one doesn’t, namely the reference to rain and the cloud’s changing of colour (see pages 97-8). The Old English riddle also has a number of clues that separate it from Enigma 3, including the fact that the riddle-subject seeks people out individually (lines 5-6) and doesn’t return a second night (line 7). This reference to niht is key – do clouds tend to be sweotol ond gesyne (plain and perceivable) (line 3a) at night?

Not only does Greenfield aim to do away with Cloud as a solution, he also deftly defeats Craig Williamson’s idea of Speech (page 259), pointing out that line 12’s reference to not having a mouth and not speaking with people (ne muð hafað, ne wiþ monnum spræc) roundly contradicts that particular solution (Greenfield, page 98).

Greenfield’s own suggestion is Dream, which is quite a tidy solution and fits most of the riddle’s clues. He has lots of clever things to say about dreams in biblical scripture, about Old English glosses of Latin hymns that have similar exilic imagery and about the cryptic image in line 24a, woh wyrda gesceapu (the twisted shapes of events), which he takes as a reference to how difficult it is to interpret dreams (see pages 99-100).

The solution Dream is backed by a number of critics who aim to refine Greenfield’s suggestion, including Eric G. Stanley and Antonina Harbus. Harbus in particular points out the visual emphasis of the poem, and says this riddle depicts a Revelatory Dream. This is important, given that the riddle-subject says she doesn’t speak to people in line 12. A dream vision, of course, doesn’t have to include speech – the images do the talking (metaphorically-speaking).

I know I spent a long time dwelling on Death at the beginning of this post, but between the two of them, Greenfield and Harbus make a pretty damn good case for Dream based on particular keywords – like recene (at once) (line 28b), near homophone of recenes (interpretation) – and references to other Old English accounts of “dreams as roaming, noisy bearers of information” (Harbus, page 144).

What’s the Old English word for “dream,” then? Well, swefn, of course…which is a neuter noun. So, now we’re back to wondering about grammatical versus natural gender. Should we be using a far less common Old English term that is feminine, like mæting (dream)? Or did the poet make the Dream figure female on purpose? Should we be looking to other texts that depict personified women bringing visions to individuals, like, say, Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy (which we know was very popular, and which was translated into Old English prose and verse)? Is this Dream figure linked to Lady Wisdom, who would go on to lead a very full literary life in the later Middle Ages (see Schaus, page 840)?

So many questions…it’s not hard to see why this riddle has been considered “one of the finest of the Old English riddle collection” (Erhardt-Siebold, page 915). It’s also, I think, one of the hardest to solve. So, I’ll leave the final word on the matter up to you lot. I’ve got a sudden hankering to listen to the Everly Brothers.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading

Erhardt-Siebold, Erika von. “Old English Riddle No. 39: Creature Death.” Publications of the Modern Language Association, vol. 61 (1946), pages 910-15.

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

Greenfield, Stanley B. “Old English Riddle 39 Clear and Visible.” Anglia, vol. 98 (1980), pages 95-100.

Harbus, Antonina. “Exeter Book Riddle 39 Reconsidered.” Studia Neophilologica, vol. 70 (1998), pages 139-48.

Kennedy, Christopher B. “Old English Riddle No. 39.” English Language Notes, vol. 13 (1975), pages 81-85.

Meyvaert, Paul. “The Solution to Old English Riddle 39.” Speculum, vol. 51 (1976), pages 195-201.

Nelson, Marie. “The Rhetoric of the Exeter Book Riddles.” Speculum, vol. 49 (1974), pages 421-40.

Schaus, Margaret, ed. Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Stanley, Eric G. “Stanley B. Greenfield’s Solution of Riddle (ASPR) 39: ‘Dream’.” Notes and Queries, vol. 236 (1991), pages 148-9.

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



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 39 

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Response to Exeter Riddle 39

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Wed 10 Jun 2015
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 39

Didn’t I say at the end of my last post that Riddle 39 is one of the hardest to solve? Well, it’s because of the riddle’s tricksy-ness that The Riddle Ages can now offer you a special, extra post with another option for solving this bad boy.

Our response post comes to us from Bob DiNapoli, a medievalist who has lectured on Old and Middle English texts at universities in North America, England and Australia. He’s currently working on a translation/commentary of Beowulf and, as the founder/director of The Melbourne Literature Seminars, he offers courses for the public on all manner of medieval and literary things.

Righto, take it away, Bob!:

The opening lines of Riddle 39 make claims for its “creature” (wiht) that are both imposing and maddeningly vague:

Gewritu secgað    þæt seo wiht sy
mid moncynne     miclum tidum
sweotol ond gesyne.   Sundorcræft hafað
maram micle,   þonne hit men witen.
Heo wile gesecan   sundor æghwylcne
feorhberendra,     gewiteð eft feran on weg.
Ne bið hio næfre     niht þær oþre,
ac hio sceal wideferh   wreccan laste
hamleas hweorfan;   no þy heanre biþ. (lines 1-9)
(Writings say this creature is obvious, many times seen among the race of men. A peculiar power it wields, far greater than people comprehend. It will seek out each and every living thing, then departs on its way, never standing still from night to night, but without a home it must wander far and wide along the exile’s path, yet none the more wretched for that.)

Did I mention contradictory? This critter is an exile, but it’s not wretched – unlike every other exile in Old English literature (ask The Wanderer). Its power is uncanny, and it gets around, as we know from “writings” or “scripture” (gewritu). Much of the rest of the riddle seems to tell us what this being is not: it has no limbs and no face, no soul nor spirit. It resides nowhere: endlessly restless on earth, it touches neither heaven nor hell. In the Middle Ages that’s tantamount to saying it lives nowhere.

Once again the riddle references gewritu:

                             gewritu secgað
þæt seo sy earmost     ealra wihta,
þara þe æfter gecyndum     cenned wære. (lines 13b-15)
(writings say that it is the most disadvantaged creature of all that were ever brought forth according to kind.)

Note how the idea of textual literacy seems to float somewhere above this wiht, characterizing it and assessing it for us with unquestioned authority, and with no little condescension: “most disadvantaged,” indeed! That will turn out to be part of the joke, by the time we get to the end.

“Yet,” the riddle continues from line 21,

ac hio sceal wideferh     wuldorcyninges
larum lifgan.   Long is to secganne
hu hyre ealdorgesceaft     æfter gongeð —
woh wyrda gesceapu;     þæt is wrætlic þing
to gesecganne. (lines 21-5a)
(in the teaching of the glory-King it lives forever. It would take long to tell how its life is appointed to go thereafter – the twisting courses of its appointed fate; that is a complex matter to relate.)

“The teaching of the glory-King” could refer only to the teachings of Christ in the gospels, where this creature “lives forever.” Remember that Christ taught his disciples and the crowds who followed him orally: like Plato’s Socrates, he left the scribbling of his words (gewritu again) to others. This is one of the riddle’s key tell-tales, for, along with Craig Williamson, I reckon its solution has got to be “the spoken word.” Greenfield’s objection to this solution is not supported by the poem’s reference to the wiht not speaking with mouth to men. “Spoken” words don’t speak. They are spoken. Humans actually “speak” them. It’s a bit of grammatico-syntactic jiggery-pokery, what I call “riddlic camouflage” in my article, but that’s what the riddles often traffic in, no?

Also, remember that the Old English poetry we know from its many manuscript survivals represents a textualised variant of an originally oral tradition. Most early English poets seem consciously or subliminally aware of their native literature’s pre-textual history. Along comes Christianity in 597, with all its monks, monasteries and scriptoria in tow, and suddenly the scop’s oral authority finds itself trumped by the new culture’s textual authority.

This riddle celebrates the traditional spoken word’s deft evasion of the monolithic claims to authority staked by the textual culture administered by the monks. Look at its cheeky stashing of its solution in plain view where it says the creature’s later history would be long to gesecganne (“to say” or “to speak”). Does this hint that Christ’s spoken teachings made their way into the written record of the gospels by overly complex or devious routes? Might Christ’s sayings in the written gospels then somehow differ from what he actually said? Perhaps not literally, but the issue’s left dangling uneasily.

Much more jolly is this riddle’s conclusion, which assures us that

Soð is æghwylc
þara þe ymb þas wiht     wordum becneð. (lines 25b-6)
(True is anything that signifies about this creature in words.)

In other words, anything we might say in response to this riddle, whose answer is “the spoken word,” constitutes a correct answer: “sword” or “Jane Austen” or “chicken tikka masala” would all constitute satisfactory answers. Bear in mind that the culture of textual authority that dominated the monastic Christianity of early medieval England fostered a certain anxiety: in the reading and interpretation of scripture, there was a fairly restricted range of correct responses to authoritative text and a literal infinity of incorrect ones. And getting it right mattered. This riddle represents a kind of holiday from that anxious culture of textual authority.

Try it. You can’t go wrong!

 

[One last note from The Riddle Ages: Bob reckons the gendered portrayal of the Spoken Word stems from the grammatically feminine term wiht. This is possible, but some riddles do use masculine pronouns alongside wiht and I think we should at least entertain the possibility that the solution is supposed to be a grammatically feminine one. Williamson’s proposed solution in Old English – word – is neuter, but something like the equally common term spræc (speech) would do away with the issue of why the speaker is female, because it is in fact grammatically feminine.]

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading

DiNapoli, Robert. “In the Kingdom of the Blind, the One-Eyed Man is a Seller of Garlic: Depth-Perception and the Poet’s Perspective in the Exeter Book Riddles.” English Studies, vol. 81 (2000), pages 422-55.

Greenfield, Stanley B. “Old English Riddle 39 Clear and Visible.” Anglia, vol. 98 (1980), pages 95-100.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 39  bob dinapoli 

Related Posts:
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 39
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 81
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 86

Exeter Riddle 40

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Wed 24 Jun 2015
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 40

This riddle is super-duper long! You’ll understand why when you get to the solution…



Original text:

Ece is se scyppend,      se þas eorþan nu
wreðstuþum wealdeð      ond þas world healdeð.
Rice is se reccend     ond on ryht cyning
ealra anwalda,      eorþan ond heofones,
5     healdeð ond wealdeð,      swa he ymb þas utan hweorfeð.
He mec wrætlice      worhte æt frymþe,
þa he þisne ymbhwyrft     ærest sette,
heht mec wæccende     wunian longe,
þæt ic ne slepe      siþþan æfre,
10     ond mec semninga     slæp ofergongeþ,
beoð eagan min     ofestum betyned.
Þisne middangeard     meahtig dryhten
mid his onwalde     æghwær styreð;
swa ic mid waldendes      worde ealne
15     þisne ymbhwyrft      utan ymbclyppe.
Ic eom to þon bleað,     þæt mec bealdlice mæg
gearu gongende      grima abregan,
ond eofore eom     æghwær cenra,
þonne he gebolgen     bidsteal giefeð;
20     ne mæg mec oferswiþan     segnberendra
ænig ofer eorþan,      nymþe se ana god
se þisne hean heofon     healdeþ ond wealdeþ.
Ic eom on stence      strengre micle
þonne ricels      oþþe rose sy,
25     [a half-line is missing here] on eorþan tyrf
wynlic weaxeð;     ic eom wræstre þonne heo.
Þeah þe lilie sy     leof moncynne,
beorht on blostman,     ic eom betre þonne heo;
swylce ic nardes stenc     nyde oferswiþe
30     mid minre swetnesse      symle æghwær,
ond ic fulre eom     þonne þis fen swearte
þæt her yfle      adelan stinceð.
Eal ic under heofones      hwearfte recce,
swa me leof fæder     lærde æt frymþe,
35     þæt ic þa mid ryhte      reccan moste
þicce ond þynne;     þinga gehwylces
onlicnesse     æghwær healde.
Hyrre ic eom heofone,      hateþ mec heahcyning
his deagol þing     dyre bihealdan;
40     eac ic under eorþan      eal sceawige
wom wraðscrafu      wraþra gæsta.
Ic eom micle yldra     þonne ymbhwyrft þes
oþþe þes middangeard     meahte geweorþan,
ond ic giestron wæs     geong acenned
45     mære to monnum     þurh minre modor hrif.
Ic eom fægerre     frætwum goldes,
þeah hit mon awerge     wirum utan;
ic eom wyrslicre      þonne þes wudu fula
oððe þis waroð     þe her aworpen ligeð.
50     Ic eorþan eom     æghwær brædre,
ond widgielra      þonne þes wong grena;
folm mec mæg bifon      ond fingras þry
utan eaþe     ealle ymbclyppan.
Heardra ic eom ond caldra      þonne se hearda forst,
55     hrim heorugrimma,     þonne he to hrusan cymeð;
ic eom Ulcanus     up irnendan
leohtan leoman     lege hatra.
Ic eom on goman      gena swetra
þonne þu beobread      blende mid hunige;
60     swylce ic eom wraþre     þonne wermod sy,
þe her on hyrstum      heasewe stondeþ.
Ic mesan mæg     meahtelicor
ond efnetan      ealdum þyrse,
ond ic gesælig mæg     symle lifgan
65     þeah ic ætes ne sy     æfre to feore.
Ic mæg fromlicor     fleogan þonne pernex
oþþe earn oþþe hafoc     æfre meahte;
nis zefferus,     se swifta wind,
þæt swa fromlice mæg      feran æghwær;
70     me is snægl swiftra,      snelra regnwyrm
ond fenyce     fore hreþre;
is þæs gores sunu     gonge hrædra,
þone we wifel      wordum nemnað.
Hefigere ic eom micle      þonne se hara stan
75     oþþe unlytel     leades clympre,
leohtre ic eom micle      þonne þes lytla wyrm
þe her on flode gæð      fotum dryge.
Flinte ic eom heardre     þe þis fyr drifeþ
of þissum strongan      style heardan,
80     hnescre ic eom micle     halsrefeþre,
seo her on winde      wæweð on lyfte.
Ic eorþan eom      æghwær brædre
ond widgelra     þonne þes wong grena;
ic uttor eaþe      eal ymbwinde,
85     wrætlice gewefen     wundorcræfte.
Nis under me      ænig oþer
wiht waldendre     on worldlife;
ic eom ufor      ealra gesceafta,
þara þe worhte      waldend user,
90     se mec ana mæg      ecan meahtum,
geþeon þrymme,     þæt ic onþunian ne sceal.
Mara ic eom ond strengra      þonne se micla hwæl,
se þe garsecges      grund bihealdeð
sweartan syne;      ic eom swiþre þonne he,
95     swylce ic eom on mægene     minum læsse
þonne se hondwyrm,      se þe hæleþa bearn,
secgas searoþoncle,      seaxe delfað.
Nu hafu ic in heafde      hwite loccas
wræste gewundne,      ac ic eom wide calu;
100     ne ic breaga ne bruna     brucan moste,
ac mec bescyrede      scyppend eallum;
nu me wrætlice      weaxað on heafde
þæt me on gescyldrum     scinan motan
ful wrætlice      wundne loccas.
105   Mara ic eom ond fættra      þonne amæsted swin,
bearg bellende,     þe on bocwuda,
won wrotende      wynnum lifde
þæt he … [a page is missing in the manuscript here at the end]

Translation:

The creator is eternal, he who now controls
and holds this earth to its foundations.
The ruler is powerful and king by right,
the lone wielder of all, he holds and controls
5   earth and heaven, just as he encompasses about these things.
He wondrously created me in the beginning,
when he first built this world,
commanded me to remain watching for a long time,
so that I should not sleep ever after,
10     and sleep comes upon me suddenly,
my eyes are quickly shut.
The mighty lord controls in every respect
this middle-earth with his power;
just as I by the word of my leader
15     entirely enclose this globe.
I am so timid that a spectre quickly
travelling can frighten me fully,
and I am everywhere bolder
than a boar when he, enraged, makes a stand;
20     no standard-bearer in the world
can overpower me, except the one God
who holds and controls this high heaven.
I am in scent much stronger
than incense or rose are,
25     [a half-line is missing here] in the turf of the earth
agreeably grows; I am more delicate than she.
Although the lily is beloved to humankind,
bright in blossom, I am better than she;
likewise I necessarily overpower the nard’s scent
30     with my sweetness everywhere at all times,
and I am fouler than this dark fen
that stinks nastily here with its filth.
I rule all under the circuit of heaven,
just as the beloved father taught me in the beginning,
35     so that I might rule by right
the thick and thin; I held the likeness
everywhere of everything.
Higher I am than heaven, the high-king calls commands me
secretly to behold his mysterious nature;
40     I also see all the impure, foul dens
of evil spirits under the earth.
I am much older than this world
or this middle-earth might become,
and I was born young yesterday
45     famous among humans through my mother’s womb.
I am fairer than treasure of gold,
though it be covered all over with wires;
I am more vile than this foul wood
or this sea-weed that lies cast up here.
50     I am broader everywhere than the earth,
and wider than this green plain;
a hand can seize me and three fingers
easily enclose me entirely.
I am harder and colder than the hard frost
55     the sword-grim rime, when it goes to the ground;
I am hotter than the fire of bright light
of Vulcan moving quickly on high.
I am yet sweeter in the mouth
than when you blend bee-bread with honey;
60     likewise I am harsher than wormwood is,
which stands here grey in the wood.
I can feast more mightily
and eat as much as an old giant,
and I can live happily forever
65     although I see no food ever again.
I can fly faster than a pernex
or an eagle or a hawk ever might;
there is no zephyr, that swift wind,
that can journey anywhere faster;
70     a snail is swifter than me, an earth-worm quicker
and the fen-turtle journeys faster;
the son of dung is speedier of step,
that which we call in words ‘weevil’.
I am much heavier than the grey stone
75     or an not-little lump of lead,
I am much lighter than this little insect
that walks here on the water with dry feet.
I am harder than the flint that forces this fire
from this strong, hard steel,
80     I am much softer than the downy-feather,
that blows about here in the air on the breeze.
I am broader everywhere than the earth
and wider than this green plain;
I easily encircle everything,
85     miraculously woven with wondrous skill.
There is no other creature under me
more powerful in this worldly life;
I am above all created things,
those that our ruler wrought,
90     he alone can increase my might,
subdue my strength, so that I do not swell up.
I am bigger and stronger than the great whale,
that beholds the bottom of the sea
with its dark countenance; I am stronger than he,
95     likewise I am less in my strength
than the hand-worm, which the children of warriors,
clever-minded men, dig out with a knife.
I do not have light locks on my head,
delicately wound, but I am bare far and wide;
100     nor might I enjoy eyelids nor eyebrows,
but the creator deprived me of all;
now wondrously wound locks
grow on my head, so that they might shine
on my shoulders most wondrously,
105     I am bigger and fatter than a fattened swine,
a swarthy boar, who lived joyfully
bellowing in a beech-wood, rooting away,
so that he … [a page is missing in the manuscript here at the end]

Click to show riddle solution?
Creation


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 110r-111v 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 200-3.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 38: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 91-4.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 40 

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Exeter Riddle 88
Exeter Riddle 26
Exeter Riddle 73

Eusebius Riddle 40: De pisce

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:


Non volo penniger aethram; non vago rura pedester.
Sic manibus pedibusque carens, me pennula fulcit.
Trano per undisonas ac turgida cerula lymphas,
Astriferumque polum et sublime peragro tribunal.

Translation:

I do not fly, winged, through the air; I do not roam the fields on foot.
Thus lacking hands and feet, a fin supports me.
I swim through the roaring waters and swollen sea,
And I travel through the starry sky and the judgement seat on high.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the fish


Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Tatwine Riddle 40: De radiis solis

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Wed 05 Jan 2022
Original text:

Summa poli spatians dum lustro cacumina laetus,
Dulcibus allecti dapibus sub culmine curvo
Intus ludentem sub eodem temporis ortu
Cernere me tremulo possunt in culmine caeli
Corporis absens. Plausu, quid sum pandite, sophi!

Translation:

While I, proceeding happily, illuminate the high peaks of the heavens,
Those admitted to the sweet feasts under the curved roof
Can observe me at the same sunrise playing inside and
On the trembling summit of the heavens
Without a body. With applause, wise men, reveal what I am!

Click to show riddle solution?
On the suns’ rays


Tags: riddles  latin  Tatwine 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 40

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Wed 10 Jun 2015
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 40

I hope that you’ve all enjoyed reading the marathon of a poem that is Riddle 40. It reaches a grand total of 109 lines before a missing manuscript page deprives us of its no doubt beauteous ending. And, indeed, Riddle 40 is a work of beauty. Where else do you hear seamlessly poetic phrasing like: “I am fouler than this dark fen that stinks nastily here with its filth” (lines 31-2), or “I am more vile than this foul wood or this sea-weed that lies cast up here” (lines 48-9), or “the son of dung is speedier of step, that which we call in words ‘weevil’” (lines 72-3)? This is truly a poem after my own heart.

Admittedly, there are pretty images in here too. In fact, that’s kind of the point: the riddle puts forward a list of paradoxes as if to ask what can be both all the goods things and all the bad things. That’s why the poem reminds me of a combination of “All Things Bright and Beautiful” and the Monty Python spoof song “All Things Dull and Ugly.” Because, of course, this is a creation-riddle. What makes me so sure? Riddle 40 is one of those occasional Old English riddles with a known Latin original. In this case, the final text in Aldhelm’s riddle collection: Enigma 100, De creatura (on creation). And so we have, creatura, gesceaft (in Old English), creation, the world, nature – whatever you want to call it – depicted as the biggest riddle of all.

Now when it comes to the relationship between the Old English and its Latin source, you’re going to have to bear with me. As you might have guessed, like Riddle 40, the Latin original is also pretty frickin’ long. So, I’m not going to quote it in full. But I will say that the first 81 lines of the Old English poem stick fairly closely to the Latin source. After that, the poet (or perhaps another poet?) goes off book a bit (this starts, as you may have noticed, with the wholesale repetition of lines 50-1 at 82-3).

But even when the poem is fairly faithful to its source, there’s a fair bit of room for improvising. My favourites relate to strange creatures. Because, let’s face it, who doesn’t like a made-up bird, an old giant or a gender-bending piggy?

Let’s start with the bird. Lines 66-9 of the Old English riddle read: Ic mæg fromlicor fleogan þonne pernex / oþþe earn oþþe hafoc æfre meahte; nis zefferus, se swifta wind, / þæt swa fromlice mæg feran æghwær (I can fly faster than a pernex or an eagle or a hawk ever might; there is no zephyr, that swift wind, that can journey anywhere faster). Not familiar with the pernex? That’s because it doesn’t exist. The translator appears to have gotten a tad confused when translating the Latin lines 35-6: Plus pernix aquilis, Zephiri velocior alis, / Necnon accipiter properantior (Glorie, vol. 133, page 533) (faster than eagles, quicker than the wings of the Zephyr, nor [is] the hawk speedier). As Janie Steen notes (page 103), it’s possible that the poet confused pernix (swift) with perdix (partridge)…although the partridge is not the speediest of birds…

Perdix_perdix_(Marek_Szczepanek)

Photo (by Marek Szczepanek) from the Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

You want more strange creatures? How’s about that old, hungry þyrs (giant) in lines 62-3? This famished fella is a translation of the Cyclopes (plural of Cyclops!) that appear at line 33 of the Latin version. It’s a bit strange that the poet chose to paraphrase here, when other classical references are left in (Vulcan and Zephyrus, for example). Maybe there was no good substitute for them, while hungry, hungry giants have a nice, long tradition in the world of Germanic myth.

Giants_and_Freia

Arthur Rackham’s illustration of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen from the Wikimedia Commons.

Hmm…what else is odd about Riddle 40? I suppose my favourite change is made to the pig that comes right at the end of the Old English poem. In Riddle 40, we have a single amæsted swin, / bearg bellende, þe on bocwuda, / won wrotende wynnum lifde (lines 105b-8) (fattened swine, a swarthy boar, who lived joyfully bellowing in a beech-wood, rooting away). In other words, a male pig enjoying his freedom and wild lifestyle. The Latin version, on the other hand, shows us a very different critter:

Pinguior, en, multo scrofarum axungia glisco,
Glandiferis iterum referunt dum corpora fagis
Atque saginata laetantur carne subulci
(Glorie, vol. 133, page 535, lines 48-50).
(See, I grow far fatter than the grease of sows, as they carry 
their bodies back again from the acorn-bearing beech trees, and the swineherds rejoice at the fattened flesh).

The Latin pig is female and fat because she’s a food animal. So, joyous, romping dude-pig on the one hand, and domesticated female who’s destined to be eaten on the other. Erin Sebo notes that the Old English translator adapts this image and removes the only other reference to food in the Latin poem, arguing that the Old English poet is more interested in awe-inspiring creation than tense hierarchies of creator/created (and in this case, human/nonhuman).

Pig in mud at Bede's World

A pig at Bede’s World in Jarrow stares me down. Photo courtesy of C.J.W. Brown.

This isn’t the only time that the Old English poet intentionally changes the tone/meaning of the Latin source. We also end up with a reference to bee-bread in lines 58-9: Ic eom on goman gena swetra / þonne þu beobread blende mid hunige (I am yet sweeter in the mouth than when you blend bee-bread with honey). In the Latin version, we have: Dulcior in palato quam lenti nectaris haustus (Glorie, vol. 133, page 533, line 31) (Sweeter on the palate than a draught of smooth nectar). As Patrick Murphy notes (pages 155-6), the wording of Riddle 40 implies that the translator was familiar with Psalm 18.11: Desiderabilia super aurum et lapidem pretiosum multum; et dulciora super mel et favum (More to be desired than gold and many precious stones: and sweeter than honey and the honeycomb) (from Douay-Rheims). “Bee-bread” is honeycomb, as Latin/Old English glosses tell us. But it’s also a pretty awesome compound in and of itself. Remember that next time you order yourself up a double-scoop of honeycomb ice cream.

Wait…did someone just say ice cream? Sorry to leave you there without a proper conclusion, but…uh…ice cream.

I’m off.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

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

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

O’Brien O’Keeffe, Katherine. “Exeter Riddle 40: The Art of an Old English Translator.” Proceedings of the Patristic, Medieval and Renaissance Conference, vol. 5 (1983 for 1980), pages 107-17.

O’Brien O’Keeffe, Katherine. “The Text of Aldhelm’s Enigma no. c in Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson C.697 and Exeter Riddle 40.” Anglo-Saxon England, vol. 14 (1985), pages 61-73.

Sebo, Erin. “The Creation Riddle and Anglo-Saxon Cosmology. In The Anglo-Saxons: The World Through Their Eyes. Edited by Gale R. Owen-Crocker and Brian W. Schneider. Oxford: Archeaopress, 2014, pages 149-56.

Steen, Janie. Verse and Virtuosity: The Adaptation of Latin Rhetoric in Old English Poetry. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 40 

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Exeter Riddle 40

Exeter Riddle 41

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Wed 15 Jul 2015
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 41

Riddle 41 is brought to you by the very clever and talented Helen Price. Helen recently finished her PhD at the University of Leeds, and she’s currently working on ecocritical approaches to water in medieval and modern Icelandic literature. Didn’t I say she was clever? I’m positively green with envy.

Take it away, Helen!



Original text:

…. edniwu;
þæt is moddor      monigra cynna,
þæs selestan,      þæs sweartestan,
þæs deorestan      þæs þe dryhta bearn
5     ofer foldan sceat      to gefean agen.
Ne magon we her in eorþan      owiht lifgan,
nymðe we brucen      þæs þa bearn doð.
Þæt is to geþencanne      þeoda gehwylcum,
wisfæstum werum,      hwæt seo wiht sy.

Translation:

…. renewed;
that is mother of many kins,
of the best, of the darkest,
the dearest that the children of the multitudes
5     over the surface of the earth rejoice to own.
We cannot, by any means, live here on earth
unless we enjoy what those children do.
That is something to think about for every nation,
for men who are wise of mind, what that creature may be.

Click to show riddle solution?
Water, Wisdom, Creation


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 112r 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 203.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 39: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 95.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 41 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 41
Exeter Riddle 31
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Eusebius Riddle 41: De chelidro serpente

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Argolici me dixerunt septena cephala
Olim habuisse, vocorque inmitis scedra Latine.
Ex quibus unum cum caput esset ab ense peremptum,
Illius extimplo vice trina manare solebant.
Sic mihi tunc nullus poterat confligere miles.
Sed me ardente gigas combusserat Hercules igne.
Sum pululans locus ex lymphis vastantibus urbem.

Translation:

The Greeks once said that I had seven
Heads, and I am called in Latin “cruel water-snake.”
When one of the heads was cut off by a sword,
Three would immediately spring in its place.
Thus could no soldier then fight me.
But the giant Hercules consumed me with burning fire.
I am a place, sending out waters devastating a city.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the Hydra (or, literally, Amphibious Serpent)


Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Tatwine Conclusion

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Wed 05 Jan 2022
Original text:

Conclusio poetae de supra dictis enigmatibus

Versibus intextis vatem nunc, iure, salutat,
Litterulas summa capitum hortans iungere primas
Versibus extremas hisdem, ex minio coloratas.
Conversus gradiens, rursum perscandat ab imo.

Translation:

The conclusion of the poet of the riddles noted above

Now one, by right, bids farewell to the poet with his interwoven verses,
Encouraging the first little letters at the top of the sections,
and then the last, coloured in red lead, to govern these verses.
Going in reverse, let the reader climb up from the bottom anew.

Click to show riddle solution?
The conclusion of Tatwine's riddle collection


Tags: riddles  latin  Tatwine 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 41

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 21 Jul 2015
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 41

Riddle 41’s commentary, like its translation, comes to us from the fab Helen Price:

 

Poor Riddle 41, it’s unlikely to ever be named anyone’s favourite Exeter Book riddle. In fact, it has struggled to receive any real attention whatsoever *cue sad violin music*. Most riddle commentators have either glossed over it or attempted to brush it under the carpet in the hope that it’ll go away…it hasn’t. The longest discussion I have been able to find on Riddle 41 is actually arguing that it is a continuation of the previous riddle (see Konick). *Sigh*. However, this absence of discussion is not entirely unjustified, and is mainly due to the fact that the beginning of the riddle appears to be missing, leaving only the final eight and a half lines intact. Apparently, it has proved difficult and unappealing to discuss something when a chunk of it seems to be absent. Well fear not noble readers, because I am about to do just that! Well, not quite, but here’s hoping I can say something to give this plucky half of a riddle a moment in the spotlight.

Somewhat surprisingly for a text from the Exeter Book, the missing first lines of Riddle 41 are not due to damage of the actual folio page of the manuscript, as is the case with folios 117-130 of the Exeter Book – these folios are scarred by a large burn which increases in size the further through the manuscript you go. However, the fact that Riddle 40 seems to end as abruptly as Riddle 41 starts suggests that something has definitely gone awry.

Some scholars have suggested that the incomplete state of both riddles is due to a scribal error. The Exeter Book manuscript appears to have been copied by just one scribal hand. I suppose when you are hand-copying that much text, probably by candle light, a little missed page here and there is forgivable. However, it is impossible to know (unless the missing Exeter Book page somewhat miraculously turns up from behind a dusty shelf somewhere) whether this is a mistake on the part of the scribe or whether a folio just never made it into (or has been removed from) the bound manuscript. But this uncertainty can also give us food for thought. Thoughts such as: how do we read texts which are (excuse the expression) not all there? What can we glean from the bit of Riddle 41 which we do have? And how can literary context help us to make sense of these few disjointed lines?

And so to the text itself… I can’t help but smile every time I start reading Riddle 41. Edniwu (“renewed!”) it chimes, completely out of the blue. I had to resist placing a little exclamation mark after this opening word in my translation (it turns out I couldn’t resist adding it in here). Scribal error or missing folio, it is a wonderful coincidence that the start of this surviving bit of the riddle happens to have landed at this point. “Renewed” from what? By what? As what? Riddles are fond of their internal mysteries and games (as you will no doubt be more than familiar with from the other riddles and fantastic commentaries posted so far on this website), but here it is the manuscript itself which has landed us with these questions to ponder…and ponder I shall.

Aside from those who have argued that Riddle 41 is a continuation of Riddle 40 (see Konick), the solution “water” has almost unanimously been agreed by editors and commentators alike. I am firmly in favour of this solution for a number of reasons, most of which are drawn from evidence outside of the riddle itself.

Close-up of water droplet

“Water Droplet” photo (by fir0002 | flagstaffotos.com.au), licensed under GFDL 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons.

The surviving lines offer a reasonable indication of Riddle 41’s solution; a substance which is vital to human beings and which plays a key part in the production of life. But, let’s face it, on the surface of this text there is little to conclusively make water, as opposed to say “air” or “food” or some other important life-sustaining substance, the most viable solution. However, when we read and understand Riddle 41 in the context of both other water riddles and water in early medieval poetic texts more generally, then things start to become a little clearer and more convincing.

One of the stock ways to conceptualise water which circulates in early English poetic contexts is the idea of water as a mother figure. This idea appears in the form of two different motifs across the riddles. Firstly, there is the notion that water is a substance which begets itself in different forms i.e. water becomes ice and ice melts back into water (this was discussed far more competently by Britt Mize in his marvellous commentary post for Riddle 33). Obviously, we can’t see this directly at work in Riddle 41 but, bearing in mind the way that the riddles tend to draw on similar themes and stock descriptions, I would like to muse that perhaps this is the point where we enter the surviving part of Riddle 41. Remember that opening declaration “renewed” which forms the first half line? Well, it might not be too farfetched to suggest that the first part of the riddle has described water in one state (perhaps in the form of ice as in Riddle 33), and when ice melts it is “renewed” in a new form of itself, i.e. liquid water.

Seal's head above water

This seal agrees with the metaphor. Photo by Megan Cavell.

As you may well already be familiar with from previous posts, the Exeter Book riddles were copied and circulated in an intellectual context of book-learning. As such, the Exeter Book riddles often riff on a theme or way of describing something. Quite often these ideas are drawn from Anglo-Latin riddles from the likes of Aldhelm (7th century) and sometimes the even earlier (5th century) enigmata of Symphosius.

A key example of water as “life-giver to all things” motif can be seen at work in Aldhelm’s fountain enigma.

Per cava telluris clam serpo celerrimus antra
Flexos venarum girans anfractibus orbes;
Cum caream vita sensu quoque funditus expers,
Quis numerus capiat vel quis laterculus aequet,
Vita viventum generem quot milia partu?
His neque per cselum rutilantis sidera sperae
Fluctivagi ponti nec compensantur harenae.

(I creep stealthily and speedily through empty hollows of the earth, winding my twisted route along the curves of its arteries. Although I am devoid of life and utterly lacking in sensation, what number could embrace or what calculation encompass the many thousands of living creatures which I engender through birth? Neither the stars of the glowing firmament in the sky nor the sands of the billowing sea can equal them.) (Lapidge and Rosier, pages 85-6)

Though the title of the enigma is “fountain”, it is the properties of the water which are most prominent in the poem. As you can see, the poem focuses on the life-giving properties of water, specifically characterizing it as engendering all living creatures.

Water is also presented as engendering multitudes of living things elsewhere in the Exeter Book riddles and more widely in Old English poetry. [SPOILER ALERT: reference to a later Exeter Book riddle about to come up!] Riddle 85 which is also usually solved as “water”, shows this idea at work with the lines:

nænig oþrum mæg
wlite wisan     wordum gecyþan
hu mislic biþ     mægen þara cynna (lines 6-8)

(none to any other can, with wise words, expound its features, how copious is the multitude of its kin.)

Riddle 85 also directly refers to its subject as moddor (mother) a few lines later. I don’t want to spoil the fun of Riddle 85 by giving too much away, so enough said about that for now. But you get the picture – the life-giving/sustaining properties of water are presented by characterising it as mother to all life.

So we can begin to see that when Riddle 41 refers to its subject as þæt is moddor monigra cynna (line 2) (which is the mother of many kins), that there is a literary context which supports the answer specifically as water rather than another life-sustaining object/substance such as food or air. But there are also other clues which support the solution “water” which we can pick up from looking elsewhere in the surviving body of early English poetry.

As you will have surely picked up from this website, the Exeter Book riddles love puns. Water is a substance whose qualities make it ripe for punning – a poet brims with verbs and participles to flood their lines with gushing descriptions, overflowing with watery associations! Raymond Tripp (pages 65-6) talks through one such particular passage in Beowulf (lines 2854-61) where Wiglaf attempts to save Beowulf after the fight with the dragon. Tripp explains that these lines of Beowulf demonstrate how the Christian poet’s worldview is reflected in the poems use of humour by using an “extended concatenation of ‘water’ images […] to show the utter uselessness of pagan ‘baptism’ to save dying men” (Tripp, page 65).

The latter part of Riddle 41 may be read as no exception to this tradition of punning. Lines six and seven of Riddle 41 state:

Ne magon we her in eorþan      owiht lifgan,
nymðe we brucen      þæs þa bearn doð.
(We cannot, by any means, live here on earth unless we profit as those children do.)

The word brucen can mean either “to profit” or “consume” food or drink – marking the subject as something which is taken into the body. Bearing in mind the use of water puns in poems such as Beowulf, it is also possible that the word brucen is itself nodding to the noun broc (brook). While these two words do not share the same root, the word (ge)brocen is a past participle form of (ge)brucan which has the attested spelling variation of (ge)brocen, suggesting that a lexical connection between brucen (to profit/consume) and the noun broc (a brook) may have made sense to an early medieval reader/listener as a water-based pun.

So, it might be that Riddle 41 is a little bit broken but it definitely still has its charms. Its brokenness forces us to think about Riddle 41’s place in a wider literary context, and highlights the shared motifs which circulate not only in early medieval riddle poems but more broadly across surviving early English poetry. Now, in Riddle 41’s very own words, þæt is to geþencanne þeoda gehwylcum (that is something for people to think about).

Notes:

Bibliography and Suggested Reading

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

Konick, Marcus. “Exeter Book Riddle 41 as a Continuation of Riddle 40.” Modern Language Notes, vol. 54 (1939), pages 259-62.

Lapidge, Michael and James Rosier. Aldhelm: The Poetic Works. Woodbridge: Brewer, 1985.

Muir, Bernard J., ed. The Exeter Anthology of Old English Poetry. Vol II Commentary. Exeter: Short Run, 2000.

Tripp, Raymond P. “Humour, Word Play, and Semantic Resonance in Beowulf.” In Humour in Anglo-Saxon Literature. Ed. by Jonathan Wilcox. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2000, pages 49-70.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 41  helen price 

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Exeter Riddle 42

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 30 Jul 2015
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 42

This riddle translation comes to us from Jennifer Neville, Reader in Early Medieval Literature at Royal Holloway University of London. She has published on several of the riddles and is currently working on a book about them. You may remember her from her brilliant translation and commentary of Riddle 9.



Original text:

Ic seah wyhte      wrætlice twa
undearnunga      ute plegan
hæmedlaces;     hwitloc anfeng
wlanc under wædum,      gif þæs weorces speow,
5     fæmne fyllo.      Ic on flette mæg
þurh runstafas      rincum secgan,
þam þe bec witan,      bega ætsomne
naman þara wihta.     Þær sceal Nyd wesan
twega oþer      ond se torhta æsc
10     an an linan,     Acas twegen,
Hægelas swa some.      Hwylc þæs hordgates
cægan cræfte      þa clamme onleac
þe þa rædellan      wið rynemenn
hygefæste heold      heortan bewrigene
15     orþoncbendum?      Nu is undyrne
werum æt wine      hu þa wihte mid us,
heanmode twa,     hatne sindon.

Translation:

I saw two amazing creatures —
they were playing openly outside
in the sport of sex. The woman,
proud and bright-haired, received her fill under her garments,
5     if the work was successful.  Through rune-letters
I can say the names of both creatures together
to those men in the hall
who know books. There must be two needs
and the bright ash
10     one on the line — two oaks
and as many hails. Who can unlock
the bar of the hoard-gate with the power of the key?
The heart of the riddle was hidden
by cunning bonds, proof against the ingenuity
15     of men who know secrets. But now
for men at wine it is obvious how those two
low-minded creatures are named among us.

Click to show riddle solution?
N N Æ A A H H = hana & hæn, or Cock and Hen


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 112r 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 203-4.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 40: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 95.

This post, specifically the lineation of the translation, was edited for clarity on 30 November 2020.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 42  jennifer neville 

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Eusebius Riddle 42: De dracone

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Horrendus, horriferas (1) speluncae cumbo latebras.
Concitus, aethereis volitans, miscebor et auris
Cristatusque volans, pulcher turbabitur aether.
Corpore vipereas monstra vel cetera turmas
Reptile sum superans gestantia pondus inorme.
Inmanisque ferus praeparvo pascitur ore
Atque per angustas assumunt viscera venas
Aethereum flatum; nec dentibus austera virtus
Est mihi, sed mea vim violentam cruda tenebit.

Translation:

Horrendous, I lie in the horrible recesses of a cave.
Provoked, flying through the upper regions, I will mix with the wind,
And when I, crested, fly, beautiful heaven will be disrupted.
I am a reptile exceeding in size the crowds of vipers
Or other monsters carrying enormous weight.
And the savage beast is fed through a very small mouth
And through narrow veins do its innermost parts receive
Airy breath; nor do my teeth have powerful strength,
But my tail contains a violent force.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the dragon


Notes:

(1) The manuscript, Royal MS 12 C XXIII, has astriferas (“starry” as in “starry recesses”).



Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 42

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 24 Sep 2015
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 42

We’re stepping back in time this week to revisit a riddle translation from last year! The fabulous Jennifer Neville (from Royal Holloway, University of London) shares some thoughts on early medieval chickens, sex and hall-life:

 

Riddle 42 is often classified as one of the double entendre riddles, but actually this is a single entendre riddle: when the text tells us, in its very first sentence, that it’s about sex (hæmedlac), it isn’t lying and it isn’t being metaphorical (although it does resort to metaphor a couple lines later).  Unlike any other Old English text, this one does not cloak its depiction of sex in either euphemism or double-meaning. Everything is up front and open (undearnunga), public and outside (ute): if the man is up to the job, the lady will get her fill. This openness would make Riddle 42 even less prudish than most modern media, if it were about people, but, of course, it’s not. It’s about chickens.

Two chickens

Photo of a cock and hen (by Andrei Niemimäki) from Wikimedia Commons (license: CC BY-SA 2.0).

Chickens are interesting, and there are some things we could note here about early medieval husbandry. For example, the chickens are apparently running loose outside, not contained in a pen. The hen, at least, is not boring brown but proudly blonde (wlanc, hwitloc); perhaps some early medieval farmer has been practising selective breeding for colour. But the text doesn’t invite us to linger on those things. Rather, it wants us to think about sex.

We are used to hearing how negative early medieval writers were about sex, but here we see something different. Depending on how you look at them, the heanmode chickens are either "high-spirited" (frisky?) or "low-minded" (having their minds focused on worldly things?); regardless, their activity is not characterised as sinful. We are also familiar with the idea that sex should be only for the purposes of reproduction, but here there is no reference to offspring. Instead, the activity seems to take place purely for its own sake, and it is not a slothful leisure activity: the metaphor used to sum it up is weorc "work." Interestingly enough, most of the other twelve Old English riddles with (apparently) sexual content (Riddles 12, 20, 25, 37, 44, 45, 54, 61, 62, 63, 80, and 91) also use the idea of work to indicate the sexual act. Is this how the early English really felt about sex? Was it simply hard "work"? If so, they share the idea with us in the 21st century: the 2015 song by Fifth Harmony, "Work from Home", for example, explores the metaphor in great detail.

But the always fascinating topic of sex takes us only as far as line 5. At this point, we have to change gears and move into the world of the hall: the social centre of early English noble society, the place where kings presented gifts to their followers, where social drinking occurred, and where the speaker of this text offers to reveal the names of the sexy couple to the men drinking wine in the hall.[1] Again, this statement is tantalising: did the early English exchange riddles with each other in the hall, just as Symphosius did, centuries earlier, at his Saturnalian feast?[2] Before it was written down in the Exeter Book, was Riddle 42 part of an evening’s entertainment, an alternative to playing board games, singing a song in turn (as Caedmon refused to do), or listening to a professional singer?

Reconstructed hall

The hall at the place formerly known as Bede’s World. Photo courtesy of C.J.W. Brown.

Perhaps. But the only people who could solve this riddle would be those who could assemble and unscramble the letters named in the text, and most early medieval laymen were not literate. A normal gathering in the meadhall would have very few of those þe bec witan "who know books" (line 7a). Literacy was a technology reserved—for the most part—for the clergy. Once again, then, we need to change gears and move into another world, the world of the monastery and the scriptorium.

In the world of the scriptorium, there were plenty of people who could read ordinary letters, but in this text even that education wouldn’t be enough. The successful solver of the riddle would have to recognise the names of the run-stafas "runic letters" that have been woven into the metre and alliteration of this poem (Nyd, Æsc, Ac, and Hægl), assemble the collection of letters (some of which have to appear twice), and then rearrange them into not one but two words, hana "cock" and hæn "hen." The runic letters themselves don’t appear in the manuscript: a reader (or listener) would have to know that the words "need," "ash," "oak," and "hail" represent letters in order to understand what the text was asking him or her to do next.

riddle-42-runes

This is what the runes would’ve looked like if they had been included (and rearranged to spell hana and hæn).

It’s thus unsurprising that the text taunts us: who here is smart enough to unlock the orþonc-bendas [3] "cunning bonds" that conceal the solution of this text? Not me: I’m very glad that Dietrich managed to work it out back in 1859. Otherwise, there would be no way to see the chickens. We could probably guess that they weren’t human beings having sex out in public, but, without the letters, their identity would most definitely not be undyrne "manifest, revealed, discovered."

Another puzzle remains, however: why are well-educated monks talking about fornicating fowls? And how did they get away with writing it down? The fact that we can’t answer those questions tells us that we still don’t know as much about the early English as we might have thought.

 

Notes:

[1] Or on the floor: flet literally means "floor," but it can be metonymy for the whole building.

[2] There’s a recent edition by T. J. Leary, or you can read Symphosius’ riddles (in Latin and in two published translations) on the LacusCurtius site.

[3] Tolkien uses this word, Orþonc, as the name of Saruman’s tower, which is unassailable by human or entish hands.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Banham, Debby, and Rosamond Faith. Anglo-Saxon Farms and Farming. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Dewa, Roberta. “The Runic Riddles of the Exeter Book: Language Games and Anglo-Saxon Scholarship.” Nottingham Medieval Studies, vol. 39 (1995), pages 26-36.

Dietrich, F. “Die Rätsel des Exeterbuchs: Würdigung, Lösung und Herstellung.” Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum, vol. 11 (1859), pages 448-490.

Lerer, Seth. “The Riddle and the Book: Exeter Book Riddle 42 in its Contexts.” Papers on Language and Literature, vol. 25 (1989), pages 3-18.

Nolan, Barbara, and Morton W. Bloomfield. “Beotword, Gilpcwidas, and the Gilphlæden Scop of Beowulf.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology, vol. 79 (1980), pages 499-516.

O’Donnell, Daniel Paul. Cædmon’s Hymn: A Multi-media Study, Edition and Archive. SEENET 8. Cambridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2006.

Salvador-Bello, Mercedes. “The Key to the Body: Unlocking Riddles 42-46.” In Naked Before God: Uncovering the Body in Anglo-Saxon England. Edited by Benjamin C. Withers and Jonathan Wilcox. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2003, pages 60-96.

Smith, D. K. “Humor in Hiding: Laughter Between the Sheets in the Exeter Book Riddles.” In Humour in Anglo-Saxon England. Edited by Jonathan Wilcox. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2000, pages 79-98.

Symons, Victoria. Runes and Roman Letters in Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 42  jennifer neville 

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Exeter Riddle 43

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 11 Aug 2015
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 43

This riddle comes to us from James Paz, Lecturer in early medieval English literature at the University of Manchester. He’s especially interested in ‘thing theory’ and medieval science. Take it away, James!



Original text:

Ic wat indryhtne    æþelum deorne
giest in geardum,      þam se grimma ne mæg
hungor sceððan      ne se hata þurst,
yldo ne adle.      Gif him arlice
5     esne þenað,    se þe agan sceal
on þam siðfate,     hy gesunde æt ham
findað witode him    wiste ond blisse,
cnosles unrim,    care, gif se esne
his hlaforde      hyreð yfle,
10     frean on fore.      Ne wile forht wesan
broþor oþrum;    him þæt bam sceðeð,
þonne hy from bearme    begen hweorfað
anre magan    ellorfuse,
moddor ond sweostor.    Mon, se þe wille,
15     cyþe cynewordum      hu se cuma hatte,
eðþa se esne,      þe ic her ymb sprice.

Translation:

I know a worthy one, treasured for nobility,
a guest in dwellings, whom grim hunger
cannot harm, nor hot thirst,
nor age, nor illness. If the servant
5     serves him honourably, he who must possess him
on the journey, they, safe at home,
will find afforded to them well-being and bliss;
an unspeakable progeny of sorrows shall be theirs,
if the servant obeys his lord and master
10     evilly on the way, if one brother will not fear
the other; that will harm them both,
when they turn away, eager to flee
from the breast of their only kinswoman,
mother and sister. Let he who holds the willpower
15     make known in fitting words what the guest is called,
or the servant I speak about here.

Click to show riddle solution?
Soul and Body


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 112r-112v 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 204.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 41: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 96.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 43 

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Eusebius Riddle 43: De tigri bestia

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Cursu pennigeros celeri similabo volucres.
Nunc fera sum, maculis furvi stellata coloris,
Nunc fluvius, rapido dicendus valde meatu.
Nomine nimpe meo Persi dixere “sagittam.”

Translation:

In my swift course I resemble winged birds.
Now I am a wild beast, starred with marks of a dark colour, 
Now a river, named for its very rapid passage.
Indeed, the Persians said “arrow” by my name.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the beast “tiger”


Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 43

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 17 Aug 2015
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 43

Riddle 43’s commentary is once again by the terribly clever James Paz, Lecturer in early medieval English literature at the University of Manchester.

 

I imagine that solving Riddle 43 would have been fairly easy for most contemporary readers of the Exeter Book, especially if we’re to picture this riddling taking place in a monastic setting. It might not be as immediately obvious for a modern reader today, given the changes to our religious beliefs across time. Even so, literary scholars have arrived at an uncontroversial solution: “soul and body.”

As such, this is a riddle whose solution is not a single word but two, a pairing of some kind (others include “moon and sun” and “cock and hen”). The key to solving this riddle, then, lies in identifying not one wiht (creature/created thing) but two disguised figures: the noble guest and the servant. The closing lines (14b-16) of the riddle point us in this direction, instructing the would-be solver to make known in fitting words (OE cyþe cynewordum) what the guest (cuma) or the servant (esne) is called.

Social and cultural tropes (evocative of Beowulf as well as other heroic and elegiac poems) are referenced but also played with, in order to lead us to the right answer. The riddle asks us to puzzle over the proper relationship between host and guest, the hierarchy of lord and servant, to consider the threat of hunger and disease and old age, the joys of feasting and the mead hall. It also creates confusion over traditional familial roles (why should one brother fear, or be in awe of, the other? how can one woman be both mother and sister?) and privileges honourable conduct while raising the threat of its disruption (what happens when a servant obeys his master evilly?).

A basic explanation of the “soul and body” solution would be as follows. The noble guest is the soul, which, as the riddle explains, is not vulnerable to hunger pangs or burning thirst or even old age. Its servant is the body, whose proper role is to tend to this guest honourably (arlice) before it departs for a journey. Having some knowledge of Old English kennings for “body” such as ban-hus (i.e. bone-house) help us to reach this solution. These compressed metaphors (miniature riddles, if you like) suggest that human bodies are temporary dwellings, sheltering and safeguarding something dear that must nevertheless be on its way again before long.

Franks casket

Photo of the 8th-century whalebone Franks Casket (by Michel wal). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The woman referred to in lines 13-14 has proved a little trickier to identify, but most critics and translators think that she represents the earth. She is called a mother, because the body of Adam was made from dust (see Genesis 2:7), and a sister because she (the earth) was shaped by the same father, God.

The critic John D. Niles has recently encouraged us to answer the Exeter Book Riddles in their own (Old English, though sometimes Latin) tongue whenever possible. If we’re to do so with Riddle 43, one half of the answer should correspond to the masculine noun hlaford (i.e. “lord”) and the other half to the masculine noun esne (i.e. “servant”). For Niles and, before him, Moritz Trautmann, the spoken solution should be the Old English doublet gæst ond lic-hama.

But speaking the solution is not where this riddle ends; it is, perhaps, where it begins to reveal its meaning. I’ve said that this riddle is “easy” to solve but, actually, its solution encourages us to contemplate “soul and body” as a concept at a far deeper level.

Regular readers of this website might have gained the sense that the Exeter Book Riddles are all about what we’d nowadays call the “nonhuman” world in its various forms: shields, swords, swans, leather, horns, mead, moon and sun, storms and earthquakes. But Riddle 43 examines medieval ideas about what it means to be a human being: embodied yet rational of mind or soul, of this world yet alienated from it, intellectually curious yet driven by carnal desire.

For an early medieval Christian audience, humans are essentially embodied souls. So the owner of a body really ought to be its master. But that servile role is tested throughout these riddles. Recall Riddle 25 (onion?). As we read this riddle (and, tellingly, Riddles 44, 45, 46), genitalia and sex acts shift in and out of focus… and our body responds?

Even the act of reading a non-obscene riddle is not purely intellectual. Riddles are about body parts and they call on body parts: eyes, ears, mouths, even hands. Riddling asks for a reader who’ll engage with the words on the page in a sensuous way. Recurring phrases that run throughout the Exeter Riddles support this claim: ic seah, ic gefrægn, saga hwæt ic hatte (see, hear, say). And so the relationship that Riddle 43 sets up between our “higher” intellectual faculties and our “baser” or more servile bodily functions is particularly appropriate to this enigmatic collection.

Mastery of the body is central to Riddle 43. It’s all about how the body should respond to its hlaforde (lord) and frean (master). The body, described as an esne, must keep his noble guest honourably, serve him, and fear retaliation after death should he disobey the superior soul. Notice how Riddle 43 uses this term, esne, three times in sixteen lines to emphasise the role of the body.

Leslie Lockett has shown that in the Old English laws, esne is a term for a servant of indeterminate status, higher than the slave (ðeow or wealh) but subordinate to the free labourer (ceorl). Therefore, an esne performs a servile role yet has more autonomy than a slave. This is definitely worth remembering when thinking about the relationship between soul and body in Riddle 43.

When I teach Riddle 43 on my “Things that Talk” course at the University of Manchester, it starts to spark deeper discussion when compared with the other Soul and Body poems found in Old English literature. The issue of the soul’s control over the body was obviously very important to early medieval readers, as a longer Soul and Body poem exists in two versions, which is unusual for an OE text. Those two versions appear in the Vercelli Book and in the same Exeter Book that contains the riddles.

What’s interesting here is that the two versions of the Soul and Body poem provide a different take on the master-servant relationship to that portrayed in Riddle 43. In this poem, the damned soul speaks to an offending body which, during their life-journey together, indulged its own desires, worked against the soul, starved it of spiritual sustenance, and imprisoned, even tortured, it. The soul’s apparent helplessness in the Old English Soul and Body poems has surprised some critics, who expect a deeply Christian text to depict a soul endowed with free will and reason, capable of disciplining the body. Yet the soul that emerges from these poems often seems to be an entity incapable of completely independent thought or action, an entity that struggles to bring about the fulfilment of its desires, as long as it’s enclosed in flesh.

The contrasting depictions of a servile body labouring for its noble guest on the one hand, and a damned soul addressing a domineering body, to which it was bound unwillingly, suggest that early medieval poets had complex ways of comprehending the human condition. Of course, these issues remain fascinating (and maybe even disquieting) for us as modern readers of early medieval poetry…

… To what extent are we responsible for our own actions? Who or what is in control of our everyday thoughts, words and deeds during life? Do we know where our dreams and desires come from? Does our body always behave as we want it to? Are our bodies us, or are we our brains, or minds, or do we still believe our true identity to be spiritual in nature? The Exeter Riddles seem to be about speaking objects. Yet where do we locate the speaking and thinking and acting “I” within our own, human selves? In the body? In the mind? Or within that elusive concept of a soul?

That’s the real mystery at the heart of Riddle 43, and, over one thousand years on, we are not much closer to solving it.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading

Crossley-Holland, Kevin, trans. The Exeter Book Riddles. London: Enitharmon, 2008.

Dailey, Patricia. “Riddles, Wonder and Responsiveness in Anglo-Saxon Literature.” In The Cambridge History of Early Medieval English Literature. Edited by Clare A. Lees. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012, pages 451-72.

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

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

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

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



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 43  james paz 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 44
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Exeter Riddle 44

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 27 Aug 2015
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 44
Original text:

Wrætlic hongað      bi weres þeo,
frean under sceate.      Foran is þyrel.
Bið stiþ ond heard.      Stede hafað godne.
Þonne se esne     his agen hrægl
5     ofer cneo hefeð,      wile þæt cuþe hol
mid his hangellan      heafde gretan
þæt he efenlang ær      oft gefylde.

Translation:

A wondrous thing hangs by a man’s thigh,
under its lord’s clothing. In front there is a hole.
It stands stiff and hard. It has a good home.
When the servant raises his own garment
5     up over his knee, he wants to greet
with his dangling head that well-known hole,
of equal length, which he has often filled before.

Click to show riddle solution?
Key and lock, Phallus, Dagger sheath


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 112v 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 204-5.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 42: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 96.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 44 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 44
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Eusebius Riddle 44: De panthera

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Foedera multigenis reddens animantibus orbis,
Trux ero valde draconi; sic erit aemulus ipse.
Me genitrix gestans alium generare nequibit,
Et “genitor” dicor si littera tertia cedat.

Translation:

Though I have treaties with the world’s many animals,
I am very cruel to the dragon; thus will it be my enemy.
After bearing me, my mother cannot bear another,
And I am called “father” should my third letter vanish. (1)

Click to show riddle solution?
On the panther


Notes:

(1) Panthera, minus the “n,” (almost) spells pater, Latin for “father.”



Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 44

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 21 Sep 2015
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 44

So…this riddle is pretty unambiguously raunchy, am I right? Something stiff that hangs under a man’s clothing by his thigh? The filling of an equally long hole? All the basics of a nudge-nudge joke are there for even the most sheltered of individuals to catch.

With imagery as blatantly obvious as this, the question then becomes “what other object acts this way?”

The answer seems to be a key, although “dagger” has also been suggested in the past. But key makes a great deal of sense, especially when we look at other medieval and biblical references to a sexy sort of unlocking. The favourite, here, is #49 of The Cambridge Songs, sometimes referred to as Veni dilectissime (for its first line):

Veni, dilectissime
et a, et o,
gratam me invisere.
et a, et o, et a, et o!

In languore pereo,
et a, et o!
Venerem desidero,
et a, et o, et a, et o!
[…]
Si cum clave veneris,
et a, et o,
mox intrare poteris,
et a, et o, et a, et o!
(Come, dearest love, with ah! and oh! to visit me with pleasure, with ah! and oh! and ah! and oh! I am dying of faintness, (refrain)! I am longing for love, (refrain)! […] If you come with your key, (refrain) you will soon be able to enter (refrain)!)

Catchy, right? Well, maybe not to everyone…someone took offence to this eleventh-century ditty and tried to erase parts of it from the manuscript. So, the version I’ve posted above involved a great deal of reconstruction by Peter Dronke (vol. 1, page 274; see also Ziolkowski, pages 126-7).

Lincolnshire key from several angles

Behold, an early medieval slide key! Copyright: Lincolnshire County Council (Attribution-ShareAlike License).

Mercedes Salvador-Bello has written on the links between Riddle 44 and Veni dilectissime, and she argues that both verses should be read in the context of the Song of Songs/Solomon (Salvador, page 78). All the kissing and seeking out of lovers there can be read allegorically, with Christ as the lover of the church or of an individual’s soul. Here are just a few verses to give you a taster:

Dilectus meus misit manum suam per foramen, et venter meus intremuit ad tactum ejus. Surrexi ut aperirem dilecto meo; manus meae stillaverunt myrrham, et digiti mei pleni myrrha probatissima. Pessulum ostii mei aperui dilecto meo, at ille declinaverat, atque transierat. Anima mea liquefacta est, ut locutus est; quaesivi, et non inveni illum; vocavi, et non respondit mihi (Song of Solomon 5.4-6).

(My beloved put his hand through the key hole, and my bowels were moved at his touch. I arose up to open to my beloved: my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers were full of the choicest myrrh. I opened the bolt of my door to my beloved: but he had turned aside, and was gone. My soul melted when he spoke: I sought him, and found him not: I called, and he did not answer me).

[I’m going to go ahead and suggest that “bowels” is the worst possible translation decision for venter here, but I’ve left it in since it’s from the Douay-Rheims translation of the Latin Vulgate bible. Venter can also mean “belly” or “womb” (so, basically, an unspecific term for the lower part of the torso), either of which is far more appropriate in this case.]

Salvador-Bello goes on to map out the wider context of key imagery that involves Christ unlocking heaven’s doors and locking up demons in hell. Given all this, she concludes that unlocking is an especially Christ-like thing to do…which goes a long way to explaining the presence of Riddle 44 in a manuscript belonging to a cathedral. But, even so, the raunchiness is not to be denied.

Of this erotic imagery, D. K. Smith says: “the riddler’s success, and the resulting laughter, rests on the potential for shame and embarrassment – the chance to catch his victims with their imaginative pants down. Yet, if these riddles have the power to threaten their victims with the potential for humiliation, that is only half the equation. Even more important is their ability, through the humor they generate, to defuse that same implicit threat” (page 82). In other words, raunchy riddles allow people living in a shame culture to discuss taboo topics.

If you were a monk and the enjoyment of sex was off-limits (okay, maybe just “sex was off-limits,” since no one – monk or otherwise – was supposed to be enjoying it at that time), you could still make a veiled reference to it in a riddle and hide behind the innocent solution if someone called you out. In fact, in order to call out the riddler, the audience would have to admit that their minds were also veering down a dark and dirty path (Magennis, page 16-17). So, cue the uncomfortable giggle and the drawn-out pause as solvers attempted to read past the sexual veneer and determine a socially acceptable solution.

And I feel like not much has changed when it comes to the English-speaking world’s sense of humour. Sure, there’s a lot more open discussion about sex, and sexually explicit material is all over the place. But giggly, taboo-based, penis jokes remain quite firmly in the public’s consciousness. Yeah, I said “firmly.” What’s wrong with that? You pervs.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Dronke, Peter. Medieval Latin and the Rise of European Love-Lyric. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1965-66.

Magennis, Hugh. “‘No Sex Please, We’re Anglo-Saxons!’ Attitudes to Sexuality in Old English Prose and Poetry.” Leeds Studies in English, vol. 26 (1995), pages 1-27 (esp. 16-18).

Salvador(-Bello), Mercedes. “The Key to the Body: Unlocking Riddles 42-46.” In Naked Before God: Uncovering the Body in Anglo-Saxon England. Edited by Benjamin C. Withers and Jonathan Wilcox. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2003, pages 60-96 (esp. 76-82).

Smith, D. K. “Humor in Hiding.” In Humour in Anglo-Saxon Literature. Edited by Jonathan Wilcox. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2000, pages 79-98 (esp. 88-94).

Ziolkowski, Jan M., ed. The Cambridge Songs (Carmina Cantabrigiensia). New York: Garland, 1994.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 44 

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Exeter Riddle 45

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Wed 07 Oct 2015
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 45
Original text:

Ic on wincle gefrægn      weaxan nathwæt,
þindan ond þunian,      þecene hebban.
On þæt banlease      bryd grapode,
hygewlonc hondum.      Hrægle þeahte
5     þrindende þing      þeodnes dohtor.

Translation:

I heard that something was growing in the corner,
swelling and sticking up, raising its roof.
A proud bride grasped that boneless thing,
with her hands. A lord’s daughter
5     covered with a garment that bulging thing.

Click to show riddle solution?
Dough


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 112v 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 205.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 43: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 96-7.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 45 

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Eusebius Riddle 45: De cameleone

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Muneror orbiculis ut pardus discolor albis.
Lucror equo collum par forte pedesque buballo
Et cephal aptatum tuberosi more cameli,
Respectaeque rei cuiusque resumo colorem.

Translation:

I am graced with little bright spots like the particolored pard.
By chance I acquired a neck like a horse and feet like an ox
And a head suitable for a hump-back camel,
And I take on the color of everything I see.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the chameleon and camelopard, or giraffe


Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius