RIDDLE POSTS BY TAG: 'RIDDLES'

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
Exeter Riddle 84

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 

Aldhelm Riddle 41: Puluillus

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Tue 15 Mar 2022
Original text:

Nolo fidem frangas, licet irrita dicta putentur,
Credula sed nostris pande praecordia verbis!
Celsior ad superas possum turgescere nubes,
Si caput aufertur mihi toto corpore dempto;
At vero capitis si pressus mole gravabor,
Ima petens iugiter minorari parte videbor.

Translation:

I do not want you to lose faith, although what I say may be deemed useless,
But open your trusting heart to my words!
I am able to swell up higher to the upper clouds,
If a head is taken from me with my whole body removed;
But if I am to be weighed down, compressed by the weight of a head,
I will always seem to be reaching toward the bottom, diminished in size. 

Click to show riddle solution?
Pillow


Notes:

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



Tags: riddles  latin  Aldhelm 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 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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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 33

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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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 42
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Exeter Riddle 9

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 

Aldhelm Riddle 42: Strutio

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Tue 15 Mar 2022
Original text:

Grandia membra mihi plumescunt corpore denso;
Par color accipitri, sed dispar causa volandi,
Summa dum exiguis non trano per aethera pennis,
Sed potius pedibus spatior per squalida rura
Ovorum teretes praebens ad pocula testas;
Africa Poenorum me fertur gignere tellus.

Translation:

The large limbs on my compact body grow feathers.
I am like the hawk in colour, but unlike in the matter of flying
Because I do not travel through the upper air on small wings.
Rather, I walk on my feet through dirty countryside,
Supplying the polished shells of my eggs as cups.
The country said to produce me is Phoenician Africa.

Click to show riddle solution?
Ostrich


Notes:

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



Tags: riddles  latin  Aldhelm 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 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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Commentary for Exeter 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 

Aldhelm Riddle 43: Sanguisuga

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Tue 15 Mar 2022
Original text:

Lurida per latices cenosas lustro paludes;
Nam mihi composuit nomen fortuna cruentum,
Rubro dum bibulis vescor de sanguine buccis.
Ossibus et pedibus geminisque carebo lacertis,
Corpora vulneribus sed mordeo dira trisulcis
Atque salutiferis sic curam praesto labellis.

Translation:

Sallow, I lurk in muddy swamp waters;
For fortune made for me a bloody name,
Because I am nourished by wet mouthfuls of red blood.
I lack bones, two feet, and arms, 
But I bite fearful bodies with three-pronged wounds
And thus will I bestow treatment from my health-bringing lips.

Click to show riddle solution?
Leech


Notes:

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



Tags: riddles  latin  Aldhelm 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 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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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 

Aldhelm Riddle 44: Ignis

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Tue 15 Mar 2022
Original text:

Me pater et mater gelido genuere rigore,
Fomitibus siccis dum mox rudimenta vigebant;
Quorum vi propria fortunam vincere possum,
Cum nil ni latiees mea possint vincere fata.
Sed saltus, scopulos, stagni ferrique metalla
Comminuens penitus naturae iura resolvam.
Cum me vita fovet, sum clari sideris instar;
Postmodum et fato victus pice nigrior exsto.

Translation:

Father and mother bore me from frozen hardness,
While my early stages were quickly thriving in dry kindling. 
Through my own strength I am able to prevail over their fate, 
Because nothing except water is able to prevail over my fate. 
Completely crushing forests, cliffs, the metals tin and iron,   
I will unbind the laws of nature.
When life embraces me, I am like a bright star; 
And afterwards, conquered by fate, I am blacker than tar. 

Click to show riddle solution?
Fire


Notes:

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



Tags: riddles  latin  Aldhelm 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 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 

Aldhelm Riddle 45: Fusum

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Tue 15 Mar 2022
Original text:

In saltu nascor ramosa fronde virescens,
Sed fortuna meum mutaverat ordine fatum,
Dum veho per collum teretem vertigine molam:
Tam longa nullus zona praecingitur heros.
Per me fata virum dicunt decernere Parcas;
Ex quo conficitur regalis stragula pepli.
Frigora dura viros sternant, ni forte resistam.

Translation:

In a forest was I born, verdant on a branching bough, 
But fortune changed my fate as is the way,
Because I transport thread, spinning with my rounded neck:
For no hero is girded with as long a belt.
Through me, they say, the Parcae determine the fates of men;
From this is prepared the royal covering of a cloak.
Harsh cold would cast men down if I did not remain strong.

Click to show riddle solution?
Spindle


Notes:

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



Tags: riddles  latin  Aldhelm 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 45

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Wed 07 Oct 2015
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 45

Riddle 45 is yet another example of a riddle that’s simply throbbing with double entendre. In case you hadn’t noticed.

The interpretation most widely accepted is that the riddle refers to bread dough (OE dag). After it rises, the woman in the riddle kneads and shapes it and then puts a piece of cloth over it. But of course this is all masked by the har-dee-har-har references to a bride grasping a banleas (bone-less), swelling thing and then covering it with her garment. Apparently, bread-making is an erotic activity. Who knew?

Riddle 45 Kneading dough
Image from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Look at that sexy, sexy kneading.

Riddle 45 Bread dough 1
Photo (by ElinorD) from the Wikimedia Commons.

Dough after kneading. Looking good.

A bowl of dough that has risen

Photo (by ElinorD) from the Wikimedia Commons.

Dough after rising. My how you’ve grown.

 

A hint about why the poem refers to a woman of high status (i.e. the daughter of a þeoden or “ruler” / “lord”) may lie in the Old English word hlafdige. Although this term, which literally seems to have meant “loaf-kneader,” only appears a couple of times in the Old English written record, it’s the root of our modern English word “lady” (compare to hlaford (lord), whose etymological roots point to the meaning: “loaf-keeper”).

The woman is also referred to as hygewlonc (proud in mind), which Mercedes Salvador-Bello reminds us is often associated with sexual activity (page 85). In fact, proud-minded swelling is also found in other texts that are linked to this poem by the use of the term þrindende (swelling) (page 83). Although this particular spelling is unique to Riddle 45, scholars have argued that it’s the same word that appears in the poem Vainglory at line 24b (translation here) and in Riddle 37 at line 2a. In the first example, we see that pride swells up (þrinteð) within an arrogant man. In the second, another rather sexually explicit riddle, the belly or womb of a bellows is swollen (aþrunten) with air. So, if we accept that these words are all related, then there seems to be a basis for playing on a link between sex/pride/swelling.

But there also seems to be a bread/sex link that goes beyond the hard work of kneading a loaf with a pair of particularly grabby hands, like those imagined in Riddle 45. As Thomas D. Hill points out, the tenth/eleventh-century continental bishop Burchard of Worms includes an interesting passage in his treatise on canonical law, the Decretum. Book 19 of this text declares:

Fecisti quod quaedam mulieres facere solent? Prosternunt se in faciem, et discoopertis natibus, jubent ut supra nudas nates conficiatur panis, et eo decocto tradunt maritiis suis ad comedendum. Hoc ideo faciunt, ut plus exardescant in amorem illarum. Si fecisti duos annos per legitimas ferias poenitas. (section 974)

(Hast thou done as certain women are accustomed to do? They lie down on their face and having uncovered their buttocks, they order that bread should be made upon [their] nude buttocks; and having cooked it they give it to their husbands to eat. This they do so that they [their husbands] should burn with love for them [the wives]. If thou hast done this, thou shalt do penance for two years on the appointed days.) (translation from Hill, page 54)

 

Apparently this was a thing that some women did…

And Burchard considered it to be quite a bad thing to do (magic! stomp it out!), judging from the long penance that he demanded. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be thinking of this next time an elderly family member refers to someone’s bottom with the term “buns.” (or is my family just weird?)

The long and the short of all this is that, as Hill points out, “Dough is the material which a woman uses to nourish her family; it is potentially a rich symbol of a woman’s power within the home, and the way in which it rises (apparently) spontaneously can provide the basis for erotic metaphor” (page 59).

While I understand why the sexually-charged imagery of Riddle 45 has been interpreted this way, I still can’t help reading this riddle and thinking of pregnancy rather than penises. It’s the phrase “bun in the oven,” as well as caressing and covering of a swelling, bread-shaped body-part that makes reminds me of a pregnant belly. And this would of course still invite a sexual reading (because of the lead-up to pregnancy, not some yummy-mummy fetish). The only hiccup in this interpretation is the banleas (bone-less) nature of the swelling thing, although a bit of digging into early theories of fetal development demonstrates that this isn’t really an issue.

An Old English text known as De generatione hominis (on the generation of a human) is found on folio 38b of the manuscript London, British Library, Cotton Tiberius A.iii (see Deegan, page 23). Part of it reads:

On þam feorþan monþe he bið on limum staþolfæst. On þam fiftan monþe […] þa ribb beoð geworden, þonne gelimpð þære manigfeald sar þonne þæs byrþnes lic on hire innoþe scipigende bið. On þam syxtan monþe he byþ gehyd, ond ban beoð weaxende. (Cockayne, vol. 3, page 146)

(In the fourth month it is firm in limbs. In the fifth month […] the ribs are formed, then various troubles occur when the body is forming inside the bearer. In the sixth month it is provided with skin, and the bones are growing.)

 

So, bone-less-ness isn’t a problem for my pregnancy reading of Riddle 45, since even a fetus in the second trimester was thought to not yet have bones by the writer of this early English medical text! You learn something new everyday…

Righto, I’m going to leave it there today. Feel free to sift through my commentary and post any comments/questions that rise up!

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Burchard of Worms. Decretum. Patrologia Latina Database. Vol. 140.

Cockayne, Thomas, ed. Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of Early England. 3 vols. London: Holland Press, 1961.

Deegan, Marilyn. “Pregnancy and Childbirth in the Anglo-Saxon Medical Texts: A Preliminary Survey.” In Medicine in Early Medieval England. Edited by Marilyn Deegan and D. G. Scragg. Manchester: Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies, University of Manchester, 1987, pages 17-26.

Hill, Thomas D. “The Old English Dough Riddle and the Power of Women’s Magic: The Traditional Context of Exeter Book Riddle No. 45.” In Via Crucis: Essays on Early Medieval Sources and Ideas in Memory of J. E. Cross. Edited by Thomas N. Hall and Charles D. Wright. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2002, pages 50-60.

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. 82-6).

I also wrote a piece on this riddle for the British Library's Discovering Literature website, which you can access here.



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

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Exeter Riddle 46

VICTORIASYMONS

Date: Wed 21 Oct 2015
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 46
Original text:

Wær sæt æt wine      mid his wifum twam
ond his twegen suno     ond his twa dohtor,
swase gesweostor,      ond hyra suno twegen,
freolico frumbearn;      fæder wæs þær inne
5     þara æþelinga      æghwæðres mid,
eam ond nefa.      Ealra wæron fife
eorla ond idesa     insittendra.

Translation:

A man sat [drinking] wine with his two wives
and his two sons and his two daughters,
the dear sisters, and their two sons,
noble firstborns. The father of each
5    of those princes was in there,
uncle and nephew. In all there were five
warriors and women sitting within.

Click to show riddle solution?
Lot and his family


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 44: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 97.



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Eusebius Riddle 46: De leopardo

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Mon 27 Dec 2021
Original text:

Saeva mihi genitrix atroxque est leaena decreta
Crudelisque pater pardus, pardaeque maritus.
Hinc velox, ferus; hinc trux atque robustus et audax.
Nascitur ex ipsis coniunctum nomen habendo.

Translation:

To me was decreed a raging mother, a fierce and lewd lioness, (1) 
And a cruel panther father, mate of the pantheress.
From one am I swift and wild; from one am I harsh, strong, and bold.
My name arises from conjoining them.

Click to show riddle solution?
On the leopard


Notes:

(1) I use multiple adjectives here to render the pun inherent in the Latin lena: lena is slang for a lascivious woman, and the very similar leaena means “lioness.” To preserve the joke, I was going to translate it as “cougar,” but the riddle hinges on the idea that the name of a “leo-pard” derives from both its parents, so it was crucial to keep the element of “lion.”



Tags: riddles  latin  Eusebius 

Aldhelm Riddle 46: Urtica

ALEXANDRAREIDER

Date: Tue 15 Mar 2022
Original text:

Torqueo torquentes, sed nullum torqueo sponte
Laedere nec quemquam volo, ni prius ipse reatum
Contrahat et viridem studeat decerpere caulem.
Fervida mox hominis turgescunt membra nocentis:
Vindico sic noxam stimulisque ulciscor acutis.

Translation:

I torture my torturers, but I torture no one happily,
Nor do I wish to hurt anyone, unless he commit offence
First and desire to pluck my green stem. 
The limbs of the harm-doing man immediately grow hot and swollen:
Thus I avenge my injury and take revenge with my sharp stings.

Click to show riddle solution?
Nettle


Notes:

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



Tags: riddles  latin  Aldhelm 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 46

VICTORIASYMONS

Date: Wed 21 Oct 2015
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 46

At first glance, following on from two very explicitly sexual riddles (“þrindende þing,” indeed), Riddle 46 is almost disappointingly tame – just a family having dinner together. In fact, it is anything but. It may not look like it, but what we have here is yet another riddle that, once again, is all about sex.

It starts with a situation familiar from Old English poetry: a man sitting down to a drink. Keeping him company are his wives – yes, both of them – his two sons, his two daughters, their two sons, and each sons’ father, uncle and nephew. It’s quite a gathering! Except, as we learn in the final line, there are only five people in the room. Like the Tardis, this is a family that’s bigger on the inside.

Blue phone box>

Relevant. Photo (by Steve Collis) from the Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY 2.0).

The test of the riddle, then, is to work out how this small group can have quite so many relationships binding them together. The answer starts with sex: this family’s been having rather a lot of it.

Something about incest seems to lend itself to riddles. In Apollonius of Tyre, which was translated into Old English in the eleventh century, the “wicked” King Antiochus requires his daughter’s potential suitors to solve a riddle about his incestuous relationship with her (Lees, pages 37-9; for other examples see Bitterli, pages 57-9). The source material for the similarly incestuous set-up of Riddle 46 is found in the Bible (where else?). After fleeing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and leaving his wife behind as a pillar of salt, Lot finds himself holed up in a cave, together with his two daughters:

And the elder said to the younger Our father is old, and there is no man left on the earth, to come in unto us after the manner of the whole earth. Come, let us make him drunk with wine, and let us lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father. And they made their father drink wine that night: and the elder went in and lay with her father: but he perceived not neither when his daughter lay down, nor when she rose up. And the next day… They made their father drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went in, and lay with him: and neither then did he perceive when she lay down, nor when she rose up. So the two daughters of Lot were with child by their father. (Genesis 19:31-36)

 

So there you have it. The riddle’s five people are Lot himself, his two daughters, and their sons by him. That makes the boys both the sons of Lot, the sons of his daughters, and each others’ uncle and nephew. Everything is accounted for!

Or at least, almost everything. There’s one relationship in the riddle that doesn’t appear in the Genesis story. In Genesis, Lot is seduced by his daughters, but he doesn’t marry them. In Riddle 46, however, they are referred to as his wifum twam. A reference to multiple wives would, I think, have particular connotations for an early medieval reader. There’s evidence to suggest that, before the Conversion, it was accepted for early English men to have several wives, or concubines (Clunies Ross; Lees). The practice persisted well into the Christian era, although the church was most certainly not ok with it:

Se man ðe rihtæwe hæfð ond eac cyfese ne sylle him nan preost husl ne nan gerihto þe man cristenum mannum deð butan he to bote gecyrre. (Frantzen, Old English Penitential, 2.9)

([Concerning] the man who has a legal wife and also a concubine, let no priest give him the eucharist nor any of the rites which are performed for Christian men, unless he turns to repentance.)

 

Furthermore, Margaret Clunies Ross argues that polygamy was “practiced much more extensively among the upper classes [of early English society] … than in the lower social ranks” (page 3), and Clare Lees describes “serial polygamy and concubinage” as “the prerogative of the ruling family of the West Saxons’ (p. 37). It’s fitting, then, that the characters of Riddle 46 are described variously as freolic, ides, æþeling and eorl: all terms with a predominantly aristocratic flavour.

Now you may find yourself wondering how the early medieval church justified its stance on concubines (not ok), when there’s polygamy a plenty in the Old Testament – as this riddle itself demonstrates. And you wouldn’t be alone. Ælfric specifically discusses this point in his Preface to Genesis:

On anginne þisere worulde, nam se broþer hys swuster to wife and hwilon eac se fæder tymde be his agenre dehter, and manega hæfdon ma wifa… Gyf hwa wyle nu swa lybban æfter Cristes tocyme, swa swa men leofodon ær Moises æ oþþe under Moises æ, ne byð se man na cristen.

(In the beginning of this world, a brother took his sister as a wife, and sometimes also a father had a child with his own daughter, and many [men] had multiple wives… [but] if anyone wishes to live now, after Christ’s coming, in the same way that men lived before Moses’ law, or under Moses’ law, that man is not a Christian.)

 

Ælfric’s argument is that things were different back in the day, and Old Testament practices can’t simply be copied without some interpretation. By presenting an Old Testament story in the guise of contemporary medieval culture, I think our riddler is making a similar point. Take the Old Testament literally, and next thing you know you’ll be sitting down to dinner with your brother-uncle. No one wants that.

Read in the context of these penitentials and homilies, we can see how this riddle engages with some pretty topical social issues. Both the specific subject of marriage, and the more general dangers of incorrectly interpreting Biblical material, are touched upon here, with perhaps a bit of a jab at the upper classes thrown in for good measure. As Jennifer Neville summarises, it’s not every day you find a Bible story repackaged into a joke about sex, masquerading as a number game!

But there’s another way that we can read this riddle, too. For all its playfulness, there’s an underlying suggestion of something darker going on. Because, of course, the story of Lot is not simply the story of a man with one too many wives. It’s also a disturbing narrative about incest and exploitation. And I don’t think that’s lost on the author of this riddle.

We get our first sense of this with the reference to wine in the first line. This detail comes straight from the Genesis story, so in one way it gives us a hint about the riddle’s solution (Murphy, page 144). But it also draws attention to the role played by alcohol in all of this. Drinking was, of course, a not uncommon pastime in early medieval England, but nor was it universally celebrated (see Riddle 27, for example). The poem Judith, another Old English adaptation of an Old Testament story, firmly links drunkenness with sexual wrongdoing.

Painting of Judith beheading Holofernes

This is where too much drinking gets you in Judith. Image of painting by Caravaggio from the Wikimedia Commons.

The words inne and insittendre place a particular emphasis on the interiority of the setting in this riddle. Combined with the insistent repetition of ond in the opening and closing lines, the poet creates an unsettlingly claustrophobic atmosphere. This is a family that, behind closed doors, is rather too close for comfort.

Now, the Genesis story very clearly presents Lot’s daughters as the incestual instigators, up to and including getting their father insensibly drunk first. That’s problematic enough, but Riddle 46 complicates things even further. Here, the father is presented in a much more central role; the words wær and fæder are positioned prominently at the very start and exact middle of the poem, while the three-fold repetition of his in the opening lines emphasises his authority over everyone else present. It’s a subtle change, but it’s one that encourages us to consider the complexity of the power dynamics at play. In combination with its claustrophobic atmosphere and suggestion of drunkenness, the riddle hints at the more troubling implications that undercut the narrative’s superficially playful presentation.

When reading the Exeter Book riddles, it’s always worth having a look at what’s near them in the manuscript. In this case, Riddle 46 follows hot on the heels of two explicitly sexual riddles, full of raunchy imagery and innuendo-laden puns. Riddle 46 continues the focus on sex, but explores it in a much broader way: in relation to society, to the Bible, to families, and to power. It’s at once short and playful, but also serious and, I think, pretty dark. Not bad for a little poem about family dinner!

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Ælfric. “Preface to Genesis.” In The Longman Anthology of Old English, Old Icelandic and Anglo-Norman Literatures. Edited by Richard North, Joe Allard and Patricia Gillies. London: Routledge, 2014, pages 740-45.

Bitterli, Dieter. Say What I Am Called: The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009.

Clunies Ross, Margaret. “Concubinage in Anglo-Saxon England.” Past & Present, vol. 108 (1985), pages 3-34.

Frantzen, Allen J., ed. The Anglo-Saxon Penitentials: A Cultural Database. 2003-2015. http://www.anglo-saxon.net/penance/index.php?p=index

Godden, Malcolm. “Biblical Literature: The Old Testament.” In The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature. Edited by Malcolm Godden and Michael Lapidge. 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013, pages 214-33.

Lees, Clare A. “Engendering Religious Desire: Sex, Knowledge, and Christian Identity in Anglo-Saxon England.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, vol. 27 (1997), pages 17-46.

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

Neville, Jennifer. “Joyous Play and Bitter Tears: The Riddles and the Elegies.” In Beowulf and Other Stories: A New Introduction to Old English, Old Icelandic and Anglo-Norman Literature. Edited by Richard North and Joe Allard. London: Pearson, 2007, pages 130-59.

Swanton, Michael, trans. “Apollonius of Tyre.” In Anglo-Saxon Prose. London: Dent, 1975, pages 158-73.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 46  victoria symons 

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