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Exeter Riddle 27

MEGANCAVELL

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

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



Original text:

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

Translation:

Poetic translation:

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

Prose translation:

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

Click to show riddle solution?
Mead, Whip, Sleep


Notes:

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

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

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

Translation Notes

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


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

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 27

MEGANCAVELL

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

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

 

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

320px-Honey-Fruit-Mead-Brewing

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

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

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

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

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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Exeter Riddle 28

MEGANCAVELL

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

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

Translation:

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

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


Notes:

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

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

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



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

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 28

MEGANCAVELL

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

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

Barrow chamber

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

Group Number One: Alcohol

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

Riddle 28 GravityTap

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

Group Number Two: Musical Instrument

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

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

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

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

Lyre made from tortoise shell

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

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

Group Number Three: Other Crafted Object

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

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

Parchment being stretched on a rack

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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Exeter Riddle 29

MATTHIASAMMON

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

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

Translation:

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

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


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 107v-108r of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), page 195.

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



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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 29

MEGANCAVELL

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

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

Waxing_Crescent_Moon_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1627064

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

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

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

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

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

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

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

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



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

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Exeter Riddles 30a and b

MEGANCAVELL

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

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



Original text:

Riddle 30a

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

 

 

 

 

 

Riddle 30b

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

Translation:

Riddle 30a

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

A free rendering of Riddle 30a into Finnish:

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

 

Riddle 30b

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

A free rendering of Riddle 30b into Finnish:

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

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


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 108r and 122v of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), pages 195-6 and 224-5.

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

Textual Notes

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



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

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Commentary for Exeter Riddles 30a and b

MEGANCAVELL

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wood burning fire

Photograph by Mira Suopelto

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

Trees blowing in wind

Photograph by P. Koppinen

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

Wooden dishes

Photograph by P. Koppinen

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

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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Exeter Riddles 30a and b

Exeter Riddle 31

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 13 Nov 2014
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 31

This week’s translation is a guest post from Christopher Laprade. Christopher is a PhD student at the University of Toronto, where he is working on book history and early modern drama.



Original text:

Is þes middangeard     missenlicum
wisum gewlitegad,     wrættum gefrætwad.
Ic seah sellic þing     singan on ræcede;
wiht wæs nower (1)      werum on gemonge
5     sio hæfde wæstum     wundorlicran.
Niþerweard      wæs neb hyre,
fet ond folme     fugele gelice;
no hwæþre fleogan mæg     ne fela gongan,
hwæþre feþegeorn     fremman onginneð,
10     gecoren cræftum,
     cyrreð geneahhe
oft ond gelome     eorlum on gemonge,
siteð æt symble,     sæles bideþ,
hwonne ær heo cræft hyre     cyþan mote
werum on gemonge.     Ne heo þær wiht þigeð
15     þæs þe him æt blisse     beornas habbað.
Deor domes georn,     hio dumb wunað;
hwæþre hyre is on fote     fæger hleoþor,
wynlicu woðgiefu.     Wrætlic me þinceð,
hu seo wiht mæge     wordum lacan
20     þurh fot neoþan,     frætwed hyrstum.
Hafað hyre on halse,     þonne hio hord warað,
baru (2), beagum deall,     broþor sine,
mæg mid mægne.     Micel is to hycgenne
wisum woðboran     hwæt sio (3) wiht sie.

Translation:

This middle earth is in manifold
ways made beautiful, with works of art adorned.
I saw a strange thing sing in a hall;
nowhere was there a creature among men
5     that had a more fantastic form.
Downward was her beak,
feet and hands like a bird;
she may not fly, however, nor walk much,
yet eager to go she begins to perform,
10     chosen with skill, she moves frequently
often and again among men,
sits at the feast, bides her time,
until when she might make known her skill
amidst the men. She consumes nothing
15     that the men there have for their pleasure.
Brave, eager for glory, she sits silent;
yet there is in her foot a fair sound,
a charming gift of song. It seems curious to me,
how that creature can play with words
20     through that foot from beneath, adorned with finery.
They have her by the neck, when she guards treasure,
bare, proud with rings, her brothers,
maid among an army. It is a great thing to think
for a wise songster what that creature may be.

Click to show riddle solution?
Bagpipes, Quill Pen and Fingers, Psaltery and Quill-pick, Fiddle, Portable Organ, Organistrum, Harp, Cithara


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 108r-108v 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 196.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 29: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 86-7.

Textual Notes

  • (1) nower is an editorial intervention that does not appear in the manuscript;
  • (2) note that Krapp and Dobbie retain the manuscript form bær, while Williamson emends to baru;
  • (3) sio also does not appear in the manuscript.

This page was edited for clarity on 30 November 2020.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 31 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 31

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Wed 17 Feb 2021
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 31

How do you solve a problem like a bird who sings through her foot? That, my friends, is the question on my mind.

Riddle 31 is a riddle (obv) about an object living her best life. What, precisely, she is…well, that’s up for debate. Most editors of the Old English riddles solve Riddle 31 as Bagpipes. They reckon that the multiple references to a creature singing and showing off mad skillz in the hall means this is a musical instrument. And they reckon that the fantastic form of the object – with her downward beak and musical foot – suggests the chanter and drones of the bagpipes. The guarding of treasure in line 21 becomes the breath of the performer, which the instrument takes in, controls and releases to musical effect. It’s quite common for birds to be associated with musicality in the riddles – I’m thinking here of Riddle 7’s swan and Riddle 57’s crows or swifts – but bagpipe tunes are perhaps less bird-like in their song than many other types of music.

Here are some very un-bird-like bagpipes being butchered:

Other musical instruments have also been mooted (I love the word mooted, btw…we should all use this word way more often) as the solution, partly because evidence for the use of bagpipes in early medieval England is, shall we say, lacking. But, as Jonathan Wilcox reassures us, this instrument was widespread in agricultural societies and there are plenty of later medieval references and drawings to suggest that early medieval bagpipes were probably a thing (pages 138-40).

In fact, even though there isn’t much evidence for their use in early medieval England, it is very possible that the protruding drones and bird-like feet in the early 11th-century image below could depict the instrument (Wilcox, page 144, note 41):

Bagpipes in Junius Manuscript

Image from the famous Junius Manuscript (p. 57) Photo: © Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford (licence: CC-BY-NC 4.0).

So, we could have a case of the ol’ bagpipes here in Riddle 31.

The other, non-musical instrument option is a Quill Pen and Fingers. Yes, Donald K. Fry grappled with the birdy imagery in this riddle and its references to songs, treasure and flying-not-flying, and decided this is clearly another riddle about the scriptorium. Unfortunately, I can’t get a hold of this article right now (#pandemic), but I’ve written myself a note to follow up on this later.*

Still, I imagine that to read the riddle as a quill pen, we’d assume the riddle’s birdy imagery stems from the feather used to create the quill, with the downward beak as its pointed tip. The references to the bird’s foot could perhaps point toward a feathery wing and line 8-9’s description of the object’s eagerness to perform despite being unable to fly or walk should make us think of feather pens furiously scribbling across a page. All those songs – well those are the words that the pen delivers, a veritable treasure-hoard of ideas.

Hand holding quill pen

Image from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

While we might imagine the hall setting with its music and feasting as a literal location for the use of the bagpipes, in order to solve the riddle as quill pen, the hall is probably best interpreted as a metaphor for the scriptorium. Songs are still appropriate in this setting if they’re words read out from the page. But the feasting? I don’t really know what to do with that, unless we imagine a scene change that moves us back into a literal hall where a written document is read out to frolickers. Hmm…not sure about that. Give me a shout if you have better ideas.

All in all, I prefer the bagpipes reading myself, in part because Jonathan Wilcox has made such a good case for interpreting the incongruity of this riddle as humorous. The monstrosity of this object with all the wrong sorts of body-parts could be priming us for humour, while the bagpipes attract humour because of the instrument’s “lack of subtlety as an object built on a literal windbag. Bagpipes can encode the windiness of unrestrained speech or the flatulent pouring forth of an unrestrained body” (page 140). The fact that the instrument is compared to bird-like song is all the funnier if you imagine a real bird letting out the sound of a bagpipe.

As a final gift to you, I’d also like to note that Wilcox’s essay led me to a range of truly brilliant medieval images including this fabulous late 11th-century Spanish musical duo:

Drawing of men playing instrument and bird

Illustration in Beatus of Liebena’s Commentary on the Apocalypse from London, British Library Add MS 11695, folio 86r (Photo: © British Library).

A work of genius. Truly, my life is now complete.

*Editorial Note (22 February 2021): I have now tracked down Fry’s article and it chimes with what I said above. Fry notes lots of examples of riddles in both Old English and Anglo-Latin that play with the following motifs: “banquet, bird, inability to speak, and words as treasure” (page 236). He points to a few instances where the tasting of wisdom or words might explain what the feast hall is doing in this riddle. I don’t personally think that any of the examples given are close enough to Riddle 31 to fully explain its scene of feasting, but feel free to read the article and judge for yourselves!

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Fry, Donald K. “Exeter Riddle 31: Feather-Pen.” In De Gustibus: Essays for Alain Renoir. Edited by J. M. Foley, C. J. Womack, and W. A. Womack. New York: Garland, 1992, pages 234-49.

Wilcox, Jonathan. “Humour and the Exeter Book Riddles: Incongruity in Feþegeorn (R.31).” In Riddles at Work in the Early Medieval Tradition: Words, Ideas, Interactions. Edited by Megan Cavell and Jennifer Neville. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020, pages 128-45.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 31 

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Exeter Riddle 32

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Sun 07 Dec 2014
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 32
Original text:

Is þes middangeard     missenlicum
wisum gewlitegad,     wrættum gefrætwad.
Siþum sellic     ic seah searo hweorfan,
grindan wið greote,     giellende faran.
5     Næfde sellicu wiht     syne ne folme,
exle ne earmas;     sceal on anum fet
searoceap swifan,     swiþe feran,
faran ofer feldas.     Hæfde fela ribba;
muð wæs on middan.     Moncynne nyt,
10     fereð foddurwelan,     folcscipe dreogeð,
wist in wigeð,     ond werum gieldeð
gaful geara gehwam     þæs þe guman brucað,
rice ond heane.     Rece, gif þu cunne,
wis worda gleaw,     hwæt sio wiht sie.

Translation:

This middle-earth is made beautiful
in various ways, adorned with ornaments.
At times I saw strange contraption move about,
grind against the grit, go screaming.
5     The strange creature did not have sight nor hands,
shoulders nor arms; on one foot must
the cunning contraption move, powerfully journey,
going over fields. It had many ribs;
its mouth was in the middle. Useful to mankind,
10     it bears an abundance of food, works for the people,
carries sustenance within, and yields to men
treasure every year that those men enjoy,
rich and poor. Tell, if you know,
wise and prudent in words, what that creature may be.

Click to show riddle solution?
Ship, Wagon, Millstone, Wheel, Wheelbarrow


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 108v 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 196-7.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 30: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 87.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 32 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 32

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 23 Dec 2014
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 32

Hello, readers. Have you missed me? I’m sure that you have, but my need for validation means I just gotta ask. I’ve had a busy-busy term, and have been oh so very lucky that all sorts of lovely guest bloggers have turned up to entertain you. But now it’s the holidays, which means it’s my turn again.

Let’s talk about ships.

But is the subject of Riddle 32 a ship? You are, perhaps, not convinced. There are other suggestions for the solution, which include Wagon, Millstone, Wheel and Wheelbarrow. Naturally, the library has none of the books I need to tell you all about the folks who suggested these things (it’s the holidays, so the library has already been pillaged from pillar to post by keen vacationers). However, I can tell you that Ship is a scholarly favourite. How’s about I explain why I like it and then you write in if you prefer one of the other readings? Yes, let’s do that.

Right, so ships. The first thing I’ll say is that the screaming we see in line 4b (giellende) is quite a bird-like act. Huh? Let me rephrase: in other Old English poems, the verb gyllan (to scream/yell/call) is applied to the sounds of birds. So in Solomon and Saturn II, the strange, apocalyptic bird referred to as the Vasa Mortis gilleð geomorlice and his gyrn sefað (Anlezark, line 90 or ASPR, line 282) (calls miserably and mourns its misfortune). Equally, The Seafarer is marked by avian imagery when it describes the gifre ond grædig (eager and greedy) anfloga (lone-flier), which gielleð (calls) in line 62. Finally, Riddle 24’s magpie hwilum gielle swa hafoc (line 3b) (sometimes calls like a hawk). And, as we know from poems like Beowulf, ships are the giant manmade birds of the sea (write that in an essay…I dare you!). Hence, the poem refers to the flota famiheals fugle gelicost (line 218) (foamy-necked ship most like a bird) and the swanrad (line 200a) (swan-road), the latter of which is a kenning for the sea (also appearing in Andreas, line 196b). So, the sound that the subject of Riddle 32 makes gels with other Old English poetic approaches to ships.

Oseberg Ship viewed from front

Here’s the famous Norwegian Oseberg ship. Photo (by Uwe kils) from the Wikimedia Commons.

What about all that grinding? Surely grindan in line 4a could be better linked to a millstone, non? Well, yes, but that’s not to say that ships don’t also grind (best mental image ever: Old English dance-party…ships grinding to hiphop music…shocked monks looking on from the sidelines). In fact, in Guthlac B, we have almost the exact same half-line applied to a ship:

                              Lagumearg snyrede,
gehlæsted to hyðe,     þæt se hærnflota
æfter sundplegan     sondlond gespearn,
grond wið greote. (1332b-5a)

(The sea-steed hastened, laden to the landing, so that the wave-floater after the swim-play perched upon the sandy land, ground against the grit.)

The half-line is again repeated in Andreas, as grund wið greote (line 425a). These three instances are the only times that grindan and greot are linked in Old English literature. So, what we can now see is clearly a poetic formula (a repeated, variable verse unit) – grindan wið greote – has clear shippy connotations. These aren’t the only formulas in Riddle 32: the opening and closing half-lines can be found in the riddle directly before this one in the manuscript. These poets know their shiz, man.

Anywho, the formulaic stuff I’ve just discussed has me convinced of the ship reading, although I recognize that faran ofer feldas (line 8a) (going over fields) is a better literal description of a wheelbarrow. To that I say: since when are riddles literal? Directly following this half-line, we have ribs, which are almost certainly not literal ribs. This metaphor could be applied to any rounded object, but I like the image of the ship’s wooden planks as the creature’s ribs.

Ship burial indentations

It’s a bit blurry, but check out this model of the Sutton Hoo ship burial. Look ribby enough for you? Photo (by Steven J. Plunkett) from the Wikimedia Commons.

A ship is also a terribly cunning contraption that looks a heck of a lot like a giant foot (á la line 6b). Fact. So, I’m throwing my lot in with Ship.

If you want to know just what type of ship this might be, then look no further than lines 9b-13. Here, the poet tells us that the riddle-subject brings food and treasures (metaphorical or literal) to people rich and poor. This reference points to the use of ships as transport vessels for all things mercantile – hence Niles has solved the riddle in Old English as Ceap-scip (merchant ship) (page 141). The transportation of goods via waterways in early medieval England was common (Williamson, page 236). Katrin Thier talks about ships of various breeds and creeds in her article on nautical material culture, but…as with all the other books in the library, her article is currently unavailable to me.

Given the general library pillaging that has gone on up here in Durham, I can only conclude that it must be the holiday season! So, with that realization, I’m going to stop blogging at you and go eat some mince pies. May the ships of the holiday season bring you all an abundance of food and treasure! That’s a thing, right?

*hastily re-reads riddle to check whether it could in fact describe Santa’s sleigh*

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Anlezark, Daniel, ed. and trans. The Old English Dialogues of Solomon and Saturn. Anglo-Saxon Texts, vol. 7. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2009.

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

Thier, Katrin. “Steep Vessel, High Horn-ship: Water Transport.” In The Material Culture of Daily Living in the Anglo-Saxon World. Edited by Maren Clegg Hyer and Gale R. Owen-Crocker. Exeter Studies in Medieval Europe. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2011, pages 49-72.

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 32 

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Exeter Riddle 33

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Wed 07 Jan 2015
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 33

Riddle 33’s translation is by Britt Mize. Britt is Associate Professor of English and Rothrock Research Fellow at Texas A&M University where he works on Old and Middle English language, literature and poetics.



Original text:

Wiht cwom æfter wege      wrætlicu liþan,
cymlic from ceole     cleopode to londe,
hlinsade hlude;      hleahtor wæs gryrelic,
egesful on earde,      ecge wæron scearpe.
5     Wæs hio hetegrim,     hilde to sæne,
biter beadoweorca;     bordweallas grof,
heard, hiþende,      heterune bond.
Sægde searocræftig     ymb hyre sylfre gesceaft:
“Is min modor     mægða cynnes
10     þæs deorestan,      þæt is dohtor min
eacen up liden;     swa þæt is ældum cuþ,
firum on folce,     þæt seo on foldan sceal
on ealra londa gehwam     lissum stondan.”

Translation:

Something wondrous came moving over wave;
the beautiful thing called out to shore from the ship,
resounded loudly. Its laughter was horrible,
terrible in the land. Its edges were sharp.
5   She was hate-fierce, slow in combat,
bitter in battle-deeds; hard, ravaging,
she carved into shield-walls, bound them with a hate-rune.
The cunning thing spoke of her own creation:
“My mother, the dearest of maiden-kind,
10   is the one who is my daughter,
grown up strong. It is known to men,
to folk among the people, that she shall come with joy
to the surface of the earth in every single land.”

Click to show riddle solution?
Iceberg, Ice, Ice-floe


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 108v-109r 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 197, but note that the punctuation differs at lines 7-8 and 11.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 31: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 87-8.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 33 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 33

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 22 Jan 2015
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 33

As with the translation, the commentary for Riddle 33 comes to us from Britt Mize. Take it away, Britt!



When Megan invited me to write a Riddle Ages posting and gave me my pick of Exeter Book riddles, it didn’t take me long to choose. Number 33 has always been my favorite.

The only solution to this riddle that accounts for all the details is “iceberg,” and I agree with those who have thought over the years that the iceberg is colliding with a ship. In other words, I believe that ceol (meaning “ship”) in line 2 is not metaphoric as the Dictionary of Old English assumes in citing this riddle, but a literal ship, and the bordweallas in line 6 are likewise real “walls of board” – here the ship’s hull (although this is also an image from battle poetry, a point I’ll come back to). The iceberg is described as a marvelous, beautiful floating thing, but this one isn’t just floating around beautifully. Although water is beneficial, a fact also referenced in the riddle, as we’ll see, the frozen form that it takes here it is clearly performing an action that is harmful to humans. Otherwise its “laughter,” the noise it makes when it “calls out to shore from the ship,” wouldn’t be, in line 4, egesful on earde (terrible in the land).

Riddle 33 is a little unusual in focusing on a specific, momentary event. Many of the Exeter Book riddles that have a narrative aspect either recount the object’s creation as a lengthy process, like the transition from animal to detached skin to usable parchment to finished gospel manuscript (Riddle 26), or else they describe habitual, repeated, ordinary actions rather than something that happens once at a certain instant in time (examples of this kind include Riddles 5 and 16). The riddles’ tendency to typify is consistent with their affiliation with wisdom literature – in many cultures the riddle is a wisdom genre – because they are addressing what the world is like, forcing new perspectives or understandings by defamiliarizing the familiar. Even riddles of the “I saw . . .” type, whose narrative setup of witnessing would seem to promise the particular, generally tell of something commonplace and easily or repeatedly observed, like a hand guiding a pen in Riddle 51, or the chicken love that inspires bizarrely ornate poetic stylings in Riddle 42. But while number 33 is a departure from the usual in offering a snapshot of a more singular occurrence and meditating on it poetically, this is not to say that there are no others like it. You might compare the famous Riddle 47, which perhaps has a similar immediacy if we imagine it capturing the moment of discovery that hungry insect larvae have destroyed a precious book, or, outside of the Exeter collection, the riddle carved on the front of a small whalebone box known as the Franks Casket, which narrates the beaching of a whale.

Franks Casket viewed from front

Photo of the Franks Casket (by Michel wal) from the Wikimedia Commons.

Riddle 33 is organized around two different conceits. If you’re a fan of 17th-century metaphysical verse and thus already know what a poetic “conceit” is, you can skip the rest of this paragraph. If you are still reading: a conceit is a metaphor that a poet holds on to through an extended pattern of images and analogies, in order to structure a whole poem according to some non-literal comparison. When John Donne – in a seduction attempt that surely, please, could not possibly work – humorously describes a flea as if it were a marriage bed or bridal chamber, and then will not let go of the idea but just keeps on about it, he has us (and his reluctant lady) in the grips of a conceit.

We don’t normally use the term “conceit” in application to Old English poems, but I’m going to, because it’s a useful angle of approach in this case. So as I was saying, two conceits help to structure Riddle 33 and generate its content. One emerges in a series of details portraying the iceberg as an entity that is not just vocal, but actually linguistic, endowed with the ability to communicate. This is different from the riddles that are in the first person, as if the object were speaking the riddle about itself to us. Rather, this poet as putative observer of a maritime collision describes the iceberg as possessing voice. It “calls out to shore”; even its “laughter” is intelligible, mocking and causing terror to those on land who hear it. The berg’s articulateness is not limited to sound, either. It also writes, when the poet represents the gash it leaves in the broken hull of the ship as a carved character with meaning, a “hate-rune.”

Most interestingly, the “cunning” iceberg “speaks of her own creation” and serves up a riddle-within-a-riddle (a device occasionally found elsewhere, as in Riddle 1’s allusion to the Great Flood, at lines 12-13). The embedded riddle within 33, occupying the last five lines of the poem, is a logic puzzle based on generational paradoxes:

My mother . . .
is the one who is my daughter,
grown up strong. (lines 9-11)

This intellectual stunt compares loosely with the one in Riddle 46, where familial relationships get tangled up in the kind of arithmetic that only incest can solve. A more exact comparison, albeit from modern times, is William Wordsworth’s famous line “The child is father of the man” (“My Heart Leaps Up”). The poet of Riddle 33 plays the same game of putting something logical into an illogical form of statement, forcing the reader to squint at the truth sideways and see it in an unaccustomed way.

Here the trick applies to elemental rather than human relations. The short, embedded riddle summarizes a northern version of the hydrologic cycle. An iceberg’s mother is water, “grown up strong” into a glacier or icecap, from which the iceberg calves off into the sea. Its daughter is meltwater. After evaporating and falling again, often as the rain that is welcomed in “every single land,” the water “grow[s] up strong” again into ice and glaciers, and around and around we go.

The other conceit in Riddle 33 is, of course, battle. Several details represent the collision as a violent fight in which the adversarial party is, counter-intuitively, slow-moving and also female. Seemingly contradictory notions like being dangerous yet “slow in combat” are around every corner in the Exeter Book riddles; the imagery here is like describing the sea floor as a “wave-covered land” or saying that “homeland is foreign” to a ship’s anchor (both examples from Riddle 5). Old English riddle writers loved these kinds of formulations, and once the solution is found they always turn out to make impeccable sense after all.

The battle conceit is also where the bordweallas I mentioned earlier fit in. In heroic poetry, a row of wooden shields carried by warriors standing side by side is described as a “board-wall.” What the maker of Riddle 33 does here is literalize a term that is expected to be semi-metaphorical. A reader familiar with conventional battle description could chase this word into the wrong frame of reference. Similarly, the ecge (edges) in line 4 are here just edges, but in Old English poetry the word is more often a metonym for “swords” – so often, in fact, that like bordweallas, the literal meaning needed to make sense of the cryptic presentation here might be too obvious to see at first glance. It’s a clever move, exploiting customary poetic language to make a reader think of swords and shields, while leaving the solution hidden in plain sight.

For Old English poets, nature is splendid and God-created, providing abundantly for human needs, but it’s also very, very dangerous. Nature doesn’t care. Death is part of it, at least in the post-Edenic world, and something is eventually going to get every single one of us. Individuals who find themselves isolated from community are painfully subject to the elements, and groups of people are not safe either: natural forces and processes are always, in this literature, potentially antithetical to orderly human enterprise.

This is the context of thought in which Riddle 33 speaks of an encounter between a piece of technology and a natural phenomenon as if it were a battle. Old English poetry shows us strife between animals and their environments; it shows us the vulnerability of individuals in the face of atmospheric and elemental forces; and it shows us conflict between organized human interests (like those that cause a ship to be built and launched) and the disruptive, damaging power of the things around us we can’t control. A sea-surge strands the whale of the Franks Casket. Fire is the “greediest of spirits” (Beowulf and elsewhere). A storm rampages across human habitations and forests too, in a chaos of wind and lightning (Riddle 1). Exiles risk their lives on the frigid sea and are beaten by hail, the coldest of grains (The Seafarer). Winter weather is said to come with hostile intent (The Wanderer), and frost will tear down even the greatest stone buildings in time (The Ruin, The Wanderer). The same water that life requires can also gather into a terrifying and irresistible torrent (Riddle 84) – or, here, freeze rock-hard into an iceberg that strikes a ship, as if in an attack fueled by malice.

An iceberg striking a ship: I’ll bet that at some point, the wreck of the Titanic has flickered through the mind of nearly everyone reading this. Go with me just a few steps down a crooked path.

RMS_Titanic

Photo of the Titanic leaving Southampton in 1912 (by F.G.O. Stuart (1843-1923)) from the Wikimedia Commons.

If you did think of the Titanic and instantly dismissed it as irrelevant to Riddle 33, you were right, of course. The 1912 collision of a ship with an iceberg cannot possibly have anything to do with a poem that had been sitting in the Exeter Book for nearly a millennium by then. Except – the very fact that the Titanic likely came to mind suggests that an awareness of the modern event will lurk within present-day subjective reception of a riddle about an iceberg wrecking a ship. Our history affects the way this little text exists in our world now. Because the Titanic has presence in our consciousness, it has some influence on the kind of life Riddle 33 takes on in twenty-first-century eyes, ears, mouths, and minds.

The Titanic’s demise came as such a shock to the public that even a century later, it’s hard to think of icebergs without also thinking of the mechanical leviathan whose promoters notoriously billed it as “unsinkable.” That wreck gave us the most famous iceberg in history, and it also gave lasting fame to the Titanic: although a ship so grand was big news in its day, few of us might recognize the name now had it not sunk in spectacular fashion, with massive loss of life owing in equal parts to error and hubris.

In this sense, you could even say the iceberg and the Titanic made each other. Neither would be remarkable in the long view of history had they passed silently in the North Atlantic darkness; it’s their catastrophic meeting that immortalized both, providing us with a touchstone for transit disasters, and for icebergs. To put it another way, the materially destructive encounter was equally – from the perspective of historiography and the popular imagination – a creative one, in that it took the ship’s and the iceberg’s simultaneous arrival at one pinpoint on a map to make an event that large numbers of humans would remember and interpret and tell about again and again.

The English poet and novelist Thomas Hardy (1840–1928) understood this. Late in his long life Hardy responded to the improbable intersection of these two objects in the vastness of time and sea, brought about by the inconceivable coincidence of many unconnected events, with his poem “The Convergence of the Twain,” which represents the disaster as an appointment set by divine powers and punctually kept. It’s a spine-tingling piece worth stopping to read if you haven’t. After a few stanzas contemplating the opulence and wealth that lies mouldering on the seabed, where uncomprehending marine creatures gaze on it vacantly, Hardy backtracks to describe the slow formation of the iceberg and the simultaneous, painstaking construction of the huge ship.

In Hardy’s measured verses the two growing hulks become more tightly associated line by line until Titanic and berg both launch, in perfect synchronicity thousands of miles apart, and journey toward their shared destiny:

. . . the Spinner of the Years
Said “Now!” And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.

To Hardy, the Titanic and the iceberg not only made each other; they were also made for each other, from the very start. Hardy is well known for his dark, ironic outlook, and for him the wreck of the Titanic encapsulates the vanity of human ambition and delusions of permanence.

If you’ve read much Old English poetry, even just some of the often-translated pieces like The Wanderer and The Ruin, you may already see one of the directions I’m heading with this. Writers in this tradition return again and again to the idea that earthly grandeur and human achievement, however impressive they may briefly be, do not last. Ephemerality is a constant theme. In this respect, Hardy’s attitude toward the decaying remains of the greatest moving object devised within his lifetime has much in common with how an Old English poet might have analyzed the same shipwreck (although the earlier poets, unlike Hardy, take earthly impermanence as a cue to seek the embrace of a merciful God).

Hardy’s poem, with its notion that the Titanic and the iceberg were two interlocking parts of a single fated creation, also always brings to my mind the Beowulf poet’s insistent pairing of references to the hero and the dragon at the site of the battle that neither survives, a pattern that gradually accumulates into a tableau of the death of ancient powers. When old king and old dragon meet their fates in one another, each arrives riding a foamy crest of deep time. As Beowulf approaches what he seems to recognize as his last fight, the aged king pauses to retrace for his men, too young to know for themselves, the course of his extraordinary reign; and that poet backtracks like Hardy to the dragon’s centuries-long possession of a treasure placed in the ground by the nameless last survivor of a nameless, long-dead tribe. The rings and swords of that treasure were as useless to the dragon as the Titanic’s china and mirrors to Hardy’s staring fishes, and like the submerged luxury liner, will remain so after Beowulf’s people burn and rebury it in their grief.

Scholars of Thomas Hardy’s life and works will be able to say whether he was familiar with any Old English poetry. It would surprise me if he had not read at least the Beowulf translation by William Morris. But what draws me into these winding associations when I muse on Exeter Book Riddle 33 is the sense of tragedy and irrecoverable loss – laced with a hint of fatalism – with which I, a cultural heir of the Titanic disaster (and of Hardy’s refraction of it through his own art), cannot help but consider icebergs and ships. Whether the riddle’s early audiences would have heard in it the same overtones of cataclysm I somewhat doubt.

Yet the danger and especially the malice ascribed to the iceberg in Riddle 33 feel urgent and universal: too much so to be explained by such a wreck’s resulting property loss or even death, risked by early English seafarers in relatively small numbers. It’s true that no amount of death is small if it belongs to you or someone dear. But I do think scale is key here, perhaps, because this poem is not really about one iceberg and one ship. It’s about the way the world works. If measuring the greatness of a misfortune by its notoriety, shock value, or number of lives lost – as we tend to do – helps us open a back door into that sense of totality that Old English writers might find in the particular, then irrelevance aside, the comparison may reduce a gap of understanding.

The way of the world, in Old English poetry, leads finally to the destruction and decay of everything under the heavens that touches human interests. You may have a good run for a while, but the icebergs are out there waiting. According to the poet of Riddle 33, their beauty and stately movement – and the astonishing fact that they are made of the same water that is “the dearest of maidenkind,” greeted “with joy . . . in every single land” – must not distract from their hardness when “grown up strong” into floating mountains that crush what people make and do.

It all comes back to the board-walls, in which this poem’s battle conceit and its motif of communication brilliantly unite. The image of a hate-rune carved on the ship’s shield/hull is so moving not because we imagine the inscribed character as carrying magic or a nasty message (although those ideas are present), but because we also get the more basic fact that it lets the water in. One meaning of the Old English verb bindan (bind) is to transfix or immobilize – as if miraculously or magically – and I take this to be a salient sense here, when we are told in line 7 that the iceberg “bound” the ship’s hull “with a hate-rune.” The ship will sink; where it is is where it will stay. Like “I now pronounce you man and wife,” this rune as an act of language doesn’t just announce a thing to be true, but causes its truth. When water’s hatred is written by iron-hard water that is both stylus and battering ram, and when it is written on a ship surrounded by this substance that it can’t function without, but which will doom it once the shield-wall is breached, the declaration of hate is itself a weapon with mortal power.

What Thomas Hardy (with his always vexed perspective on the Deity) attributed to some kind of sinister providence, Old English poets put down instead to chaotic, uncontrollable, impersonal forces of the natural world: forces that play havoc with humans’ attempts to organize and manage their surroundings, and which could thus be imagined as figuratively hostile to rational human undertakings. It may seem curious to describe an iceberg as purposeful and inimical, but the choice is quite effective once we realize that Old English nature poetry is really not about nature, but about subjective experience taking place through interactions with nature – and about the necessity of reckoning wisely with our weakness, individually and as a species, against powers bigger than ourselves. Many of the Exeter Book riddles celebrate human artifice and its products; many others ponder with fascination the properties of animals and other parts of the natural world. Number 33 reminds its readers that useful things are also dangerous, and that dangerous things may be magnificent.

If at times we need our own history – with its Titanics and a million other modern ghosts – to hear authenticity in the words chosen by unknown writers long ago as they confronted the wonders and fears of their lives, then so be it. We cannot shed our history in any case, can never stand outside of culture or stop being ourselves. What we can try to do, even knowing that success is always partial, is conduct ever more informed acts of imagination that help us map experiential worlds we will never inhabit. Who’s to say, in learning and teaching, that the path to more sympathetic understanding of the past must never thread across an outcropping anachronism? Let’s just not stop there long, or get too fond of the view.

Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 33  britt mize 

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Exeter Riddle 34

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 27 Jan 2015
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 34

Riddle 34 comes to us from Corinne Dale. Corinne is a PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London, where she works on riddles and ecocriticism.



Original text:

Ic wiht geseah      in wera burgum
seo þæt feoh fedeð.      Hafað fela toþa;
nebb biþ hyre æt nytte,      niþerweard gongeð,
hiþeð holdlice      ond to ham tyhð,
5     wæþeð geond weallas,      wyrte seceð;
aa heo þa findeð      þa þe fæst ne biþ;
læteð hio þa wlitigan,      wyrtum fæste,
stille stondan      on staþolwonge,
beorhte blican,      blowan ond growan.

Translation:

I saw a creature in men’s dwellings,
the one who feeds the herds. It has many teeth;
its nose is at use; downward it goes,
plunders faithfully and proceeds towards home,
5     hunts through walls, seeks plants.
It always finds the ones that are not firmly rooted;
it lets the beautiful ones, firm in their roots,
stand still in their foundations,
shine brightly, bloom and grow.

Click to show riddle solution?
Rake


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 109r 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 197.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 32: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 88.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 34 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 34

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 02 Feb 2015
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 34

This week’s commentary is also by Corinne Dale of Royal Holloway. Go, Corinne:

 

Riddle 34 has been widely solved as “rake.” This solution makes perfect sense; anyone who has had the good fortune of becoming acquainted with the simple but effective rake, if only by watching others use one from afar whilst being fanned by palm leaves, will know that its predominant feature is the many “teeth” affixed to its bar. They will also have observed that a rake travels across the ground as it is pulled towards the user. A similar motion is described in Riddle 34; the subject’s nebb (nose) points niþerweard (downwards) and the creature is described as travelling ham (home) (lines 3-4). A rake can be used for weeding, thus explaining the way Riddle 34’s subject leaves behind only the beautiful plants (line 7a), although apparently there is little evidence to say exactly how weeding was carried out in early medieval England (see Banham and Faith, pages 59-60).

A rake can also collect dead grass or dying plants, explaining those plants that fæst ne biþ (are not firmly rooted) in Riddle 34 (line 6b), and can be used to gather in hay, hence the riddle-subject’s ability to feed the feoh (herds) in line 2a. Presumably, the riddle’s wera burgum refers to a human setting, such as a farmstead (line 1b). The reference to weallas (line 5a) takes a little more explanation; Williamson suggests that it could refer to domestic gardening, the walls being the perimeters of the settlement, but also suggests emending the word to wealdas, meaning “forest” (Williamson, page 243). Though forests and woods were used in farming for pasture (Banham and Faith, page 203), it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which a rake would be used among trees.

Very little has been said about Riddle 34 in Old English scholarship; Williamson’s notes and commentary on the riddle are particularly short, among the shortest (perhaps the shortest) in his edition. Yet there are some pretty interesting aspects to the riddle that invite investigation and comment.

wooden rake on ground

Photo of a wooden hand rake (by Chmee2) from the Wikimedia Commons.

Firstly, the riddle-writer’s explicit reference to wyrtum (plants) removes much of the ambiguity from the riddle – why not choose a more ambiguous term to help disguise the answer? Why refer explicitly to blooming and growing as well? Perhaps all this raking business is a metaphor for something else, something that requires a more imaginative leap?

I suggest the answer to the riddle could also be “scholar” or “successful scholar.” The riddle’s description of a creature that has many teeth and a nose pointing downwards brings to my mind the somewhat comic image of a human being with his or her nose buried in a book. We medievalists have all been there, nebb niþerweard…

6636556953_08a05f7fe2_z

This gentleman may be an avid scholar or may simply enjoy the smell of books, in which case, fair play. Photograph by Henti Smith, subject to CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

In the growing dark, with just a flickering candle for light, the medieval scholar’s nose would have quite literally been in the pages, much like this fellow’s threatens to:

Eadwine writing

Portrait of Eadwine (public domain) from the Wikimedia Commons.

 

Nebb, however, can also be translated as “nib,” which, if we are to read the riddle’s solution as “successful scholar,” would refer to the nib of a scholar’s pen. Interpreted this way, it would be the nib that points downwards and moves across the page (the page being the ground/field), before returning to ham (home), i.e. back to the beginning, the margin. There are depictions of pages as fields in other early medieval riddles, including Aldhelm’s Enigma 59, Penna and Eusebius’s Enigma 32, De membrano.

My interpretation of Riddle 34 is inspired by Fred C. Robinson’s reading of Riddle 47’s bookworm as an unsuccessful scholar who does not take in the words he reads. Robinson notes a number of puns throughout the riddle, including the play on swealgan, meaning both “to swallow” and “to take into the mind, accept, imbibe (wisdom)” (Robinson, page 357). It is possible that Riddle 34 depicts the contrasting concept of the successful scholar in its depiction of a subject that hiþeð holdlice (faithfully plunders), findeð (finds) the ones (i.e. plants or words) that fæst ne biþ (are not firmly rooted) and læteð (leaves) þa wlitigan, wyrtum fæste, / stille stondan on staþolwonge (the beautiful ones, firmly rooted, standing still in their foundation place) (lines 4a-9b). The idea is that the attentive scholar can root out those words that are not valuable but leave those that are more valuable to stand firm, either in his or her mind or on the page. Perhaps this is just the imaginings of a PhD student used to a supervisor’s scrupulous weeding-out of weaker ideas within her thesis and leaving the stronger ones to bloom, but I think the notion is worth pursuing.

Riddle 47’s bookworm is a thief, a plunderer; in Riddle 34 the rake is also a plunderer, but it “plunders faithfully” (or “attentively”) – a bizarre word pairing that perhaps suggests the creature is careful of what it roots up. Both texts refer to foundations, too; Riddle 47 refers to the staþol the worm swallows, whilst Riddle 34 refers to the staþolwonge in which the plants grow. Staþol, says Robinson, can be used to refer to a book’s foundations but can also be used in an abstract sense “to refer to intellectual foundations or to the context of a thought or an argument” (Robinson, page 357). This dual meaning can also be applied to Riddle 34. Likewise, the weallas of Riddle 34 could refer to the “walls” of the book – its covers – whilst also referring to natural walls or the walls of a human settlement. This theory could explain the somewhat peculiar use of weallas in the riddle.

I wonder if the last four lines have religious connotations. Scripture contains references to good and bad seeds, to cultivation and weeds; for example, in the Parable of the Growing Seed, Christ says that a “sower” – one who spreads the Word – will sow some seeds that will necessarily fall by the wayside. He says of these people, “Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts”; but there are some people in whom the seed will grow, bloom and bear fruit (Mark 4:14-20). Could Riddle 34’s plants be metaphors for human beings, for the sinners that are uprooted and the faithful that stand firm, bloom and grow? The Exeter Book’s largely pious readership – monks – would no doubt have noted the evocative nature of the imagery, even though the first half of the riddle invites a mundane solution (exhibiting the miraculous in the mundane is what the riddle-writers do, after all). Monks often cultivated their own plots within the monastery grounds, but this metaphorical “weeding” is a type of gardening they would also have been familiar with.

Riddle 34 Monk Gardening

Gardening, Medieval monk-style. Photo by Hans S, subject to CC BY-ND 2.0 license.

 

An afterthought: I have been talking about male scholars, but the subject of Riddle 34 is apparently female (seo is a feminine pronoun). Why is this? Could this disqualify my solution? Or could this be evidence of (thriving?) female literacy in the later centuries of the early medieval period?

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

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

Robinson, Fred C. “Artful Ambiguities in the Old English “Book-Moth” Riddle.” In Anglo-Saxon Poetry: Essays in Appreciation for John C. McGalliard. Edited by Lewis E. Nicholson and Dolores Warwick Frese. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975, pages 355-75.

Williamson, Craig, ed. The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 34  corrine dale 

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Exeter Riddle 35 and the Leiden Riddle

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 09 Feb 2015
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 35 and the Leiden Riddle

It’s BOGOFF day at The Riddle Ages! For the low, low (free) price of one riddle, you get two related poems! First, take a look at Riddle 35 from the (West Saxon) Exeter Book. Then scroll down to see the Leiden Riddle, a very similar version in another Old English dialect (Northumbrian). Notice any interesting differences?



Original text:

Riddle 35

Mec se wæta wong,    wundrum freorig,
of his innaþe     ærist cende.
Ne wat ic mec beworhtne    wulle flysum,
hærum þurh heahcræft,     hygeþoncum min.
5     Wundene me ne beoð wefle,   ne ic wearp hafu,
ne þurh þreata geþræcu    þræd me ne hlimmeð,
ne æt me hrutende     hrisil scriþeð,
ne mec ohwonan   sceal am cnyssan.
Wyrmas mec ne awæfan   wyrda cræftum,
10     þa þe geolo godwebb   geatwum frætwað.
Wile mec mon hwæþre seþeah   wide ofer eorþan
hatan for hæleþum   hyhtlic gewæde.
Saga soðcwidum,   searoþoncum gleaw,
wordum wisfæst,   hwæt þis gewæde sy.

The Leiden Riddle

Mec se ueta uong,     uundrum freorig,
ob his innaðae     aerest cæn[.]æ.
Ni uaat ic mec biuorthæ   uullan fliusum,
herum ðerh hehcraeft,     hygiðonc[…..].
Uundnae me ni biað ueflæ,   ni ic uarp hafæ,
5     ni ðerih ðreatun giðraec    ðret me hlimmith,
ne me hrutendu     hrisil scelfath,
ni mec ouana     aam sceal cnyssa.
Uyrmas mec ni auefun    uyrdi craeftum,
ða ði geolu godueb     geatum fraetuath.
10     Uil mec huethrae suae ðeh    uidæ ofaer eorðu
hatan mith heliðum   hyhtlic giuæde;
ni anoegun ic me aerigfaerae   egsan brogum,
ðeh ði n[…]n siæ     niudlicae ob cocrum.

Translation:

Riddle 35

The wet plain, wonderfully cold,
first bore me out of its womb.
I know in my mind I was not wrought
of wool from fleeces, with hair through great skill.
5    Wefts are not wound for me, nor do I have a warp,
nor does thread resound in me through the force of blows,
nor does a whirring shuttle glide upon me,
nor must the beater strike me anywhere.
The worms who adorn fine yellow cloth with trappings
10     did not weave me together with the skills of the fates.
Nevertheless widely over the earth
someone will call me a fortunate garment for warriors.
Say with true words, clever with skillful-thoughts,
with very wise words, what this garment might be.

The Leiden Riddle

The wet plain, wonderfully cold,
first bore me out of its womb.
I know in my mind I was not wrought
of wool from fleeces, with hair through great skill.
5     Wefts are not wound for me, nor do I have a warp,
nor does thread resound in me through the force of blows,
nor does a whirring shuttle shake upon me,
nor must the beater strike me anywhere.
The worms who adorn fine yellow cloth with trappings
10     did not weave me together with the skills of fate.
Nevertheless widely over the earth
one will call me a fortunate garment for warriors;
nor do I fear terror from the peril of a flight of arrows,
though they be eagerly pulled from the quiver.

Click to show riddle solution?
Mail-coat (i.e. armour)


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 109r-109v of The Exeter Book and folio 25v of MS Leiden, Voss 106.

The above Old English text is based on these two editions: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), page 198; and A. H. Smith, ed., Three Northumbrian Poems (London: Methuen, 1933), pages 44/46.

Note that this edition numbers the first text Riddle 33: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 88-9.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 35  leiden riddle 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 35 and the Leiden Riddle

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 23 Feb 2015
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 35 and the Leiden Riddle

Ding ding ding! It’s official, folks, we’ve reached the most popular riddle in early medieval England. I’m not just saying that because I’ve done research on early medieval textiles and this riddle includes pretty much ALL the Old English textile terms (k, slight exaggeration). And I’m not just saying that because scholars have been squabbling over the meaning of ONE of its half-lines for years (line 6a: “through the pressure of weights”?; “through the crowded many”?; “through the violence of blows”?; what does it mean?!). I’m saying that because this riddle exists in not one, not even two, but THREE versions!

“But wait, Megan,” I hear you saying. “You’ve been holding out on us. I distinctly remember the term BOGOFF being used in your translation post, and that means two.” And you’re not wrong. But there’s also a sneaky little Latin version – Enigma 33, De lorica (on the mail-coat) – that I neglected to mention. Let’s rectify that now:

Roscida me genuit gelido de uiscere tellus;
Non sum setigero lanarum uellere facta,
Licia nulla trahunt nec garrula fila resultant
Nec crocea seres taxunt lanugine uermes
Nec radiis carpor duro nec pectine pulsor;
Et tamen en ‘uestis’ uulgi sermone uocabor.
Spicula non uereor longis exempta faretris.
(Glorie, vol. 133, page 417)

(The dewy earth brought me forth from its icy innards;
I am not made from the bristly fleece of wool;
no loom-leashes pull me nor do noisy threads rebound,
nor do Chinese worms weave me from their yellow floss;
I am not tortured by beams nor beaten by the cruel comb;
yet, lo, I am called a coat in common speech.
I do not fear arrows drawn from long quivers.)

This lurvely little gem appears in a late seventh-century metrical treatise, known as the Epistola ad Acircium, which the Anglo-Latin poet Aldhelm sent to King Aldfrith of Northumbria. What’s that? Northumbria? Isn’t there a Northumbrian Old English riddle bouncing around too? OH YES THERE IS! Sorry, I’m getting carried away with the caps lock. I’ll try to calm myself down.

Dating the Northumbrian version has presented a few problems (dating always does, my dears; it always does), but it has recently been assigned to the eighth century. That would be the poem, not the manuscript in which the Leiden Riddle is copied at a later date. This manuscript also includes Latin enigmata by Symphosius and Aldhelm, so the Old English riddle isn’t terribly out of place.

The biggest differences between the poems (aside from language/dialect) are the differing final lines of Exeter Book Riddle 35, as well as the shifting of clues in both Old English versions (so the torturey image occurs after the fate-filled silkworms, rather than before, as in the Latin poem). There are also minor differences here and there, like the very fact that the silkworms are associated with wyrda (“fates,” plural) in the Exeter Book version and only uyrdi (“fate,” singular) in the Leiden Riddle. Any talk of fate in relation to textiles and scholars start to get antsy (think Greek Fates spinning/measuring/snipping your life-thread), so I feel like I should point out that there doesn’t seem to be anything fate-ish in the Latin enigma. There, the worms are associated with the silk-producing region of their origin.

An image should’ve gone here. But you trying googling “silkworms.” EURGH!

Of course, the textiley imagery in these poems has been quite popular in and of itself. The riddles are some of the only poetic texts to preserve information about daily life, so this poem often gets read alongside the list of textile implements found in Gerefa, an eleventh/twelfth-century guide for an estate manager or reeve. From this list, we learn all sorts of interesting terms, like gearnwindan (yarn-winder), amb (beater?) and sceaðele (shuttle).

Baskets of wool

Here are some textiley bits from the Viking Craft Fair in York, February 2010.

But these riddles don’t actually show us a textile, do they? That’s, well, sort of the whole point. For a long time, scholars focused on the poetic paradox of a shirt that vocally negates any relationship to weaving. “I’m not woven!” it seemed to say. “Not even a little bit!” Then along came the very sensible Benjamin Weber to remind us that this shirt most definitely IS woven, just not with the materials that are used to weave textiles. He reminded us that the interlocking of metal rings to make mail-coats is referred to as “weaving” all over the place in early medieval literature.

Close-up of mail coat

Detail of a replica mail-coat at Bede’s World in Jarrow. Photo courtesy of C.J.W. Brown.

This is a common way of describing the making of mail in Beowulf, Elene and even Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies: Lorica vocata eo quod loris careat; solis enim circulis ferreis contexta est (The lorica is called thus because it lacks leather ties; for it is woven from entirely iron hoops) (2: XVIII.xiii.1). So, the paradox of this poem isn’t: “I’m not a woven shirt; what am I?” It’s: “I’m a shirt that’s woven, but not out of what you might think.” Does that make sense? I feel like it’s an important distinction, but then again I do like me a good bit o’ textilin’.

But you know what I like more? Sleep. So no more writey tonighty.

Notes:

References and Suggested Readings:

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

Isidore of Seville, Etymologiarum sive Originum libri XX. Edited by W. M. Lindsay. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1911.

Weber, Benjamin. “The Isidorian Context of Aldhelm’s “Lorica” and Exeter Riddle 35.” Neophilologus, vol. 96 (2012), pages 457-66.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 35  leiden riddle 

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Exeter Riddle 36

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 09 Mar 2015
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 36
Original text:

Ic wiht geseah     on wege feran,
seo was wrætlice     wundrum gegierwed.
Hæfde feowere     fet under wombe
ond ehtuwe
5     monn h w M wiif m x l kf wf hors qxxs
ufon on hrycge;
hæfde tu fiþru     ond twelf eagan
ond siex heafdu.     Saga hwæt hio wære.
For flodwegas;     ne wæs þæt na fugul ana,
10     ac þær wæs æghwylces     anra gelicnes
horses ond monnes,     hundes ond fugles,
ond eac wifes wlite.     Þu wast, gif þu const,
to gesecganne,     þæt we soð witan,
hu þære wihte     wise gonge.

Translation:

I saw a creature travel on the way,
she was miraculously adorned with wonders.
She had four feet under her belly
and eight
5     monn h w M wiif m x l kf wf hors qxxs
up on her back;
she had two wings and twelve eyes
and six heads. Say what she was.
It travelled the water-ways; nor was it only a bird,
10     but there was the likeness of every one of these:
of horse and of man, of hound and of bird,
and also the appearance of a woman. You know, if you understand
speaking, what we know [to be] the truth,
how the nature of that creature goes.

Click to show riddle solution?
Ship; Man woman horse; Two men, woman, horses, dog, bird on ship; Waterfowl hunt; Pregnant horse, two pregnant women; Hunting; Sow and five piglets


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 109v 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 198.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 34: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 89.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 36 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 36

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Sat 21 Mar 2015
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 36

I gotta confess: I’ve never been a puzzler. This might come as a thoroughly shocking announcement from someone who spends her time wading through scholarship on Old English riddles, but it’s not the solving that I like…it’s all the other bits. So, you’ll understand when I say that writing up Riddle 36 has been tough. I mean, have you read Riddle 36? It’s a nightmare to solve. But I have learned things, and I intend to share them with you because I’m generous like that.

Soooooooooo, I’m guessing the first thing on your minds is: what, what, what is with line 5? (a reminder of what it looks like: monn h w M wiif m x l kf wf hors qxxs) Is this jumble intentional? Or did the scribe just have some sort of random hand spasm and reckon that no one would notice? A combination of the two? Maybe!

Scholarly opinion has it that line 5 was copied down by mistake. It seems to be a code for the solution that was scribbled between the lines, and some scribe or other managed to merge with the riddle itself. The code places the Old English words monn (man), wiif (woman) and hors (horse) next to a series of letter forms that conceal their Latin equivalents: homo (man), mulier (woman) and equus (horse). In order to get to these forms, we need to swap the consonants b, f, k, p and x with the vowels that precede them in the alphabet (a, e, i, o and u). We also need to account for copying errors, dropped letters and the replacing of “p” with the runic letter “wynn” (google it; they look similar). All this to say that line 5 really ought not to be in this riddle at all.

This particular cryptographic code seems to have been well known to early medieval folks. If you’re curious about puzzles like this, check out Dieter Bitterli’s book in the references below. Should you be at all like me, you may well guffaw loudly at Bitterli’s statement that “the boundaries between recreational mathematics on the one side and literary riddling on the other must have been fluid” at the time (page 68). What a shame that we don’t hear more about “recreational mathematics” these days.

Now back to the riddle in question. I say “riddle,” but of course some scholars think this is actually two separate riddles. Given that line 5 has actually been plunked down in the middle of a verse (the alliteration of lines 4 and 6 indicates that they’re meant to be one line), it’s not such a stretch to imagine that other mistakes have occurred. And the two parts of the riddle do read quite differently.

First we have a numerical, “add’em up”-style riddle, which is rounded off by a challenge to name the solution in line 8. And then we have a descriptive, “it’s sorta like this but not that”-style section with another challenge. Norman E. Eliason has argued that the adding-of-body-parts-section is reminiscent of both riddles that refer to a horse and rider and riddles that refer to a pregnant animal. This leads him to propose that lines 1-8 comprise a riddle that can be solved as “a pregnant horse with two pregnant women on its back,” while lines 9-14 make up a ship-riddle. He actually goes so far to claim “attempts to solve it as a single riddle are unsatisfactory, for the solutions proposed are so fanciful and complicated that the riddle is made to seem absurd” (pages 563-4). Because a pregnant horse carrying two pregnant women isn’t absurd at all. In fact, this poem has attracted sarcasm like no tomorrow. Craig Williamson, commenting on Eliason’s interpretation, writes: “This is a burden too heavy to bear.” HA! Get it? Too much of a burden for the horse AND too much of a burden for the interpretation. You’re terribly droll, Williamson.

I feel like that little debate deserves a picture:

Line drawing of pregnant horse and women

Now that you’re all done appreciating my mad artist’s skillz, it’s time to accept that, even if we don’t solve the first section as a pregnancy party, it is very possible that the two sections are separate poems. Or that the second section is an elaboration on the first in a different style. Will we ever know? (prolly not…soz)

But what do we know? Well, we know that we’re dealing with the sort of imagery that crops up in other ship riddles (see Riddle 19 and Riddle 64). In these riddles, the man = the sailor, the horse = the ship and the bird = the sails. That’s why most scholars take Riddle 36 to point to a ship too. Williamson certainly agrees, and he argues that the likenesses of a hound and woman in lines 11-12 indicate figureheads on both the fore and aft. He points out that the Bayeux Tapestry includes an image of such a ship, although I couldn’t find an open access one. Here, have this single figure-headed ship pic instead:

Scene from Bayeux Tapestry

Photo from the Wikimedia Commons.

Incidentally, Williamson also thinks that this riddle can stand as one text, maintaining that the array of body parts in the first section refer thusly:

  • the four feet below = oars
  • the eight feet above = those of the oarsmen/travelers
  • the two wings = sails
  • the six heads and twelve eyes = those of the oarsmen/travelers and the figureheads

As you know, I’m not that into puzzles. So, as the simplest explanation of a very complicated poem (or poems), I’m inclined to agree with this interpretation. But if you don’t, feel free to rage and rail against me. Just do it in the comments section below…

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Bitterli, Dieter. Say What I Am Called: the Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book and the Anglo-Latin Riddle Tradition. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009, esp. pages 68-74.

Eliason, Norman E. “Four Old English Cryptographic Riddles.” Studies in Philology, vol. 49 (1952), pages 553-65.

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 36 

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Exeter Riddle 37

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Wed 01 Apr 2015
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 37
Original text:

Ic þa wihte geseah;     womb wæs on hindan
þriþum aþrunten.     Þegn folgade,
mægenrofa man,     ond micel hæfde
gefered þæt hit felde,     fleah þurh his eage.
5     Ne swylteð he symle,     þonne syllan sceal
innað þam oþrum,     ac him eft cymeð
bot in bosme,     blæd biþ aræred;
he sunu wyrceð,     bið him sylfa fæder.

Translation:

I saw that being; its belly was in the back
greatly swollen. A servant followed it,
a mighty, strong man, and the great one had
brought forth what filled it; it flew through its eye.
5     He does not die continually, when he has to give
his insides to the other, but there comes again from him
a remedy in the breast, breath is raised up;
he makes sons, he is his own father.

Click to show riddle solution?
Bellows, Wagon


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 109v 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 198-9.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 35: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 89-90.



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Exeter Riddle 38

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Wed 27 May 2015
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 38
Original text:

Ic þa wiht geseah     wæpnedcynnes,
geoguðmyrþe grædig;     him on gafol forlet
ferðfriþende      feower wellan
scire sceotan,     on gesceap þeotan.
5     Mon maþelade,     se þe me gesægde:
“Seo wiht, gif hio gedygeð,     duna briceð;
gif he tobirsteð,      bindeð cwice.”

Translation:

I saw a creature of the weaponed kind/male sex,
greedy with youthful joy; as tribute for him
the life-saving one let four springs
shoot forth brightly, murmur to his delight.
5     Someone spoke, the one who said to me:
“That creature, if she survives, breaks the hills;
if he dies, binds the living.”

Click to show riddle solution?
(Young) Ox, Bullock


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 109v 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 199.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 36: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 90.



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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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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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