RIDDLE POSTS BY TAG: 'SOLUTIONS'

Commentary for Exeter Riddles 79 and 80

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Fri 31 Aug 2018
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddles 79 and 80

Riddle 79/80 is an unpopular little fella. You’d think that being a relatively unproblematic text in the middle of a fire-damaged collection of riddles would throw some scholarly love in this poem’s direction! But, alas, Riddle 79/80 remains unpopular. I couldn’t find many articles on it at all, which means I’ve had to do some work myself (*shakes fist at riddlers-of-the-past).

First things first: I guess I’d better address the opening lines. I said this was a relatively unproblematic text, after all, but the opening lines aren’t as smooth sailing as we might like. The first line ends with clear punctuation in the manuscript, and the next begins with a capitalized “IC,” which is what led Krapp and Dobbie to edit line 1 as “Riddle 79” and the rest as “Riddle 80.” But line 1 makes no sense as a complete riddle! It’s much more likely that this opening repetition is a false start, scribal error, or suggests that the scribe was copying from a defective text (Williamson, page 360).

Mercedes Salvador-Bello has recently argued that “this phase of the [manuscript’s] compilation was carried out in a rather awkward and rushed way. It seems to me that the scribe of the Exeter exemplar was probably rewriting and improvising as (s)he copied the riddles from the sources at hand” (pages 399-400). I like the idea of an improvising scribe meddling with an earlier version of this riddle. I also like that Salvador-Bello doesn’t jump to any conclusions about the gender identity of the scribe. Take THAT, patriarchy!

Ahem.

But what, I hear you asking, is this riddle actually about? What’s the solution, Queen of Riddlers? Impart upon us thy wisdom, Mighty and Great One! (okay, I’m willing to admit that the audience in my mind may not be quite the same as the *actual* audience of this post, but please leave me to my illusions)

Drinking Horn from British Museum

Here are some early medieval drinking horns (or part of them) at the British Museum. Pardon my terrible photography skillz.

Well, most people reckon this is a horn riddle, though several birds of prey and various weapons have also had a look in. All that companion-y stuff, not to mention the queenly handling of the object in question, pretty clearly signals a solution of heroic importance. The reason Horn has gained momentum is because of the multiple uses such an object could be put to: it can be used for sounding in battle – so it’s a prince’s or king’s companion, rides with an army and has a harsh tongue (i.e. it’s loud). Think Boromir and the horn of Gondor.

The riddle object leads a double life, since it can also be used as a drinking horn – fill that horn up with mead, and you’re all set for a nice little ritual or raucous celebration. Coincidentally, if it’s mead that’s being referred to in line 7’s Hæbbe me on bosme þæt on bearwe geweox (I have in my bosom what waxed in a wood), then we have a pretty good parallel in Riddle 27’s reference to a solution that’s brungen of bearwum (brought from forests). Riddle 27 is, after all, usually solved as Mead.

But back to Riddle 79/80. Line 3’s talk of the object being frean (beloved) to its lord may speak not only to its value, but also to the intimate nature of a horn’s use – drinking from it or sounding it means kissing it, in a way. And we’ve seen that sort of thing elsewhere. Do you remember all the way back to Riddle 14? That riddle described a horn in very similar terms, and had men kissing it in line 3b. And then there’s Riddle 63’s glass beaker. Well, that object was configured as a high-status woman being kissed and pressed by a tillic esne (capable servant). In Riddle 79/80 we have a swapping of gender roles, so this riddle object becomes a heroic and masculine figure being handled by a high-status lady. And this leads me to a second point: riddles related to drinking vessels are often more than a little eroticized.

Riddle 63 Claw beaker from Ringmere Farm British Museum
Have you ever seen a drinking vessel quite as erotic as this claw beaker from Ringlemere Farm, Kent? via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

These sorts of riddles also frequently describe an interplay between different sexes in the hall, which makes me think of the (far less titillating) exchange in Beowulf:

                                   Eode Wealhþeow forð,
cwen Hroðgares,         cynna gemyndig,
grette goldhroden         guman on healle,
ond þa freolic wif         ful gesealde
ærest Eastdena         eþelwearde (612b-16)
(Wealhtheow went forth, Hrothgar’s queen, mindful of customs, the gold-adorned one greeted men in the hall, and the noble woman gave a cup first to the protector of the lands of the East-Danes)

No hanky panky whatsoever. How disappointing. But it does serve to demonstrate that ritualistic drinking in the hall was an important trope in the world of Old English poetry. Perhaps one that riddlers liked to poke fun at…

And speaking of fun: I reckon there’s a fairly meta view of poetic performances going on toward the end of Riddle 79/80. These lines describe the object giving a reward to a woðboran (speech-bearer) for words and a song, suggesting that the object itself gives the reward (as opposed to it being given *as* the reward, which seems to rule out any weapon-based solutions). I take this as the mead-horn being passed to a poet as a reward for a good recitation. I can’t help but wonder if the riddler was calling for a little treat too!

Come to think of it…it’s Friday and I would also like a treat…

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Davis, Adam. “Agon and Gnomon: Forms and Functions of the Anglo-Saxon Riddles.” In De Gustibus: Essays for Alain Renoir. Edited by John Miles Foley. New York: Garland, 1992, pages 110-50, esp. 140-2.

Salvador-Bello, Mercedes. Isidorean Perceptions of Order: the Exeter Book Riddles and Medieval Latin Enigmata. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2015.

Swaen, A.E.H. “The Anglo-Saxon Horn Riddles.” Neophilologus, vol. 26, issue 4 (1941), pages 298-302.

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 79  riddle 80 

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Exeter Riddle 81

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 27 Sep 2018
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 81

Judy Kendall, Reader in English and Creative Writing at Salford University, returns with a translation of Riddle 81.



Original text:

Ic eom byledbreost,      belcedsweora,
heafod hæbbe      ond heane steort,
eagan ond earan      ond ænne foot,
hrycg ond heardnebb,      hneccan steapne
ond sidan twa,      sag[ol]* on middum,
eard ofer ældum.      Aglac dreoge,
þær mec wegeð      se þe wudu hrereð,
ond mec stondende      streamas beatað,
hægl se hearda,      ond hrim þeceð,
[.]orst […..]eoseð,      ond fealleð snaw
on þyrelwombne,      ond ic þæt [.]ol[………..
………..] mæ[.]      wonsceaft mine.

Translation:

I am bulging-breasted, big-throated;
I have a head and my tail is elevated,
eyes and ears and a single leg,
a spine and stiff beak, a stretched-out neck
and two sides, with a stake up the middle,
my place set high above the people. I put up with the strain
when that which shakes the wood strikes me,
and streaming rain sluices over me standing,
harsh hail and rime hood me
frost grips, and snow falls
on my hollow stomach; and I so …
….… measured my misfortune

Click to show riddle solution?
Weathercock, Ship, Visored helmet


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 127v 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 235.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 77: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 111.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 81  judy kendall 

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Exeter Riddle 26
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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 81

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 01 Oct 2018
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 81

This week’s commentary post is once again by Judy Kendall, Reader in English and Creative Writing at Salford University:

“Weathercock” is the generally accepted solution to this riddle, although alternatives include “ship” and “visored helmet.”

Sutton Hoo Helmet

A photo of the reconstructed Sutton Hoo Helmet taken by Judy Kendall.

We know weathervanes existed long before this riddle was in circulation. Indeed, references have been made to weathervanes mounted on buildings centuries earlier, in the 1st-century De Architectura, by the Roman author and architect Vitruvius. However, the idea of a weathercock is more recent. The oldest surviving weathercock is the early 9th-century Gallo di Ramperto in the Museo di Santa Giulia, Brescia, Italy:

360px-Gallo_di_Ramperto2

Photo (by RobyBS89) from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

And the 9th century is when Pope Nicholas decreed that all church towers bear a “tower-cock” as a symbol of vigilance, and perhaps a reminder of Peter’s three times denial of Jesus before the cock crew.

This relatively recent arrival of the weathercock is also suggested by its etymology. Craig Williamson reports the earliest Germanic word for “weathercock” as 12th-century, no known Latin word before the 13th century, and the first English occurrence in the 13th century (1977, pages 361-2). So, while weathervanes are more ancient, this riddle refers to a new “weathercock” technology. Hence, the opening emphasis on the cock’s physical attributes and construction.

In a number of ways, this riddle falls into two halves. The tone and content of the second half of the riddle contrasts markedly with that of the first. It is as if the weathercock itself has turned in the wind, with a distinctive shift in rhythm and sounds. The first half reads jerkily and is almost clumsy or awkward, like the uncomfortable circumstances of the riddle’s subject – unable to move of its own volition, with swollen breast and throat and stretched tail and neck all building towards a picture of unpleasant prison-like constraint.

424px-Appeville_weathercock.jpg
Photo (by Stanzilla) of a weathercock on the church Saint-André in Appeville-Annebault from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 4.0).

John Porter translates the first line’s byledbreost, belcedsweora as the wonderful and very earthy “bulge-breasted, belch-throated” (page 111). I adapt this to “bulging-breasted, big-throated,” so as to emphasise that sense of discomfort more. For similar reasons I select “spine” not “back” as a translation of line 4’s hyrcg, evoking a hard, bony length rather than the broader, flatter attributes of a “back.”

1911_Britannica-Bird-Sacrum_of_a_Fowl.png
The “sacrum” of a young fowl in the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

I also opt for a “stretched-out” neck rather than one that is “protruding,” “prominent,” “long,” or, in Porter’s case, the unusual but perhaps slightly too beautiful “sheer.”

Such emphasis on discomfort contrasts with Patricia McCarthy and Kevin Crossley-Holland’s translations. In The Word Exchange, McCarthy uses line 2 and 4 to express exuberance: “I’m blessed with a noble head, swaying tail” and “I’ve a grand long neck” (page 503). In Crossley-Holland’s collection, his weathercock takes time to boast of his “fine head,” a double entendre possibly hovering here (page 75). But a sense of discomfort is more in tune with earlier conventions, as Patrick Murphy notes:

“A rapid-fire listing off of sufferings [is] strongly reminiscent of patterns we see elsewhere in oral traditional riddles … [I]t shows up again and again in the Exeter Book, where innumerable suffering riddle creatures endure the process of manufacture from raw material to useful product” (page 224).

In the first half of the riddle, the cock’s suffering, “stretched-out” and “elevated,” is passive. External forces have placed it where it is.

Riddle 81 1911_Britannica_-_Bayeux_Tapestry_-_Funeral_of_Edward1
A cock being installed on the new Westminster Abbey as depicted in the 11th-century Bayeux Tapestry (on the right hand side of the image) from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

This strong sense of containment and confinement informed my decision to make use of the doubly-binding effect of alliteration and end-rhyme in the riddle’s first half. However, the demands of these end-rhymes have resulted in the somewhat compromised translation of “foot” as “leg,” so any improvements gratefully received….

There is an inescapable innuendo in sag[ol] on middum, whether it be seen as a “rod,” “pole,” “shaft,” “stake” or a “stick” (poor cock). I went for “stake” since this evokes both impalement and punishment at the stakes, and allows it to provide a somewhat hidden link to the last line’s “misfortune” (i.e. “stakes of fortune”). This fits, in reverse, with the incipient wordplay of the last line’s wonsceaft (misery or misfortune), which holds within its bounds the word sceaft (pole). So is that uncomfortable stick up the cock’s middle connected to its misery, becoming unstuck in the last line ( – thanks to Phyllis Wick of the Old English Companions for the “stick”/“unstuck” wordplay)? It certainly brings the attention back to sag[ol], surely a key indication of the weathercock’s identity.

309px-Tower_Rooster_Saint-Ouen
Photo (by Stanzilla) from Wikimedia Commons (license: CC BY-SA 4.0).

The poem’s hinge at line 6 is not only marked with significant changes in rhythm, sound patterns and tone, but with changes in syntax and sentence parts, and an increase in direct action. The preponderance of nouns in the first half of the riddle transform into a series of active, aggressive verbs. The cock remains passive but, as if turning on its stake, is actively attacked with very physical misfortunes. The staccato list of body parts is replaced by a mellifluous syntactical flow through lines that articulate an apparently continuous stream of troubles. This is particularly evident in line 7. Hence my choice in modern English of internal rhymes, “strain” both prefiguring and looping into the streaming rain of line 8. Together they evoke both that inflexible pole up the cock’s middle, and the fluid non-stop battering of heavy rain.

 

Further actions perpetrated upon the bird are listed in lines 8-10, with the role of the weather definitively established in the references to haegl, hrim, [f]orst and snaw in lines 9 and 10.

While the lines become both smoother and more active, they also visibly recede in time for the modern reader. The gaps in the manuscript mean we are uncertain if the frost is freezing or falling – [fr]eoseð or, as Frederick Tupper suggested, [hr]eoseð (page 220)? It is true that “hreoseð” does not appear near frost in the Old English corpus. However I prefer it, because it avoids the tautological “freezing frost” (albeit a tautology attested elsewhere in the OE poetic corpus; see Maxims I, line 71a: Forst scealfreosan “Frost must freeze”) (full translation here).

McCarthy, Crossley-Holland and Porter all avoid that tautology too, although none of them opt for “fall,” presumably for the same reasons as me – that it is hard for the modern mind to accept frost as falling. McCarthy goes for “coats,” and Crossley-Holland for “attacks,” but Porter’s choice, “settles,” is the neatest. It not only works as an ornamental alliteration with “snow,” but manages to retain the downward motion of “falls,” while avoiding the conflict with current scientific understanding of how frost is formed. However, because “settles” normally applies to snow, and snow is the next item described, I go for “grips.” This does not indicate downward motion but does evoke well the riddle’s opening emphasis on hard, difficult conditions.

Soft_rime_crystals_on_fence_in_Central_Oregon_USA
Photo (by Michelepenner) of rime crystals on a fence after freezing fog from Wikimedia Commons (license: CC BY-SA 3.0).

The many missing parts of the last two lines of the riddle leave the translator and reader’s options open. Porter’s principle was “to translate only words which are entire and to omit unintelligible letters and groups” (page 8):

and frost settles, and snow falls
on me with my pierced belly, and I
my misery.

McCarthy and Crossley-Holland guess. Crossley-Holland, as if in response to the active and aggressive weathering the cock endures, refers to it as deliberately withholding action, the action being a reciprocal pouring out of misery:

        snow half-hides me,
I must endure all this, not pour out my misery. (page 75)

McCarthy makes a much stronger allusion to song. Perhaps mimicking the trajectory of Riddle 7, her translation here ends with a reference to the bird’s call. The cockadoodledo-ing might also suggest betrayal, as in Peter’s denial of Jesus. This possible analogy with Peter or indeed with Christ’s passion has been noted by Williamson (2011, page 201):

    snow buries me. I must hold up,
refrain from cockadoodledo-ing my misery. (McCarthy, page 503)

However, reference to the sound or crowing of the weathercock could also be an allusion to a peculiar feature of its construction. The 1340 weathercock on the spire of the Devonshire parish church of Ottery St Mary was designed to make use of sound in its measurement of the wind. Its hollow copper tubes are intended to whistle as air passes through them, although they are now blocked off for the sanity of the nearby residents.

My translation assumes that the missing parts of the riddle contain some reference to the weathercock’s function, namely its role as a device to measure the force and direction of the wind and weather that it confronts. To achieve this, I read the fragmented , which Williamson notes is possibly followed by the letter “g” or “t,” as mæt (meted, appraised or measured). Such a reference acts as a final definitive clue, and it also fits the poem’s trajectory, since the bird’s function can only be carried out once it has been affected by the weather.

The bird’s passivity still remains. McCarthy’s bird “refrains,” Porter’s does “not” pour, and, while my cock’s movement allows measurement to take place, this movement is instigated not by the cock but by the wind. However, perhaps the cock can be seen as a more active figure. In the 10th century, Wulfstan of Winchester refers to the way a rooster on top of Old Minster at Winchester actively turns itself in wind,

Imperat et cunctis euectus in aera gallis
et regit occiduum nobilis imperium.
Impiger imbriferos qui suscipit undique uentos
seque rotando suam prebet eis faciem
(page 388, lines 199-202)

(Thus raised aloft this noble fowl commands all other birds and rules the western domain. It is eager to receive the rainy winds from all directions and, turning itself, it offers its face to them) (page 389).

Does the distinctive turn in the middle of the riddle suggest something of this, the lines, the syntax, and the bird itself, only becoming alive and sonorous in that interaction, however painful, with the wind? Or is it the case that, even if the cock can be considered as turning itself, the emphasis on action still lies elsewhere, with measurement of that turn taken not by the cock but by us, as observers, listeners, readers, riddle-solvers, whether we are aiming to assess the wind, a range of riddle solutions, or indeed the extent of turbulence and misery the bird in question suffers. The bird thus becomes a landmark, a wind-mark, and indeed a riddle mark, as Wulfstan also describes:

A longe adueniens oculo uicinus adheret,
figit et aspectum dissociante loco.
(page 389, lines 207-8)

(Someone coming from afar off fastens on it, once in its vicinity, with his eye and, though still far off, fixes his sights in that direction.) (page 389)

Now of course that someone is us – far distant into the riddle’s future. The new technology of the weathercock is now old, and the written riddle so worn that we can no longer make out all the words. We can’t really travel back there, weathercock or no. However, if we fix our sights upon that weathercock, fragmented though it is through the mists (or streaming rain) of time, we are able to guess at some of its features as we stare.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

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

Harris, Alexandra. Weatherland: Writers and Artists under English skies. London: Thames & Hudson, 2016.

Maitland, Karen. “The Cockerel That Whistled.” The History-Girls Blogspot. 8 October, 2004.

McCarthy, Patricia. “Look at My Puffed-Up Breast.” The Word Exchange: Anglo-Saxon Poems in Translation. Edited by Greg Delaney and Michael Matto. London: W. W. Norton, 2012.

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

Needham, A. English Weathervanes: Their Stories and Legends from Medieval to Modern Times. London: Pryor, 1953.

Porter, John. Anglo-Saxon Riddles. Hockwold-cum-Wilton: Anglo-Saxon Books, 1995 and 2013.

Tupper, Frederick, Jr. Riddles of the Exeter Book. Boston: Ginn, 1910.

Vitruvius. On Architecture [De Architectura]. Edited and translated by Frank Grainger. 2 vols. Loeb Library Series. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1931-34.

Williamson, Craig, ed. and trans. Feast of Creatures: Anglo-Saxon Riddle-Songs. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2011.

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

Wulfstan of Winchester. Preface to his “Life of St Swithun.” Translated by Michael Lapidge, in The Cult of St Swithun. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

 

Featured image at top of page (by Bill Nicholls) from Wikimedia Commons (license CC BY-SA 2.0)



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 81  judy kendall 

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Exeter Riddle 81
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Exeter Riddle 82

VICTORIASYMONS

Date: Sun 21 Oct 2018
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 82
Original text:

Wiht is [………………….
……] gongende,     greate swilgeð,
[…………………….
……] fell ne flæsc,     fotum gong[..
………………………..]eð,
sceal mæla gehwam [……………………….]

Translation:

A creature is…
… advancing, swallows grit,
… …
…hide nor flesh, goes on feet…
… …
must each time…

Click to show riddle solution?
Crab, harrow


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 127v 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 236.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 78: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 112.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 82 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 82

VICTORIASYMONS

Date: Tue 30 Oct 2018
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 82

Where to start with Riddle 82? Barely 13 words survive of the original poem’s presumably 6 lines and yet, you may or may not be surprised to hear, we actually have a couple of competing solutions, both with suggestive evidence in their favour. Never let a lack of actual poem get in the way of a good theory.

Our first solution, courtesy of Holthausen, is “crab.” While there’s no direct reference to the sea in what’s left of our riddle, the greot (“grit,” line 2b) that the creature swallows could well refer to sand, as it does on the 8th-century Franks Casket.

Franks Casket

The Franks Casket’s description of a whale stranding: “The [whale] grew sad where it swam on the grit.” Solid joke.
Photo (by Michel wal) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0).

Crabs are, of course, notable for their many feet (line 4b).

Land crab

Many feet. Photo of a land crab (by gailhampshire) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY 2.0)

Most significant, in support of this theory, is the line fell ne flæsc (“[neither] hide nor flesh,” line 4a). Crabs, of course, don’t have skin and they’re not “fleshy” in the same way as a mammal or fish.

Land crab

“Cuddle?” Photo of a land crab (by gailhampshire) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY 2.0)

However. They may not be squishy on the outside, but crabs do have flesh and, as Craig Williamson points out (page 365), it was a bit of an early medieval delicacy. So that clue might not clinch the crab argument quite as convincingly as we could hope. Rather, Williamson suggests, the line is meant as a hint that our wiht is not a living creature at all. We’re back in the realm of the implement riddles, and the implement Williamson argues for is a harrow (pages 365-66).

Harrow

Like this, only more medieval looking. Photo of a cultivator-harrow (by Rasbak) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0)

A harrow, for those not in the know, is a farming tool that’s dragged over a freshly-ploughed field to break up the smaller clods of earth in preparation for sowing. The earliest European depiction of a harrow is in the lower margins of the Bayeux Tapestry, and it’s an implement that may have been considered somewhat cutting-edge technology (ha!) in the period surrounding the Norman Conquest.

Riddle 82 Bayeux Tapestrry
How harrowing. Bayeux Tapestry detail (by Ulrich Harsh) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: Public Domain)

Back to our riddle. The swallowed grit in line 2 comes to the fore here – greot could be sand, but it can also mean regular old dirt. The multiple fotum that carry the creature suggest a larger tool such as a harrow (which would have been pulled by oxen or draught horses) rather than a smaller, hand-held rake.

horse and ox ploughing

“Ox or horse, you say?”. Image from the German Federal Archive via Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0 de)

What seems to be an emphasis on the movement of the creature (gongende and gong[…], lines 2a and 4b) would fit with a tool whose primary function is to move up and down a field. There’s also, possibly, a parallel emphasis on the tool’s mouth (this is entirely my own speculation now!). I’ve translated mæl as “time”: mæla gehwæm (“each time,” line 6a) could refer either to the annually recurring season for ploughing, or to the more immediate repetition of the tool’s laps back and forth across a field.

Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

Both kinds of repetition depicted rather neatly in this lovely scene from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (c. 1412-16). Image via Wikimedia Commons (licence: public domain)

But in other Old English texts, mæl can refer specifically to meal-time, or simply to meals. In Maxims I (also in the Exeter Book; full translation here), we have the sage observation:

Muþa gehwylc mete þearf,     mæl sceoldon tidum gongan (Maxims I, line 110)
Every mouth needs meat, meals must come in time.

So, in our riddle, mæla gehwam might refer both to the movement of the harrow across the field and to the meal it makes of the ground as it goes. And it’s not hard to see how the design of the harrow could be suggestive of a gaping mouth, teeth and all, gobbling up the earth as it passes.

Riddle 82 Harrow 2
Om nom nom. Tapestry c. 1460; image from Wikimedia Commons (licence: Public Domain)

That is… probably all I have to say about Riddle 82. You’ll be glad to hear that next week’s riddle is substantially more fleshed out. Unlike Holthausen’s crab.

Land crab

Photo of a land crab (by gailhampshire) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY 2.0)

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading

Holthausen, Ferdinand. “Zu den altenglischen Ratseln.” Anglia Beiblatt 30 (1919), pages 50-55.

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 82 

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Exeter Riddle 83

VICTORIASYMONS

Date: Sun 18 Nov 2018
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 83
Original text:

Frod wæs min fromcynn     […]
biden in burgum,     siþþan bæles weard
[…] wera     lige (1) bewunden,
fyre gefælsad.     Nu me fah warað
eorþan broþor,     se me ærest wearð
gumena to gyrne.     Ic ful gearwe gemon
hwa min fromcynn     fruman agette
eall of eard;     ic him yfle ne mot,
ac ic on hæftnyd     hwilum arære
wide geond wongas.     Hæbbe ic wundra fela,
middangeardes     mægen unlytel,
ac ic miþan sceal     monna gehwylcum
degolfulne dom      dyran cræftes,
siðfæt mine.     Saga hwæt ic hatte.

Translation:

Ancient was my lineage […]
I abided in towns, after the flame’s guardian
[…] of men, wound up with flame,
cleansed by fire. Now the hostile [one] holds me,
the earth’s brother, who first of men
brought grief to me. I very clearly remember
who first severed my lineage
entirely from my dwelling; I may not do him evil,
but I sometimes raise up bonds of captivity
far throughout the fields. I have many wonders,
no small strength on earth,
but I will conceal from each of men
the secret power of [my] precious skill,
my course. Say what I am called.

Click to show riddle solution?
Ore; metal; gold; coins; revenant; spirit


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 127v 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 236.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 79: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 112.

Textual Note:

(1) the manuscript and Krapp and Dobbie read life here, though lige is a common emendation because it makes more sense. I’ve followed Williamson here (see pages 112 and 367).



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 83 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 83

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 01 Mar 2018
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 83

Hi all! Sorry it has been so long since our last post, but LIFE has been happening. And it has an irritating tendency to get in the way of writing. Still, I’m here now…let’s do this thing.

Riddle 83 has Alanis Morissette levels of irony in its opening lines (too dated a cultural reference? pish tosh!). That good ol’ burn mark that we’ve seen wreaking havoc upon the riddles toward the end of the Exeter Book extends down into this poem…just far enough to mess with its description of fire. Good joke, universe. Good joke.

And fire is essential to this riddle, which speaks of the production process involved in turning molten metal into coins.

640px-Pouring_gold
Photo of molten gold (by Allen Drebert) from Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

Ore does it? (see what I did there?)

Yes, yes it does. The riddle is generally solved as Ore (Old English ora), though some read it as referring more specifically to gold or to currency. It has been read alongside the late antique, North African riddler Symphosius’ take on the topic. His Enigma 91, Pecunia (Money) reads:

terra fui primo, latebris abscondita terrae.
nunc aliud pretium flammae nomenque dederunt,
nec iam terra vocor, licet ex me terra paretur.
(Leary, page 50)

(At first I was earth, hidden in the secret places of the earth. Now flames and a name have granted me a different worth, no longer am I called earth, although earth is obtained with me.)

Lots of similar ideas, yes? We can see a real focus on the earth and concealment here before the ore is mined, purified and enters into circulation. Then it comes to have aliud pretium (a different worth). This is certainly something we see in the Old English riddle as well, but with a lot more drama. Whichever metal Riddle 83 describes, its relationship with humans is clearly a contentious one: the ore tells us that entering the domain of humans brings it to grief and cuts it off from its family and history.

But ore will get its revenge.

Just as it is held against its will, it too has the power to imprison: it raises up hæftnyd (bonds of captivity). And if you aren’t sure what these bonds are, just think Gollum.

640px-Giant_Gollum_sculpture_in_Wellington_Airport
Although he looks quite cheery here! Photo of Gollum at the Wellington Airport from Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

Money and treasure corrupt. This is not a new idea. And, as Craig Williamson points out (page 366), we see it in other Old English poems, like Beowulf:

                        Sinc eaðe mæg,
gold on grunde,         gumcynnes gehwone
oferhigian,         hyde se ðe wylle. (lines 2764b-6)

(Treasure, gold in the ground, easily overpowers every one of humankind, let him hide it who will.)

Clearly, Riddle 83 is riffing off these two ideas: that treasure holds a power over humans and that people like to hide it in the ground. In this case, what the earth conceals is ore in its unrefined state – so just potential treasure. When it’s converted into actual, circulating currency…shit gets real.

But what’s going on with this riddle’s focus on fromcynn (lineage) and who’s that broþor (brother) of the earth who first brought ore to gyrne (grief)? Well. WELL now. People have had many clever thoughts on this topic.

Patrick Murphy builds on earlier suggestions that the unnamed enemy of ore is Tubalcain, the biblical grandson of Cain (as in Adam and Eve’s son of the Cain-vs-Abel fame) (page 142). Tubalcain is strongly associated with metalworking and was reputed to be the first smith because of a brief reference in Genesis 4.22.  Murphy then goes on to suggest that Riddle 83 conflates Tubalcain with Cain himself: “the two figures are linked in their signature innovations: Cain invents murder, and Tubalcain invents weapons for more efficient murder” (page 146). Hence the bit about brothers. And hence all that hostility.

449px-Formella_06,_tubailkan,_andrea_pisano,_1334-1336
Here’s a nice 14th-century wood cut of Tubalcain at work. Photo (by Sailko) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY 2.5)

Tracing Riddle 83’s obsession with fromcynn (lineage) and old age (as in the word frod) back to the Old Testament creates a tidy sense of history within the riddle (Murphy, page 149). Thomas Klein argues that this riddle carries not only a sense of history, but also metaphorical echoes of a fallen angel – perhaps even Lucifer himself. There is ore’s (or specifically gold’s to Klein ) ancient lineage, its removal from his homeland, all that fire, and its ability to place people in bonds despite being captive itself (Klein, page 12).

380px-Paradise_Lost_1.jpg
The war in heaven imagined by Gustave Doré for John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Image from Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

So, gold is the devil then. And never forget: it owns you as much as you own it.

Righto, I’m going to leave you there to ponder your own relationship with treasure now. I’m not saying I agree with Riddle 83 in its gold-shaming, but then…I am a millennial, and we apparently have it in for the diamond industry. Why stop there, amirite?

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading

Dale, Corinne. The Natural World in the Exeter Book Riddles. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2017, esp. pages 123-44.

Klein, Thomas. “The Metaphorical Cloak of Exeter Riddle 83, “Ore/Gold/Metal”,” American Notes and Queries, volume 28, issue 1 (2015), pages 11-14.

Leary, T. J., ed. Symphosius: The Aenigmata: An Introduction, Text and Commentary. London: Bloomsbury, 2014.

Murphy, Patrick. Unriddling the Exeter Riddles. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011, esp. pages 139-51.

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 83 

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Exeter Riddle 84

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 31 May 2018
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 84

Riddle 84 is translated by Beth Whalley, a PhD candidate at King’s College London. She works on (SOLUTION SPOILER ALERT!) water and waterways in early medieval culture and the contemporary arts.

Note that this riddle is another of the heavily damaged poems in the Exeter Book (so there are going to be A LOT of the ellipses below):



Original text:

An wiht is on eorþan      wundrum acenned,
hreoh ond reþe,      hafað ryne strongne,
grimme grymetað      ond be grunde fareð.
Modor is monigra      mærra wihta.
5     Fæger ferende      fundað æfre;
neol is nearograp.      Nænig oþrum mæg
wlite ond wisan      wordum gecyþan,
hu mislic biþ      mægen þara cynna,
fyrn forðgesceaft;      fæder ealle bewat
10     or ond ende,      swylce an sunu,
mære meotudes bearn,      þurh [……….]ed,
ond þæt hyhste mæge[…..]es gæ[….
………………] dyre cræft [.
………………………
15     .]onne hy aweorp[…………………….
..]þe ænig þara [……………………
……]fter ne mæg […………………
……..] oþer cynn      eorþan […….
…………..] þon ær wæs
20     wlitig ond wynsum, [………..]
Biþ sio moddor      mægene eacen,
wundrum bewreþed,      wistum gehladen,
hordum gehroden,      hæleþum dyre.
Mægen bið gemiclad,      meaht gesweotlad,
25     wlite biþ geweorþad      wuldornyttingum,
wynsum wuldorgimm      wloncum getenge,
clængeorn bið ond cystig,      cræfte eacen;
hio biþ eadgum leof,      earmum getæse,
freolic, sellic;      fromast ond swiþost,
30     gifrost ond grædgost      grundbedd trideþ,
þæs þe under lyfte      aloden wurde
ond ælda bearn      eagum sawe,
swa þæt wuldor wifeð,      worldbearna mægen,
þeah þe ferþum gleaw      * * *(1)
35     mon mode snottor      mengo wundra.
Hrusan bið heardra,      hæleþum frodra,
geofum bið gearora,      gimmum deorra;
worulde wlitigað,      wæstmum tydreð,
firene dwæsceð,
40     oft utan beweorpeð      anre þecene,
wundrum gewlitegad,      geond werþeode,
þæt wafiað      weras ofer eorþan,
þæt magon micle      [………..]sceafte.
Biþ stanum bestreþed,      stormum [……….
45     …………]len [………]timbred weall,
þrym[………………………..]ed,
hrusan hrineð, h[……………
………………]etenge,
oft searwum biþ [……………
50     ……………]      deaðe ne feleð,
þeah þe […………………….
……]du hreren,      hrif wundigen,
[……………………]risse.
Hordword onhlid, hæleþum ge[….
55     ……..]wreoh,      wordum geopena,
hu mislic sy      mægen þara cy[…]

Translation:

On earth there is a creature born from wonders,
turbulent and fierce, she has a strong course.
She roars cruelly and proceeds across the depths.
She is mother to many great creatures,
5     the fair one travelling, she always hastens;
deep down is her tight grasp. No one may
with wise words make known her countenance
or the diversity of her kin,
the ancient creation. The father watches over all,
10     beginning and end, as the son,
glorious child of God through …
and that highest …
… secret skill …

15     … they cast away …
… any of them …
… may not after …
… other kindred … earth …
… which earlier was
20     beautiful and joyous, …
This mother is pregnant with virtue,
buoyed with wonders, laden with food,
bedecked with treasures, beloved by heroes.
Her strength is magnified, her might is revealed,
25     her form made worthy by her glorious uses.
This joyous glory-gem hastens to the bold.
She is eager for purity, bountiful, skill-swollen;
she is dear to the prosperous, helpful to the poor,
noble, extraordinary; boldest and strongest,
30     most covetous and greediest, she tramples on the foundation
of everything grown under the heavens
that men of old have seen.
So that she weaves glory, the power of earth’s children
as she is wise of mind * * *
35     a man more prudent of mind, a multitude of wonders.
She is harder than earth, older than heroes,
is more giving than gifts, more beloved than jewels;
she beautifies the world, produces plants,
extinguishes sin,
40     often from outside she casts a roof,
wondrously beautiful, throughout the nations,
that amazes men over the earth,
they are able greatly …
It is heaped up with stones, with storms
45     … timbered wall,
glory …
touches the earth, …
… near,
often is skillfully …
50     … nor feels death,
although …
… shaken, belly wounded

Un-close the word-hoard, for heroes …
55     …cover, open with words,
how diverse is power of those …

Click to show riddle solution?
Water


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 127v-128v 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 236-8.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 80: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 113-15.

Textual Note:

(1) Although there’s no problem with the manuscript at this point, the sense suggests that something is missing from the text here.



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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 84

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 20 Jun 2019
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 84

Riddle 84’s commentary is by Beth Whalley, a PhD candidate at King’s College London. She works on water and waterways in early medieval culture and the contemporary arts, so she has a lot of fabulous insights into this poem! Take it away, Beth:

 

Well, what d’ya know? Our old friend the hot poker rears its head again in this riddle, comprehensively mangling a good one-third of our text. Solving this one should be a doddle, then…

Actually, we’re helped by the fact that Riddle 84 is unapologetically lengthy in riddling terms. At 56 lines it’s the third longest, storming in behind Riddle 3 and Riddle 40 (pun intended). So, although lots of it has been damaged, lots of it still survives. And from what’s left, it’s pretty clear what the solution is. The riddling subject births monigra mærra wihta (many great creatures). It is always on the move. It carries wistum gehladen (food-laden) ships from place to place, it wæstmum tydreð (produces plants) and it erases finere (sin). It is grædgost (greedy) but is also geofum (giving). This riddle is a protracted celebration of powerful, contradictory, dangerous, complex, life-giving, extraordinary water in all its forms.

One of the main reasons that editors of the riddles are in uncharacteristic agreement about this one is because the text is very conventional, in many ways, sharing a close relationship with other classical and medieval poetry and prose about water. Franz Dietrich notices how Riddle 84 borrows from Aldhelm’s seventh-century Latin riddles (those are the ones that were helpfully written down with their solutions) (page 484). Aldhelm’s Enigma 29, Aqua (water), says: Nam volucres caeli nantesque per aequora pisces / Olim sumpserunt ex me primordia vitae (page 109) (“The birds of the sky and the fish swimming in the sea once drew from me the beginnings of their life”: Lapidge and Rosier, pages 75-6, lines 4-5). In Enigma 73, Fons (fountain), we read: Quis numerus capiat vel quis laterculus aequet, / Vita viventum generem quot milia partu? (page 130) (“what number could embrace or what calculation encompass the many thousands of living creatures which I engender through birth?”: Lapidge and Rosier, page 86, lines 4-5). Compare that with Exeter Book Riddle 84’s Modor is monigra mærra wihta (she is mother to many great creatures). Sounds quite familiar, right?

Meanwhile, Frederick Tupper points out that Riddle 84’s account of water is similar to that of the Roman author Pliny the Elder in his 1st-century Natural History (page 222). Just as our riddler goes into exhaustive detail about water’s many different forms and powers, so too does Pliny. He describes waters which can cure insanity and lovesickness, cause drunkenness, improve your singing voice, change hair and skin colour, induce laughter and weeping, and turn things to stone (see Book XXXI, Chapters 1-37). Handy stuff!

However, it’s safe to say that Riddle 84 won’t be winning any popularity contests any time soon. Whether it’s because it’s a bit spun-out or because it pilfers ideas from other texts, the editors and translators of Riddle 84 generally don’t hold it in very high esteem. A. J. Wyatt, who edited the riddles in 1912, wrote that Riddle 84 “holds out a certain promise of beauty which is hardly fulfilled” (page 118). In the introduction to his own 1979 translation, Kevin Crossley-Holland says that the final lines are “fresh,” but the riddle is overall “repetitive” and “wooden” (page 111). Ouch.

Ok, maybe they have a point, especially because there is some fierce competition where water-riddles are concerned. In the face of Riddle 33 (where water is depicted as a totally badass iceberg-woman-warrior) and Riddle 74 (in which the speaker is a watery, fishy, siren-like shapeshifter), poor old Riddle 84 doesn’t really stand a chance.

I do feel compelled to jump to Riddle 84’s defence a bit, though, because it does have some cracking moments, if you ask me.

I especially love, for example, how water is associated with skill (cræft or searwum) not once, not twice, but THREE times in this riddle. How great is the imagery of mægene eacen (skill-swollen) water in line 21? You might have noticed that many of the Exeter Book’s riddles are preoccupied with the idea of skilled human craft as a form of violence against non-human things (run a search on “violence” in the search bar on the right and you’ll see what I mean). Here, however, it is water which is imagined as being the talented crafter; in line 34, it is said that she wuldor wifeð (weaves glory), a lovely image of material making which you should all go and read about in Megan Cavell’s book (page 275).

The riddler himself, meanwhile, and by extension all humans, are framed as somewhat lacking in the skills department. This becomes clear near the beginning of Riddle 84, where we read:

… nænig oþrum mæg
wlite ond wisan      wordum gecyþan,
hu mislic biþ      mægen þara cynna

(… no one may
with wise words make known her countenance
or the diversity of her kin)

The point is that water’s powers are beyond humankind’s descriptive capabilities, evading capture even by the verbal skills of the word-weaving riddler. We know (and medieval society knew too) that water is a uniquely strange substance, but according to the riddle it is only God, the fæder (father) who ealle bewat (watches over all), who has the power to fix its extraordinariness in words. Brian McFadden has pointed out that the word wundor (wonder) occurs a whopping four times in this riddle (page 337). It’s as though the riddler is reaching for, but can’t quite find, the right words to do justice to water in all its rich diversity.

Riddle 84 Cuthbert
This manuscript miniature from a twelfth-century version of the Life of St Cuthbert gives us a great sense of water’s ability to evade human cultural frameworks – check out the way it bursts from the manuscript page’s border and flows from one folio to the next! (From Chapter 3 of Bede’s prose Life of St Cuthbert, produced in Durham in the late 12th century. It appears in the following manuscript: © British Library Board, Yates Thompson MS 26, folios 10v-11r.)

So yes, I suppose what I’m saying is that Riddle 84 is kinda long, repetitive and a bit predictable at times on purpose, repeating, reiterating and re-tracing its words in order to try and come to terms with exactly what water is. The riddle makes the point that sometimes – and even though we literary folks love them – words aren’t quite enough.

And I haven’t yet even touched on the interesting stuff that this riddle does with gender. I’m sure you’ve noticed that water – like in Riddles 33, 41 and 74 – is explicitly made a woman (and a mother) here. The relationship between women, water, motherhood and the monstrous is an old, complex and sticky one which I don’t have the room to do justice to here – I’ve suggested some further reading below, instead.

I’m going to leave you with a video of people surfing on the Severn bore, of all things. I live in the South-West of England, and whenever I read Riddle 84’s opening lines it always makes me think of our strange local annual phenomenon. Several British rivers were given the names of goddesses, and the Severn is perhaps the most famous one of all, named for the British princess turned river-goddess Sabrina/Hafren who was drowned in the river by the order of her step-mother (if Geoffrey of Monmouth’s twelfth-century account is to be believed). Witnessing the bore make its way down the river channel, the idea of water as a powerful divine agent really starts to make sense – don’t you think?

 

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading

Aldhelm [in Latin]. Aldhelmi Opera. Edited by Rudolf Ehwald. For the series Monumenta Germaniae Historica Scriptores, Auctores Antiquissimi, vol. 15. Berlin, 1919. Online here.

Cavell, Megan. Weaving Words and Binding Bodies: The Poetics of Human Experience in Old English Literature. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016.

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

Dale, Corinne. “(Re)viewing the Warrior Woman: Reading the Old English “Iceberg” Riddle from an Ecofeminist Perspective.” Neophilologus, vol. 103, issue 3 (2019), pages 435-49, online here.

Dietrich, Franz Eduard. ”Die Räthsel des Exeterbuchs: Würdigung, Lösung und Herstellung.“ Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum, vol. 11 (1859), pages 448-90.

Lapidge, Michael, and James L. Rosier, trans. Aldhelm: The Poetic Works. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1985.

Lees, Clare A., and Gillian R. Overing. “Women and Water: Icelandic Tales and Anglo-Saxon Moorings.” GeoHumanities, vol. 4 (2018), pages 1-15.

McFadden, Brian. “Raiding, Reform and Reaction: Wondrous Creatures in the Exeter Book Riddles.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, vol. 50, issue 4 (2008), pages 329-51.

Mize, Britt. “The Representation of the Mind as an Enclosure in Old English Poetry.” Anglo-Saxon England, vol. 35 (2006), pages 57-90.

Pliny the Elder. Natural History. Trans. by John Bostock for Perseus Digital Library (ed. Gregory R. Crane), online here.

Tupper, Frederick, ed. The Riddles of the Exeter Book. Boston: Ginn and Company, 1910.

Wyatt, A. J., ed. Old English Riddles. Boston: D. C. Heath, 1912.

 

The image at the top of the post is “Waterdrops” by Sander van der Wel via Wikimedia Commons, license: CC BY-SA 2.0



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 84  beth whalley 

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Exeter Riddle 85

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 20 Jun 2019
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 85
Original text:

Nis min sele swige,         ne ic sylfa hlud
ymb * * *(1) unc dryhten scop
siþ ætsomne.         Ic eom swiftre þonne he,
þragum strengra,         he þreohtigra.
Hwilum ic me reste;         he sceal yrnan forð.
Ic him in wunige         a þenden ic lifge;
gif wit unc gedælað,         me bið deað witod.

Translation:

My house is not silent, nor am I loud myself
about … the lord created for us two
a journey together. I am swifter than he,
stronger at times, he the more enduring.
Sometimes I rest myself; he must run forth.
I always dwell within him for as long as I live;
if we two are divided, death is certain for me.

Click to show riddle solution?
Fish and River, Body and Soul


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 128v 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 238.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 81: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 115.

Textual Note:

(1) There’s a blank space in the manuscript here with room for about seven letters



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 85 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 85

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 18 Jul 2019
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 85

Riddle 85 tells a story that we all know well: fish can’t survive out of water. I think there may even be a saying about that…

Carp bream swimming

Here is a nice Carp Bream via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

This riddle topic is found around the world and in many different historical contexts, so we can be fairly certain of its solution (Bitterli, page 14). The first recorded instance seems to be that of the 4th/5th-century North African riddler Symphosius. His Latin Enigma 12, Flumen et Piscis (River and Fish) reads:

est domus in terris clara quae voce resultat.
ipsa domus resonat, tacitus sed non sonat hospes.
ambo tamen currunt hospes simul et domus una. (Leary, page 41)

(There is a house on earth that rebounds with a clear voice.
The house itself resounds, but its silent host does not make a sound.
Nevertheless, both the host and the house travel together at the same time.)

Pretty similar to Riddle 85, right? We have a noisy house and a silent inhabitant traveling together. Here the inhabitant is a hospes (host…or guest for that matter), which is a little different from our Old English riddle, but it’s still much of a muchness.

 

There’s another – much shorter this time – Latin version that makes use of the same motif in Alcuin of York’s fabulously titled Disputatio regalis et nobilissimi iuvenis Pippini cum Albino scholastico (Debate between the regal and noble youth Pippin and Alcuin the scholar). Alcuin wrote this prose debate with its many puzzles and riddles for Pippin, the son of Charlemagne, likely when he was working at the Carolingian court from the years 781-794 (Bitterli, page 13). I *really* like this version because the Pippin of the text is a cheeky little thing:

A. Vidi hospitem currentem cum domo sua, et ille tacebat et domus sonabat.
B. Para mihi rete, et pandam tibi. (Alcuin, page 142, number 98)

(Alcuin: I saw a host travelling with his house; he was silent, and his house resounded.
Pippin: Get a net for me, and I will lay it out for you.)

Pippin is saying that he knows full well where to look for the solution to this riddle. And his command to get him a net hints at the death of the fish, which he jokes about removing from its watery habitat.

When it comes to Riddle 85, I like to think that this watery habitat is evident in the repeated sounds that snake their way through the poem. There are a heck of a lot of ‘s’ and ‘sh’ and ‘ch’ sounds (in Old English ‘sc’ is pronounced ‘sh’ and ‘c’ is often ‘ch’), echoing the noisy, rushing river described in the opening lines. But then we reach the final line’s hard ‘d’s, which slow the rushing water to a standstill, linking gedælað (are divided) and deað (death) in the process. The sonic play of this poem is DEEP, guys.

And the fish’s death is an innovation of the Old English poet – no OE poem is complete without a good helping of angst! Hence, death is the focus of the final lines. The fish – now the speaker rather than mere subject of the riddle – muses: Ic him in wunige a þenden ic lifge; / gif wit unc gedælað, me bið deað witod (I always dwell within him for as long as I live; if we two are divided, death is certain for me). Just as the water back in Riddle 77 protected the oyster from voracious humans, here the river is life-sustaining for the fish. But it’s more than that: this animal and its habitat share a symbiotic existence, a common siþ (journey). They’re linked firmly together by the fabulous dual pronouns unc and wit, pronouns whose meaning – “the two of us” – suggests an especially close bond. And the animal/habitat are also linked in that the riddle, as Marie Nelson puts it, “has a strangely compound single subject. There is a solution, but it is fish and river, two identities so dependent that they seem one” (page 611). Two become one.

The journey of the fish and river is placed firmly within a Christian framework, as the fish-speaker (good compound, that!) proclaims that dryhten (the lord) created both the animal and its home. This and the poem’s focus on unity vs separation and life vs death has led to the suggestion of an alternate solution: Soul and Body (Orchard, page 294; Murphy, page 20). Poems about the soul and body are pretty common in Old English, and the idea that one lives within the other – often rather unwillingly! – comes up time and time again. See, for example, Soul and Body II (full translation here), which lives in the same manuscript as Riddle 85:

Eardode ic þe in innan.      No ic þe of meahte,
flæsce bifongen,      ond me firenlustas
þine geþrungon. (lines 30-2a)

(I lived within you. Nor was I able get out of you,
surrounded by flesh, and your sinful pleasures
oppressed me.)

Yeah, I can see how this is similar to Riddle 85, apart from the fact that the body does the soul wrong (earthly temptations and all that), while the river is essential to the fish. So it’s more likely, as Patrick Murphy argues, that a soul-and-body metaphor is being used to give this riddle about a fish and river a little extra something something…my words, not his (page 20).

With that in mind and with the prospect of my own river-side holiday looming large, I’m going to leave you to ponder this riddle on your own now.

Here, have some nice, ambient background sounds as you go:

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading

Alcuin. “Disputatio regalis et nobilissimi juvenis Pippini cum Albino scholastico.” In Altercatio Hadriani Augusti et Epicteti Philosophi. Edited by Lloyd William Daly and Walther Suchier. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1939, pages 134-46.

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 14-18.

Leary, T. J., ed. Symphosius: The Aenigmata: An Introduction, Text and Commentary. London: Bloomsbury, 2014.

Murphy, Patrick. Unriddling the Exeter Riddles. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011, esp. pages 19-20.

Nelson, Marie. “The Paradox of Silent Speech in the Exeter Book Riddles.” Neophilologus, volume 62, issue 4 (1978), pages 609-15.

Orchard, Andy. “Enigma Variations: The Anglo-Saxon Riddle-tradition.” In Latin Learning and English Lore: Studies in Anglo-Saxon Literature for Michael Lapidge. Edited by Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe and Andy Orchard (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005), pages 284-304.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 85  latin 

Related Posts:
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 77
Exeter Riddle 77
Exeter Riddle 85

Exeter Riddle 86

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 06 Aug 2019
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 86
Original text:

Wiht cwom gongan         þær weras sæton
monige on mæðle,         mode snottre;
hæfde an eage         ond earan twa,
ond II fet,         XII hund heafda,
hrycg ond wombe         ond honda twa,
earmas ond eaxle,         anne sweoran
ond sidan twa.         Saga hwæt ic hatte.

Translation:

A creature came walking to where men sat
many in a meeting, wise in mind;
it had one eye and two ears,
and two feet, twelve hundred heads,
a back and a belly and two hands,
arms and shoulders, one neck
and two sides. Say what I am called.

Click to show riddle solution?
One-eyed Seller of Garlic (yes, really…)


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 128v-129r 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 238.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 82: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 115.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 86 

Related Posts:
Exeter Riddle 42
Exeter Riddle 46
Exeter Riddle 81

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 86

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 07 Oct 2019
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 86

Not gonna lie: I’m having trouble getting enthused enough about garlic to write this post. I mean, I love garlic as much as the next person. But can I devote an entire blog post to this love? I guess we’re about to find out…

So, Riddle 86. This nearly impossible-to-solve riddle has in fact been solved since 1865 when F. Dietrich noted that it bears similarities to a 4th/5th-century Latin riddle by the North African poet Symphosius. Symphosius’ Enigma 94 is solved as luscus alium vendens (one-eyed seller of garlic), and it goes a little something like this:

cernere iam fas est quod vix tibi credere fas est:
unus inest oculus, capitum sed milia multa.
qui quod habet vendit, quod non habet unde parabit?
(Leary, page 51)

(Now might you see what you might scarcely believe:
he has one eye but many thousands of heads.
From where will he, who sells what he has, procure what he has not?)
(Leary, page 233)

Like Riddle 86, Symphosius’ riddles turns on the central figure’s one-eyed-ness, in relation his thousands of heads. Unlike Riddle 86, the Latin poem also tells us that this figure is selling something, and that allows us to make the leap from actual heads to heads of garlic. In Symphosius’ riddle collection, the one-eyed seller of garlic follows a riddle about a gouty soldier, so there’s a link between folks who travel – whether soldier or pedlar (Leary, page 233). This collection’s editor, T. J. Leary, also notes that the luscus, or one-eyed man, “was commonly the subject of jokes” (page 234). Leary goes on: “His ‘low-status’ disability [in contrast to soldier whose gout was result of rich living] aside, the luscus would have been looked down on too for being a hawker […]; and he would have been despised the more for hawking garlic, since this was traditionally a poor man’s food” (page 234). And so, the riddle expresses “amazement that someone who has just one eye in his own head sells all the heads of garlic he possesses and so denies himself the only hope he has, scant though it is, since heads of garlic do not possess eyes, of procuring a second from one of them” (page 234). So, there’s a lot going on here with regard to both disability and class. This Latin riddle punches down, not up.

Riddle 86 Tacuinum_sanitatis-garlic
Harvesting garlic in the 15th-century Tacuinum sanitatis, a Latin translation of the 11th-century Arabic medical treatise called Taqwīm as‑Siḥḥa by Ibn Butlan of Baghdad. Image from Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, Latin 9333, fol. 23, via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

But a lot of this context is lost in the Old English version. Robert DiNapoli notes that “barring the egregiously odd detail of the twelve hundred heads, this riddle offers no more than a wholly unremarkable description of a one-eyed man, almost prosaic in its catalogue of basic features of the human body” (page 453). This man also isn’t depicted in the act of selling. Instead, he’s seen approaching wise men in conversation. Wise men are frequently invited in the last lines of the Exeter Book riddles to show off this wisdom by solving them, so perhaps we could even view this character as approaching a group of riddlers. DiNapoli further suggests that the riddle may be taunting us with echoes of the Germanic god Odin, who is well known for both his one-eyed-ness and his tendency to travel widely and engage in contests of wisdom (page 453). But all those thousands of garlic heads would still need explaining in this context. Perhaps the joke is that we think something mysterious is happening before we realise that this is simply a travelling salesman at work.

Riddle 86 Onion_seller_in_Heath_Street_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1072379
Photo of an Onion Seller in Heath Street (from ceridwen, via geograph.org.uk) via Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 2.0)

Something that also needs explaining in this Old English riddle’s reception by academics is their tendency to throw around a lot of very loaded terms. “Grotesque” and “monstrous” come up a lot. So does “freakish.” I hope colleagues working in the field of disability studies someday take up the opportunity to unpack this sort of language in relation to Riddle 86, especially given that the central figure is in fact a disabled man with one eye. Sure, it’s the combination of this fact with the list of body-parts that crescendos in its reference to the TWELVE HUNDRED HEADS that spars on accusations of grotesquerie…but using the term “freakish” uncritically seems irresponsible to me in a world that once saw people with disabilities and developmental differences exhibited in freak shows. Check your language, academics.

A desire to over-interpret the twelve-hundred-headed character, who is otherwise simply described according to a list of body-parts, jumps off the page in Craig Williamson’s edition of the riddles: “The sight of old garlic- or onion-sellers lurching many-headed across the Anglo-Saxon marketplace may have been more common to Old English riddle-solvers than it is to us, but presumably not all of those grisly garlic-sellers were one-eyed” (pages 376-7). Nowhere in the riddle is the garlic-seller described as old. Nowhere in the riddle is the garlic-seller described as lurching. Nowhere in the riddle is the garlic-seller described as grisly. This is an over-interpretation based on a great deal of speculation. When presented with what is essentially a numerical puzzle – these body-parts don’t add up! – some folks have desperately attempted to fill in the gaps and make the poem do a lot more than it’s actually doing.

And what it is actually doing is something we still need to think about when it comes to the final line of the poem. Attention to detail is key here! As Jonathan Wilcox notes, the manuscript’s Saga hwæt ic hatte (Say what I am called) is often corrected by scholars to Saga hwæt hio hatte (Say what it is called). Given that the rest of the riddle is in the 3rd-person, the shift to 1st-person is startling: “A character came walking…what am I called?” Does this make any sense? Wilcox argues that this is actually a mock riddle and that ignoring the shift in pronouns “flattens the levels of complexity in this playful poem and misses the possibility that it parodies the very form of the riddle” (page 185). For Wilcox, the riddle’s piling on of body-parts is all a distraction. The “impossibly difficult inferences” are there “precisely because solving the central conundrum is not the point” (p. 187). In the end, the riddle doesn’t ask us to solve the numerical puzzle, but simply to identify the person who is speaking it. Is this is a clever little game on the riddler’s part or a mistake by whoever copied it into the manuscript? We may never know!

Oh the mystery.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading

Dietrich, F. “Die Räthsel des Exeterbuchs: Verfasser; weitere Lösungen.” Zeitschrift für deutsches Alterthum, vol. 12 (1865), pages 232-52.

DiNapoli, Robert. “In The Kingdom of the Blind, the One-Eyed Man is a Seller of Garlic: Depth-Perception and the Poet’s Perspective in the Exeter Book Riddles.” English Studies, vol. 81, issue 5 (2000), pages 422-55.

Leary, T. J., ed. Symphosius: The Aenigmata: An Introduction, Text and Commentary. London: Bloomsbury, 2014.

Wilcox, Jonathan. “Mock Riddles in Old English: Riddles 86 and 19.” Studies in Philology, vol. 93, issue 2 (1996), pages 180-7.

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

 

Note

The photo at the top of this post (by Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez (Lmbuga)) is from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0)



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 86  latin  one-eyed seller of garlic  symphosius 

Related Posts:
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 35 and the Leiden Riddle
Response to Exeter Riddle 39
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 85

Exeter Riddle 87

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Wed 16 Oct 2019
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 87
Original text:

Ic seah wundorlice wiht;      wombe hæfde micle,
þryþum geþrunge.     Þegn folgade,
mægenstrong ond mundrof;      micel me þuhte
godlic gumrinc;      grap on sona,
heofones toþe      * * *
bleowe on eage;      hio borcade,
wancode willum.      Hio wolde seþeah
niol……

Translation:

I saw a wondrous creature; it had a great belly,
extremely swollen. A servant followed,
strong in might and tough in hand; he seemed large to me,
a good warrior; he grasped at once,
heaven’s tooth * * *
blew in its eye. It barked,
wavered in will. Nonetheless it wanted

Click to show riddle solution?
Bellows


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 129r 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 239.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 83: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 115-16.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 87 

Related Posts:
Response to Exeter Riddle 39
Exeter Riddle 38
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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 87

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 10 Dec 2019
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 87

Hello hello hello! What do I have to say about Riddle 87? Well at first I thought…very little! But this riddle actually has some cool stuff going on, which I’ll attempt to make thoroughly exciting for you. It’s still worth asking yourself how excited you can possibly be about BELLOWS, which is how this riddle is generally solved.

Engraving of two men using bellows

A 12th-century carving of two men operating a bellows from the Museum zu Allerheiligen in Schaffhausen, Switzerland. A little after our time, but the principle’s the same. From Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Wait a minute now…bellows sounds like a familiar solution, doesn’t it? Well, it might if you cast your mind aaaaaaaaall the way back to Riddle 37. And you should. Because these riddles are in conversation with each other. Let’s take a look:

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.

(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.)

These are the first four lines of Riddle 37, and they look awfully similar to the opening lines of Riddle 87. We’ve got the same wiht (creature or being). We’ve got the same swollen womb (belly). We’ve got the same reference to a servant (a smith!) following behind the riddle-object (Þegn folgade). That servant is mægen (mighty), micel (great or large) and strong in both poems. And there’s a weird reference to something blowing or flying through the implement’s eage (eye) in both as well.

Reconstructed bellows

Photo (by Wolfgang Sauber) of a medieval reproduction from Eiríksstaðir Living Museum in Iceland, from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0)

Riddle 37 then goes to on to describe the continuous cycle of the bellows’ filling and expelling of air in a rather saucy and eroticized fashion. That riddle ends with a reference to the bellows’ air fathering sons and to the fact that this air is its own father. Sexy, amirite?

All this fathering of sons has made me think again about one of my favourite subjects: grammatical gender. I know…I have no life.

“Grammatical gender” refers to the masculine, feminine or neuter status of all nouns in Old English (while modern English has lost it, many other languages use grammatical gender today). When it comes to interpreting these poems, riddle-solvers sometimes get excited by the apparent gendering of a particular image only to decide that all those, for example, feminine pronouns are really just there because the riddle opens with the word wiht (creature/being), which is grammatically feminine.

BUT in Riddle 37, we have a wiht AND we have overt masculine imagery (i.e. fathering sons). Riddle 87 doesn’t have this. This riddle does have feminine pronouns (like hio, which I’ve translated as “it,” but could have translated as “she” instead). So, if one bellows riddle is using masculine pronouns and one bellows riddle is using feminine pronouns, should we read these two poems as approaching the subject through the lens of two different genderings? Or should we just assume that Riddle 87 is using feminine markers neutrally because of the grammatical gender of wiht. I really don’t know!

This shows how complicated the process of translation can be, and how in translating we’re always making decisions that influence the interpretation of the text. A strong man grasping a barking object and a strong man grasping a barking woman would and should be interpreted differently. This is the sort of thing that keeps me up at night, folks. I hope I’ve managed to explain it clearly. Drop me a line, if not!

At any rate, while Riddle 87 may still include a bit of innuendo like Riddle 37, it does move in a distinctly non-erotic direction when it comes to the bizarre imagery of heofones toþe (heaven’s tooth). As Frederick Tupper, Jr. notes (page 227), this could be related to a 7th/8th-century continental Latin riddle that clearly refers to wind as biting. I’m Canadian…I get this.

The Latin Bern Enigma 41, De Vento (On Wind) reads:

Os est mihi nullum, dente nec vulnero quemquam,
Mordeo sed cunctos silvis campisque morantes.
(Glorie, page 587, lines 3-4)

(There is no mouth for me, nor do I injure anyone by tooth,
though I bite all who linger in forests and fields.)

So “heaven’s tooth” is the wind, which kind of makes sense in a poem that’s interested in the inspiration and expiration of breath/air.

After the heaven’s tooth reference and the weird barking and wavering object, we reach an unsatisfactory ending. This is because this riddle is again again fragmentary due to the damage to the end of the manuscript. So, we don’t know what we’re missing in the final line.

We can guess a teensy bit about that final syllable that I haven’t translated: it’s just about possible to make out “niol” before the damage to the manuscript becomes too extreme. Niol almost certainly refers to something deep down, underneath or prostrate (see the entry for neowol in Bosworth and Toller’s dictionary). But if this tidbit is a word in and of itself or part of a compound, we simply don’t know. Either way, looking at the manuscript, it appears that the poem is only a few words away from ending. So at least we’re not missing much!

[I should also note that the gap in line 5b isn’t due to damage. Here, we know that something’s missing from the poem because its regular alliteration falters. This could be a case of a copying error, or perhaps eye-skip or a muddled transmission if this riddle was being copied out from another written version. Who knows?!]‏‏

There we are, that’s me done. I’m not sure if I’ve managed to follow through on my promise of exciting content! But as a parting farewell, I gift unto you this image of a bellows at work in a medieval festival in Belgium. You’re welcome.

Medieval festival blacksmith with bellows

A blacksmith using a bellows to fire his forge at the medieval festival of Vaulx, Belgium. Photo (by Jamain) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 4.0).

Notes:

 References and Suggested Reading:

Bosworth, Joseph, and T. Northcote Toller. An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1898; Digital edition. Prague: Faculty of Arts, Charles University, 2010.

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

Murphy, Patrick. Unriddling the Exeter Riddles. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011, esp. pages 215-19.

Tupper, Frederick, ed. The Riddles of the Exeter Book. Boston: Ginn and Company, 1910.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 87 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 37
Exeter Riddle 37
Exeter Riddle 87

Exeter Riddle 88

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 19 Dec 2019
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 88
We have a guest translator for this riddle: the one and only Denis Ferhatović. Denis is associate professor of English at Connecticut College and an enthusiast when it comes to poetic creativity. He has brought some of this creativity to the below translation, which I hope you enjoy reading as much as I have!

Original text:
Ic weox þær ic s[……………………
……..]ond sumor mi[…………….
……………]me wæs min ti[…..
……………………
5 …]d ic on staðol[………………..
……….]um geong, swa[……….
……………..]seþeana
oft geond [………………..]fgeaf,
ac ic uplong stod, þær ic [………]
10 ond min broþor; begen wæron hearde.
Eard wæs þy weorðra þe wit on stodan,
hyrstum þy hyrra. Ful oft unc holt wrugon,
wudubeama helm wonnum nihtum,
scildon wið scurum; unc gescop meotud.
15 Nu unc mæran twam magas uncre
sculon æfter cuman, eard oðþringan
gingran broþor. Eom ic gumcynnes
anga ofer eorþan; is min agen bæc
wonn ond wundorlic. Ic on wuda stonde
20 bordes on ende. Nis min broþor her,
ac ic sceal broþorleas bordes on ende
staþol weardian, stondan fæste;
ne wat hwær min broþor on wera æhtum
eorþan sceata eardian sceal,
25 se me ær be healfe heah eardade.
Wit wæron gesome sæcce to fremmanne;
næfre uncer awþer his ellen cyðde,
swa wit þære beadwe begen ne onþungan.
Nu mec unsceafta innan slitað,
30 wyrdaþ mec be wombe; ic gewendan ne mæg.
Æt þam spore findeð sped se þe se[…
………..] sawle rædes.
Translation:
I grew where I s[……………………
……..]and summer mi[…………….
……………]me was my ti[…..
…………………… …]d I in the position[………………..
……….]um young, so[……….
……………..] nevertheless,
often throughout [………………..]fgave,
but I stood straight where I [………]
and my brother. We were both hardened.
Our shelter was worthier, adorned more highly,
as the two of us stood on top. The forest always protected us,
on dark nights, its helm of arboreal branches made a shield
against downpours. The Almighty molded us.
Now our kinsmen, our younger brothers
must come after us, and snatch away
our shelter. I am the only human individual
left in the world. My own back is
murky and marvelous. I stand on wood,
on the border of the shield/on the edge of the table/on the margin of the page.(1)
Mi hermano no está aquí.(2)
But I have to guard the position, brotherless
on the border of the shield/on the edge of the table/on the margin of the page.(3)
I must stand unmoved.
No sé dónde mi hermano debe habitar,(4) possessed by men, their property
in what quarter of the world
he who used to shelter high by my side.
We two were one when waging war.
Yet neither could make his valor known
as we were both no good when it came to battle.
Now some degenerates slit my insides,
tear into my abdomen. I cannot escape.
Following these traces finds abundance who […
………..] advantage to the soul.
Click to show riddle solution?
Antler, Inkhorn, Horn, Body and Soul


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 129r-129v 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 239-40.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 84: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 116-17.

Translation Notes:

(1) and (3) Please see the commentary for more information regarding this multiple translation.

(2) and (4) Likewise, an explanation of the parts in Spanish, and my reason for their use, can be found in the commentary.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 88  denis ferhatovic 

Related Posts:
Exeter Riddle 60
Exeter Riddle 72
Exeter Riddle 83

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 88

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 19 Dec 2019
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 88

A special holiday treat for you: two posts on the same day! Denis Ferhatović of Connecticut College returns with this commentary on the most fabulous Riddle 88. Enjoy!:

Red deer stag looking at camera

Photo (by Mehmet Karatay) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0).

Thank you, Megan, for giving me an opportunity to try out one of my favorite genres, translator’s note, and combine it with scholarly commentary.

I will begin with a quotation from a poem by Nahir Otaño Gracia, “¡Si es tuyo, es mío! / Old English is mine!” Although Otaño Gracia and I have different marginalizations, like her, I claim the vernacular of early medieval England as mine. This past summer, as I sat down in a train that would take me from Manchester Airport to Leeds for the International Medieval Congress, I noticed a sign nearby. It explained how to obtain a luggage cart in two languages and scripts, English in the Roman alphabet, and Urdu in the Perso-Arabic alphabet.

Riddle 88 sign.jpeg
Bilingual luggage cart instructions in Manchester, UK

Later on the train, a young heterosexual couple with a child sat next to me. The little one pointed to a herd of ungulates [i.e. hoofed mammals] on a field outside, exclaiming the word “horse” in Polish, which I recognized because of its similarity to the same word in my native language. England is, and has always been, multilingual and multicultural. This is also true for the time that produced the Exeter Book riddles: Riddle 90 is in Latin rather than Old English; runes give Riddles 19, 24, 64, and 75 one more layer to decode; Welsh characters appear in Riddles 12 and 52 (for more, see the work of Lindy Brady in the reading list below).

Anyone glancing at my Modern English translation of Riddle 88 will notice two lines in Spanish. Let me explain my decision to include them. You might remember the scandal that Seamus Heaney caused when he incorporated a small but prominent number of Irish and Hiberno-English words in his masterful translation of Beowulf. I, too, wish to underline potential postcolonial resonances of the poem that I am translating – that is, its ability to speak to complex histories of conquest, colonization, and cross-cultural exchange, of its immediate time and our own. I, too, seek to distinguish my English from the dominant mode of the language. Aware of the aesthetic and political stakes of inter/intralingual transfer, I choose not to be invisible as a translator.

Marginal voices and perspectives surface in the Exeter riddles, hidden in the startling speeches and descriptions of everyday things and creatures. Edward B. Irving, Jr. argues that the riddles often complicate the epic mode by expressing what is usually unexpressed in poems like Beowulf, the point of view of the small and the weak, the oppressed and the frightened. Jennifer Neville finds the possibility of social critique and Derridean deconstruction avant la lettre [before the term existed] in the corpus. When we read the lines Nis min broþor her (my brother is not here, line 20) and ne wat hwær min broþor/… eardian sceal (I do not know where my brother…/ must dwell, lines 23-24), I think that we are meant to hear more than the lament of an antler-turned-inkhorn for his twin.

Riddle 88 Inkhorn_and_ivory_case,_9th-13th.jpg
An ivory inkhorn from the early-medieval (9th/11th-century) Rhineland, along with an ivory pen case from 12th/13th-century Sicily. Photo (by Zde) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 4.0)

Broþor, according to the Dictionary of Old English (DOE), has several related shades of meanings, much like its modern descendent, familial, religious, and affectionate. If I read like a bædling (“sexual deviant”), I could recover a queer charge to the antler/inkhorn’s longing: momentarily revealed in the middle of the details dealing with the process of crafting the object is a lament for a kinsman, fellow monk, or male friend; hidden in that lament might be an erotic yearning of a man for another man, an expression of non-normative desire (for more on reading as a bædling, see Vaccaro’s forthcoming book). The speaker of Riddle 88 lost his brother who may be in a precarious situation somewhere. So many enigmas and other poems from the Exeter Book, including the Wanderer and Wife’s Lament, speak of the pain and, less often, consolation of exiles. My decision to translate lines 20 and 23-24 into Spanish comes from hearing a(n im)migrant or a refugee voice in the Old English and desiring to amplify it as such in the midst of the American English I use in this historical moment. And yet the statements do not come from a real person; they are stylized and embedded in an intellectual, poetic exercise about a piece of now-obsolete technology. If you want to hear from actual refugees, talk to them.

The DOE (see under ānga) echoes Craig Williamson (page 381) in calling lines 17 and 18 “hyperbolic and metaphoric.” Both sources also offer less literal renditions, but I perceive in the speaker’s assumption of humanness and assertion of utter loneliness an apocalyptic quality, convincing because the loss of a loved one can feel like the loss of the entire humankind.

“Bordes on ende” (lines 20, 21) fascinated me as a phrase; I aimed to render it with as much of its polysemy [i.e. multiplicity of meaning] as possible. The DOE gives “shield” and “table” for bord, and speculates that the word in that particular phrase in Riddle 88 may play on borda, “ornamental border.” Ende can have the sense of “remotest limit, border” (DOE, sense A.1.a), which works well with my (im)migrant reading. In any case, this enigma suggests a number of liminal positions, some of them central to textual production.

Now on to some other traductorial decisions. The poem is a fragment because of the damage to the manuscript at its beginning and end. I foreground the physical state of the text by keeping the ellipses (as presented by the editors Krapp and Dobbie) in my version. I leave the bits that cannot be parsed in Old English, typographically enshrining them to challenge our attempts at interpretation.

Since eardian, “to dwell,” and its noun form eard seem crucial to Riddle 88 (appearing in lines 10, 24, 25), I consistently translate them as “shelter” to capture an important thematic thread in the poem.

I read humor in lines 27-28. The stag is not a particularly fearsome beast in Old English literature. In a memorable passage of Beowulf, the narrator says that a deer pursued by hounds would rather perish on the shores of Grendel’s mere than venture inside (lines 1368-72). The Danish royal hall in that poem, Heorot gets its name from the animal because its gables look like antlers. Heor(o)tes horn, “hart’s horn, i.e., antler” and blæc-horn, “inkhorn” would be the solutions of Riddle 88 in its language. [SPOILER ALERT!] Riddle 93 has the same solution, and the Exeter Book features at least one more horn enigma, Riddle 14.

Williamson points out that unsceafta (line 29) literally means “uncreations” and figuratively “monsters” (page 382); I translate as “degenerates.” The reference is either to the tools carving a hole in the antler to create the inkhorn or the writing quills dipping inside the inkhorn to absorb the ink (as above). The word unsceafta sounds etymologically transparent – its constituent parts un– and –sceafta seem instantly understandable in Old English – in a way that monsters would not be in Modern English. Coming from the speaker, this powerful term maintains a rather different point of view for things typically considered useful, whether horn-working tools or writing utensils. The antler/inkhorn’s pain qualifies the redemptive message at the end of Riddle 88 (as it survives today). The speaker’s suffering facilitates human salvation because it holds ink for copied-out words of the Biblical Scriptures or other religious text, but, even if for a moment, our benefit does not automatically redeem its pain.

The speaker uses throughout the dual form of the first person pronoun – wit in the nominative case (i.e. for the subject of the sentence), uncre genitive (for the possessive), unc accusative (for the object). This is a special form used to refer to two persons or things (as opposed to the singular which deals with one and the plural with more than two), which has not survived into Modern English; I sometimes translate it as “we…both,” “we two,” and “the two of us” to keep the sense that though the antlers are separated in the world of the riddle, they remain together in the grammar.

Megan: And on that note of grammatical togetherness (love it!), we leave you now for a little holiday break. Look after each other out there and see you in the new year.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Brady, Lindy. Writing the Welsh Borderlands in Anglo-Saxon England. Manchester:  Manchester University Press, 2017.

Dictionary of Old English: A-I Online. Ed. by Antonette diPaolo Healey, Dorothy Haines, Joan Holland, David McDougall, and Ian McDougall, with Pauline Thompson and Nancy Speirs. Web interface by Peter Mielke and Xin Xiang. Toronto: Dictionary of Old English Project, 2018.

Fulk, R. D., Robert E. Bjork, and John D. Niles, eds. Klaeber’s Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg. 4th edition. Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2008.

Heaney, Seamus, trans. Beowulf. London: Faber and Faber, 1999.

Irving, Edward B., Jr. “Heroic Experience in the Old English Riddles.” In Old English Shorter Poems: Basic Readings. Edited by Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe. New York:  Garland, 1994, pages 199-212.

Krapp, George Philip, and Elliott van Kirk Dobbie, eds. The Exeter Book. New York: Columbia University Press, 1936.

Neville, Jennifer. “Speaking the Unspeakable: Appetite for Deconstruction in Exeter Book Riddle 12.” English Studies, volume 93 (2012), pages 519-28.

Otaño Gracia, Nahir. “Old English is Mine!” posted on Susan Signe Morrison’s blog, 6 October 2016. https://grendelsmotherthenovel.com/2016../../../riddles/post/old-english-is-mine-diversity-and-old-english/

Vaccaro, Christopher. Sadomasochistic Beowulf: Psychic and Somatic Dispersal in Old English Literature. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, forthcoming.

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



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 88  denis ferhatovic 

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Exeter Riddle 89

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Fri 30 Oct 2020
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 89
Our guest riddler this week is Calum Cockburn, Digitisation Officer of Medieval Manuscripts at the British Library and PhD Student at University College London. He's especially interested in Hellish motifs in early medieval art and literature (who wouldn’t be?!).

Original text:
[………………………………] se wiht,
wombe hæfde [……………….
………..]tne,             leþre wæs beg[…….
………………………]on hindan.
Grette wea[…………………..
………………...]             listum worhte,
hwilum eft [……………………
………..…] þygan,             him þoncade,
siþþan u[………………………
….] swæsendum             swylce þrage.
Translation:
[………………………………] the creature
had a belly [……………….
………..] in leather, he was […….
………………………] behind
He approached […………………..
………………...] artfully he made
once again [……………………
………..…] to receive, thanked him
then [………………………
….] food, for such a time.
Click to show riddle solution?
Too fragmentary to guess, though Bellows and Leather Bottle have been tentatively suggested


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 129v 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 240.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 85: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 117.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 89  calum cockburn 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 89

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Wed 24 Feb 2021
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 89

This is easily the trickiest riddle I’ve had to write a commentary for! How do I analyse and solve such a fragmentary little, burned up scrap? So scrappy is this riddle that many of the early editors of the Exeter Book didn’t bother to include it, let alone solve it.

But I suppose I can start by telling you that those folks who did grapple with Riddle 89 went in for the solutions: Bellows and Leather Bottle. Frederick Tupper, Jr. is responsible for proposing these, basing his tentative suggestions on the words wombe (belly) and leþre (leather) in lines 2-3 (page 229). Bellies come up in A LOT other riddles. In fact, apart from describing the birdy’s colourful belly in The Phoenix (line 307a), the word womb really only appears in poetic riddles and an assortment of prose texts. No. Other. Poetry. Interesting!

Large water-powered bellows

Photo (by Daderot) of water-powered bellows in a reconstructed forge, Saugus Iron Works, Massachusetts, from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0).

The most intriguing and relevant references to bellies in other riddles appear in Riddles 37 and 87 (lines 1b and 1b), which have both been solved as Bellows, and Riddle 18 (line 3), which has been solved as Jug, Leather Bottle, etc. Nip over and read those now because Riddle 37 especially has a lot to offer us here, with its reference to a wiht (creature) that has a womb (belly) on hindan (in the back/behind; line 1), much like the one in Riddle 89. Bellows is looking like a solid bet.

A 19th-century leather bottle

Here’s a leather water bottle used during the Crimean War, from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

The Leather Bottle solution draws on that reference to leþre (leather) in line 3. This word is wonderfully concrete and specific for a riddle full of holes! Except…sigh…Craig Williamson casts doubt on whether we should be translating leþre as “leather” at all. He notes that this word might actually be a form of ly‏þre, which means “evil” or “wicked” (page 383). So that just leaves us with a lot more questions.

But let’s focus on the words that we can translate with certainty. We know that we have a wiht (creature; line 1b) of some sort – this refers to the riddle-subject and could be pretty much anything. This creature has a wombe/belly (line 2a) – so, perhaps a place to store something, literally or metaphorically. Something is located or happening on hindan (at the back of/behind; line 4b) the creature. That’s the opening riddle gambit.

Then we get into the closest this riddle comes to action! Someone – either the creature or another character in this confusing little vignette – grette (line 5a), which is translated here as “approached,” but could also mean “visited,” “touched,” “attacked,” “greeted,” “welcomed,” etc. etc. Line 6b tells us that someone (again, the creature? someone else?) listum worhte/artfully made something. And then in the final three lines we have receiving (þygan) and thanking (þoncade) and food (swæsendum).

From this scanty textual evidence, we can – just about – piece together a reading of the riddle that focuses on a skillfully-made object, which a person handles and fills with something life-sustaining (liquid into a bottle, air into bellows?). So, yeah, I can see how the two tentative solutions come together here.

Engraving of man working bellows

Photo (by Wolfgang Sauber) of a 1st-century forge bellows in an archeological museum in Aquileia, from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0).

Gregory K. Jember, who likes to solve riddles as “Phallus” willy-nilly (harhar, but seriously, he proposes this solution to no fewer than 23 riddles!), also suggests that sexuality is the main motif of Riddle 89 (page 56). It’s true that those other bellies I mentioned above tend to appear in sexual contexts, which is certainly the case of Riddles 37 and 87. In fact, Riddle 37 is pretty obviously fixated on reproduction when it mentions the bellows making sons and fathering himself. It’s a shame to think that we may well have had another hilariously rude riddle to play with if the Exeter Book hadn’t been so badly damaged by the infamous hot poker (not a euphemism).

Okay, so we’ve covered textual evidence, possible solutions and a bit of hanky-panky. What more could you want from a riddle commentary? Well, you might not have known that you want this, but I give you Miller Wolf Oberman’s musings on how he translates fragmentary poems into modern English: “While many translators attempt to smooth over missing language, I am fascinated by the ways in which Old English poetry allows me to walk through its bones, and part of my translation instinct is about paying respect to gaps in these poetic remains, rather than attempting to force a seeming wholeness onto them” (page 278). Oberman’s discussion of his poetic process is fascinating and beautifully expressed – as we might expect from a poet! – and I encourage you to read it as soon as you possibly can. He discusses Riddle 89 in some detail and provides a series of translations that show how he grappled with this riddle and turned it into something new.

I’d like to leave you with a final thought from Oberman: “In some sense, though, all riddles are fragmentary. They operate through withholding crucial and obvious information; they aim to cleverly trick, revealing themselves, and their ‘meaning’ through unusual description, through misdirection, through removal of the ordinary means of communication” (page 278). So, we can read Riddle 89, the fragmentary little scrap that it is, as simply a more difficult puzzle than the riddles that survive intact, with additional layers of obfuscation caused by the manuscript’s fire damage. How profound!

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

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

Oberman, Miller Wolf. “Dyre Cræft: New Translations of Exeter Riddle Fragments Modor Monigra (R.84), Se Wiht Wombe Hæfde (R.89), and Brunra Beot (R.92), Accompanied by Notes on Process.” 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 277-87.

Tupper, Frederick Jr, ed. The Riddles of the Exeter Book. Boston: Ginn, 1910.

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



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  Riddle 89 

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Exeter Riddle 90

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Fri 30 Oct 2020
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 90
This is the famous Latin Riddle – the only non-Old English poem in the Exeter Book!

Original text:
Mirum videtur mihi –           lupus ab agno tenetur;
obcu[..]it agnus * * *(1)           et capit viscera lupi.
Dum starem et mirarem,           vidi gloriam magnam:
duo lupi stantes           et tertium tribulantes –
quattuor pedes habebant;           cum septem oculis videbant.
Translation:
It seems wondrous to me – a wolf is held by a lamb;
the lamb lay down and grasps the wolf’s innards.
While I stood and marveled, I saw a great wonder:
two wolves standing and afflicting a third –
they had four feet; they saw with seven eyes.
Click to show riddle solution?
Lamb of God, Web and Loom, Candelabra


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 129v of The Exeter Book.

The above Latin text is based on this edition, where it is numbered Riddle 86: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 117-18.

The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), page 240.

Textual Note:

(1) Something seems to be missing here in terms of sense, but there is no damage to the manuscript at this point (only obcu[..]it is damaged by a burnt spot right above the word). Editors frequently sub in a suggested missing word – most commonly rupi (on a stone) because of the rhyme with lupi.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  solutions  latin  riddle 90 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 90

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Fri 30 Oct 2020
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 90

The first thing to note about Riddle 90 is that it’s not in Old English! In fact, this little five-liner is the only entirely Latin poem to appear in the Exeter Book. There are bits of Latin elsewhere – a chunk of The Phoenix (lines 667-77) switches between Old English and Latin, and a cipher in Riddle 36 includes a Latin encryption (line 5) – but Riddle 90 is its own special beast.

There are, of course, hundreds of Latin riddles that were composed in and around England during the early medieval period. We have whole collections by high-ranking ecclesiasts Aldhelm, Tatwine, Eusebius, Boniface and several anonymous folks. Some of these collections (and their predecessor Symphosius, the late antique North African riddler extraordinaire) inspired Old English riddles from the Exeter Book.

Click through HERE for some very nice manuscript images of Aldhelm’s riddles on the British Library website!

But why include a single Latin riddle among the otherwise entirely Old English collection? I don’t have an answer to that question because Riddle 90 has stumped scholars for centuries (sorry)!

Several early would-be solvers suggested that the riddle was pointing to a particular individual like the Old English poet Cynewulf or archbishop Wulfstan, while Patricia Davis and Mary Schlueter – arguing for the solution “Augustine and Tertullian” (both famous theologians) – maintain that an anagram solution made it impossible to translate this riddle out of Latin.

Mercedes Salvador-Bello recently suggested that the compiler of the Exeter Book, in trying to assemble a collection of a hundred riddles (like Symphosius’ and Aldhelm’s collections), began to run out of material and started adding miscellaneous riddles to get to this number (page 108). There are often links between sequences of riddle earlier in the manuscript, but at the end it’s a free-for-all!

In fact, Salvador-Bello argues that Riddle 90 isn’t a riddle at all. Instead, she suggests it’s a school exercise in Latin grammar, and that the composer is either a student or an amateur poet who makes a LOT of mistakes (page 121). Some of these Latin errors have been smoothed out in Williamson’s edition, so you’ll need to consult his book’s notes (pages 387-8) or Salvador-Bello’s article for a full reckoning of how truly terrible the Latin riddle is!

So, if Riddle 90 isn’t a riddle, that goes a long way to explaining why no one has been able to solve it conclusively. Not that people haven’t tried…

One of the earliest convincing solutions – and I’m leaving out all the folks who translated lupus as a type of fish and came up with bizarre solutions based on that reading – is Henry Morley’s Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) (pages 224-5). The first few lines of Riddle 90, where a lamb tackles and holds down a wolf, work really well with a Christian theological interpretation like this. Christ is the Lamb of God and the wolf is the devil – a common metaphorical association in the Bible and biblically-inspired medieval writings. Leslie Whitbread develops this suggestion in 1946 by suggesting that the bizarre end to Riddle 90 involves the two criminals crucified with Christ. This isn’t entirely convincing and gets a bit silly when it comes to figuring out what the final line’s play-with-numbers means.

Sutton Hoo Purse Lid

Photo (by Rob Roy) of the Sutton Hoo purse lid with its violent wolves on either side, via Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 2.5

I actually quite like Whitbread’s follow-up note in 1949 that points to the wolves on the Sutton Hoo purse lid who are attacking a warrior. But there’s still no persuasive explanation of how the seven eyes come into play, as Whitbread imagines the composer of Riddle 90 had a particular material object in mind (unlikely!).

James E. Anderson’s overly complicated solution Candelabra does focus on the number seven in great detail. He suggests that the riddle is playing on the Lamb of God idea and the use of a seven-branched candelabrum in a mass about Christ’s harrowing of hell during Easter holy weekend.

Large candelabrum in Essen Minster

Photo of a late 10th/early 11th-century seven-branched candelabrum from Essen Minster, via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Light is frequently associated with eyes and vision in early medieval literature, so the seven candles could be evoked in that reference to seeing in the final line. Anderson also suggests that a spiked candelabrum without its candles could evoke a sharp-toothed wolf (page 84). Perhaps there was even a wolf engraved at the base of the four-footed candelabrum? Of course, we’d need to imagine the use of two of these candelabra both for liturgical purposes and because there are two wolves afflicting a third figure in Riddle 90. I’m not sure I’ve done Anderson’s interpretation justice because it’s really quite complicated. I don’t buy it, personally, but I’m a grumpy person and hard to convince at the best of times.

I do really want to believe Craig Williamson’s suggestion that the Latin riddle is a play on an Old English word (and so the Latin poem does belong in this Old English collection!) (page 385). Williamson argues that we should solve it as Web and Loom, assuming wordplay on the Old English wulflyswul meaning “wool” and flys meaning “fleece.” This wool-fleece would be the web that’s in process upon the loom. He notes that “the riddler makes a game of construing the word as a wulf plus flys where the lamb (agnus) holds the wolf (lupus) and indeed seizes (capit) the belly or entrails (viscera) of the wolf and thus metaphorically commandeers its last letter. Thus the flys seizes f from the wulf” (page 385). I think this reading is ingeniously clever, but the final lines still don’t really add up.

Loom

Drawing of a loom from Montelius’s Civilisation of Sweden in Heathen Times, p. 160, via Roth’s Ancient Egyptian and Greek Looms, p. 34.

We could read the riddle alongside Riddle 56’s violent loom because wolves definitely have a connection to battle and death (they’re always eating the dead in the gorier Old English poems, with their “Beasts of Battle” motif). It doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch – if you know a thing or two about looms – to read the two wolves in the final lines as the two sets of dangling-down warp threads taking hold of the third set of threads, the weft that is being woven (page 385-6). But the four feet and seven eyes work less well. Most warp-weighted looms have two feet and are propped against a wall because this makes them easy to disassemble and put away. I suppose we could imagine a more permanent, four-footed loom. So, fine, the four feet aren’t a problem.

Three loom weights from Bedford Museum

Photo of early medieval loom weights from Bedford Museum, via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Williamson’s suggestion that the seven eyes are the round loom-weights at the bottom makes little sense, though, since these weights should appear in an even number. He concludes that maybe “the riddler meant to refer to seven pairs of eyes, fourteen rings together, seven on each side in a row” (page 386). Sure, maybe. Or maybe this isn’t a riddle at all, and we’ve been making it work waaaaaaaay too hard for too long.

What is clear from Riddle 90 is that we have a similar interest in witnessing a wonder as we do in other Exeter Book riddles. We also have some sort of number puzzle, even if no one can work it out! We’ve got all sorts of wolves running rampant, but that’s to be expected from early medieval poetry, which likes to use these animals as a metaphor for the devil, sinners and all manner of unpleasant individuals. And we have a really striking image of power dynamics reversed, in the lamb taking hold of the wolf, which seems to have religious connotations. Whether we try to push these images, puzzles and clues to find a solution or whether we accept that this little poem is just an exercise in Latin grammar that has got out of hand…well, ultimately that’s up to you!

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Anderson, James E. “Exeter Latin Riddle 90: A Liturgical Vision.” Viator, vol. 23 (1992), pages 73-93.

Davis, Patricia, and Mary Schlueter. “The Latin Riddle of the Exeter Book.” Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Literaturen, vol. 226 (1989), pages 92-9.

Morley, Henry. English Writers II, From Caedmon to the Conquest. London, 1888.

Salvador-Bello, Mercedes. “Exeter Book Riddle 90 under a New Light: A School Drill in Hisperic Robes.” Neophilologus, vol. 102 (2018), pages 107-23.

Whitbread, Leslie. “The Latin Riddle in the Exeter Book.” Notes and Queries, vol. 190 (1946), pages 156-8.

Whitbread, Leslie. “The Latin Riddle in the Exeter Book.” Notes and Queries, vol. 194 (1949), pages 80-2.

Williamson, Craig. 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 90 

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Exeter Riddle 91

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 02 Nov 2020
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 91
Original text:
Min heafod is           homere geþuren,
searopila wund,           sworfen feole.
Oft ic begine           þæt me ongean sticað,
þonne ic hnitan sceal,           hringum gyrded,
5    hearde wið heardum,           hindan þyrel,
forð ascufan           þæt mines frean
mod · ᚹ · freoþað           middelnihtum.
Hwilum ic under bæc           bregde nebbe,
hyrde þæs hordes,           þonne min hlaford wile
10    lafe þicgan           þara þe he of life het
wælcræfte awrecan           willum sinum.
Translation:
My head is beaten by a hammer,
wounded by crafty points, polished by a file.
Often I swallow what sticks against me,
when I must thrust, encircled with rings,
5     hard against a hard thing, a hole from behind,
push forward what preserves my lord’s
mind-JOY in the middle of the night.
Sometimes I pull back with my nose
the hoard’s guardian, when my lord wants
10     to consume the remains of those whom he commanded
be driven from life through slaughter-skill, for his own desire.
Click to show riddle solution?
Key, Keyhole


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 129v-130r 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 240-1.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 87: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 118.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 91 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 91

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 02 Nov 2020
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 91

Content Warning: the post discusses sexual assault and violence

I honestly don’t know what I think about Riddle 91. While the object in question seems to be a Key, or perhaps Keyhole, the way it’s violently sexualized needs *a lot* of contextualizing.

The first thing to do is remember all the way back to Riddle 44 and its delightful double entendre approach to the same solution. That riddle similarly dwells on the key’s hardness and mentions a þyrel (hole), but it does so with a cheeky glint in its metaphorical eye.

Lincolnshire key from several angles

Check out this cool 9th-century key on the Portable Antiquities Scheme website (licence: CC BY 2.0).

Riddle 91, on the other hand, conflates sex and violence in a way that should make us question just how “funny” this particular double entendre riddle is supposed to be. It’s certainly meant to catch out any would-be solver with their mind in the gutter (see Bitterli, page 431). It starts by telling us that the riddle-object is manufactured violently – all those hammers and pointy objects – before being chained up and thrust into a hole. All of this is done in order to serve a lord’s mod · ᚹ · (mind-JOY), with an interesting use of the wynn rune here, which means “joy,” acting as a little riddle within the riddle. But, on the whole, Riddle 91 is a lot less joyful than Riddle 44, as it replaces the cheeky sexual reading with battle imagery, warfare and conquest.

So what have previous scholars made of this riddle? Elinor Teele argues that the riddle plays off its descriptions of both sexual conquest and the plundering of a treasure hoard (pages 193-7). She notes that the Key is itself a victim of violence in the opening lines of the riddle, before it becomes an object of violence wielded by a lord who is driven by violent appetites. The violent coercion of lords is something we see in other riddles, even if they sometimes treat their retainers less cruelly (I’m thinking of Riddle 20 here).

Edith Whitehurst Williams, on the other hand, reads the riddle as empowering. She takes the solution to be Keyhole and points out that the riddle fits within well-established conquest motifs, as well as sexual metaphors of hammering, wounding, etc. Touching upon the violence of the poem, Whitehurst Williams claims that it nonetheless “offers the strongest argument of all for the mutuality of the sex experience. A female persona relates the incident; four of the significant verbs in the power describe her own actions which seem to be both voluntary and vigorous. Her allusions to joy and pleasure place the same high value on the circumstance that we have seen in the other Riddles. As for the conquest, she seems to take an Amazonian delight in it – except for the figurative “wounded” there is no other word which suggests either discomfort or distaste” (page 144). Was there BDSM in early medieval England?

A square comprised of 50 shades of grey

It’s 50 shades of grey…get it? Image via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

I’m not sure I buy Whitehurst Williams’ reading, which hinges on an imagined female persona who is both assertive and appropriated into a violent fantasy. And I would also question the heteronormativity of these sorts of interpretations, in assuming that the sexually-charged riddles only ever depict sex between a man and a woman. Why can’t this riddle be about male lovers? Do the power dynamics change if we read it that way? Does imagining that this riddle invites us to observe sex between men as a battle say something about warrior culture? Or about the monks recording these riddles and, in so doing, writing themselves into said warrior culture? Food for thought.

However we interpret the beginning of this riddle and its various key players, the final four lines ask us to read in a new context. Here, the riddle seems to move away from double entendre to focus on eating. The scene turns to a lord plundering dead bodies for his own desire (ew), though the heroism is seriously deflated when we realize we’re actually reading about a person raiding the store cupboard for a midnight snack.

Sandwich and crisps

Behold, a midnight snack! Image via Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0).

Still, there’s a link between literal and sexual appetites here, which is interesting, especially in the context of all the hyper-masculinity this riddle packs in. The ecofeminist in me wants you all to go read Carol J. Adams’ The Sexual Politics of Meat, which argues that patriarchy and misogyny go hand-in-hand with meat-eating. Oh looky look, Carol, Riddle 91 got there first! There’s certainly something very uncomfortable in those final lines’ references to consuming the lafe (remains) of those the lord commanded to be killed wælcræfte (through slaughter-skill). We’re 100% being invited to think about cannibalism here. As if the beginning of the riddle wasn’t unpleasant enough…

So, is this riddle supposed to be one of those “so-uncomfortable-that-it-is-funny” jokes? Realizing that descriptions of an aggressive sexual encounter and cannibalism are actually a person jiggling a key in a lock to nick a bit of food is certainly deflating enough that it might bring about some nervous laughter. But – sorry Riddle 91 – I prefer jokes that punch up.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Bitterli, Dieter. “The One-Liners Among the Exeter Book Riddles.” Neophilologus, vol. 103 (2019), pages 419-34.

Teele, Elinor. “The Heroic Tradition in the Old English Riddles.” Diss. University of Cambridge, 2004. esp. pages 193-7.

Whitehurst Williams, Edith. “What’s So New about the Sexual Revolution? Some Comments on Anglo-Saxon Attitudes toward Sexuality in Women Based on Four Exeter Book Riddles.” In New Readings on Women in Old English Literature. Edited by Helen Damico and Alexandra Hennessey Olsen. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990. pages 137-45.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 91 

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Exeter Riddle 92

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Wed 02 Dec 2020
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 92
Judy Kendall, Reader in English and Creative Writing at Salford University, returns with a translation of Riddle 92.

Original text:
Ic wæs brunra beot,       beam on holte,
freolic feorhbora       ond foldan wæstm,
weres wynnstaþol       ond wifes sond,
gold on geardum.       Nu eom guðwigan
hyhtlic hildewæpen,       hringe beg...
...e...       byreð,
oþrum.
Translation:
I was the boast of red-brown things, a bough in a forest
flourishing life-giver and fruit of the soil
stock of man’s merry-making and woman’s love missive
gold at the hearth. Now I am a hero’s
exultant battle-arm, with a ring
            bears,
    to another.
Click to show riddle solution?
Beech, Beech-wood Shield, Beech Battering Ram, Ash, Book, Oak


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 130r 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 241.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 88: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 118.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  judy kendall  riddle 92 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 92

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 03 Dec 2020
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 92

Judy Kendall, Reader in English and Creative Writing at Salford University, has provided Riddle 92’s commentary, including a new solution to the riddle. Take it away, Judy!


There have been various solutions to this riddle. While a number keep to the theme of beech (“beech,” “beech-wood shield,” “beech battering ram”), we also have “book,” and Ferdinand Holthausen’s initial suggestion of “ash.” Craig Williamson records that A. J. Wyatt read it as the Old English bōc, “beech with its several uses, and book,” and the tendency since then has been for riddle solvers to select “beech” rather than another kind of tree, linking it to “book” as Wyatt does (page 391). This is largely because of the record of pigs enjoying beechmast in line 107 of Riddle 40 where a boar is observed “rooting away” in a beech-wood. So, the argument goes, in line 1 of Riddle 92, “brown” or “red-brown” must indicate pig while “boast” clearly alludes to the beechmast that it is snuffling up.

However, there are other brown or red animals that also feast on forest tree produce. Red squirrels come to mind. Here’s a really nice picture of one:

Squirrel

Photo (by 4028mdk09) from Wikimedia Commons (licence CC BY-SA-3.0).

Squirrels also eat hazelnuts and acorns. In fact the Old English for squirrel is ācweorna, not that dissimilar to áccærn or áccorn, the word for nuts or “mast” of both beech and oak (ac), so there could perhaps be an intentional allusion to a squirrel gorging on a feast of nuts. After all ácweorran means "to guzzle or glut," and here is a red squirrel about to guzzle an acorn (not that we need proof that they love nuts!).

Squirrel on ground

Photo (by Klearchos Kapoutsis) from Wikimedia Commons (licence CC BY 2.0).

Still, we shouldn’t forget the pigs. So here is an 1894 painting of pigs rooting for beechmast:

Pigs rooting for beechmast

From William Sharp’s Fair Women in Painting and Poetry (1894, page 181), via Wikimedia Commons (no known copyright restrictions).

And an excellent little film of a whole row of pigs cracking and eating hazelnuts – spot the red-brown ones:

So boast or beot could refer to the red coat of a squirrel or the brown skin of a pig. However, it could also allude to a red-brown carpet of beechnuts, or indeed, acorns. See the glorious russet colours they create here:

Wet beech bark

Wet beech bark: Trees alongside the Gloucestershire Way in the Forest of Dean. Photo (by Jonathan Billinger) from Wikimedia Commons (licence CC BY-SA 2.0).

Who wouldn’t want to boast of that? Here’s an acorn carpet too:

Acorn carpet

White oak (Quercus alba) acorns - one prolific tree can nearly cover the ground in a good year. Duke Forest Korstian Division, Durham North Carolina. Photo (by Dcrjsr) from Wikimedia Commons (licence CC BY 3.0). (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)

When Williamson dissects Wyatt’s argument for "beech," he stresses the way the riddle seems to turn on the homonymic uses of the word bōc – that is, as referring to both “book” and “beech” (page 391). Strictly speaking, the etymological connection between the two may be in doubt, but it is feasible that Old English speakers would have seen and heard them as linked, and, as Williamson argues, beech is also connected to books in the form of writing on beech-bark.

However, should we be content with beech? We have already mentioned the nuts of both the hazel and the oak, and certainly, the oak’s magnificent broad crown and reddish-brown or golden autumn leaves fit the celebratory description of many of the lines, while the hazel, too, similarly glorious in autumn, would also provide a possible match. So I would like to suggest "oak" as a new solution to this riddle, as well as urging you to consider the possibility of "hazel" too.

To this end, I will now work through the riddle as if the answer was “beech” and then recast it with an oak in tow, plus a few references to hazel thrown in along the way. Let's see where we get to.

One strong impression I had when approaching this riddle as a poet-translator is its continuous untiring celebration of a tree’s transformative journey in every line. Right from the word “go,” even down in the mud as pig or squirrel fodder, we have beot or “boast.” We have already noted how this could fit the description of an oak or hazel in autumn, and indeed it does also fit the image of a large handsome beech, resplendent in glorious gleaming yellow or orange autumn foliage, surrounded by a carpet of rich russet-coloured beechnuts. Perhaps this riddle is less of a beech teaser and more of a beech feaster:

Burnham Beeches

Watercolour painting by Myles Birket Foster from Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

More celebratory references occur in the next line which describes other, wider forms of fine or noble nourishment. A sense of exultation gleams through line 3’s focus on forms of pleasure, possibly in book, or beech-bark, form, and we can see why such a bark might be chosen and celebrated in this picture of beautiful grey smooth beech:

Beech bark

Photo of beech bark (by Jonathan Billinger) from Wikimedia Commons (licence CC BY-SA 2.0).

Note, however, that the tree’s transformation into book occurs halfway through the riddle. It is therefore just a stage on the tree’s journey, not its final destination. This throws doubt on the suggestion that “book” constitutes the answer to the riddle. Instead, it would seem that “book” is just a part of the process, as the tree, and riddle, works towards its solution.

Indeed, does an assessment of which tree is intended really help us solve the riddle? My first thought when looking at this riddle was that it is far too obviously about a tree to be actually referring, in a riddle-like way, to a tree. We riddle, surely, to confuse. If the solution is a kind of the tree, then the usual translation of the second half of line 1 as “tree in the forest” seems a bit much. Surely that kind of obvious hint should be saved till later – till the last line perhaps (a line of course to which we no longer have much access).

Observations like these are partly why I have allowed myself to translate beam as “a bough” rather than “tree,” making it more riddle-like, as well of course as facilitating alliteration.

Frederick Tupper, Jr. describes this riddle a series of kennings, compound descriptions that transform into each other on the way to a final manifestation of the original tree, whatever kind of tree that may be (page xciv).

However, for the moment, on with the beech! For me, the reference to gold in line 4 could evoke a chest of treasure, or the warming gold of flames of a beech-log fire. It could be the gilded decorations on a book, perhaps a book valued like gold. I even see the glinting gold of the beech leaves in the last chilly days of autumn:

Golden beech leaves

Photo of golden beech leaves (by Jonathan Billinger) from Wikimedia Commons (licence CC BY-SA 2.0).

But let us place such imaginings against the reference Tupper picks out in line 8 of Riddle 20, with its very similar gold ofer geardas referring to the making of a sword. Perhaps, in our current riddle, the tree is at this point being turned into the exultant battle-weapon that, after the hiatus of the middle of this line, both closes the end of this line and opens the next. In that next line, we have moved on to a heightened moment, as we are presented with the heroic warrior’s joyful battle-weapon. This, whether it be battering ram or shield, could be the final transformation of the tree and therefore the solution to the riddle, particularly since byreð (bears) and oþrum (to another) – the words still visible in the largely obliterated last lines – could be references to carrying, defending or attacking in battle.

But is it a beech battering ram, a beechwood shield, or another kind of wood? Let’s consider oak. As noted earlier, like the beech, the oak too can be glorious:

Oak tree

Photo of oak tree near the Teign (by Derek Harper) from Wikimedia Commons (licence CC BY-SA 2.0).

So of course can the hazel tree, and both oak and hazel produce catkins and nuts - sources of protein for squirrels and birds – “flourishing life-givers” indeed. And here I am going to give the hazel tree a little look-in as I think this photograph really suggests that life-giving element well:

Common Hazel

Photo of Common Hazel fruits (by H. Zell) from Wikimedia Commons (licence CC BY-SA 3.0).

However, oak is more prized for its strength and density, and therefore stands up better in terms of the references to nourishment, stability and power in lines 2 and 3. As for the wifes sond (woman’s love missive), here oak for me also trumps beech: oak galls were used as the main ingredient in writing ink at this time and oak bark was also used by tanners to tan the leather that formed the vellum of manuscripts. I more easily imagine “gold at the hearth” as an allusion to a strong oaken chest of treasure than a chest made of beech. It could of course also allude to the decoration of a manuscript; oak, like beech, makes great gold flaming firewood; and oak, perhaps more than beech, could at this point be in the process of being fashioned into a weapon. Battering rams were typically made of oak, ash or fir, although I am not sure if they would have included gold, as perhaps a shield might. However, while a shield is used in defence, what more celebratory, joyful or “exultant” weapon can there be than the thrusting battering ram?

Well, in the end, there’s no clear answer – because of course we have, to this riddle, no end. Whether it refers to beech, oak, hazel or book, what seems clear is that this riddle is tracking, and celebrating, a tree’s metamorphosis through a series of kenning-like phrases – and that perhaps (given the last lines, which presumably hold the essential clue, are practically obliterated), it is only appropriate that we do not know for sure what the tree’s final transformation is. Indeed, if this is a good riddle, such an uncertainty in our knowledge and our guessing would seem fitting. Otherwise those last invisible words become redundant...and no poet worth the name wants redundancy.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

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

Porter, John. Anglo-Saxon Riddles. Hockwold-cum-Wilton: Anglo-Saxon Books, 1995 and 2013.

Tupper, Frederick, Jr. Riddles of the Exeter Book. Boston, Ginn, 1910.

Williamson, Craig, trans. The Complete Old English Poems. Penn State University Press, 2017.

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



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  judy kendall  riddle 92 

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