RIDDLE POSTS BY CONTRIBUTOR: NEVILLEMOGFORD

Lorsch Riddle 7

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Thu 22 Apr 2021
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Lorsch Riddle 7
Original text:
Scribitur octono silvarum grammate lignum.
Ultima terna simul tuleris si grammata demens,
Milibus in multis vix postea cernitur una.
Translation:
A tree of the forests is written with an eighth stroke.
If, mad, you should remove the last three strokes together,
you would barely find one in many a thousand.
Click to show riddle solution?
Chestnut, chestnut tree


Notes:

This edition is based on Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Palatinus latinus 1753, folio 117r. You can find images of this manuscript here.



Tags: latin 

Commentary for Bern Riddle 7: De vesica

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Mon 11 Jan 2021
Matching Riddle: Bern Riddle 7: De vesica

The second of three container riddles, this is an interesting and rather tricky riddle, which describes an animal bladder used in two different ways. Bladders, usually from domesticated pigs, are excellently stretchy containers.

Bladder
“Two Boys Blowing a Bladder by Candle-light (1773) by Peter Perez Burdett. From Wikipedia Commons (© public domain)

Lines 1 and 2 are all about stretchiness. They refer to the use of a bladder to carry water when used by humans. In line 1, the expanding bladder “follows” (sequi) the liquid that it hides when it stretches as it is filled. The beating of the liquid in line 2 probably refers to the water sloshing around during a traveller’s journey (cursus).

At this stage, the bladder still speaks in the first person. However, from line 3 onwards, the third person is used—and then it starts to describe an empty bladder. This is introduced with the apparent paradox of a thing that is both “filled” (impletur) and “empty of stuff” (vacua rebus). The problem of the vacuum was an ancient one, which had been debated by Plato and Aristotle. As Paul Winterfeld observed, we should not be surprised that the Bern riddler also found this scientific-philosophical problem intriguing (Winterfeld, p. 292).

The weightless citizen in line 4 is air, which the bladder holds for as long as it “endures” (permanet). Some manuscripts replace civem (‘citizen’) with cibum (“food, nourishment”), but the idea of a sausage or other food that is both empty and filled does not really work.

In the final two lines, we are told that the bladder floats when blown up with air, and it cannot carry anything when burst. The Middle Ages had balloons too!

Balloons
“Balloons. Photograph (by Bigroger27509) from Wikipedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0)

It is amazing that six short lines about an ordinary container can hold so many extraordinary ideas. Riddle 7 begins with the bladder’s stretchiness, before taking in vacuums, the weight of air, and balloons. As I suggested in the previous commentary, riddles are perhaps the most fantastic containers of all.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Winterfeld, Paul. “Observationes criticalae.” Philologus vol. 53 (1899), pages 289-95.



Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

Related Posts:
Bern Riddle 6: De calice
Bern Riddle 7: De vesica
Bern Riddle 8: De ovo

Commentary for Lorsch Riddle 7

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Mon 21 Jun 2021
Matching Riddle: Lorsch Riddle 7

This riddle is a puzzle about Latin spelling that conceals a hidden joke about female sexual promiscuity. And once you’ve solved it, you will say to yourself, “Ah, it’s that old chestnut!”

Chestnut riddles also appear in another medieval riddle, Bern Riddle 48—which I wasn’t very complementary about in my commentary on it! But the two riddles do not share much in common except the solution.

Chestnut
”Renoir’s Chestnut Tree in Bloom (1881). Photo (by Vassil) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC0 1.0)”

The riddle opens by telling us that “a tree of the forests” (silvarum… lignum) is “written with an eighth stroke” (scribitur octono… grammate). Spelling-related riddles occur elsewhere in the early medieval riddling tradition, most notably in Exeter Riddle 13, where the six + four chickens seem to represent the six consonants and four vowels of ten cic[c]enu (“ten chickens”).

The answer to this puzzle is “the chestnut tree” (castanea), which has eight letters. This is confirmed when we read lines 2 and 3, which say that “if you remove the last three strokes together… you would barely find one in many a thousand” (ultima terna simul tuleris si grammata… milibus in multis vix postea cernitur una). If we remove the last three letters from castanea, we get the feminine adjective form casta (“pure, chaste”). Thus, the misogynistic “joke” is that there are very few chaste women—one in a thousand.

But why would removing three letters make you demens (“mad”)? Paolo Squatriti (page 119) has suggested that this is because nea is a meaningless word in Latin. But I wonder whether this is a cunning bilingual pun. The riddle tells us to remove the “last” (ultima) three words. Perhaps the riddler wants us to think of the Old English word nea[h], which means “last”—although this presumes that the author was English, which is nut at all certain.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Squatriti, Paolo. Landscape and Change in Early Medieval Italy Chestnuts, Economy, and Culture. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 2013. Pages 117-8.

Tags: latin 

Related Posts:
Exeter Riddle 13
Bern Riddle 48: De castanea

Bern Riddle 8: De ovo

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Fri 27 Nov 2020
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Bern Riddle 8: De ovo
Original text:
Nati mater ego, natus ab utero mecum;

 Prior illo non sum, semper qui mihi coaevus.

 Virgo nisi manens numquam concipere possum,

 Sed intacta meam infra concipio prolem.

 Post si mihi venter disruptus ictu patescat,

 Moriens viventem sic possum fundere foetum.
Translation:
I am the mother of a son, born from a womb with me.

 I am not older than him; he is always the same age as me.

 I cannot ever become pregnant unless I remain a virgin,

 but, virginal, I conceive my child within.

 If my belly opens afterwards, burst by a stab,

 dying, I can give birth to a living child.
Click to show riddle solution?
Egg


Notes:

This edition is based on Karl Strecker, ed., Poetae Latini aevi Carolini, Vol. 4.2 (Berlin, MGH/Weidmann, 1923), page 740.

A list of variant readings can be found in Fr. Glorie, ed., Variae collectiones aenigmatum Merovingicae aetatis, Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina 133A (Turnhout: Brepols, 1968), page 554.



Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

Lorsch Riddle 8

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Fri 23 Apr 2021
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Lorsch Riddle 8
Original text:
En video sobolem propria cum matre morantem,
Mandrae cuius pellis in pariete pendet adhaerens.
Translation:
There, with its own mother I see a child lingering,
whose pelt hangs stuck to the wall of his pen!
Click to show riddle solution?
Egg, foetus


Notes:

This edition is based on Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Palatinus latinus 1753, folio 117r. You can find images of this manuscript here.



Tags: latin 

Commentary for Bern Riddle 8: De ovo

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Mon 11 Jan 2021
Matching Riddle: Bern Riddle 8: De ovo

There are several words that describe the last of the container riddles. Egg-cellent! Egg-quisite! Ab-shell-utely egg-ceptional! Can you guess what it is yet?

Line 1 begins egg-actly as you would expect a riddle about eggs—with a ‘who came first’ paradox. However, this is not the usual chicken-and-egg paradox, but rather an embryo-and-egg one. The paradox is resolved by recognising that the mother (the egg) and child (the embryo) are siblings because they were both born together. Unusual birth stories like this are very common in the Bern riddles.

Line 2 explains that the egg remains unbroken whilst it is ‘pregnant.’ The word intacta can mean “intact,” but also “chaste,” which plays on the idea of a virgin birth. Although the Bern riddles are never explicitly Christian, they do occasionally refer subtly to religious motifs such as this one.

The final two lines hint at the idea of caesarean birth and maternal death during childbirth, but they really describe the breaking of the egg by the emerging young.

Egg
“Tortoise hatchling. Photograph (by Mayer Richard) from Wikipedia Commons(licence: CC BY-SA 3.0)

This riddle shares several interesting language features with others in the collection. Firstly, rather than using the genitive personal pronoun, mei (“my”), it uses the dative, mihi (“to me”). This dative of possession is not at all unusual, but the Bern riddler seems to have been a fan of this construction—they use it extensively. Secondly, this is the first time that we encounter the words venter (“belly, womb, bowels”) and fundere (“to pour out,” “to give birth to”)—both words feature prominently in other descriptions of birth and the body in the Bern riddles (see Riddles 19, 21, 23, 31, 40, 47, and 53).

This takes us to the end of the “container” series of riddles. Sadly, it also brings us to the end of all my egg puns. I guess the yoke is on me!

Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

Related Posts:
Bern Riddle 6: De calice
Bern Riddle 7: De vesica
Bern Riddle 8: De ovo

Commentary for Lorsch Riddle 8

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Mon 21 Jun 2021
Matching Riddle: Lorsch Riddle 8

This teeny-weeny egg riddle really cracks me up.

Well, that is, assuming that it is about an egg at all! Dümmler (page 22) titled it as De ovo (“About an egg”) in his edition, but Glorie (page 354) calls it De fetu (“About an embryo”).

However, egg is definitely the more persuasive solution, and the clues sit well with a tradition of egg riddles. The late antique Latin riddler, Symphosius, wrote a riddle about a chick in an egg, possibly drawing on an earlier Greek egg riddle.

Mira tibi referam nostrae primordia vitae:
Nondum natus eram, nec eram iam matris in alvo;
Iam posito partu natum me nemo videbat.

[I will relate the wondrous beginnings of our life to you:
I was never born, nor was I already in the womb of a mother,
A birth already laid, no one ever saw me born.]

Symphosius, “Riddle 14: Pullus in ovo (“Chicken in an egg”)”

This riddle plays on the ancient “who was born first, the chicken or the egg?” paradox that still exists today. It also contrasts the egg with the womb, and oviparous birth (i.e., from an egg) with viviparous (i.e., live) birth. The anonymous 8th century English riddler, Eusebius (usually thought to be a pseudonym for Hwaetberht, abbot of Monkwearmouth-Jarrow), also wrote an egg riddle (No. 38) that plays on this difference.

Bern Riddle 8 does something similar but adds lots of characteristically wacky detail.

Chick
”A chicken egg hatching. Photo (by Linsenhejhej) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0)”

However, Lorsch Riddle 8 isn’t interested in the egg as a womb, and closer analogues can be found in two early medieval prose riddles. The first appears in the Collectanea pseudo-Bedae, an early medieval collection of 388 short texts of various kinds, which probably dates from the 8th century.

Vidi filium cum matre manducantem, cuius pellis pendebat in pariete.

[I saw a son with a mother, eating, whose skin hung on the wall.]

Collectanea Pseudo-Bedae, No. 18.

A very similar riddle appears in a mid/late 9th century manuscript from the monastery of St Gall (St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 196), in a list of one-line enigmata interrogativa (“riddle-questions”).

Vidi hominem ambulantem cum matre sua et pellis eius pendebat in pariete.

[I saw a man walking with his mother, and his skin hanging on the wall.]

St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 196. Page 389.

These three riddles have a lot in common, and they are clearly part of a single tradition. They are all written in the first person, and they all open with the verb videre (“to see”). They all include a mother and child, whom they describe using the formula cum matre (“with a mother”), which is followed by a present participle describing the child (mandicantem, ambulantem, morantem). And they all include the phrase pellis in pariente (“skin on the wall”). This “skin” is the membrane of the egg, a metaphor that also appears in a chicken riddle, Exeter Book Riddle 13, which describes how fell hongedon… on seles wæg (“skins hung on the walls of the hall”) There are some important differences between the three riddles, however. Lorsch—the only one written in verse—is written in the present tense, rather than the past tense. It also includes several nice additional touches, such as the idea that the chick is morantem (“waiting or lingering”), and the description of the egg as a mandra (“pen”), and example of riddling misdirection that makes the reader imagine that the “child” is a pig or horse. Oink, oink, cluck!

How can we sum up this riddle? Well, medieval riddles often take the formulaic aspects of the tradition and play with them in small but creative ways. I think this is Lorsch Riddle 8 in a nutshell (or should that be eggshell?)—it is formulaic, but it still manages to be a little bit eggspressive

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Collectanea Pseudo-Bedae. Edited by Martha Bayless and Michael Lapidge. Scriptes Latini Hiberniae Vol. XIV. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1998. Page 122.

St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 196. Images are available at E-codices.

Dieter Bitterli. The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book and the Anglo-Latin Riddle Tradition. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009. Pages 117-8.

Dümmler, Ernst. Poetae latini aevi Carolini. Volume 1. MGH. Berlin: Weidmann, 1881.

Fr. Glorie (ed.). Tatuini Opera Omnia. Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 133. Turnholt: Brepols, 1958.

Lendinara, Patrizia. “Gli “Aenigmata Laureshamensia.”” Pan, Studie dell’Istuto di Filogia Latina, Volume 7 (1981). Pages 73-90 (81-3).

Symphosius, “Aenigma 14: Pullus in ovo.” In Symphosius: The Aenigmata: An Introduction, Text and Commentary. Edited by T. J. Leary. London: Bloomsbury, 2014, Page 40.



Tags: latin 

Related Posts:
Bern Riddle 8: De ovo
Bern Riddle 13: De vite

Bern Riddle 9: De mola

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Fri 27 Nov 2020
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Bern Riddle 9: De mola
Original text:
Senior ab aevo, Eva sum senior ego,
Et senectam gravem nemo currendo revincit.
Vitam dabo cunctis, vitam si tulero multis.
Milia prosterno, manu dum verbero nullum.
Saturamen victu, ignem ieiuna produco,
Et uno vagantes possum conprehendere loco.
Translation:
I am older that this age, I am older than Eve,
and no one stops the running of my heavy old age.
I will bring life to everyone if I extract life from many.
I destroy thousands but I punch no one.
Sated, I bring food; hungry, I bring fire,
and I can keep the wanderers in one place.
Click to show riddle solution?
Millstone


Notes:

This edition is based on Karl Strecker, ed., Poetae Latini aevi Carolini, Vol. 4.2 (Berlin, MGH/Weidmann, 1923), page 740.

Lines 2 and 5 follow the preferred reading in Fr. Glorie, ed., Variae collectiones aenigmatum Merovingicae aetatis, Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina 133A (Turnhout: Brepols, 1968), page 555.



Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

Lorsch Riddle 9

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Fri 23 Apr 2021
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Lorsch Riddle 9
Original text:
Candida virgo suas lacrimas dum seminat atras,
Tetra per albentes linquit vestigia campos
Lucida stelligeri ducentia ad atria caeli.
Translation:
When a shining white virgin sows her dark tears,
she leaves foul tracks across the white fields,
leading to the bright halls of the starry sky.
Click to show riddle solution?
Pen, quill


Notes:

This edition is based on Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Palatinus latinus 1753, folio 117v. You can find images of this manuscript here.



Tags: latin 

Commentary for Bern Riddle 9: De mola

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Mon 11 Jan 2021
Matching Riddle: Bern Riddle 9: De mola

Riddles are usually fun, but this one really grinds you down—because it is about millstones!

Three Bern riddles describe the process of processing cereals into flour. Riddle 12 describes how it is reaped and threshed, and Riddle 17 describes how the flour is sieved. In this riddle, the grain is ground into flour—and this process described in a charmingly bizarre fashion.

“A video showing the milling process in a late eighteenth century mill in Maryland, USA. The technologies are not medieval, but the basic principles are similar. ”

Millstones always come in pairs. In larger, water-powered mills, a runnerstone would rotate and grind against a static bedstone. In smaller handmills, a pair of quernstones would be placed together and the top stone would be rotated by hand—this could be a laborious process. Animals could also be used, as demonstrated by the Old English word esolcweorn (lit. “donkey-millstone”). Grain was poured through the hole in the centre of the stone, and, once ground into flour, found its way out to the millstone’s outer edge through furrows cut into the stones. Although windmills did not arrive in Europe until the 11th century, watermills and handmills were both common across Europe from ancient times. Because of its economic and cultural importance, milling is a common theme in all kinds of medieval documentary and literary texts, from Gregory the Great in the 6th century to Chaucer and Boccaccio in the 14th.

Now back to the riddle! It is easy to overlook the poetic form of the Bern Riddles, simply because the content is so interesting. But this riddle begins with a great example of how these riddles can use alliteration and assonance within and across lines. The word “Eva” alliterates and assonates nicely with the previous riddle subject, ovum (“egg”), as well as the words aevum (“age”) and ego (“I”) in the same line. The first line also contains two-fold alliteration on s- (“senior,” “sum,” “senior”).

Millstone
“The author, very excited about an abandoned millstone at Two Bridges, Dartmoor.”

Line 1 also contains an intriguing sub-riddle: why is the millstone older than Eve? It could simply refer to the hard-wearing limestones, granites, and sandstones that were typically used for milling. Or it could allude to the fact that, according to Genesis, God created the earth on the first day, and dry land—including rocks—on the third day, three days before he fashioned Adam and Eve. But it also seems to be drawing on wider associations of millstones with cyclic time and aging—the stone’s hardness and heaviness, circular shape, and associations with work naturally lent itself to this. For example, in Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Rule, a reference to the millstone in the Gospel of Matthew (Matt. 18:6) is said to represent “the cycle and labour of this worldly life” (secularis vitae circuitus ac labor) (Gregory, PL77:16B). When viewed in this way, the riddle seems to be playing with the idea that the millstone is as old and unstoppable as worldly time itself.

Line 3 relies on the extended sense of vita (“life”) as “sustenance.” The millstone takes the “many” dead grains and transforms them into flour for everyone. Line 4 continues this theme, by explaining that the millstone destroys or humbles (prosternere) thousands, i.e. it crushes thousands of individual grains. It does this without striking or punching them, since the process is one of crushing and cutting.

Line 5 alludes to a very real problem. When turned without grain, millstones could create dangerous sparks, and when combined with combustible flour in the air, this was a serious hazard for millers. Thus, the millstone makes food when fed, but fire when “hungry.”

Riddles like this one rely on a whole host of cultural and intertextual references, and we have only touched the surface here. We often imagine of writing as a creative act, but we do not often think this about reading. This is one of the great things about the Bern Riddles—you get to be a really creative and imaginative reader, trying out all kinds of associations and seeing if they fit. Even if you know a riddle’s solutions straight away, it is only the beginning of the game. If I wanted to put it into puns, I might even say that the best riddle-readers go against the grain and leave no stone unturned. If you can do that, then riddling is sedimentary, my dear Watson!

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Gregory the Great, Liber regulae pastoralis. In Sancti Gregorii Papae I, opera omnia. Edited by J.P. Migne. Vol. 3. Patrologia Latina 77. (Paris: Ateliers Catholiques, 1862), 7-126, pages 17-18.

Rahtz, P. & Bullough, D. “The Parts of an Anglo-Saxon Mill”. Anglo-Saxon England. Vol. 6, (1977), pages 15-37.

Squatriti, Paolo. Water and Society in Early Medieval Italy, AD 400-1000 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pages 126-159.



Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

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Bern Riddle 9: De mola
Bern Riddle 12: De grano
Bern Riddle 17: De cribro

Commentary for Lorsch Riddle 9

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Mon 21 Jun 2021
Matching Riddle: Lorsch Riddle 9

We're on a road to nowhere.
Come on inside!
Takin' that riddle to nowhere,
no solution in sight.


Riddles like to talk about footprints and tracks, roads and courses, paths and ways. Not only is the “path” or “track” a major trope in medieval riddling, but it is also one of my favourite tropes too! I love the way that a single idea links so many very different things across multiple riddle collections, including ploughs and oxen, the sun and moon, rain and clouds, and books and pens. It works as a kind of giant, intertextual metaphor which reveals all kinds of hidden connections between the disparate things that it describes.

Footprint
”Footprints in the sand. Photo (by Júlio Reis) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 2.5)”

The early medieval riddle tradition is often said to begin with the Riddles of Symphosius, an anonymous collection of 100 Latin riddles probably written in the 4th or 5th century in North Africa. We find a few mentions of paths and tracks here and there in Symphosius’ riddle, for example in a riddle on a goat (No. 35) and an arrow (No. 65). But Symphosius is more interested in things that explicitly don’t leave tracks. Thus, in Symphosius Riddle 13, a ship tells us that curro vias multas, vestigia nulla relinquens (“I run many roads, leaving no tracks behind.”) Similarly, the stylus in Symphosius Riddle 1 describes how it is used to write and erase on wax tablets, saying that altera pars revocat quicquid pars altera fecit (“the second part annuls whatever the first part creates”). Symphosius may have been drawing on earlier works that describe other things that move without leaving a trace, such as this ancient Greek riddle:

Εἶδον ἐγώ ποτε θῆρα δι᾿ ὕλης τμητοσιδήρου
ὕπτιον ὀρθὰ τρέχοντα, ποσὶν δ᾿ οὐχ ἥπτετο γαίης

[I once saw a beast running straight on its back through a wood cut by the steel, and its feet touched not the earth.]

“Enigma 14,” The Greek Anthology, Book 14. Pages 36-7.

The answer is a louse, in case you were wondering—the wood is the head full of hair and the steel is a comb! Anyway, Symphosius’ idea of a thing that erases their own tracks was enthusiastically adopted by medieval riddlers. The 9th century scholar and poet, Alcuin of York, includes the idea as a trick question in his mathematical puzzles, Propositiones ad acuendos iuvenes (“Questions to Sharpen the Young”).

Bos qui tota die arat, quot vestigia faciat in ultima riga?

[An ox ploughs for the entire day—how many footprints does he make in the final furrow?]

Alcuin, Propositiones ad acuendos iuvenes. Number 14, column 1148.

The answer is none, since all the footsteps are erased by the plough that comes behind it! Other examples of riddles that describe things that leave no tracks include Bern Riddles 11, 55 and 59, and Exeter Riddle 95.

Plough
”The biblical figure, Tubalcain, and his plough, from Bodleian Library MS. Junius 11, page 54. Photo from Digital Bodleian (licence: CC BY-NC 4.0)”

However, another group of riddles talk about footprints that are very visible. These riddles describe the marks made by the pen on the page as if they were the tracks made by the plough in the field. For example, the 8th century Archbishop of Canterbury, Tatwine, wrote riddles on a pen (No. 6) and parchment (No. 5) that tell us:

In planum me iterum campum sed verterat auctor

[But a creator had turned me into a level field.]

Tatwine Riddle 5: De membrano. Page 172, line 3.


Planos compellor sulcare per aequora campos.

[I am forced to plough flat, level fields.]

Tatwine Riddle 6: De penna. Page 173, line 4.

Similarly, Exeter Riddle 51 speaks of four amazing creatures (i.e., the fingers) who leave swearte… lastas / swaþu swiþe blacu (“dark… tracks, very black footprints”). Another pen riddle, by the anonymous 8th century riddler, Eusebius, link the nourishment grown in the field with the spiritual harvest carried on the page: sed mea nunc sapiens vestigia quisque sequetur (“but now all the wise follow my tracks”).

Today’s riddle is firmly in this tradition. But rather than depicting the pen as a plough, it begins by describing it as a “virgin” (virgo), a portrayal that contrasts glaringly with the portrayal of most women as unchaste in Lorsch Riddle 7. She irrigates the page with dark, inky “tears” (lacrimas), which reminds me of how Tatwine Riddle 6 describes ink as the tears from a writer’s labour. The second line sets up the apparent paradox that such a person could leave tetra… vestigia (“foul footprints”) on the white “fields” (campos). And the last line adds a twist—these foul, filthy tracks nevertheless lead “to the bright halls of the starry sky” (lucida stelligeri… ad atria caeli). The meaning is that the written word, which transmits wisdom and Christian doctrine, can lead a person to heaven.

Lorsch Riddle 9 only has three lines, but it is part of a much larger conversation with other riddles and riddle collections. So, when you read other medieval riddles, try to see how many examples of tracks and traces you can find! But don’t read too many, or you might stay up long pasture bedtime!

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

The Greek Anthology, Books 13-16. Edited and translated by W. R. Paton. Volume 5, Loeb Classical Library 86. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1918. Pages 25-108.

Alcuin, Propositiones ad acuendos iuvenes. In Alcuini Opera Omnia. Edited by Jacques-Paul Migne. Volume 2. Patrologia Latina, Volume 101. Columns 1143-1160.

Fr. Glorie (ed.). Variae collectiones aenigmatum Merovingicae aetatis. Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina 133. Turnhout: Brepols, 1968, Page 182.

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



Tags: latin 

Related Posts:
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 51
Exeter Riddle 21

Bern Riddle 10: De scala

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Fri 27 Nov 2020
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Bern Riddle 10: De scala
Original text:
Singula si vivens firmis constitero plantis,
Viam me roganti directam ire negabo;
Gemina sed soror meo si lateri iungat,
Coeptum valet iter velox percurrere quisquis.
Unde pedem mihi nisi calcaverit ille,
Manibus quae cupit numquam contingere valet.
Translation:
If I lived alone and stood with firm feet,
I would not let myself go upon a straight path when asked.
But if my twin sister joins my side,
anyone can go upon a speedy journey.
And so, if he does not step upon my foot,
he can never reach that which he wants in his hands.
Click to show riddle solution?
Ladder


Notes:

This edition is based on Karl Strecker, ed., Poetae Latini aevi Carolini, Vol. 4.2 (Berlin, MGH/Weidmann, 1923), page 741.

A list of variant readings can be found in Fr. Glorie, ed., Variae collectiones aenigmatum Merovingicae aetatis, Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina 133A (Turnhout: Brepols, 1968), page 556.



Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

Lorsch Riddle 10

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Fri 23 Apr 2021
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Lorsch Riddle 10
Original text:
Saeva nefandorum non gessi furta latronum
Nec diro humanum fudi mucrone cruorem,
Sed tamen in laqueo reus ut fur pendeo longo.
Si quis at ardenti tangit mea viscera flamma,
Mox simul egregiam lumen dispergo per aulam.
Sicque meo noctis tetras depello tenebras
Lumine, clarifica perfundens luce sacellum.
Translation:
I did not carry out violent robberies like abominable brigands,
nor did I spill human blood with a dreadful blade,
yet I hang on a long noose like a guilty thief.
But if someone touches my insides with a burning flame,
I will scatter light through the excellent palace straight away.
And so, I cast the repulsive shadows of night
with my glare, drenching the chapel with bright light.
Click to show riddle solution?
Lamp, sanctuary lamp


Notes:

This edition is based on Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Palatinus latinus 1753, folio 117v. You can find images of this manuscript here.



Tags: latin 

Commentary for Bern Riddle 10: De scala

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Wed 13 Jan 2021
Matching Riddle: Bern Riddle 10: De scala

Some riddles are more straightforward than others. But what about those riddles where it is not clear whether we are supposed to read them literally or figuratively? Well, this is one of them.

I have translated the title of this riddle as ‘On the ladder.’ However, it seems to be referring to a single rung or step, or perhaps the side-rail of a ladder. The riddle-creature explains that if she lived alone, then she could not go upon the directam viam (“straight path”). However, when joined with her twin sister—twin because they are identical—they allow everyone an iter velox (“speedy journey”) all the way to the top.

The riddle echoes several other Bern riddles. The opening line about “firm feet” (firma planta) recalls the “squishy places” of the extra-brilliant Riddle 4 and its eccentric horse-bench. Similarly, the closing two lines are reminiscent of the final line of Riddle 4, when the horse-bench explains that he dislikes being kicked. In this case, if the ladder is to be used, she must put up with having its feet stood on all the time. The “firm places” trope also turns up in the fish riddle, Riddle 30.

Stairway
“Jacob and the ladder of angels, Cunradus Schlapperitzi, 1445. Image from the New York Public Library (© public domain).

I mentioned at the start of this commentary that I am not sure how straightforward this riddle is. The question is whether the ladder just represents a ladder, or whether it has a deeper and more spiritual significance. On the one hand, there is no overt religious message in the riddle. It could be all about a very ordinary, bog-standard ladder. The riddle tells us that people use the ladder to reach what they want—perhaps the fruit or honey mentioned in nearby riddles. On the other hand, it might suggest the occasion in the Book of Genesis when the patriarch Jacob dreamt of a ladder or stairway leading from earth to heaven, with angels travelling up and down it (Genesis 28:12). In medieval exegesis, the ladder was an allegory for the path to heaven that the faithful must take, with the steps representing the piety, virtues, or ascetic struggles that led there.

I will leave you with this question: is the ladder supposed to be understood literally or figuratively? Or perhaps both? Is it is the kind of ladder you’d find in a shed, or is it an allegorical stairway to heaven.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Grypeou, Emmanouela and Spurling, Helen. The Book of Genesis in Late Antiquity: Encounters between Jewish and Christian Exegesis. Leiden: Brill, 2013. Pages 289-322.



Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

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Bern Riddle 4: De scamno
Bern Riddle 10: De scala
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Commentary for Lorsch Riddle 10

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Mon 21 Jun 2021
Matching Riddle: Lorsch Riddle 10

Whoever would have thought that such a sunny riddle could also be so dark! This clever little riddle juxtaposes grim images of theft, murder and execution with splendid chapel lamps and the sun.

Lamps and other light sources are common riddling subjects. For example, Bern Riddle 2 is all about an oil lamp. The anonymous late antique riddler who is known to us as Symphosius (the name literally means “party-guy!”) wrote a riddle (No. 67) about a lantern. And the seventh century churchman and poet, Aldhelm of Malmesbury, wrote a riddle on the candle (No. 52). Today’s riddle describes a lamp used in a church, possibly a sanctuary lamp that was hung in front of the altar, as per the instruction of God to the Israelites to burn an oil lamp in the Tabernacle in Exodus 27:20-21.

Slamp
”Sanctuary lamp from the Basílica de São Sebastião, Salvador, Brazil. Photo (by Paul R. Burley) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 4.0)”

The riddle begins with the lamp denying that it is a robber or a killer. Playing on the connection between night and criminality, it explains that, although it is up all night, it goes about its business in a completely-innocent-and-not-at-all-nefarious way. Yeah, sure, lamp—I believe you!

Line 3 then introduces a twist—the lamp hangs from the ceiling in laqueo… longo (“on a long noose”) as if it were an executed criminal. There were many crimes potentially punishable by death in early medieval England, including counterfeiting and treason, as well as robbery and theft. Archaeological evidence shows that decapitation was a common of execution, but hanging was also used, and several law codes refer to it. For example, in a supplementary code covering the administration of justice in London, King Æthelstan explains that hanging is appropriate for repeat thieves under the age of fifteen, if they have not kept the oath that they were forced to swear after their first offence:

Gif he þonne ofer þæt stalie, slea man hine oððe ho, swa man þa yldran aer dyde.

[If he then steals after that, he will be decapitated or hung, just as his elders will have been.]

VI Æthelstan, 12.1 (page 183).

So, hanging was a fairly common punishment for crimes that we would consider to be minor today. Interestingly, a reference to hanging also appears in another riddle, Bern Riddle 57, which links the daily passage of the sun across the celestial meridian with the thief’s fate upon the crossroad gallows. The two riddles are not at all identical, but they do seem to be drawing upon the same themes and motifs.

Hanging
”A thirteenth century illustration of a hanging during The Anarchy by Matthew Parris, from Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 016, folio 64r. Photo from Parker Library On the Web (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0)”

Line 4 and 5 explain that burning the lamp creates light. The riddle uses a word common in other riddle collections, but which crops up only once in Lorsch: viscera (“insides”). You can read my commentaries on Bern Riddles 11 and 32 for more examples of this. Perhaps this “burning of the insides” hints at the torture of criminals, which is occasionally mentioned in early medieval sources, although many of the more gruesome tortures that we might think of as quintessentially medieval date from the High and Late Middle Ages or the early modern period.

Sunchurch
”The sun lights up the whitewashed walls of the pre-Conquest Priory Church, Deerhurst. Photo (by Chris Gunns) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 2.0)”

The final lines depict the lamp as if it were the dawning sun. The egregiam aulam (“excellent palace”) and the sacellum (“chapel”) are the church in which the lamp is hanging. In medieval literature, the world is often depicted microcosmically as a church, with the sky as its roof and the sun and stars as the lamps. For example, in his engaging, ninth century account of an anonymous monastery, the poet Æthelwulf describes the roof of his chapel thus:

Ut celum rutilat stellis fulgentibus omne,
Sic tremulas vibrant subter testudine templi
Ordinibus variis funalia pendula flammas.

[Just as the whole sky shines with glittering stars, so hanging ropes swing the quivering flames under the church roof in several ranks.]

Æthelwulf, De abbatibus, 623-5

We can also see this “church as sky” idea today, when we visit many churches and cathedrals, and look up at the rich ultramarines and yellows that decorate their vaulted roofs and pagodas.

I do wonder whether the writer intended the riddle to have a hidden, allegorical aspect to it, where the lamp represents Christ in some way. Just like Christ, the lamp is not a criminal, but is treated as if it were one. Moreover, the dawning sun is often associated with the Second Coming of Christ, most notably in the Pauline epistles. Certainly, allegory in riddles is nothing new—in fact, Aldhelm is a master of it!

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the riddle. I will leave you with the happy news that a burglar recently stole all my lamps. Why is this happy news? Well, it might have been a shady business, but it also left me completely de-lighted.

Notes:

“VI Aethelstan.“ In Felix Liebermann, Die Gesetze der Angelsachsen. Halle: Max Neimeyer, 1903. Pages 173-83. Available online here.

Mattison, Alyxandra. The Execution and Burial of Criminals in Early Medieval England, c. 850-1150. PhD thesis. University of Sheffield. 2016. Available online here.

Marafioti, Nicole & Gates, Jay Paul. "Introduction: Capital and Corporal Punishment in Anglo-Saxon England." In Nicole Marafioti & Jay Paul Gates (eds.), Capital and Corporal Punishment in Anglo-Saxon England. Woodbridge: Boydell, 2014. Pages 1-16.



Tags: latin 

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Bern Riddle 2: De lucerna

Bern Riddle 11: De nave

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Fri 27 Nov 2020
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Bern Riddle 11: De nave
Original text:
Mortua maiorem vivens quam porto laborem.
Dum iaceo, multos servo; si stetero, paucos.
Viscera si mihi foris detracta patescant,
Vitam fero cunctis victumque confero multis.
Bestia defunctam avisque nulla me mordet,
Et onusta currens viam nec planta depingo.
Translation:
Dead, I carry a greater burden than alive.
When I lay down, I store many; if I am upright, few.
If my insides are removed and revealed,
I bring food to everyone and nourishment to many.
When dead, no beast or bird bites me,
and when laden and moving, I leave no footprint on the road.
Click to show riddle solution?
Ship


Notes:

This edition is based on Karl Strecker, ed., Poetae Latini aevi Carolini, Vol. 4.2 (Berlin, MGH/Weidmann, 1923), page 741.

Line 5 follows the preferred reading in Fr. Glorie, ed., Variae collectiones aenigmatum Merovingicae aetatis, Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina 133A (Turnhout: Brepols, 1968), page 557.



Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

Lorsch Riddle 11

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Fri 23 Apr 2021
Original text:
Quando fui iuvenis, bis binis fontibus hausi.
Postquam consenui, montes vallesque de imis
Sedibus evertens naturae iura rescidi.
Post misero fato torpenti morte tabescens,
Mortuus horrende vivorum stringo lacertos,
Necnon humanis praebens munimina plantis
Frigoris a rigidis inlaesas reddo pruinis.
Sic mea diversis variantur fata sub annis.
Translation:
When I was young, I drank from four fountains.
After I grew old, I cut open mountains and valleys
from the deepest places, overturning the laws of nature.
After wasting away to the wretched fate of stiffening death,
now deceased, I bind the arms of the living horribly,
and I also provide defences for human feet,
preserving them from the stiff frost of winter.
In these ways, my fates are transformed in the changing years.
Click to show riddle solution?
Ox, bull


Notes:

This edition is based on Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Palatinus latinus 1753, folio 117v. You can find images of this manuscript here.



Tags: latin 

Commentary for Bern Riddle 11: De nave

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Fri 15 Jan 2021
Matching Riddle: Bern Riddle 11: De nave

Regular readers of The Riddle Ages will have noticed that I like to communicate ideas using tangentially related music videos. This occasion is no exception—our riddle plays upon what it means to be dead or alive, so take it away, Bon Jovi.


Riddles often use binaries to generate surprising ideas; one of the most common is the binary of living/dead. In Line 1, the dead wood (in the form of a ship) carries a maiorem laborem (“greater burden”) than the living tree did. Interestingly, although death in the early Middle Ages was often depicted as a relief from a lifetime of hardship, here the idea is reversed. The “greater burden” is, of course, all the contents of the ship that it carries. Line 2 continues this theme: the wood does far more work when lying down than standing up. Again, this is the exact opposite of us humans.

Line 3-4 describe the unloading of a ship as if it were an animal being disembowelled. The word viscera (“innards”) occurs on three other occasions in the Bern collection (Riddles 23, 24, and 32)., and each time it is used in a new and creative way. It also appears in Exeter Riddle 90 (the only Latin riddle of the Exeter Book). The various uses of viscera are testament to the importance in riddles of disclosing the hidden interior of things.

Ship
“A warship from Peter of Eboli’s Liber ad honorem Augusti in the late 12th century Bern, Burgerbibliothek, Cod. 120.II, f. 110r. Image from E-codices (licence: CC BY 3.0.)

The creature tells us that it is intact and inedible once dead, before returning to the theme of travel and feet from the previous riddle. When alive, the creature moves as if it was never there, leaving no marks behind it. This “no traces” trope is very common in the medieval riddle tradition, from Symphosius to the Exeter Book. For example, Symphosius’ Riddle 13, which is also about a ship, tells us that curro vias multas, vestigia nulla relinquens (“I run many roads, leaving no tracks behind”). Alcuin of York even uses it as a trick question in his mathematical puzzles, Propositiones ad acuendos iuvenes. He asks, Bos qui tota die arat, quot uestigia faciat in ultima riga (“If an ox ploughs for the whole day, how many footprints does he make in the final furrow?”). The solution is “none,” since the plough that the ox pulls will cover all his footsteps with earth.

This riddle manages to pack so much into six lines: live and death turned upside down, things turned inside out, and a traveller that leaves no traces. If you want to compare it to another very interesting ship riddle, you can read Megan’s commentary for Exeter Riddle 32 here.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Eric Reith, "Mediterranean Ship Design in the Middle Ages." In The Oxford Handbook of Maritime Archaeology. Edited by Alexis Catsambis, Ben Ford, and Donny L. Hamilton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pages 406-425.



Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 32
Exeter Riddle 90
Bern Riddle 11: De nave
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Bern Riddle 32: De spongia

Bern Riddle 12: De grano

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Fri 27 Nov 2020
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Bern Riddle 12: De grano
Original text:
Mortem ego pater libens adsumo pro natis
Et tormenta simul, cara ne pignora tristent.
Mortuum me cuncti gaudent habere parentes
Et sepultum nullus parvo vel funere plangit.
Vili subterrena pusillus tumulor urna,
Sed maiori possum post mortem surgere forma.
Translation:
A father, I willingly accept death for my young,
and tortures too, lest my beloved children are grieved.
All parents are glad to have me dead
and no one mourns me as I am buried or at my humble funeral.
Miniscule, I am buried underground in a cheap urn,
but I can rise after death in a greater form.
Click to show riddle solution?
A grain


Notes:

This edition is based on Karl Strecker, ed., Poetae Latini aevi Carolini, Vol. 4.2 (Berlin, MGH/Weidmann, 1923), page 741.

Line 3 follows the preferred reading in Fr. Glorie, ed., Variae collectiones aenigmatum Merovingicae aetatis, Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina 133A (Turnhout: Brepols, 1968), page 558.



Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

Lorsch Riddle 12

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Sun 25 Apr 2021
Original text:
Silva fui dudum crescens in sentibus aspris,
Lymfa [si]cut fueram decurrens clara per amnem.
Tertia pars mihimet tradenda est arte reperta.
Lucifica nigris tunc nuntio regna figuris,
Late per innumeros albos si spargas agellos,
Necnon horrifera soleo tunc tartara .....
Grammate terribili narrare vitand[a] [re]latu.
Translation:
I was once a forest, growing in rough brambles,
just as I had been clear water running down a stream.
I will reveal a third part by ingenious skill.
Then I tell of shining kingdoms with black shapes
if you scatter countless things widely across the white fields,
and yet I also often tell stories of terrible Tartarus
that must be avoided, with a terrifying stroke of the pen.
Click to show riddle solution?
Ink, book, bast, wine.


Notes:

This edition is based on Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Palatinus latinus 1753, folio 117v. You can find images of this manuscript here.



Tags: latin 

Commentary for Bern Riddle 12: De grano

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Wed 20 Jan 2021
Matching Riddle: Bern Riddle 12: De grano

One of the hallmarks of the early medieval riddle tradition is describing ordinary things in fantastic ways. A description of the humblest object can become an extraordinary drama, full of twists and turns. Our subject today, Riddle 12, is a tiny epic masterpiece. It takes the story of a cereal grain being prepared for sowing and transforms it into a tragic story of parental self-sacrifice. It is the second of a trilogy of riddles on cereal crops, along with Riddles 9 and 17.

Harvest 1
“Two men threshing, from the Calendar-Martyrology of the Abbey of de Saint-Germain-des-Prés (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Latin 12834, fol. 64v.), c. 1270. Photograph (by the Bibliothèque nationale de France) from Wikipedia Commons (public domain)

The story is a violent one, just like Bern Riddle 9, which describes milling as a massacre. Are we meant to feel sorry for the grain? After all, we are told that no one mourns it. I think we are, at least momentarily, before we realise the absurdity of it all. The death is the reaping, and the torture is the threshing and winnowing. Since this grain will eventually be sown rather than used for food, the story does not include milling for flour. The grain undergoes all these hardships so it eventually will produce a new cereal crop. However, this noble act is ignored by “all parents” (cuncti parentes), who are glad at the grain’s death. Presumably these parents are the humans, and their rejoicing is the festivals that developed around harvesting and threshing.

The grain’s burial is, as you might have already guessed, its sowing, but the reference to the vilis urna (“cheap or vile urn”) is a bit trickier to explain. In one sense, it seems to be referring to the older, pagan practice of storing the ashes of the dead in cremation urns—the ancient Romans built underground tombs, or columbaria, to store theirs. But how does this refer to agriculture? Perhaps the urn is the furrow into which the grain is sown, although you would expect this to be described as a grave.

Harvest 2
“Two men threshing, from the Luttrell Psalter (British Library, Add. 42130, f.74v), c. 1325-1335. Photograph (by the British Library) from Wikipedia Commons (licence: CC0 1.0)

After all this hardship and sadness, the plot twists dramatically in the final line. Turning the tables on its oppressors, the grain rises from the dead in the maiori forma (“greater form”) of a new cereal plant. This line also has echoes of the Resurrection of Christ—the grain, who has willingly accepted death for the sake of his children and then been entombed, now rises from death. But it would be wrong to claim that the whole riddle is an allegory for Christ, since it is hard to explain why Jesus would be pusillus (“minuscule”) or buried in an urn. Unlike many other medieval riddles, the Bern Riddles are never particularly religious, and they can be quite profane at times. In this respect, they really go against the grain.*

*Shame on me for reusing the pun from my commentary for Riddle 9.

Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

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Bern Riddle 13: De vite
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Bern Riddle 13: De vite

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Fri 27 Nov 2020
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Bern Riddle 13: De vite
Original text:
Uno fixa loco longinquis porrego victum.
Caput mihi ferrum secat et brachia truncat.
Lacrimis infecta plura per vincula nector,
Simili damnandos nece dum genero natos.
Sed defuncti solent ulcisci liberi matrem,
Sanguine dum fuso lapsis vestigia versant.
Translation:
Fixed in one place, I offer food to foreigners.
A sword cuts off my head and chops off my limbs.
Tear-stained, I am bound with many bindings,
whilst I give birth to children condemned to a similar death.
But the dead children usually avenge the mother,
and, when blood has been spilt, they subvert the footsteps of the fallen.
Click to show riddle solution?
Vine


Notes:

This edition is based on Karl Strecker, ed., Poetae Latini aevi Carolini, Vol. 4.2 (Berlin, MGH/Weidmann, 1923), page 742.

A list of variant readings can be found in Fr. Glorie, ed., Variae collectiones aenigmatum Merovingicae aetatis, Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina 133A (Turnhout: Brepols, 1968), page 559.



Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

Commentary for Bern Riddle 13: De vite

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Thu 21 Jan 2021
Matching Riddle: Bern Riddle 13: De vite

Just like the previous riddle on the cereal grain, Riddle 13 is a tiny epic. And it continues the theme of depicting the harvesting of crops as an act of extreme violence and revenge, but this time the topic is viticulture and winemaking.

In ancient Rome, wine was ubiquitous, it was drunk by all social classes and it had a unique place in Roman culture. Expensive wines were served at aristocratic banquets, soldiers received a daily ration of posca (a mixture of souring wine and water), and wealthy politicians would often distribute mulsum (“sweetened wine”) to curry favour with the plebeians. Wine was also a popular offering to many deities, and it was considered to have important medicinal properties. There is little evidence that the turmoil of the 5th and 6th centuries involved the destruction of viticulture, although the general decline in long-distance trade and the decline of urban populations in this period certainly gave wine production a more restricted and local character (Unwin, pages 122-4). In fact, when Paul the Deacon described the Goths’ conquest of Italy in his History of the Lombards, he claimed that they came because they liked the wine so much (Paul the Deacon, page 78).

Grapes
“Aleatico grapes on the vine. Photograph (by Doris Schneider) from Wikipedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 4.0)

The importance of wine in the Christian celebration of the Eucharist reinvigorated Italian viticulture, and early medieval subsistence viticulture began to be bolstered by new, monastically run vineyards. In southern Europe, wine remained the drink of all ranks of society. In the north, on the other hand, wine was largely the drink of the aristocratic and religious elites. Nevertheless, the techniques of winemaking were known in pre-Conquest England, and several vineyards operated in southern England during the 10th and 11th centuries (Unwin, pages 135-6). This is important for our understanding of the Bern Riddles, since it means that we cannot take the riddle as definite evidence that Bern was written in southern Europe.

The riddle begins by alluding to the vine’s hospitality in producing grapes, by imagining it as a custom of offering food and drink to outsiders. Yet this kindness is not returned, since the weeping vine (“the mother”) is pruned to remove the bunches of grapes (“the children”). Even worse, the new-born children are simili damnandos nece (“condemned to a similar death”). Thus, the uncontroversial act of grape harvest is transformed into a horrific tale of mutilation and infanticide.

However, as with the previous riddle, there is a twist in the last two lines. In this case, the parent’s death is avenged by the dead children. Whereas in Riddle 12 the story of the resurrected grain hinted at the Resurrection of Christ, Riddle 13’s vengeful zombie children seems to have echoes of the revenants and ghosts that were so popular in medieval folklore. When they take their revenge in the final line, blood is spilt, but it is theirs—the blood refers either to the process of squeezing and pressing the wine or to the messy drinking of the wine, and the revenge is the inebriating effect of the alcohol on humans. Thus, the children versant (“whirl about” or perhaps “pervert”) the walk of those who are literally stumbling and falling about. If there is a moral to this riddle-story, it is “watch out when you drink wine, or you might suffer the wrath of grapes.”

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Caciola, Nancy Mandeville. “Revenants, Resurrection, and Burnt Sacrifice.” Preternature: Critical and Historical Studies on the Preternatural. Volume 3 (2014). Pages 311–338.

Klein, Thomas. “Pater Occultus: The Latin Bern Riddles and Their Place in Early Medieval Riddling.” Neophilologus 103 (2019), pages 339-417.

Paul the Deacon. History of the Lombards. Edited by Edward Peters, translated by William Dudley Foulke. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1974.

Unwin, Tim. Wine and the Vine: An Historical Geography of Viticulture and the Wine Trade. London: Routledge, 1991. Pages 47-177.



Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

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Bern Riddle 12: De grano

Bern Riddle 14: De oliva

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Fri 27 Nov 2020
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Bern Riddle 14: De oliva
Original text:
Nullam ante tempus inlustrem genero prolem
Annisque peractis superbos genero natos.
Quos domare quisquis valet industria parvos,
Cum eos marinus iunctos percusserit imber.
Asperi nam lenes sic creant filii nepotes,
Tenebris ut lucem reddant, dolori salutem.
Translation:
I never give birth to noble children before my due date,
and after the years have ended, I give birth to excellent children.
Anyone can tame those little ones if they try,
whenever the sea-storm beats those siblings.
For hard sons create soft grandchildren
So that they give light to darkness and safety to trouble.
Click to show riddle solution?
Olive tree


Notes:

This edition is based on Karl Strecker, ed., Poetae Latini aevi Carolini, Vol. 4.2 (Berlin, MGH/Weidmann, 1923), page 742.

A list of variant readings can be found in Fr. Glorie, ed., Variae collectiones aenigmatum Merovingicae aetatis, Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina 133A (Turnhout: Brepols, 1968), page 560.



Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

Commentary for Bern Riddle 14: De oliva

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Thu 21 Jan 2021
Matching Riddle: Bern Riddle 14: De oliva

We have already had riddles about cereal grains and grape vines, and now it is the turn of the top of the crops—the olive tree! Olives were a key crop for many medieval Mediterranean communities, and consequently some scholars have taken this as evidence that the Bern Riddles were composed in southern Europe (see Klein, page 404). I agree that an Italian origin for the riddles is the most likely explanation, but the olive riddle is not definitive evidence—northern European Christians would be very familiar with the numerous biblical references to olives and olive trees. They would also have been familiar with olive oil, which was particularly valued as a fuel for lamps, as well as its liturgical use as holy oil. As a result, olive oil became closely connected with Christian identity and prestige, and churchmen around early medieval Europe went to great lengths to obtain it (Graham, pages 344-66). In England, it does not seem to have been used for cooking, but there is good evidence for its importation throughout the pre-Conquest medieval period (Gautier, pages 393-4).

Olive
“Olives. Photograph (by Kos) from Wikipedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0)

The first four lines play with the fact that the olives are harvested in the autumn and winter, when they begin to ripen. The parental trope so common to these riddles is used to describe how the children (i.e. the olives) are not born until the end of the year, when the “sea storm” rages, rather than in the summer and autumn like many crops. The idea that the tree’s children are “noble” (inlustris) and “excellent” (superbus) probably alludes to the anointing of kings and priests with olive oil in the Old Testament, and perhaps also its sacramental role as the chrism. Since olive trees do not need too much attention, at least when compared to grapes and grain, anyone can “tame” or “conquer” (domare) their children by cultivating and picking them.

Line 5 may relate to the process of ripening, but I think it is more likely that it refers to the process of milling, pressing, and decanting the olives (“hard sons”) to produce olive oil (“soft grandchildren”). This leads nicely into line 6, which describes the oil’s use. It can “restore light” because the oil can be used as fuel for lamps—recalling Riddle 2’s oil lamp. And it can restore salutem (“safety” or “health”)—a phrase that may allude either to oil’s use as a preservative for food and leather or its liturgical use.

This riddle is interesting in that, whilst we are very familiar with olives today, we probably attach a different sense of importance to them. In the twenty-first century, we think of olives as primarily a food and a source of cooking oil. They were used in this way in the medieval period too, but this is not mentioned—its role in artificial light was much more important. And this is another reason why olive this riddle so much!

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Gautier, Alban. “Cooking and Cuisine in Late Anglo-Saxon England.” Anglo-Saxon England, Volume 41 (2012). Pages 373-406.

Graham, Benjamin. “Olives and Lighting in Dark Age Europe.” Early Medieval Europe, Volume 28 (2020). Pages 344-366.

Klein, Thomas. “Pater Occultus: The Latin Bern Riddles and Their Place in Early Medieval Riddling.” Neophilologus 103 (2019), pages 339-417.



Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

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Bern Riddle 2: De lucerna
Bern Riddle 12: De grano
Bern Riddle 13: De vite