RIDDLE POSTS BY CONTRIBUTOR: NEVILLEMOGFORD

Bern Riddle 1: De olla

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Thu 26 Nov 2020
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Bern Riddle 1: De olla
Original text:
Ego nata duos patres habere dinoscor:
Prior semper manet; alter, qui vita finitur.
Tertia me mater duram mollescere cogit
Et tenera giro formam adsumo decoram.
Nullum dare victum frigenti corpore possum,
Calida sed cunctis salubres porrego pastos.
Translation:
I am distinguished by being the daughter of two fathers:
the first always remains; the second is limited in life.
A third, my mother, turns me from hard to soft,
and when soft, I assume a suitable form in a spin.
I can give no nourishment from a cold body,
but, when warmed, I offer up wholesome foods to everyone.
Click to show riddle solution?
Pot


Notes:

This edition is based on Karl Strecker, ed., Poetae Latini aevi Carolini, vol. 4.2 (Berlin, MGH/Weidmann, 1923), page 737-8.

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 547.



Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

Lorsch Riddle 1

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Fri 09 Apr 2021
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Lorsch Riddle 1
Original text:
Sunt mihi diverso varia sub tempore fata.
Me pater in primis fecit sine matre supremus,
Postque per alterius genitoris semen in orbem
Consatus, egrediens matris de ventre processi.
5  Ecce sub ancipiti saeclo sine fine timendo
Ultima nunc trepide vereor iam fata superstes.
Quando miser nimium gelida sub morte rigescens
Matris et in propriae gremium deponar ibique,
Usque quo mortalis claudantur tempora vitae,
10  Abditus expectem sub morte novissima fata,
Per genitorem iterum recreandus in ordine primo,
In regione poli aut mortis sine fine manendus.
Translation:
My fate changes at different times.
In the beginning, the Supreme Father made me without a mother,
and, after the seed was sown on earth by another father,
I was born from the womb of a woman.
5  Here, in a dangerous age of endless terror,
I, a surviving descendant, now tremble before ultimate destiny!
When I, a wretch stiffening in ice-cold death,
am given up into the embrace of my mother
until the times of mortal life are ended,
10  I shall wait, hidden in death, for the final fate,
ready to be recreated by the first father
and to dwell either in the region of heaven or everlasting death.
Click to show riddle solution?
Human


Notes:

This edition is based on Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Palatinus latinus 1753, folio 115r. You can find images of this manuscript here.



Tags: latin 

Commentary for Bern Riddle 1: De olla

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Fri 11 Dec 2020
Matching Riddle: Bern Riddle 1: De olla

Storms! Philosophy! God! Heaven! Humankind! These are some of the suitably epic subjects that other medieval riddle collections begin with. The first of the Bern riddles, on the other hand, is all about the humble clay pot. But this does not mean that Bern Riddle 1 is mundane. In fact, it is quite the opposite—it describes an ordinary object in very unexpected and fantastical ways.

Pottery is one of the oldest and most important human technologies. Once you learn that clay hardens when baked at high temperatures, you can create all kinds of lovely things—bowls, flasks and jugs, as well as lamps, weights and figurines, and bricks and tiles. Oh, and pots!

Late Shelly ware pot
Late Shelly ware cooking pot, manufactured using a pottery wheel in England, c.850-1000. Photo (by the Trustees of the British Museum) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 4.0)

Before I start on the riddle, here’s a very brief potted history… of pottery.

Early medieval pottery is incredibly diverse, and it varies greatly by region and time, depending on the material, design, and technologies involved. For example, in England, pottery from the 6th and 7th centuries was typically made on a small scale, shaped by hand, and fired on bonfires. The pottery wheel was introduced by the 9th century and production became more specialised. By the 10th century, a lot of pottery was produced in towns, often using techniques such as wheel-throwing and large, chimneyed kilns.

In Lombardy, where some scholars think the Bern riddles were written, the situation was more complex still, but the general pattern was the same. The turbulent 7th century brought a general decline in quality, but wheels continued to be used in many places, and the pottery industry expanded again from the 800s onwards alongside the newly expanding cities.

Shards of hand-made pottery
Shards of hand-made pottery, probably cremation urns. Lincolnshire, England c.450-600. Photo (by Adam Daubney/The Portable Antiquities Scheme/The Trustees of the British Museum) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 2.0)

Anyway, enough history—let’s get back to the riddle! As with most of the Bern riddles, it is written from the perspective of the object—a technique known as prosopopoeia. The pot riddle is the first of eleven riddles on domestic subjects, and the riddle-creator may have been influenced by chapter XX of Isidore of Seville’s very influential, 7th century encyclopedia, The Etymologies (Salvador-Bello, pages 257-8). On a less scholarly note, when I think of these riddles, I immediately think of the anthropomorphic Mrs Potts, Lumiere and co. in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Prosopopoeia is still very relevant in our culture today.


Lines 1 and 2 are all about the material of the pot. They challenge us to explain how a daughter can have two fathers, one immortal and the other mortal. Some readers will know that Latin has three genders—masculine, feminine, and neuter. In these riddles, the grammatical gender of the solution is often depicted in terms of human gender identity. For example, the Latin for pot (olla) is feminine, and so the pot becomes a daughter (nata) rather than a son (natus). The same is true about the fathers. The father who dies is probably fire (ignis) and the father who endures is probably clay (limus)—both words are grammatically masculine. Alternatively, Thomas Klein has argued that the father who dies is the maker of the pot and the father who lives is fire or heat (Klein, pages 407-8).

Lines 3 and 4 explain how the clay is softened, shaped and spun. The single word giro (literally “in a circle”) tells us that the riddler was familiar with pottery wheels—which would fit nicely with the idea that the Bern riddles were written in Italy. The mother in line three could be the hand (manus) that kneads the clay or the water that softens it (aqua). This depends on how we understand the word dura (“hard”), which can refer to either the mother or the child.

Just like the Exeter Book riddles, the Bern riddles sometimes use innuendo. Line 3 tells us that a soft thing is twisted into a “suitable form.” This reminds me of the stiþes nathwæt (“something stiff”) of Exeter Riddle 54. It also makes Bern Riddle 1 a medieval precursor to the sexy pottery scene in the popular 1990s film Ghost .


The final two lines refer to the firing of the pot in a kiln or open fire (“when warmed”), which is needed before it can feed people. The riddle then closes with the offer of food to everyone. Thanks, pot—don’t mind if I do!

Bern Riddle 1 is the perfect introduction to the Bern riddles. It contains many of the themes and motifs that we find elsewhere in the collection: children and parents, life and death, feeding and food-giving, the body, and opposites. And, just like the other riddles, it still captures our imagination today, through its uncanny knack of making ordinary objects seem extraordinary and wondrous.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

On early medieval pottery

Hamerow, Helena. “Pottery.” In The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Edited by Michael Lapidge, John Blair, Simon Keynes, and Donald Scragg, Second Edition. Chichester: Whiley-Blackwell, 2014. pages 381-3

Wickham, Chris. Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. pages 728-741

On the riddle

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

Röösli, Samuel. “The Pot, the Broom, and Other Humans: Concealing Material Objects in the Bern Riddles.” In Secrecy and Surveillance in Medieval and Early Modern England. Edited by Annette Kern-Stähler & Nicole Nyffenegger. Swiss Papers in English Language and Literature (SPELL), Vol. 37 (Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 2020), pages 87-104.

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



Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

Related Posts:
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 54
Bern Riddle 1: De olla

Commentary for Lorsch Riddle 1

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Mon 07 Jun 2021
Matching Riddle: Lorsch Riddle 1

This is my first commentary on the Lorsch Riddles. And it is fair to say that it is about time!

No—what I mean is that the riddle is about time! The speaker and the likely solution are “humankind.” But the real focus is Christian world-time. It begins with Adam and Eve on the sixth day of Creation (line 2), and then turns to human life on earth (lines 3-6) and in the grave (lines 7-9), before moving to the Final Judgement (lines 10-11) and ending with the soul in eternal bliss or damnation (line 12). If I had to sum this riddle up in a song lyric, it would be The Bangles’ “Time, time, time.”

“Time, time, time…”

Meditations on the nature of humankind’s place in Christian time are extremely common in the early medieval period. You can find them in all kinds of forms and genres, from letters and poems to prayers and homilies, and from theological and hagiographical texts to charters and legal texts. Such meditations typically contrast the mutable and unpredictable times of now with the fixity and stability of the future world to come in heaven.

A good example of a meditation on time appears in one of my favourite medieval Latin poems, The Destruction of Lindisfarne, written by the eighth century Northumbrian churchman and scholar, Alcuin of York.

Quid iam plura canam? Marcescit tota iuventus,
Iam perit atque cadit corporis omne decus…
Hic variat tempus, nil non mutabile cernis:
Illic una dies semper erit, quod erit.
[What more shall I now write? All youth withers,
all material beauty fades and falls…
Over here, time changes and everything you see is changeable.
Over there, one day is always what it will be.]
–Alcuin. The Destruction of Lindisfarne, lines 111-2, 121-2.

These kinds of sentiments usually have a moralistic and didactic purpose. You may already know about memento mori, the motif in medieval and modern art where the reader, viewer, or listener is reminded of their own death, with the intention that they should correct their sins before it is too late. For example, the following extract from the Old English poem, The Seafarer, reminds the reader that they should put their wealth to good use when still living, because gold will not save one’s soul at the Last Judgement.

Ne mæg þære sawle þe biþ synna ful
gold to geoce for godes egsan,
þonne he hit ær hydeð þenden he her leofað.
[If they have already hidden it whilst they live here, gold cannot help the soul full of sin in the face of the terrible might of God.]
The Seafarer, lines 100-102.

I get a very similar vibe from today’s riddle. It is a moralistic work, with lots of terror and dread, warning the reader that their time on earth is short. Of course, some might dispute that it is a riddle at all! However, as I hope to show you, it still has some playful and riddle-like aspects to it.

Alcuin2
”The author of The Destruction of Lindisfarne, Alcuin (middle), along with his student, Hrabanus Maurus (left), and Archbishop Otgar of Mainz (right), from a mid-ninth century Frankish manuscript, Wien, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, cod.652, fol. 2v. Photo from Wikimedia Commons (public domain)”

The riddle—if we can all agree to call it that—begins with the explanation that the speaker’s “fates” (fata) are changeable. This doesn’t mean that each individual will have a different fate, but rather that humankind as a whole passes through different “fates”—from the start to the end of the world and beyond. #LatinGrammar fans will notice that this is described using the dative of possession (mihi), which is also used widely in the Bern Riddles.

Riddles often talk about family relations—they give us an ostensibly extraordinary example of parentage and then challenge us to explain it. In this tradition, line 2 tells us about a “pater supremus” (supreme father), who created his child without a mother. As you may have already realised, this father is God, who created Adam from the earth’s soil on the sixth day of Creation.

Adam
“Eve and Adam in the Garden of Eden, from an early 14th century French illustrated manuscript, British Library Additional 10292, folio 31 verso. Photograph from The British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts ((licence: CC0 1.0)”


The next two lines jump forward to the world after the Fall of Adam and Eve, when human mothers and fathers are creating more and more children! The riddle describes this as if it were a single instance of childbirth. Of course, the riddle is really about a whole host of births throughout the generations, viewed across the whole panorama of human time. This is a very nice example of synecdoche (pronounce it “se neck dockie”)—the use of a part to describe a whole. Intriguingly, Patrizia Lendinara has suggested (page 80) that the reference to semen (“seed”) in line 3 is a bilingual pun on the Old English word sæd (“seed”) and the name of one of Adam’s sons, Seth. However, I’m not sure that I am entirely convinced!

Line 4 includes a word that crops up in several other medieval riddle collections—venter (“belly, womb, bowels”). In other riddles, this word can refer figuratively to all kinds of things, such as the heat of a spark (Aldhelm Riddle 93) or the holes of a sponge (Bern Riddle 32). However, the Lorsch riddle uses this in an entirely conventional way to describe a human womb. You could even say that this conventional use is itself unconventional in riddling terms. Karl Mist, who rendered this riddle into German in the Corpus Christianorum Series Latina edition of the riddles, translated this section in terms of an extended metaphor about a plant, but in fact there is very little metaphorical language used here—it is all quite literal.

Lines 5 and 6 describe the perils of the human age: today’s living humans are superstites (“ancestors, survivors”), who live in a turbulent world of fear and dread. The riddle describes how they “bristle at” or “stiffen in” (rigescere) “ice-cold death” (gelida sub morte). This phrase may refer to the corpse in rigor mortis, or alternatively to the paralysing fear in the horrifying face of death. Whatever it means, it is very memento mori!

Lines 8, 9 and 10 describe the body lying in the grave, hidden and waiting to be resurrected at the end of the world. Line 8 invites us to guess the identity of the mother who embraces the corpse. I am pretty sure that she is the earth, from whose soil the first man and woman are created in Genesis 2:7—the Latin terra (“earth”) is a feminine noun.

Judgement
“The Last Judgement, from a mid-13th century Apocalypse, Bodleian Library, MS. Douce 181 (“The Douce Apocalypse”), folio 57 recto (page 89).. Photograph from Digital Bodleian (licence: CC BY-NC 4.0)

The final lines look towards the last Judgement, the time in the future when Christians believe God will resurrect and then judge the dead. Here, the riddle comes full circle as the father “recreates” (recreare) his children, before sending them off to everlasting bliss or annihilation. This cyclical motif is somewhat different to the usual, linear way of thinking about Christian world, i.e., as a long line from one point (“the creation of the world”) to another (“the end of the world”).

So, there we have it—a miniature panorama of Christian world-time in 12 lines! It isn’t the most cryptic of riddles, but it rather nicely grafts the cyclic motif of birth onto linear Christian time.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

“Aenigma Laureshamensia [Lorsch Riddle] 1” in Tatuini Opera Omnia. Edited by Fr. Glorie. Translated by Karl Minst. Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 133. Turnholt: Brepols, 1958. Page 347.

“The Seafarer.” In George Philip Krapp, & Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie (eds.), The Exeter Book, The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records: A Collective Edition. Volume 3. New York: Columbia UP, 1936.

Alcuin of York. “The Destruction of Lindisfarne.” In Peter Godman (ed. & trans.), Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985. Pages 126–39 (133).

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



Tags: latin 

Bern Riddle 2: De lucerna

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Thu 26 Nov 2020
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Bern Riddle 2: De lucerna
Original text:
Me mater novellam vetus de germine finxit
Et in nullo patris formata sumo figuram.
Oculi non mihi lumen ostendere possunt,
Patulo sed flammas ore produco coruscas.
Nolo me contingat imber nec flamina venti.
Sum amica lucis, domi delector in umbras.
Translation:
My old mother formed me fresh from a seed,
and when born, I take a form unlike my father.
Eyes cannot show me the light,
but I produce trembling flames from an open mouth.
I do not wish to meet with the rain or a blast of wind.
I am a friend of light, most pleasing in the shadows at home.
Click to show riddle solution?
Lamp


Notes:

This edition is based on Karl Strecker, ed., Poetae Latini aevi Carolini, Vol. 4.2 (Berlin, MGH/Weidmann, 1923), page 738.

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 548.



Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

Lorsch Riddle 2

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Wed 21 Apr 2021
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Lorsch Riddle 2
Original text:
Dum domus ipsa mea dormit, vigilare suesco
Atque sub angusto tenear cum carcere semper,
Liber ad aetheream transcendo frequentius aulam,
Alta supernorum scrutans secreta polorum.
5  Omnia quin potius perlustro creata sub orbe,
Rura peragro salumque peto, tunc litora linquens
Finibus inmensum fundum rimabor abyssi.
Horrifera minime pertranseo claustra Gehennae,
Ignea perpetuae subeo sed Tartara Ditis.
10  Haec modico peragro speleo si claudar in arvis,
Mortifero concussa ruant ni ergastula casu.
Sin vero propria dire de sede repellor,
Mortis in occasu extimplo fio pulpa putrescens.
Sic sunt fata mea diversa a patre creata.
Translation:
When my house sleeps, I am usually awake,
and although I am always held in a narrow jail,
I am free to ascend to the celestial palace very often,
exploring the lofty mysteries of the high heavens.
5  In fact, I travel past all created things on earth,
I wander the countryside and I head for the sea, and then, leaving the coast,
I will explore the limits of the vast depths of the abyss.
I will not pass through the terrible gates of Gehenna,
but I will enter the fiery Tartarus of everlasting Dis.
10  If I am locked away on earth, I will wander from the tiny cave through these places
unless, shaken by deadly chance, the prisons should collapse.
But if I am forced unluckily from my own residence,
in the event of death, I immediately become rotting flesh.
In such ways, my father fashioned my various fates.
Click to show riddle solution?
Heart, mind, soul.


Notes:

This edition is based on Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Palatinus latinus 1753, folio 115r. You can find images of this manuscript here.



Tags: latin 

Commentary for Bern Riddle 2: De lucerna

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Fri 18 Dec 2020
Matching Riddle: Bern Riddle 2: De lucerna

In the last riddle, we met a rather unusual pot. Now, we get to meet the pot’s equally unusual half-sister—the lamp.

The first rule of medieval studies is: 'You do not talk about “The Dark Ages.”' The second rule of medieval studies is: 'You do not talk about “The Dark Ages.”' This is because the term suggests that the Middle Ages were a time of great ignorance or mystery—and, for the most part, they weren’t!

via GIPHY

But, for the sake of an awful joke, I am going to break all the rules. So, I will introduce this commentary by saying: “If you're living in the Dark Ages, you’re going to need a good lamp.”

There is some truth to this. In early medieval Europe, candles and oil lamps were an important source of illumination for all kinds of people, from night-watchmen to manuscript-reading nuns, and they held great cultural and religious significance too. So, it should come as no surprise that riddles were written about them. One early riddler, Symphosius, wrote a lantern riddle (Symphosius Riddle 67). Another, Aldhelm of Malmesbury, wrote a riddle on the candle (Aldhelm Riddle 52).

Like many other Bern riddles, we are expected to guess the identity if the speaker’s mother and father. The obvious choice for a father is fire (ignis), whose flickering form is different to the shining appearance of the lamp. The “old mother” (vetus mater) is a bit trickier. She could be heat (calor) or a candle (candela) from which it is lit, since both of which are grammatically feminine. Another possibility is the olive (oliva) from which the fuel is made. The “seed” (germen) from which the lamp is formed is probably the “spark” (scintilla) from which it is lit.

Line 4 tells us that the flame comes from an “open mouth” (patulo… ore). This would strongly suggest an oil lamp, which burns its fuel using a wick, which sticks out of a hole in the lamp’s body.

Roman oil lamp
Roman oil lamp from the Museu Nacional Arqueològic de Tarragona. Photo (by Ángel M. Felicísimo) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 2.0)

Line 5 explains that the lamp is useless if it gets extinguished by the wind or rain. To protext their flames from the elements, lamps were sometimes housed in storm-lanterns constructed from glass or thin, scraped animal horn. Isidore of Seville mentions glass lanterns in his 7th century encyclopedia, The Etymologies (page 402). Similarly, Alfred the Great’s bibliographer, Asser, tells an elaborate story of how Alfred is said to have ordered a special lantern to be made of wood and ox-horn, since his candle-clock kept on being blown out by the wind (Keynes and Lapidge, page 108). Alfred was certainly not the first person to think of this—horn lamps were used from antiquity. The oldest example in Britain was discovered in the summer of 2010, when a metal detector enthusiast found a bronze Roman lamp in a field near Sunbury, Suffolk. Originally, this lantern would have been surrounded by a thin layer of scraped horn.

But why am I talking about storm-lanterns here? After all, they are conspicuously absent in Bern Riddle 2. Well, the lamp is trying to draw our attention to another riddle, Bern Riddle 59. This riddle depicts the moon as if it were a lantern, protected by a special “shell” (testudo). The shell protects it from “rain, snow, frost, ice, and lightning” (imber, nix, pruina, glacies… fulgora) (line 5). When we read the two riddles together, we see that the moon—which is unaffected by the weather—is a better source of light than the lamp is!

Crescent moon
Crescent or “horned” moon. Photo (by Nirupam Sarker) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 4.0)

It gets even more complicated when you realise that this is also a response to another riddle, Symphosius Riddle 67, which depicts a lantern as if it were the moon. The conceit is that the lantern is made of horn and the moon is “horned.” We will return to this riddle in the commentary for Bern Riddle 59.

The final line of Bern Riddle 2 is also speaking to yet another riddle. It calls the lamp a ‘friend of light’ (amica lucis). This phrase is also used (in a very different way) to describe the papyrus in Bern Riddle 27. Papyrus was a common wicking material in lamps—filling the hole of line 4.

So, there we have it! Riddle 2 starts off with the puzzle of the lamp’s parentage, and it ends with a series of intertextual puzzles. And this is one of the fascinating things about medieval riddles—they are always whispering to each other. And if we listen carefully, we can hear them chatter.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Isidore of Seville. The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville. Edited by Stephen A. Barney, W. J. Lewis, J. A. Beach and Oliver Berghof. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Keynes, Simon and Lapidge, Michael, eds. and trans. Alfred the Great: Asser's Life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983.

Mogford, Neville. “The Moon and Stars in the Bern and Eusebius Riddles” in Riddles at Work in the Early Medieval Tradition: Words, Ideas, Interactions. Edited by Megan Cavell and Jennifer Neville. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020.

Symphosius, “Riddle 67” in The Aenigmata: An introduction, Text, and Commentary. Edited by T. J. Leary (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), pages 47 & 183-4.



Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

Related Posts:
Bern Riddle 2: De lucerna
Bern Riddle 58: De luna

Commentary for Lorsch Riddle 2

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Mon 07 Jun 2021
Matching Riddle: Lorsch Riddle 2
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Just like the Exeter Book riddles, the Lorsch riddles do not provide their solutions. But if you asked today’s riddle creature what it was, it might tell you “I’m a soul, man.”


On the other hand, it might implore you to “listen to your heart!”


This is because there are two slightly different solutions for this riddle. Fr Glorie (page 348) titles it De anima (“On the soul”) and Patrizia Lendinara (page 75) calls it mens vel animus (“mind or soul”). However, Ernst Dümmler (page 21) and Leslie Lockett (page 275) prefer De corde (“On the heart”), because the heart—rather than the brain—was thought to be responsible for thoughts and emotions. According to Lockett, although the riddle subject is rather like medieval depictions of the soul, it also “possesses characteristics that are antithetical to the nature of the immortal anima” (page 277). In this commentary, I assume that cor (“heart”) or mens (“mind”) is the more likely solution—but feel free to disagree!

Heart
”Hearts! Photo (by Eric Chan) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY 2.0)

The riddle begins by reversing the idea that people sleep in houses—it describes the heart-mind as “being awake” (vigilare) whilst the body, as a “house” (domus), sleeps. The image of the mind as eternally awake has several Biblical parallels. Several scholars have noticed the parallel with a line from the Song of Songs: Ego dormio, et cor meum vigilat (“I sleep, and my heart is awake”). Another analogue can be found in the Pauline Epistles, which contain several references to sleep and wakefulness. For example, in 1 Thessalonians, Paul compares the coming of Christianity to the morning’s first light and urges his readers, Non dormiamus sicut caeteri, sed vigilemus (“Let us not sleep as the others do but rather be awake”). This then leads to his famous command to those who are awake: sine intermissione orate! (“pray without ceasing!”). These ideas of constant wakefulness in prayer were extremely influential in the development of monasticism. They developed into the monastic concept of meditative prayer, where the active mind repeated biblical passages, even as the body appeared to be asleep. If the riddler was writing within a monastic context, which is quite likely, then the image of the wakeful heart-mind will have resonated in this way.

The second and third lines contrast an angustus carcer (“narrow or unpleasant jail”) with a “celestial palace” (aetherea aura), which sets up the apparent paradox that the heart-mind is simultaneously enclosed and free. This paradox is later repeated in line 10. #LatinGrammar fans will note that the riddler uses the subjunctive present in the first clause—I found it easier to translate it as a regular infinitive, rather than a potential subjunctive (“I should always be…”) or a wishful one (“I should always be…”).

Heaven
”God and angels in Heaven, from the amazing, early 11th century manuscript, Bodleian Library MS. Junius 11, page 3. Photo from Digital Bodleian (licence: CC BY-NC 4.0)”

The riddle then devotes several lines to the wandering of the heart-mind across all places on earth and sea, as well as across heaven and earth. At first glance, lines like this seem to suggest that the riddle is about the soul, since the idea of the swift and far-ranging soul is a common one. Lendinara (pages 74-5) links this to a short treatise on the human soul by Alcuin of York, the ninth century Northumbrian scholar.

Nec etiam aliquis potest satis admirari, quod sensus ille vivus atque caelestis, qui mens vel animus nuncupatur, tantae mobilitatis est, ut ne tum quidem, cum sopitus est, conquiescat: tantae celeritatis, ut uno temporis puncto caelum collustret, et si velit, maria pervolet, terras et urbes peragret…

[And one cannot wonder enough that the living and divine faculty, which is called ‘mind’ or ‘soul,’ is so fast that it does not even rest when it sleeps. It is so quick that at one moment in time it might survey the sky, and if it wishes, it flies across the seas, and crosses lands and towns.]
—Alcuin, De ratione animae

To me at least, this description does seem very similar to the riddle! However, Leslie Lockett, who knows an awful lot about medieval concepts of mind and soul, has pointed out that the riddle contains an apparent paradox (page 278). On the one hand, the subject does not pass through horrifera… claustra Gehennae (“the terrible gates of Gehenna”). On the other, it enters ignea perpetuae…Tartara Ditis (“the fiery Tatarus of everlasting Dis). Note that both terms are synonyms for Hell. So, how can the soul not cross into Hell and yet still visit it? Well, the paradox can be resolved when we apply it to the heart-mind, which “travels” to Hell in its thoughts, but never physically “crosses over” into it. Clever, right?

Hell2
”The entrance to Hell, also from Bodleian Library MS. Junius 11, page 3. Photo from Digital Bodleian (licence: CC BY-NC 4.0)”

With all this in mind, another possible analogue is the Old English poem, The Seafarer. It depicts the wandering heart-mind of a man who has undergone a life of hardship and eventually found inner peace at sea.

Forþon nu min hyge hweorfeð ofer hreþerlocan,
min modsefa mid mereflode
ofer hwæles eþel hweorfeð wide,
eorþan sceatas…

[And so, my mind—my inner heart—now wanders widely beyond the breast-locker, through the ocean, across the whale’s homeland and the corners of the earth…]
The Seafarer, lines 58-61a.

Something similar occurs in another Old English poem, The Wanderer.

Cearo bið geniwad
þam þe sendan sceal swiþe geneahhe
ofer waþema gebind werigne sefan.

[Cares return for he who must send a weary heart across the mix of waves very often.]
The Wanderer, lines 55b-27

These lines, and others like them in Old English verse, offer a plausible context for Lorsch Riddle 2. According to Lockett, the riddle “offers a rare example of Anglo-Latin descriptive discourse focused on the nature of the mind-in-the-heart” (page 279). Thus, she prefers to solve the riddle with the Old English word breostsefa (heart-mind). Another scholar, James Paz agrees, and argues that this riddle—and its Old English analogues—show how easily poets made the connection between mental activities and natural phenomena (pages 202-3). According to him, Lorsch Riddle 2 demonstrates that “the boundary that divided human interiority from the external nonhuman world was porous and permeable.”

The final lines of the riddle tell us that the heart-mind becomes pulpa putrescens (“rotting flesh”) at death. This strongly suggests that soul is not the correct solution, since, according to the Christian belief, the soul does not perish with the death of the body. The riddle then closes in a very similar way to the opening of Lorsch Riddle 1, by telling us that its subject has various “fates.”

Whatever the solution of this riddle, the problem of mind and body seems to be at the heart of the poem. In my opinion, the central paradox is between how we let our thoughts run away to all kinds of places, and how they always remain in one place. One can go on the most fantastic journeys in one’s own mind, and yet we can never escape the material body. Is it just me, or is there is something very modern about the riddle’s approach to the concept of mind…?


Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

“Aenigma Laureshamensia [Lorsch Riddle] 2” in Tatuini Opera Omnia. Edited by Fr. Glorie. Translated by Karl Minst. Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 133. Turnholt: Brepols, 1958. Page 348.

“The Seafarer” & “The Wanderer.” In George Philip Krapp, & Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie (eds.), The Exeter Book, The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records: A Collective Edition. Volume 3. New York: Columbia UP, 1936.

Alcuin of York. “De ratione animae.” In Alcuini Opera Omnia. Edited by Jacques Paul Migne. Volume 2. Paris: Migne, 1863. 639A-650D. Available here.

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

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

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

Paz, James. “Mind, Mood and Meteorology in Exeter Book Riddles 1-3.” In Megan Cavell & Jennifer Neville (eds.), Riddles at Work in the Anglo-Saxon Tradition: Words, Ideas, Interactions. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020. Pages 193-209.



Tags: latin 

Bern Riddle 3: De sale

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Thu 26 Nov 2020
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Bern Riddle 3: De sale
Original text:
Me pater ignitus, ut nascar, creat urendo,
Et pia defectu me mater donat ubique.
Is, qui dura soluit, hic me constringere cogit.
Nullus me solutam, ligatam cuncti requirunt.
Opem fero vivis opemque reddo defunctis;
Patria me sine mundi nec ulla valebit.
Translation:
My fiery father brings about my birth by burning,
and my dutiful mother gives me away everywhere in her absence.
He who unbinds hard things forces me to bind together.
No one needs me loose; everyone needs me bound.
I bring help to the living and I give help to the deceased.
No worldly homeland will thrive without me.
Click to show riddle solution?
Salt


Notes:

This edition is based on Karl Strecker, ed., Poetae Latini aevi Carolini, Vol. 4.2 (Berlin, MGH/Weidmann, 1923), page 738.

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 549.



Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

Lorsch Riddle 3

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Thu 22 Apr 2021
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Lorsch Riddle 3
Original text:
De mare velivolo consurgo, per aera trano,
Aurea luciflui cedunt cui sidera caeli,
Postea horrifera ventorum mole revincor,
Sicca peto subito terrarum terga resolvens,
Atque sub ingenti repeto sic murmure pontum,
Ast tamen imbrifero perfundo gurgite mundum,
Unde valet populis spissam producere messem.
Translation:
I rise from the swift sea, I sail through the air,
where the golden stars of the glorious sky travel,
and then I am checked by the terrible power of the winds,
and suddenly, escaping, I head for the dry surface of the earth,
and I fall upon the sea with a great crash,
yet I flood the earth with rainy waters,
from which it can cultivate a fat harvest for the people.
Click to show riddle solution?
Water, cloud


Notes:

This edition is based on Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Palatinus latinus 1753, folio 115v. You can find images of this manuscript here.



Tags: latin 

Commentary for Bern Riddle 3: De sale

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Fri 18 Dec 2020
Matching Riddle: Bern Riddle 3: De sale

For this riddle, we turn to sodium chloride—or plain ol’ salt.

For the third riddle in a row, we are asked to work out who the father and the mother are in the opening lines. The father is probably the sun, who heats up the sea water, leaving a residue of salt. The mother is the sea water (aqua marina), who ‘gives away’ salt-marks with the ebbing tide. Thus, salt is the child of a curious marriage between two opposing elements—fire and water. The riddler may have also had an etymological connection in mind—according to Isidore, some people thought that sal (‘salt’) was derived from salum (“ocean”) and sol (“sun”) (Isidore, Etymologies, page 318).

Lines 3 and 4 play upon the dissolving and precipitating of salt in water—the Latin words used are solvere (‘to loosen’) and constingere (‘to tie up’) from which we get the modern words ‘solution’ and ‘constrict.’ The processes of binding and unbinding are often used in riddle descriptions, probably because they can also describe the process of composing (“binding”) and solving (“unbinding”) riddles. For example, the mousetrap in Bern Riddle 40 is described as soluta (“unbound”) when it is not set to catch mice.

Lines 5 and 6 focus on the usefulness of salt for humans. Salt was used extensively as a flavouring and as a food preservative for food during the Middle Ages. Cheeses, meats, fish, and many vegetables could all be salted and then stored for several weeks or even months. In a world without fridges, this made salt an indispensable resource for many communities, and so the salt industry and trade were extremely important. So much so, in fact, that this riddle tells us that a country cannot flourish without it. Salt was also used to prevent cadavers from swelling—and this explains the reference to the deceased in line 5.

This is certainly not the most original or inventive riddle in the Bern collection—it is not as playfully metaphorical or outlandishly weird as some of the others. But it does tell us a lot about the importance of salt in early medieval Europe. It also still manages to disguise its subject in some very creative ways… and no riddle worth its salt would do otherwise.

Salt 2
“Medieval salt.” Photo by Neville Mogford.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Isidore of Seville. The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville. Edited by Stephen A. Barney, W. J. Lewis, J. A. Beach and Oliver Berghof. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

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



Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

Related Posts:
Bern Riddle 40: De muscipula

Commentary for Lorsch Riddle 3

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Mon 07 Jun 2021
Matching Riddle: Lorsch Riddle 3

This cirrus-ly great riddle will have you on cloud nine, because it is bursting with great material.

Now that I have got the burning urge to pun out of my system, we can turn to the riddle itself! The last riddle was all about one wandering thing—the mind. This one is about another—a cloud. Just like last time, this riddle depends on the paradox of a thing that is both free and bound or imprisoned—this is a recurrent theme in Lorsch. On the one hand, the cloud is free to wander, lonely as a…erm, cloud. On the other, its movements are governed entirely by the winds.

Clouds were common topics for medieval riddlers. The seventh century churchman and poet, Aldhelm, wrote a riddle (No. 3) on the subject—it depicts the cloud as a sad exile who weeps rain across the world. He also mentions clouds in several other riddles. And the Bern riddles include at least one riddle—and possibly two—on the subject.

Cloud 10
”Cumulus clouds. Photo (by Joaquim Alves Gaspar) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0)”

The riddle begins with the image of the evaporating water rising from the ocean to form clouds. The unusual verb velivolare (“to fly or sail speedily”) and the mention of the golden stars all contribute to a rather picturesque and ethereal image—in my mind’s eye, I see it as an ethereal scene from a Studio Ghibli film. The inclusion of the stars in this poetic landscape also helps to create a larger ecosystem of the heavens as a whole.

Eagle-eyed members of #LatinGrammarFanclub will have noticed that line 1 of my edition is slightly different to Glorie’s edition. He emended the manuscript aera (“air, the lower atmosphere”) to aethra (“the heavens, the upper atmosphere”), but there was no need, since aera is a regular accusative form of aer.

The freedom of the clouds to sail around the sky is rudely “checked” (vincere) in line three by the horrifera ventorum mole (“terrible power of the winds”). In an effort to escape this, the water escapes to sicca… terrarum terga (“the dry surface of the earth”). The word resolvens (“releasing, unbinding, resolving”) describes how the rain frees itself from the wind’s power as rain, but it also plays on the idea of solving and resolving riddles. The words solvere and resolvere occur frequently in medieval riddles—they operate as a kind of meta-vocabulary, linking the actions described in the riddle to the way that a riddle is read. For some other examples of this, see my commentaries on Bern Riddles 3 and 40.

Rain 10
”Rain! Photo (by Mohamed Hozyen) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 4.0)”

In line 6, the phrase ast tamen (“yet, nevertheless”) signals a change of focus from the natural to the human. The riddle explains that the raincloud is useful for humans, since it provides the waters required for populis spissam... messem (“a fat harvest for the people”). This reminds me of the rather excellent Bern Riddle 49, which describes humans’ contradictory feelings about rain.

Although it is perfectly acceptable to give this riddle the solution “cloud,” it is a miniature panorama of the water cycle. It depicts this using the established riddle tropes of freedom and restraint. Perhaps it is not the most unconventional riddle, but it is still enough to brighten up a rainy day.

Tags: latin 

Related Posts:
Exeter Riddle 39
Bern Riddle 3: De sale
Bern Riddle 40: De muscipula
Bern Riddle 55: De sole
Bern Riddle 60: De caelo

Bern Riddle 4: De scamno

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Thu 26 Nov 2020
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Bern Riddle 4: De scamno
Original text:
Mollibus horresco semper consistere locis,
Ungula nam mihi firma, si caute ponatur.
Nullum, iter agens, sessorem dorso requiro:
Plures fero libens, meo dum stabulo versor.
Nulla frena mihi mansueto iuveni pendas,
Calcibus et senem nolo me verberes ullis.
Translation:
I always dread to stand in squishy places,
for I have a firm hoof if it is carefully placed.
I do not need anyone to sit on my back when travelling:
I happily carry many while I dwell in my ‘stable.’
Do not hang bridles on me, tamed as a youth!
And as an oldie, I do not want you to kick me!
Click to show riddle solution?
Bench


Notes:

This edition is based on Karl Strecker, ed., Poetae Latini aevi Carolini, Vol. 4.2 (Berlin, MGH/Weidmann, 1923), page 739.

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 550.



Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

Lorsch Riddle 4

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Thu 22 Apr 2021
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Lorsch Riddle 4
Original text:
Me pater ex gelido generat dum tergore matris
Quamdiu horriferis ipsam complectitur halitis
Magna sub ingenti mihimet patre corpora surgunt,
Donec ipse prius fato terrente recedat
Aestibus aetheris sole vaporante fugatus.
Tunc ego morte cadens propriam progigno parentem,
Tempore post iterum haut multo gignenda per ipsam.
Translation:
While my father sires me from the icy skin of my mother,
as he surrounds her with terrible vapours,
huge bodies rise beneath my mighty father,
until he himself must soon retreat from a terrifying fate,
chased away by the sky’s heat as the sun burns.
Then, dying, I beget my own mother,
and I will soon be born to her again.
Click to show riddle solution?
Snow, ice


Notes:

This edition is based on Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Palatinus latinus 1753, folio 115v. You can find images of this manuscript here.

“Hali[ti]s” (line 2) follows Dümmler, Ernst. Poetae Latini aevi Carolini. Volume 1, MGH. Berlin: Weidmann, 1881. Page 21.



Tags: latin 

Commentary for Bern Riddle 4: De scamno

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Fri 18 Dec 2020
Matching Riddle: Bern Riddle 4: De scamno

Imagine you are a lovely horse. You happily grow old in your stable, and you like to carry people on your back. But you don’t like being kicked, wearing bridles, or walking on soft ground. Then, one fateful day, you catch a glimpse of yourself in a mirror and—to your horror!—you discover that you aren’t a horse at all. You are… a wooden bench!

Horsebench
“A real-life horse-bench by the artist Lucy Casson.” Photo (by Neville Mogford) from Geograph (licence: CC BY-SA 2.0)

This is one of my all-time favourite riddles. It describes a stool or bench that thinks it is a horse. It begins by talking about soft or squishy places (mollibus locis), which makes one think of the difficulties that horses can have in marshy ground. The verb consistere (“to stand”) can also mean to harden or solidify, which seems to be the link with the previous riddle on salt.

So far, so horsey.

But then lines 3 and 4 complicate things, by describing a special kind of ‘horse’ who goes out riding without a human rider, and yet loves to carry people in the stable. Line 5 explains that the bench is tame, since it will never buck its rider, and yet obstinate, in that it does not accept a harness. The final line uses the idea of kicking a mature horse (it is unclear whether this refers to the use of the spurs of a form of animal abuse) to describe the damage that can be incurred on furniture from swinging heels.

Riddles like this one are all about seeing one thing as if it were another. Like all metaphors, they are based around common features. One can find this technique in all kinds of riddles from all kinds of places and periods. Among the most innovative examples I have come across recently are a modern Yorùbá riddle from western Africa that describes a road as a coffin and travellers as corpses (Akinyemi, page 37), an ancient Greek riddle that describes a flute as a ship and the fingers as sailors (The Greek Anthology, page 35, number 14), and a medieval Persian riddle that depicts a jar of beer as a beautiful woman (Seyed-Gohrab, page 30).

In the case of Bern Riddle 4, several common features are mentioned: horses and benches are both sat upon, they both have a ‘home’ inside etc. The most obvious similarity between the two—that horses and benches have four feet—is not mentioned. The riddle also mentions dissimilar features. These are used to reveal that the eccentric horse is actually a bench. In this way, the riddle is a little bit like an optical illusion such as the famous “duck-rabbit” image.

DuckRabbit
“Duck Rabbit. Image (by unknown) from Wikipedia Original from the 23rd October 1892 issue of Fliegende Blätter.”

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

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

Akínyẹmí, Akíntúndé. Orature and Yorùbá Riddles. London: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2015.

Seyed-Gohrab, A. A. Courtly Riddles: Enigmatic Embellishments in Early Persian Poetry. Leiden: Leiden University Press, 2010.



Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

Related Posts:
Bern Riddle 4: De scamno

Commentary for Lorsch Riddle 4

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Mon 07 Jun 2021
Matching Riddle: Lorsch Riddle 4

As we all know, riddles are innately cool. So, it is no surprise that there are lots of medieval riddles about cool things like snow and ice. The late-antique riddler, Symphosius, wrote a riddle about ice (No. 10) that begins unda fui quondam (“I was a wave once…”). The Bern riddler wrote at least one, and probably two, riddles about ice. And the eighth century archbishop, Tatwine of Canterbury, wrote a very interesting riddle (No. 15) that describes snow, hail and ice as three short-lived sisters. There are non-Latin riddles too. The Old English Exeter Book Riddles 68 and 69 are almost certainly about ice. And the solution for a particularly outlandish Old Norse riddle (No. 25) from the Heithreksgátur is “a dead horse and dead snake riding on an ice-floe.”

Ice
”The underwater structure of an iceberg. Photo (by Andreas Weith) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 4.0)”

Our riddle begins with a sub-riddle, which challenges us to guess the identity of the ice’s parents. This is very common for ice-themed riddles: Tatwine does something similar in his riddle, as does the Bern riddler. It seems likely that the mother is water (aqua) and the father is either “cold” (gelus) or “winter” (hiems), just as in Bern Riddle 38.

In line 2, the manuscript gives horriferis… halis (“with terrible toes”), which doesn’t seem right! Dümmler’s MGH edition emends this to horriferis… hal[it]is (“with terrible vapours or breath”) and Glorie’s edition emends this to horriferis… alis (“with terrible wings”). I find Dümmler’s version more plausible—the “breath” of the father is the “breath” of cold, which “surround” or “embraces” (complecti) the water to turn it into ice. The riddler may also have had in mind the image of a father with terrible breath embracing his female partner.

At this point, I need to sound the innuendo alert! Line 3 describes the growing mass of ice as magna… corpora (“huge bodies”) which “rise up” (surgunt) beneath the father. However, these bodies chased away by the sun in lines 4 and 5. As the melting ice dies, she tells us that she will later give birth to her mother again. This kind cyclic “I create my own parent” motif—along with its incestuous implications—is a medieval riddling commonplace. In fact, Bern Riddle 38 uses something very similar to describe ice too. Did the Lorsch riddler know the Bern riddle, or vice versa? The way icy it, the answer is quite possibly yes!

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Dümmler, Ernst. Poetae latini aevi Carolini. Volume 1. MGH. Berlin: Weidmann, 1881. Page 21.

Fr. Glorie (ed.). “Aenigma Laureshamensia” in Tatuini Opera Omnia. Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 133. Turnholt: Brepols, 1958. Page 348.

Tatwine of Canterbury. “Aenigma 15.” In Fr. Glorie (ed.). Variae collectiones aenigmatum Merovingicae aetatis. Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina 133. Turnhout: Brepols, 1968, Page 182.



Tags: latin 

Related Posts:
Exeter Riddles 68 and 69
Bern Riddle 38: De glacie
Bern Riddle 42: De glacie

Bern Riddle 5: De mensa

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Thu 26 Nov 2020
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Riddle 5: De mensa
Original text:
Pulchra mater ego natos dum collego multos,
Cunctis trado libens quicquid in pectore gesto,
Oscula nam mihi prius qui cara dederunt,
Vestibus exutam turpi me modo relinquunt.
Nulli sicut mihi pro bonis mala redduntur:
Quos lactavi, nudam me pede per angula versant.
Translation:
A beautiful mother when I gather up many sons,
I happily give everyone whatever I am carrying in my breast,
for they who once gave dear kisses to me
now shamelessly abandon me, stripped of my clothes.
No one is repaid for good with bad as I am;
Those I have suckled tip me over by my foot, naked, in the corner.
Click to show riddle solution?
Table


Notes:

This edition is based on Karl Strecker, ed., Poetae Latini aevi Carolini, Vol. 4.2 (Berlin, MGH/Weidmann, 1923), page 739.

Line 6 follows the preferred reading in Fr. Glorie, ed., Variae collectiones aenigmatum Merovingicae aetatis, Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina 133A (Turnhout: Brepols, 1968), page 551.



Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

Lorsch Riddle 5

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Thu 22 Apr 2021
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Lorsch Riddle 5
Original text:
Lucidus et laetus, quinis considere ramis
Saepe solent pariter splendentes, laeta iubentes
Aedibus in mediis fieri non tristia corda.
Dumque simul ludunt ramisque tenentur apertis,
Dulcia quin bibulis tradunt et bassia buccis,
Multifer egreditur tantumque remanet adhaerens
Lucidus in ramis, quibus antea sedit uterque.
Translation:
Happy and bright, the shining one
often sits with five limbs, demanding that joyful hearts
do not become sad in public halls.
And when, at the same time, it plays and is held in open limbs,
and even gives sweet delights and kisses to thirsty mouths,
the fruitful departs and only a gleaming residue remains in the limbs,
where the other sat earlier.
Click to show riddle solution?
Wine, wine cup


Notes:

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

“Multicer” > “multifer” (line 6) and “[ut]erque” (line 7) follow Dümmler, Ernst. Poetae Latini aevi Carolini. Volume 1, MGH. Berlin: Weidmann, 1881. Page 22.



Tags: latin 

Commentary for Riddle 5: De mensa

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Fri 18 Dec 2020
Matching Riddle: Bern Riddle 5: De mensa

Turn all her mother's pains and benefits
To laughter and contempt, that she may feel
How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
To have a thankless child.
William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act 1, Scene 4 (lines 278-81).

The pages of English literature are filled with stories of put-upon parents and their thankless children. But I doubt that there are any other examples where the parent has four legs and is made of wood. This innovative riddle transforms the description of a dining table into a tragic lament about filial ingratitude—the human “children” greedily use the table for dinner, before clearing it and putting it away.

Riddle 5 is the first Bern riddle where the parent is speaking, rather than the children—and her speech is laced with emotion. Just as Bern Riddle 4 made us sympathise with the poor bench who is kicked, so Bern Riddle 5 makes us feel sorry for the neglected table, whose fond memories of her infant children contrast with the undeserved abuses that they now heap upon her.

According to Mercedes Salvador-Bello (pages 222-4), the riddle plays upon an established literary tradition of personifying wisdom as a breastfeeding mother. Similar tropes appear in several other riddles. Perhaps the earliest example is found in the Pseudo-Bedean Collectanea, an early medieval collection of 388 texts of different kinds, which probably dates from the eighth century.

Dic mihi, quaeso, quae est illa mulier, quae innumeris filiis ubera porrigit, quae quantum sucta fuerit, tantum inundat?
Tell me please—who is the mother who offers her breasts to innumerable children, and who gives flow as much as she is sucked?
Collectanea Pseudo-Bedae, page 122.

The answer is sapientia (“wisdom”), who offers the milk of knowledge that her “children” need for their intellectual growth.

Nursing Madonna
“The Nursing Madonna by Bartolomeo Vivarini (c. 1450). Photograph (by Sailko) from Wikipedia Commons(licence: CC BY 3.0)

Depictions of wisdom as a breastfeeding mother appear in several early Irish texts from the 7th and 9th centuries, as well as in another riddle from the 11th, the Bibliotheca magnifica de sapientia collection (Salvador-Bello, pages 216-221). Other riddles play with the motif in different ways. For example, in his riddle on terra (“earth”), Aldhelm depicts the soil as a “nursemaid” (altrix) who feeds all the world (Aldhelm Riddle 1). But the closest analogue to Bern Riddle 5 is another table riddle, Tatwine Riddle 29. Tatwine depicts his table in a similar way—as a generous, well-dressed lady who is stripped and robbed, and whose nudata… membra (“naked limbs,” line 5) are left behind. However, in Tatwine’s riddle, the woman seems to be depicted as a prostitute rather than a nursemaid (Salvador-Bello, page 223-4).

The meaning of the last line is slightly uncertain. Firstly, does “per angula” mean that the children tip their mother on her side or in a corner? Secondly, does “nudata me pede… versant” mean that the table was completely naked (“they tipped me over, naked, by foot”) or merely barefoot (“they turned me over, naked in foot”)? Fortunately, these different readings do not affect the meaning too much.

So, there you have it. Riddles love ideas of overthrow and change, and this one is no exception. The table-mother rears her children with kindness, but they soon grow up and the tables are turned—literally!

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Röösli, Samuel. “The Pot, the Broom, and Other Humans: Concealing Material Objects in the Bern Riddles.” In Secrecy and Surveillance in Medieval and Early Modern England. Edited by Annette Kern-Stähler & Nicole Nyffenegger. Swiss Papers in English Language and Literature (SPELL), Vol. 37 (Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 2020), pages 87-104.

Salvador-Bello, Mercedes. “The Nursemaid, the Mother, and the Prostitute: Tracing an Insular Riddle Topos on Both Sides of the English Channel” in Riddles at Work in the Early Medieval Tradition: Words, Ideas, Interactions. Edited by Megan Cavell and Jennifer Neville. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020.

Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Edited by R. A. Foakes. London: The Arden Shakespeare, 1997.

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



Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

Related Posts:
Bern Riddle 5: De mensa

Commentary for Lorsch Riddle 5

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Mon 07 Jun 2021
Matching Riddle: Lorsch Riddle 5

I wanted to introduce this riddle with an appropriate pun, but unfortunately it was in very pour taste. That’s because the solution is a cup, probably of wine.

As with many of the Lorsch riddles, the subject is not a particularly original one. The eighth century churchman and poet, Aldhelm, wrote a riddle on a cup (Riddle 80). Cups also appear as solutions in Bern Riddle 6) and probably Exeter Book Riddles 11 and 59 too. Riddles on wine include Symphosius Riddles 82 and 83, Bern Riddles 13 and 63, and Aldhelm Riddle 78.

Monkwine
“A monk drinking wine, from the late 11th century/early 12th century Tiberius Psalter (London, British Library, Cotton MS Tiberius C VI, folio 5v).” Photograph from The British Library Digitalised Manuscripts (copyright: British Library).

Interestingly, this is one of only two Lorsch riddle that are written in the third person—the other is Riddle 7. #LatinGrammarFanclub members will have noticed that although these adjectives are singular, all subsequent nouns, verbs, and adjectives are in the plural. In my translation, I have rendered this “poetic plural” in the singular.

The riddle begins by describing the cup as lucidus (“clear, glorious”) and laetus (“happy, luxuriant”), as it takes on the persona of the drinker. It is as if the wine cup is the life of the party! It “often sits with five limbs” (saepe solent quinis considere ramis)—this does not describe the creature’s arms and legs, but rather the five digits of the hand that hold it. This seems to be a variant of a common riddle motif that describes the fingers used for writing and other activities as three mysterious creatures—I mention this in my commentary on Bern Riddle 25. As with other alcohol riddles, there is a sense that the drink is always in command, even as it is held in the hand. The wine “commands” or “demands” (iubrere) drinkers to be joyous, when aedibus in mediis, literally “in public houses or halls.” Sadly, I am writing this commentary in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I haven’t visited one of these places for quite some time. Even though I rarely drink alcohol, I am very jealous of the cup right now!

Nunwine
“A nun drinking wine, from Hieronymus Bosch’s early 16th century masterpiece, The Haywain Triptych.” Photograph (by the Bosch Project) from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

We saw that Lorsch Riddles 2 and 3 juxtaposed the images of freedom and capture to create apparent paradoxes. Line 4 does something similar, telling us that the cup “plays” (ludere) and yet is also “held” (teneri). It then goes on to describe drinking as kissing—this is another common trope in early medieval riddles. The riddle’s use of quin (“even”) suggests that this is intended to be mildly salacious and risqué, with the sense of “he even kisses people!”

The tone changes notably in lines 6 and 7, when the cup’s draught has been drained, and tantumque remanet adhaerens / lucidus in ramis (“only a gleaming residue remains on the limbs”). The tone is an unmistakably nostalgic one—in a similar way, when all the joy of the party has passed, only glorious memories remain… and for those who have overdone it, a hangover too!

Tags: latin 

Related Posts:
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 11
Exeter Riddle 59
Bern Riddle 6: De calice
Bern Riddle 13: De vite
Bern Riddle 63: De vino

Bern Riddle 6: De calice

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Thu 26 Nov 2020
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Bern Riddle 6: De calice
Original text:
Nullus ut meam lux sola penetrat umbram
Et natura vili miros postpono lapillos.
Ignem fero nascens, natus ab igne fatigor.
Nulla me putredo tangit nec funera turbant:
Pristina defunctus sospes in forma resurgo
Et amica libens oscula porrego cunctis.
Translation:
No one penetrates my shadow like light does,
and, cheap by nature, I have no time for wondrous gems.
Being born, I carry fire. Once born, fire wears me out.
No rottenness affects me, nor do funerals upset me.
When dead, I rise again, unharmed and in a pristine form,
and I willingly offer friendly kisses to all.
Click to show riddle solution?
Cup


Notes:

This edition is based on Karl Strecker, ed., Poetae Latini aevi Carolini, Vol. 4.2 (Berlin, MGH/Weidmann, 1923), page 739.

Lines 1 and 4 follow the preferred reading in Fr. Glorie, ed., Variae collectiones aenigmatum Merovingicae aetatis, Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina 133A (Turnhout: Brepols, 1968), page 552.



Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

Lorsch Riddle 6

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Thu 22 Apr 2021
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Lorsch Riddle 6
Original text:
Nubibus e tetris vidi dilabere quendam.
Ipsa velox cecidit super ardua tecta domorum.
Mollis erat visu necnon lenissima tactu,
Inde cadens iosumque cavavit leniter asprum.
Dura super terram sibimet qui terga cadenti
Praebuit, infixus terrae stabilisque manendo.
Translation:
I saw a certain thing melt from terrible clouds.
It fell quickly over the lofty roofs of houses.
It looked soft and it also felt very smooth,
and then, falling, it softly covered a rugged landscape.
As it fell, it showed itself to be a hard covering over the earth,
firm and fastened to the earth while it lasts.
Click to show riddle solution?
Snow


Notes:

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

“Dura su[per] [t]erram” (line 5) follows Dümmler, Ernst. Poetae Latini aevi Carolini. Volume 1, MGH. Berlin: Weidmann, 1881. Page 22.



Tags: latin 

Commentary for Bern Riddle 6: De calice

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Mon 11 Jan 2021
Matching Riddle: Bern Riddle 6: De calice

“Hold me now. La, la, la, la!” Often, when I am writing on a particular theme, a song starts playing over and over in my head. My internal soundtrack for this commentary has been the 1983 hit, “Hold Me Now,” by The Thompson Twins. And it is a very fitting song, since this is the first of three riddles that are all about things that hold other things—that is to say, containers!


This riddle is all about a cup. Cups are a common riddle topic—they also feature in the Lorsch (Riddle 5) and Aldhelm (Riddle 80) riddles, and possibly the Exeter Book riddles too (Riddle 63). In the Early Middle Ages, cups and goblets were generally made from wood. Those made from glass or metal were luxury items at the upper end of the market.

Glassmaking was a highly specialist skill in early medieval Europe, just as it is today. There is plenty of archaeological and textual evidence for glassmaking in 7th and 8th century England—religious hubs such as Glastonbury Abbey were also early centres for glass production, and several sources mention the emigration of glassmakers from the continent during this period (Broadley, pages 1-7).

Several centres of glassmaking existed in medieval northern Italy, with Venice being the most notable. Some of the earliest evidence for Venetian glassmaking comes from the excavation of a 9th century glass factory on the Venetian island of Torcello. Glass droplets and smashed crucibles were found, alongside what may have been a furnace—the glass was produced by fusing silica with natron (a naturally occurring mix of soda ash and other minerals) imported from the Middle East (Whitehouse, pages 76-7).

Glass 1
“Glassware from Trieste, 7th-9th century. Photograph (by Giovanni Dall'Orto) from Wikipedia Commons

The cup in our riddle is made from translucent glass, as made clear by lines 1 and 2—it isn’t decorated with gems, as some expensive metal goblets or chalices might be. Line 3 refers to the melting of silica (i.e. sand or limestone) in a furnace to produce molten glass. It also notes that fire-damaged glass will fracture easily.

Lines 4 to 6 are particularly fun, because they describe the cup as a kind of amorous zombie who kisses everyone. They begin by explaining that the cup cannot rot (unlike wooden cups), and that the cup does not care about death. They then go on to talk about the cup’s own death and resurrection—perhaps with the Christian idea of the resurrection of Jesus in mind. The word defunctus means “dead,” but also “used up’ or “finished.” Thus, the cup that has been finished will be raised again when it is reused. This reminds me of when I worked in a pub—when I cleared the bar, I would ask drinkers if their nearly empty glasses were “dead.” Alternatively, defunctus alludes to the practice of melting down and reusing discarded glass (see Wickham, page 702). The riddle closes with the once-dead object offering kisses. Figurative kissing appears in several Bern riddles, including nos. 5, 35, 42, and 46. In this case, kissing is a metaphor for drinking.

Zombie Love
“Two zombies kissing. Photograph (by Jeremy Keith) from Wikipedia Commons(licence: CC BY 2.0)

So there we have it. Time and time again, the Bern Riddles show how a few lines about an everyday object can hold the most extraordinary ideas. Next time you drinking from a cup, remember that you are also kissing a zombie.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Broadley, Rose. The Glass Vessels of Anglo-Saxon England c. AD 650-1100. Oxford: Oxbow, 2017.

Whitehouse, David. “The "Proto-history" of Venetian Glassmaking.” In Neighbours and Successors of Rome: Traditions of Glass Production and use in the Later First Millenium AD. Edited by Daniel Keller, Jennifer Price and Caroline Jackson. Oxford: Oxbow, 2014.

Wickham, Chris. Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. pages 728-741



Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

Related Posts:
Exeter Riddle 63
Bern Riddle 6: De calice
Bern Riddle 7: De vesica
Bern Riddle 8: De ovo

Commentary for Lorsch Riddle 6

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Mon 07 Jun 2021
Matching Riddle: Lorsch Riddle 6

There’s no riddles… like snow riddles… like no riddles I know!

Snow
”Snow-covered house in Val d'Isere, France. Photo (by Macca958) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 4.0)”

Lorsch Riddle 6 is one of two riddles in the collection that are written from an observer’s point of view—the other is Lorsch Riddle 8. It uses the first person alongside the perfect tense, which gives the impression that the speaker is recalling a singular, miraculous event that they witnessed. This is an example of riddling misdirection, since snow in most of the British Isles is a common, seasonal affair. As with other medieval riddles that employ this technique, this may be intended to show the reader that prosaic events can also be marvellous. Thus, we come to realise that the everyday natural world is just as full of miracles as the pages of the Bible or the stories of the saints. We still find this attitude in our cultural works today, for example, in popular science books and television programmes. I also have a far sillier example: the song “Miracles” by the Insane Clown Posse (which includes profanity in places). This curious ditty has rightly been a target of internet ridicule for its ridiculous lines about the natural world, such as “Flipping magnets, how do they work?” But the idea that the song expresses (very badly!) is that everyday events can be miraculous. So, there is a link between an early medieval Latin riddle and the Insane Clown Posse—who would’ve thought it!

ICP
”Insane Clown Posse. Photo (by SullyDC) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY 2.0)”

There are a few things for #Latingrammar fans to note in this riddle. Firstly, a few of the pronouns and adjectives used to describe the snow are masculine (quondam, infixus), whereas the others are feminine, in agreement with the grammatical gender of nix (“snow”). Secondly, the deponent infinitive dilabi is rendered as a regular infinitive, dilabere, here. Thirdly, there is a very typical medieval use of the gerund in line 6 (infixus terrae stabilis manendo), with the sense of “while it lasts…” rather than “by lasting...”

In terms of content and narrative rather than grammar, this riddle is very straightforward—it is largely descriptive. Snow falls from the clouds onto the houses. It is soft and smooth. And it covers the earth for a time. And there’s snow more to say about it, really!

Tags: latin 

Related Posts:
Lorsch Riddle 8

Bern Riddle 7: De vesica

NEVILLEMOGFORD

Date: Thu 26 Nov 2020
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Bern Riddle 7: De vesica
Original text:
Teneo liquentem, sequor membrana celatum,
Verbero nam cursu, visu quem cernere vetor.
Impletur invisis domus, sed vacua rebus.
Permanet, dum cibum nullum de pondere gestat.
Quae dum clausa fertur, velox ad nubila surgit,
Patefacta nullum potest tenere manentem.
Translation:
I hold liquid and I follow that which is hidden by skin,
and on the road, I beat that which I am forbidden to see.
My home is filled by the unseen, but it is empty of stuff.
It endures when it holds a weightless citizen.
When it is sealed up, it rises swiftly to the clouds.
Opened, it can hold no leftovers.
Click to show riddle solution?
Bladder


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 553.



Tags: latin  Bern Riddles