RIDDLE POSTS BY CONTRIBUTOR: VICTORIASYMONS

Exeter Riddle 46

VICTORIASYMONS

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

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

Translation:

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

Click to show riddle solution?
Lot and his family


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 112v of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), page 205.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 44: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 97.



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

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 46

VICTORIASYMONS

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

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

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

Blue phone box>

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Painting of Judith beheading Holofernes

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

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

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

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

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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Exeter Riddle 58

VICTORIASYMONS

Date: Thu 12 Jan 2017
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 58
Original text:

Ic wat anfete      ellen dreogan
wiht on wonge.      Wide ne fereð,
ne fela rideð,      ne fleogan mæg
þurh scirne dæg,      ne hie scip fereð,
5     naca nægledbord;      nyt bið hwæþre
hyre mondryhtne      monegum tidum.
Hafað hefigne steort,      heafod lytel,
tungan lange,      toð nænigne,
isernes dæl;      eorðgræf pæþeð.
10     Wætan ne swelgeþ      ne wiht iteþ,
foþres ne gitsað,      fereð oft swa þeah
lagoflod on lyfte;      life ne gielpeð,
hlafordes gifum,      hyreð swa þeana
þeodne sinum.      Þry sind in naman
15     ryhte runstafas,      þara is Rad foran.

Translation:

I know a one-footed thing, working with strength,
a creature on the plain. It does not travel far,
nor rides much, nor can it fly
through the bright day, no ship ferries it,
5     no nail-planked boat; it is however a benefit
to its master at many times.
It has a heavy tail, a little head,
a long tongue, not any teeth,
a share of iron; it treads an earth-hole.
10     It swallows no water nor eats a thing,
nor desires food, often however it ferries
a flood into the air; it boasts not of life
of a lord’s gifts, nonetheless it obeys
its own ruler. In its name are three
15     right rune-letters, with ‘rad’ at the front.

Click to show riddle solution?
Well-sweep


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 114v of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), page 209.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 56: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 101-2.



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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 58

VICTORIASYMONS

Date: Mon 06 Feb 2017
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 58

Well, well, well. Here we go with Riddle 58.

Early critics had little trouble solving this riddle, because apparently early critics were far better versed in basic irrigation technology than I am. Have you ever seen one of these?

Well sweep and barn

Photograph (by Rafał Klisowski) from Wikimedia Commons (license: CC BY-SA 3.0).

No, neither have I. It’s a well-sweep, also known as a shaduf or shadoof, a counterpoise lift, a well-pole, or a swep. Also the creature described in Riddle 58 (proposed long ago by Holthausen).

It’s actually a pretty snazzy piece of machinery. That tall vertical pole (the anfot of the riddle) creates a base on which the diagonal rod can pivot. The diagonal rod is weighted on the one end (the heavy tail), and the other (the small head) is attached to a long rope (the tongue), carrying a bucket. When you want water, you pull on the rope to lower the bucket; when it’s full (and heavy), you simply let go – the counterweight does the job of raising the water so you don’t have to. Genius.

Ok, so here’s my first question. Why isn’t this one of the obscene riddles? How is it that early medieval folks found more suggestive imagery in an onion than this particular contraption? Maybe it was just too easy. Low-hanging fruit and all that. Moving on.

Any fan of the Exeter Book riddles knows how fond they are of playing positive and negative attributes against one another: things are in turn portrayed by what they are and what they’re not. But I can’t think of another riddle that manages the balance between the two quite as skilfully as this one. Starting at the start (where else?) we get a very important detail: our wiht is one-footed. But that’s left behind almost immediately, as we move onto a list of the things it doesn’t do. This creature doesn’t get around much on its lone foot: not by riding, nor flying, nor sailing on boats – and that’s pretty much all the travel options covered. But then we’re back to what it is, or at least what it has. Its body parts include a tail, a head, a tongue – but no teeth – and a measure of iron. It doesn’t drink, but it does carry water; it doesn’t boast of life but it does serve its master (nice iteration of the implement trope here; see Neville).

There’s a kind of rhythm that develops as we read through this flip-flopping description. The repeated use of ne gives a secondary alliteration on n-, particularly in lines 2-4, but it’s only in line 5 that we find n- carrying metrical alliteration, and that finishes by describing something that the creature is (a nyt “benefit”) rather than what it isn’t. We could compare these oscillations to the see-sawing motion of the well sweep in action. Or at least, I assume we could. I’ve only seen them in pictures.

Painting

A well-sweep in “action” from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

These oscillations continue across the poem. The verb ferian (to carry) is used three times (lines 2, 4, 11). The first two are negative: this is a creature that neither moves itself nor is carried by ships. But then in line 11 we’re told that it fereð (carries) water – and it does it a lot. Water, too, is evoked both positively and negatively. This creature doesn’t drink (line 10a), but it does raise lagoflod (water: line 12a). It’s also a wiht (thing: line 2a), but it ne wiht iteþ (doesn’t eat a thing: line 10b). No nægledbord (nail-boarded) boat carries it (line 5a), but it does have its own share of isern (iron: line 9a), and we might think here of the visual and material affinities between a boat and a bucket. We’re told it doesn’t travel – either on the earth, in the air, or over water (lines 2-4). And yet later we find it traversing an earthen hole in order to lift water into the air (lines 9-12).

I said that critics have had little trouble solving Riddle 58 and that’s true. Sort of. The thing being described does seem to answer to all the attributes of a well-sweep. But what’s the Old English for well-sweep? Apparently it’s a three letter word with rad at the start. Unfortunately, no early medieval person ever bothered to write it down for us.

I ask because the riddle ends not by describing its subject, but by describing the name of its subject. Specifically, a name comprised of three ryhte runstafas (right rune-letters), and starting with rad (lines 14b-15). Runes aren’t all that common in the Exeter Book riddles, and when they are used they tend to be something of a showpiece: either introduced early (as in Riddles 19, 42 and 64), or discussed over several lines (as in Riddle 24, and also the other three I just mentioned). But Dieter Bitterli isn’t wrong when he describes these closing lines as rather abrupt (page 98). I guess if there’s anything better than runes, it’s surprise runes. The rune here is indicated using its name rather than its letter (a technique we’ve also seen in Riddle 42). In the manuscript there’s an accent over rad, perhaps as a hint at the word’s significance.

On its surface the runic conundrum that ends Riddle 58 is as straightforward as they come. Rad (riding) is the name of the rune ᚱ (‘r’). There’s only so many three-lettered words, and not even most of them start with r-. How hard can it be? Early critics settled on rod (rod). Job done.

Others, though, took the puzzle another way: they put the element rad– at the start of a three-letter word to make a compound, like radlim (riding-pole) or radpyt (riding-pit, well) (see Blakeley and Grein). Williamson notes, entirely in passing, that radrod (riding-rod, sweep?) may be a better fit, since “it is the pole and not the pit that is the subject” (page 312).

Well sweep

And yet, still not about sex. Photograph (by Jan Stubenitzky) from Wikimedia Commons (license: CC BY-SA 3.0).

Hang on, though. Radrod? That works both ways! It’s a compound comprising rad– and a second element, with that second element being a three lettered word starting with r- (Murphy, page 65). It even captures tonally the poem’s see-sawing rhythm. Better yet, because runic letters can stand for their names as well as their phonemes, it’s possible to write rad-rod in runes as ᚱ-ᚱᚩᛞ. As Niles points out (page 92), this construction contains only three distinct letters (with ᚱ repeated), and it starts with rad. So much for a creature that ne fela rideð (doesn’t ride much: line 3a), and yes I do think that’s an intentional joke by the riddle’s author (see Bitterli, page 105). By the end of the poem there’s quite a lot riding on ᚱ.

I’ll stop now.

The runic conundrum at the end of this riddle is uniquely peripheral, but it raises an interesting question. When we solve riddles, do we do it with objects or with words?

I have to confess, the term “well-sweep” meant not a thing to me the first time I read it; my “aha!” moment only came when I saw the photo at the top of this post. Niles argues for the importance of answering the riddles in their own language (that is, Old English rather than modern English), but the riddles themselves tend to place much greater emphasis on their subjects’ physical attributes than on their names. Many of the riddles begin by describing the form of a thing (ic seah “I saw,” or ic eom “I am”). Then again, many also end by asking us to say or to name their subject (saga hwæt ic hatte “say what I am called”).

So, have we solved Riddle 58 when we’ve identified an object that fits all the clues in its first fourteen lines, or when we’ve found an Old English word that answers the letter game in its final two? Is this riddle asking us to think about a thing in the world, or about the word used to signify that thing?

Well sweep

Bonus question: does it matter that the word radrod is a modern invention not attested anywhere in the Old English corpus? Photograph (by Andrzej Otrębsk) from Wikimedia Commons (license: CC BY-SA 3.0).

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

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

Blakeley, L. “Riddles 22 and 58 of the Exeter Book.” Review of English Studies, vol. 9 (1958), pages 241-252.

Grein, Christian W. M. “Kleine Mittheilungen.” Germania, vol. 10 (1865), pages 305-310.

Holthausen, Ferdinand. “Beiträge zur Erklärung und Textkritik altenglischer Dichtungen.” Indogermanische Forschungen, vol. 4 (1894), pages 379-88.

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

Neville, Jennifer. “The Unexpected Treasure of the ‘Implement Trope’: Hierarchical Relationships in the Old English Riddles”. Review of English Studies, vol. 62 (2011), pages 505-519.

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

Symons, Victoria. Runes and Roman Letters in Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016.

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



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 58 

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Exeter Riddle 62

VICTORIASYMONS

Date: Wed 10 May 2017
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 62
Original text:

Ic eom heard ond scearp,     [i]ngonges strong,
forðsiþes from,     frean unforcuð,
wade under wambe     ond me weg sylfa
ryhtne geryme.     Rinc bið on ofeste,
5     se mec on þyð     æftanweardne,
hæleð mid hrægle;     hwilum ut tyhð
of hole hatne,     hwilum eft fareð
on nearo nathwær,     nydeþ swiþe
suþerne secg.     Saga hwæt ic hatte.

Translation:

I am hard and pointed, strong going in,
firm departing, not unfamiliar to a lord.
I go beneath the belly, and myself open
a fitting passage. The warrior is in haste,
5     who presses me from behind,
the hero in garments; sometimes he draws me out,
hot from the hole, sometimes again ventures
into the confines of… I know not where. He vigorously urges,
the man from the south. Say what I am called.

Click to show riddle solution?
Poker, Boring tool, Phallus


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 124v-125r of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), page 229.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 60: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 104.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 62 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 62

VICTORIASYMONS

Date: Mon 22 May 2017
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 62

Before we start, there’s something we need to clear up about Riddle 62. This is one of those riddles with two solutions. First, it’s a description of an implement of some sort – probably a poker or a wood-working tool. But, and bear with me here, there’s actually another solution at play. If you think about it really carefully you can maybe see how this riddle might also be describing a penis. I just wanted to get that out the way, in case anyone failed to pick up on the incredibly subtle imagery.

Now, you might not have seen this straight away. You might have read this riddle through and thought: “Ah yes. A poker. That is certainly what is being described here. That and nothing else.”

Playing cards

Not this kind of poker. The kind that goes in a fire. Photo: Graeme Main/MOD via Wikimedia Commons (Open Government Licence).

In which case, well done. It might be that. It might also be a borer or some other woodworking tool. Picture something like this:

Borer

Source: Cassell’s Carpentry and Joinery via Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

There’s really not much in it: both are hard, and pointed, and get pushed into things. The former gets hot from the fire. The latter gets hot from friction. It’s a little tricky to account for the womb that our speaker goes beneath if we’re picturing a borer. This is why I think poker makes the better fit. The womb would be an oven, or furnace, or fireplace. Winfried Rudolf has discussed the sexual imagery of ovens in relation to Riddle 45 (pages 511-13; see also Salvador-Bello page 360), and here are some fun images of medieval ovens being suggestively… poked. And with that, let us segue smoothly into our riddle’s less salubrious meanings. Because, believe it or not, a hard and pointy instrument that gets poked repeatedly into someplace warm and inviting lends itself to a different sort of solution entirely.

Playing cards

Still not this. Photo: Graeme Main/MOD via Wikimedia Commons (Open Government Licence).

Yes, we’re continuing the double-entendres from Riddle 61 (and there’s more to come in Riddle 63). The combination of everyday object with sexy subtext is one we’ve seen more than a few times in the Exeter Book, and this riddle pulls no punches with the suggestive imagery. In fact, almost every line includes vocabulary repeated in those other euphemistic riddles.  Our speaker is heard ond scearp and strong; the speaker of Riddle 44 is stiþ ond heard (line 3a), and strong appears in Riddle 54 (line 9b) and 87 (line 3a). The hrægl worn by our speaker’s wielder finds a number of parallels (44.4, 45.4, 54.4), as does the womb (37.1, 87.1) that our mystery subject goes beneath, and the nearo (25.10, 61.6) hol (44.5) it occupies. But just in case we missed all that, the poet drops the word nathwær into the closing lines. This – and the related term nathwæt – is a solid staple of the double-entendre genre, making an appearance in Riddles 25, 45, 54 and 61.

So not only is this riddle suggestive, it’s laden with language used suggestively in other riddles as well. “Keep some mystery in the bedroom” is an idea our poet apparently failed to internalise when composing this little vignette.

Riddle 62 Manuscript

“Hey guys! Guys! Have you heard the one about the poker?” Image from Wikimedia Commons (photographic reproduction of work in Public Domain).

In fact, the poet comes perilously close to giving the game away in lines 6b-8a. The subject of the two hwilum clauses must be understood as the hæleð mid hrægle from line 6a. That’s fine for the first clause, as the man pulls his “poker” out from the “fire.” But then in the second clause it isn’t the poker that eft fareð but the man himself. Hang on, why would the man be putting himself back into the fire? As noted by Murphy (page 203), and Williamson before him (page 323), this makes no sense. Unless the tool this man is wielding isn’t really a poker at all, but a part of his own body, and he isn’t really venturing into a fire but into a… nathwær. Just as we think we’ve caught the poet – and the man – in the act, the curtain comes and we’re back in the realm of the implied. “I couldn’t possibly say where,” demurs the speaker, “and no I don’t know what you’re smirking about.”

So even in a riddle as on-the-nose as this, there’s room for ambiguity. My favourite is forðsiþ in line 2a. It means “departure,” but forðsiþ can also refer to “death.” In renaissance literature, “death” is a familiar euphemism for orgasm (the “little death,” or “petite mort”), and it’s likely the metaphor was established at least by Chaucer’s day (Quinn, page 220). Think of Troilus “fainting” in Criseyde’s bed. Is this reference to the speaker’s forðsiþ an earlier iteration of the same euphemism? It might be. That’s the problem with suggestive language – it needs both the riddler and the riddlee to be on the same page, culturally speaking.

Speaking of which, what should we make of the speaker describing itself as scearp? It’s not the most obvious adjective to associate with a penis, right? It’s also not one we might expect based on other riddles of this nature (Riddle 44, for example, pairs heard with stiþ). As well as the modern sense “sharp”, scearp can also mean “keen” (think of something being “sharp sighted”). That sense does fit well enough with the rest of the riddle, which emphasises haste (line 4b) and urgency (line 8b). But scearp is also used to describe weapons – particularly swords – often enough that the suggestion of violence inevitably rears its head here (see Riddle 20). What’s really striking about scearp is that it introduces a perspective that’s otherwise very notably absent from this poem. It’s the person receiving the penis – rather than the penis itself or the man it’s attached to – who would experience its “sharpness”. Throughout the whole poem, scearp is the only insight we get into that other perspective, and (for modern readers at least) it gives a discomforting glimpse into a very different experience of an encounter otherwise dominated by the man’s pride in his own sexual performance.

Which leads us to the biggest scholarly sticking point of Riddle 62: the suþerne secg (line 9a). All the way through the poem, the speaker refers to its wielder in lofty and heroic terms, as frea, rinc, and hæleð. What, then, are we supposed to make of the man’s southern origins? Tupper takes it to mean that our “hero” is actually  a slave, akin to the “dark Welsh” who populate various other euphemistic riddles (page 203). On the other hand, Baum thinks the reference implies a skilled craftsman, as opposed to a “cruder man from northern districts” (page 59). Williamson argues that the line is euphemistic (probably a safe bet, all things considered), providing an oblique reference to “the direction of the thrust” (page 323).

Murphy proposes something a bit different (page 203). Rather than taking the suþerne secg as the subject – parallel to the hæleð mid hrægle – he instead argues that it’s the object: “He [the man] earnestly urges on his southern fellow [by which is understood the penis]”. It’s a fun interpretation, and it makes the riddle’s closing half-line especially bold. Having just referred to itself with a euphemistic epithet, the speaker then demands that we be the one to “say what I’m called.” A “tool,” an “implement,” a “southern fellow”? Don’t know what you’re talking about. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some “fires” to “poke.”

Engraving of oven

Wellcome Images via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons licence 4.0).

Notes:

References and further reading

Condren, Edward I. Chaucer from Prentice to Poet: The Metaphor of Love in Dream Visions and Troilus and Criseyde. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2008.

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

Rudolf, Winfried. “Riddling and Reading: Iconicity and Logogriphs in Exeter Book Riddles 23 and 45.” Anglia-Zeitschrift für englische Philologie, vol. 130, issue 4 (2012), pages 499-525.

Salvador-Bello, Mercedes. “The Sexual Riddle Type in Aldhelm’s Enigmata, the Exeter Book, and Early Medieval Latin”. Philological Quarterly, vol. 90, issue 4 (2011), pages 357-85.

Tanke, John W. “Wonfeax wale: Ideology and Figuration in the Sexual Riddles of the Exeter Book.” In Class and Gender in Early English Literature. Edited by Britton J. Harwood and Gillian R. Overing. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994, pages 21-42.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 62 

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Exeter Riddle 64

VICTORIASYMONS

Date: Thu 13 Jul 2017
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 64
More runes, folks! If you can’t see the runes in the Old English riddle below, scroll down to the bottom of this post where you'll find a screenshot.

Original text:

Ic seah · ᚹ · ond · ᛁ ·     ofer wong faran,
beran · ᛒ · ᛖ ·     Bæm wæs on siþþe
hæbbendes hyht     · ᚻ · ond · ᚪ ·
swylce þryþa dæl     · ᚦ · ond · ᛖ ·
5     Gefeah · ᚠ · ond · ᚫ ·     fleah ofer · ᛠ
ᛋ · ond · ᛈ ·     sylfes þæs folces.

Translation:

I saw w and i travel over the plain,
carrying b . e . With both on that journey there was
the keeper’s joy: and a,
also a share of the power: þ and e.
5     F and æ rejoiced, flew over the ea
s and p of the same people.

w and i = wicg (horse)
b and e = beorn (man)
h and a = hafoc (hawk)
þ and e = þegn (man)
f and æ = fælca (falcon)
ea and s and p = easpor? (water-track)

Click to show riddle solution?
man on horseback; falconry; ship; scribe; writing


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 125r of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), page 230.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 62: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 105.

Screen shot for the runes:
Riddle 64 with runes

Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 64 

Related Posts:
Exeter Riddle 19
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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 64

VICTORIASYMONS

Date: Fri 04 Aug 2017
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 64

Do you like runes? Well I hope the answer’s yes, because there’s rather a lot of them going on here. Runes crop up relatively often in the Exeter Book, mostly clustered in and around the riddles. But Riddle 64 really goes to town on the old script mixing. Did you know this poem has a higher ratio of runes-to-lines than any other in the Exeter Book? True story.

Not that the runes make this poem particularly…poetic. Of all the runic riddles, this one has received the least scholarly attention in its own right. That’s because there’s just so little of it, apart from the runes. And they don’t seem to offer much help. For the record, wi (ᚹᛁ) is not a meaningful word, and nor are any of the other pairs of runes in this poem. Craig Williamson points out Riddle 64’s “absurd difficulty” (page 327), and he isn’t wrong.

Wisconsin

Searching for the word "Wi" only brings up lots of images of Madison, WI.
Which is… not much help.
Image (by Dori) from Wikimedia Commons (Licence: Dual GFDL CC).

To make any sort of headway with Riddle 64, we need to cast our minds all the way back to the first of the Exeter Book’s runic riddles: Riddle 19. In fact, it’s worth having another read of that poem and commentary before going further. You’ll quickly see these two riddles have a lot in common, beyond their fondness for runic puzzles. They both describe a siþ (journey) over a wong (plain), embarked upon by a collection of runic-ly encoded creatures, some of which carry others.

These similarities can be pushed further still. The first runic creature in Riddle 19 is hors (horse). Another word for “horse” in Old English is wicg, which might conceivably be an expansion of that first pair of runes on line 1 (ᚹᛁ / wi). Next, Riddle 19 gives us mon (man) and wiga (warrior) (?), synonyms for which include beorn (ᛒᛖ / be on line 2) and þegn (ᚦᛖ / þe on line 4). Finally, Riddle 19’s haofoc seems to be replicated in Riddle 64 as hafoc (ᚻᚪ / ha, line 3), and paralleled by fælca (ᚠᚫ / , line 5). I’ll come back to the final three runes, which are bit trickier, but you get the idea.

Metal figure on horseback

Like this, but more runey. Image from Metropolitan Museum of Art via Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication).

It still feels like a bit of a cheat, though. I don’t think modern readers would’ve gotten very far with this riddle if we didn’t have Riddle 19 to crib from, and I do wonder whether our early medieval counterparts would’ve fared much better. On that note, Riddle 64 isn’t the only runic puzzle on this page of the Exeter Book. The manuscript’s upper margin boasts its own runic message, written in dry point (ie scratched with a sharp tool) some time after the manuscript was completed. As far as anyone can make out, the letters seem to read:

ᛒ ᚢ ᚷ ᚱ ᚦ (bugrþ)  or  ᛒ ᚢ ᚾ ᚱ ᚦ (bunrþ)

What does this mean, you ask? No one knows! Williamson comments – half jokingly – that the latter sequence could be expanded into Beo unreþe (“Don’t be cruel!”, page 327): the complaint of a frustrated reader. My feeling is that this frustrated reader could have left an intentionally nonsensical enigma to match the apparently unreadable runes in the riddle. But the meaning of this little message is still very much up for grabs, if you’ve got a better idea!

Coming back to the poem. Riddle 64 is similar enough to Riddle 19 that scholars generally agree the two share a common solution. Those solutions tend to fall into one of three groups: something to do with hunting (Trautmann; Tupper); something to do with writing (Eliason; Shook); something to do with boats (Williamson; Griffith). Megan’s already done an ace job of setting out the arguments for and against each, and incidentally I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to re-post some of Megan’s A-grade artwork:

Writing hand

I’ve chosen this picture not only for its fine artistic qualities, but because it’s an excuse to talk a little more about the “writing” solution first put forward by Eliason. Although most recent scholarship on these two riddles has favoured a solution relating to boats, I actually think “writing” deserves at least equal consideration. There’s some interesting overlaps between Riddle 64 (and 19, for that matter), and several of the Exeter Book’s writing riddles.

Journeying as a metaphor for writing was a popular trope in early medieval literature. In his influential Etymologiae, Isidore of Seville claims that: litterae autem dictae quasi legiterae, quod iter legentibus praestent (letters [littera] are so called as if the term were legitera, because they provide a road [iter] for those who are reading [legere]) (I.iii.3, in Barney, page 39).

statue of Isidore of Seville

Isidore of Seville: never one to let actual etymology get in the way of good imagery. Photo (by Luis García) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic).

We see this metaphor employed in Riddle 26 (lines 7-11), and it’s the central image of Riddle 51. It’s also used in Riddle 95, which Willamson solves as “book” (pages 397-402), and Murphy as “pen” (page 88). Riddle 51, in particular, emphasises the unity of the travelling companions (Murphy, page 86), in a way that’s quite reminiscent of Riddle 64.

These writing riddles also feature quite a lot of birds (Bitterli, pages 35-46; Murphy, page 85), and for a good reason. Pens at the time were often quills made from feathers of larger water birds, such as geese or swans.

Painting of man with quill pen

Like so.
Image credit: Kijker Museum via Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

If you’ve ever found a seagull feather on the beach and swished it about a bit (don’t do this – seagulls are pretty gross), you’ll know they offer up quite a bit of air resistance. You can imagine a scribe experiencing something similar when writing with a quill. And this overlap between pens, feathers and flight gives rise to some of the most imaginative imagery of the writing riddles, such as when Riddle 26 describes its pen as the “bird’s joy” (fugles wyn, line 7b), or when the pen in Riddle 51 moves through the air “faster than birds” (fulgum framra, line 4a). Riddle 95 refers to the “delight of plunders” (hiþendra hyht, line 5a), which has been taken as a kenning for a quill pen (Murphy, page 95), and gives us a nice parallel to the description in Riddle 64 of the falcon as the “keeper’s joy” (habbendes hyht, line 3a).

To recap: in this interpretation, the “warrior” is the hand of the scribe (contributing its “share of the power”), while the “horse” that carries him on this journey is the point of the pen, and the “falcon” joyously flying above them is the pen’s plume swishing through the air as the scribe writes. They’re all travelling in unison across the “plain” of the manuscript page, and having a jolly good time about it.

Which just leaves that tricky last set of runes: easp. Although it’s difficult to be sure what the poet had in mind for this one, Williamson argues convincingly that it’s a contraction of the compound ea-spor, meaning “water-track” (page 326). There could be a parallel to this in Riddle 19 if the runic group on line 6 is taken to be wega “wave” rather than wiga “warrior.”

This word gives some support for the “boat” interpretation, but I don’t think it rules out “writing” either. Riddle 51 is quite taken with the image of the pen as a bird soaring through the air and then diving under the waves (ie into an ink pot), and both it and Riddle 26 describe pens leaving inky lastas “tracks” (see also Riddle 95, line 11b). So, to keep with our writing solution, the “water-track” is the line of ink left in the wake of the warrior scribe. And this is as good a place as any to bring in my favourite sea-related writing metaphor, which is from a colophon (or notation) added by one Æthelberht at the end of an eighth-century book of Psalms:

Finit liber psalmorum. In Christo Iesu domino nostro; lege in pace. Sicut portus oportunus nauigantibus ita uorsus [sic] nouissimus scribentibus.

(Here finishes the book of the Psalms. In Christ Jesus our Lord; read in peace. Just as the port is welcome to sailors, so is the final verse to scribes.) (Gameson, page 35; see also this excellent blogpost by Thijs Porck)

Bayeux Tapestry ship

Image credit: Urban via Wikimedia Commons (licence: Dual GFDL CC).

So, that’s the case for solving this riddle as writing. I think there’s something quite appealing in the image of a pen in hand as a warrior and entourage, venturing forth across the page, leaving dark trails of watery ink in their wake. And this solution also helps to explain the inclusion of all those runes. What better place to show off your skill with not one but two alphabets, than in a poem that’s all about… writing!

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

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

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

Dewa, Roberta. “The Runic Riddles of the Exeter Book: Language Games and Anglo-Saxon Scholarship.” Nottingham Medieval Studies, vol. 39 (1995), pages 26-36.

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

Gameson, Richard. The Scribe Speaks? Colophons in Early English Manuscripts. H M Chadwick Lectures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Griffith, Mark. “Riddle 19 of the Exeter Book: SNAC, an Old English Acronym.” Notes and Queries, new series, vol. 237 (1992), pages 15-16.

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

Shook, Laurence K., and J. Reginald O’Donnell. “Riddles Relating to the Anglo-Saxon Scriptorium.” In Essays in Honour of Anton Charles Pegis. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieaval Studies, 1974, pages 215-36.

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



Related Posts:
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 19
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 26
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Exeter Riddle 73

VICTORIASYMONS

Date: Tue 30 Jan 2018
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 73
Original text:

Ic on wonge aweox,     wunode þær mec feddon
hruse ond heofonwolcn,     oþþæt me onhwyrfdon
gearum frodne,     þa me grome wurdon,
of þære gecynde     þe ic ær cwic beheold,
5     onwendan mine wisan,     wegedon mec of earde,
gedydon þæt ic sceolde     wiþ gesceape minum
on bonan willan     bugan hwilum.
Nu eom mines frean     folme bysigo[.
…..]dlan dæl,     gif his ellen deag,
10     oþþe æfter dome     [.]ri[………
…………]an     mæ[.]þa fremman,
wyrcan w[………………..
……]ec on þeode     utan we[……
…………………..]ipe
15     ond to wrohtstæp[……………….
…………]eorp,     eaxle gegyrde,
wo[……………………….]
ond swiora smæl,     sidan fealwe
[………………..]     þonne mec heaþosigel
20     scir bescineð     ond mec [……..]
fægre feormað     ond on fyrd wigeð
cræfte on hæfte.     Cuð is wide
þæt ic þrista sum     þeofes cræfte
under hrægnlocan  […]
25     hwilum eawunga     eþelfæsten
forðweard brece,     þæt ær frið hæfde.
Feringe from,     he fus þonan
wendeð of þam wicum,     wiga se þe mine
wisan cunne.     Saga hwæt ic hatte.

Translation:

I grew on a plain, lived where the earth
and the clouds of heaven fed me, until the ones who were hostile to me
took me, wise in years,
from the native place which I previously held when alive,
5     changed my ways, shook me from the earth,
made it so that I must – against my nature –
sometimes bow in a killer’s service.
Now I am busy in my lord’s hand[.
…..] share, if his valour avails,
10     until after judgement […………
……………….] to advance,
to work [.………………..
……..] to the people let us [……
……………………..]
15     and to strife-stepping(?)[……………….
………….…], girded shoulders,
[…………………………]
and a small neck, dark sides
[………………..] when the bright battle-sun
20     shines on me and me […….]
nourishes well, and wields in war
with skill by the haft. It is widely known
that with a thief’s skill, I (go) alone among the bold,
into the brain-pan […]
25     at times I break forth openly
in a familiar fortress, that previously had peace.
Then eagerly he turns from that place,
bold for the journey, the warrior who
knows my nature. Say what I am called.

Click to show riddle solution?
Spear, Bow, Cross


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 126r-126v of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), pages 233-4.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 71: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 108-9.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 73 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 73

VICTORIASYMONS

Date: Mon 11 Dec 2017
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 73

If you read Riddle 73 and didn’t immediately think of The Dream of the Rood, well then you clearly haven’t read The Dream of the Rood as recently as is good for you, and should probably go and do that now (full translation here). Are you back? Then on with the commentary!

Even with substantial damage to the riddle’s central lines, its parallels with The Dream of the Rood aren’t exactly hard to spot. Both feature monologues spoken by trees, for a start. In both, the trees begin by describing their place in the land. Both trees are old – in The Dream of the Rood, we’re told it was geara iu (“years ago”, line 28a) that the tree lived on the edge of a forest, while the speaker in Riddle 73 is gearum frodne (“wise in years”, line 3a). Eventually people arrive, fell these ancient trees, and transform them into… something else. In The Dream of the Rood, that something is a cross, soon to become the Cross. In Riddle 73, it’s some manner of weapon.

Exactly what weapon our speaker becomes is up for grabs, to a point. There’s been a modicum of support for Moritz Trautmann’s solution “battering ram”, mainly because of similarities with Riddle 53. There are a few obstacles to this reading, however. As Craig Williamson points out (page 354), our speaker is held in its wielder’s hand (line 8), is slender (line 18), and it moves about quietly (line 23). I don’t know about you, but when I picture something small, hand-held, and quiet, the first thing that springs to mind isn’t this:

Battering ram

Stealthy.
Photo of battering ram (by Clarinetlover) from Wikimedia Commons (licence CC BY-SA 3.0).

The riddle’s more popular solutions are either spear (Old English gar) or bow (OE boga). According to Williamson, spears were perhaps the most common offensive weapon in the early medieval arsenal, and they’re certainly abundant in Old English poetry. One verse of the Old English Rune Poem may be describing a tree-turned-spear, in a way that’s somewhat suggestive of Riddle 73:

Æsc biþ oferheah,     eldum dyre,
stiþ on staþule,     stede rihte hylt,
ðeah him feohtan on     firas monige. (Rune Poem, lines 81-83)

(The ash is very high,     dear to men,
strong in its stead; it holds its right place,
though many men fight against it.)

Yes, there’s always a way of shoehorning runes into a riddle commentary. And while we’re shoehorning, we can’t really talk about early medieval folks and their spears without some mention of The Battle of Maldon (a.k.a. “the poem with all the spears”; full translation here). Maldon’s most famous line is almost certainly Byrhtnoth’s rejoinder to the Vikings’ offer of a truce in return for tribute:

Gehyrst þu, sælida,     hwæt þis folc segeð?
Hi willað eow to gafole     garas syllan,
ættrynne ord and ealde swurd. (The Battle of Maldon, lines 45-47)

(Do you hear, seafarer, what this people says?
They wish to give you spears for tribute,
the poisoned point, and old swords.)

More reminiscent of Riddle 73, though, are lines much later in the poem when, in the thick of the battle, we’re told that gar oft þurhwod / fæges feorhus (“the spear often pierced the life-house of the fated”, lines 296b-97a). When the speaker of Riddle 73 describes itself entering into strongholds, it might be speaking literally, of besieged towns. But it could just as easily be speaking figuratively of the human body (Williamson, page 348).

The Battle of Maldon is also a useful reminder that spears were projectiles as well as close-combat weapons. The speaker’s description of itself going alone with the craft of a thief (line 23) certainly puts me in mind of something being thrown across a distance. In fact, it mostly reminds me of this scene from the lid of the Franks Casket:

Riddle 73 Franks Casket 1
Yes, these particular arrows are coming out from, rather than going into, the stronghold. But you get the idea.
Photo (by FinnWikiNo) from Wikimedia Commons (licence CC BY-SA 3.0).

This brings us to the second popular solution: bow (and/or arrow). Those who know about early medieval woodworking point out that while spears aren’t made from the wood of old trees, bows are (Doane, page 254). There’s also that reference to the speaker being compelled to bugan (“bend”, line 7b) in the hand of its wielder. I’m no expert, but that certainly sounds more like a bow than a spear.

Franks Casket front panel

For comparison, here are some spears from the back of the Franks Casket (top left). Notice: very straight. Notice also: more runes. There’s always room for more runes.
Photo (by Michel wal) from Wikimedia Commons (licence CC BY-SA 3.0).

So Riddle 73, like Riddle 53 and The Dream of the Rood, is one of several Old English poems in which “a tree is taken from a state of innocence and treated savagely to create an instrument of destruction” (Wilcox, page 398). Whether the specific instrument is a spear or a bow, the suffering that the speaker experiences through the course of its transformation is, as Wilcox points out, all the more ironic “when the manufactured object is one which brings suffering on men” (page 399).

That irony is certainly not lost on our poet. At the start of the riddle, the speaker is living in what Corinne Dale calls almost “Paradisal” peace (page 110), until hostile humans onwendan mine wisan (“changed my nature”, line 5a). This change is emphatically manufactured, in the sense that it’s brought about by human hands, and it forces the speaker to go wiþ onsceape (“against [my] creation”, line 6b). It’s through this human-wrought change that our speaker becomes, in turn, hostile to humans: sneaking into strongholds, and dispatching warriors through its newly bestowed wisan (“nature”, line 29a).

This is where the parallels with The Dream of the Rood become particularly poignant. In The Dream of the Rood, the speaker is likewise transformed into an instrument of death. But it also finds redemption in spite of – or rather, through – this transformation. As it towers above those who made it into a gallows, the tree-speaker contemplates how easily it could bugan to eorðan (“bend to earth”, line 42b) and wipe them out. But it ne dorste… bugan (“does not dare… bend”, lines 35a-36a), and instead obeys divine will by standing tall. The speaker of Riddle 73, on the other hand, has no such noble role to play. It simply on bonan willan bugan (“bends to a killer’s will”, line 7), and brings violence to places that ær frið hæfde (“previously had peace”, line 26b).

My favourite part in this riddle about transformation is actually the transformation that takes place in the very final half line. Here, the speaker takes what is probably the most conventional phrase in the Exeter Book riddles, saga hwæt ic hatte (line 29b) and turns it into something altogether more sinister. Call me paranoid, but it seems to me there’s a sort of implied threat in these closing lines: “Humans gave me this nature, and now my nature kills any human who knows it,” the speaker seems to say, before turning to its human audience and adding “So… do you know what I am?”

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading

Dale, Corinne. The Natural World in the Exeter Book Riddles. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2017.

Doane, A. N. “Three Old English Implement Riddles: Reconsiderations of Numbers 4, 49, and 73.” Modern Philology, vol. 84, issue 3 (1987), pages 243-57.

Halsall, Maureen, ed. The Old English Rune Poem: A Critical Edition. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1981.

Wilcox, Jonathan. “New Solutions to Old English Riddles: Riddles 17 and 52.” Philological Quarterly, vol. 69, issue 4 (1990), pages 393-408.

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



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 73 

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Exeter Riddles 75 and 76

VICTORIASYMONS

Date: Sun 18 Mar 2018
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddles 75 and 76

It’s another two-for-one this week! Most editors treat the first two lines as one riddle, and the third as a seperate riddle. Krapp and Dobbie are among them. Others, including Craig Williamson, edit this as a single poem. Also there are runes, so scroll down for a screenshot if you can't see them. Enjoy…



Original text:

Ic swiftne geseah     on swaþe feran
.ᛞ ᚾ ᛚ ᚻ.
[Riddle 76] Ic ane geseah idese sittan.

Translation:

I saw a swift one travel on the way
.d n l h.
[Riddle 76] I saw a woman sit alone.

Click to show riddle solution?
Hound, Piss, Hound and Hind, Christ


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 127r of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), page 234.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 73: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 110.

Screen shot for the runes:

Riddle 75 runes



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 75  riddle 76 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddles 75 and 76

VICTORIASYMONS

Date: Mon 26 Mar 2018
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddles 75 and 76

Here’s a riddle for you: what do a dog, Jesus, and someone taking a pee all have in common? Answer: they’re all possible solutions for this week’s riddle. Or riddles. Yes, there’s quite a bit of mystery about Riddle 75 and/or Riddle 76, and the mystery starts with how many poems it or they actually is. Or are.

For reasons that will become clear below, I’m going to set the runes aside for a moment and focus on the two longer lines of poetry. The way they’re written in the manuscript strongly suggests that they’re two separate texts – each begins with capitalisation and on a new line, and closes with the kind of punctuation flourish normally reserved for endings. This is how a lot of editors, including Krapp and Dobbie, treat them. The problem is… there isn’t much there. These might be the opening lines of two longer riddles, but if so the scribe forgot to include the rest. Other editors have preferred to combine these two lines into a single text. This has the advantage of providing a little more bulk to work with, and nods to the structural similarities between the lines. In fact, there’s a sort of chiasmus – a balancing of two parallel clauses – in the contrast between the subject of the first line moving swiftly and the subject of the second line sitting alone. My feeling is that these two riddles are, in fact, a single text even if that’s not how they’re presented in the manuscript.

However we choose to edit the poem/s, one thing we can be confident about is that the runes are later additions. You see, when we find runes in the Exeter Book riddles they’re usually integrated into the metre, meaning that they (or rather, the words they signify) carry alliteration. The first rune in Riddle 19, for example, is ᛋ (line 1b), whose name sigel picks up the s- alliteration from the preceding half line.

But that’s not what happens here. These runes are just hanging out on the end of the first line, with not the slightest regard for alliteration or metrical stress or any of the things that make Old English poetry poetic. So what are they doing there?

The answer is that these runes have been interpolated – i.e. moved – from the margins into the text proper. This happens when a scribe is copying from one manuscript to another and mistakes a note in the margin for a continuation of the line. We see another of this kind of mistake in Riddle 36, and Andy Orchard argues it’s also the source of Riddle 23’s opening line (page 290). In both cases, these stray words were originally written into the margins of earlier copies of the poems, to provide cryptic clues for the riddles’ solutions.

Now, if you’re the sort of person who gets excited by manuscript-y stuff (aren’t we all?), this is actually pretty cool. Today, all but one of the Old English riddles comes to us from the Exeter Book. Everything we think we know about these riddles – that they were written without solutions, for example – is based on this one manuscript. But what we get here is a glimpse of the earlier manuscript from which th Exeter Book itself was copied. Preserved in this odd mish-mash of a poem is the relic of what that lost manuscript looked like. It’s the manuscript equivalent of finding dino DNA preserved in amber.

insect trapped in amber

Sort of.
Photo credit: Brocken Inaglory, via Wikimedia Commons (licence: GNU Free Documentation Licence).

Once we’ve finished geeking out about palaeography, though, it’s time to get down to the real business: solving this thing. As you can see, there isn’t a great deal to go on. Taking only the poetic lines, we have either two riddles describing one thing moving quickly, and one thing sitting alone. Or we have one riddle describing both those things in tandem. No wonder someone thought it might be a good idea to include a little runic hint to help us along. What wise clue did our medieval runester grace us with?

Dnlh.

No, that’s not an Old English sneeze. That’s what the runes say. Dnlh.

It may come as no surprise that “dnlh” isn’t a word, not in Old English nor in modern. But there are a couple of ways it might become a word, with some creative thinking and a loose approach to spelling. Reverse the letter order and add in some much-needed vowels and we might get hælend (lord). This solution was originally proposed by W. S. Mackie, who argued that the first line is a standalone riddle depicting Christ “as a hunter in pursuit of sin” (page 77). Playing around with letter order and vowels are two fairly common gambits in medieval cryptography – they’re used in Riddle 19 and Riddle 23 (reversed letters), or Riddle 36 (changed vowels). That’s solution one.

Christ stabbing devil in hellmouth

Solution one. Image from Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

But there’s actually a way of finding some vowels without adding anything to the runes at all. When written in manuscripts, runic ᛚ (l) often ends up looking similar to runic ᚢ (u). And if there’s one thing we can say for sure about the Exeter Book scribe, it’s that he or she isn’t particularly good at writing runes consistently. Changing the “l” for a “u” and reversing the letter order gives us hund (hound). So the riddle may be as simple as that: a poem about a dog running really fast, to which someone’s helpfully added the word dog so that we know it’s definitely about a dog. This is solution two, and it’s a popular one (Bitterli, pages 105-10).

Dog running

Solution two.
Image credit: Sheila Sund via Wikimedia Commons (licence: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic).

Solution three comes courtesy of Craig Williamson, who opines that “the pursuit of sin has no place in this riddle” (page 353), and that the word signified by our runic quartet is actually hland (urine). Williamson’s reading supports combining the two lines into one poem; the contrast between them speaks to the contrast between male and female peeing… postures.

Field of tulips

Solution three: not pictured. I’ll leave it to your imagination. Image credit: Tuxyso via Wikimedia Commons (licence: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0).

Which one is the correct solution? It’s honestly impossible to know. We don’t even know for sure that the runes have anything to do with conveying a solution. But that ambiguity is pretty fun. In fact, I’d argue one of the best things about this poem (or these poems) is how evocative it is. These two little lines may represent the shortest of the Exeter Book riddles, but they’ve provoked page upon page of critical commentary encompassing a truly eclectic range of solutions and creative readings. And thus we get from Jesus Christ to peeing postures, via one happy hound!

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading

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

Mackie, W. S. “Notes on the Text of the Exeter Book.” Modern Language Review, vol. 28 (1933), pages 75-78.

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

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



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 75  riddle 76 

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Exeter Riddle 82

VICTORIASYMONS

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

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

Translation:

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

Click to show riddle solution?
Crab, harrow


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 127v of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), page 236.

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



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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 82

VICTORIASYMONS

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

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

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

Franks Casket

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

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

Land crab

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

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

Land crab

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

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

Harrow

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

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

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

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

horse and ox ploughing

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

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

Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

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

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

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

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

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

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

Land crab

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

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading

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

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



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

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Exeter Riddle 83

VICTORIASYMONS

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

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

Translation:

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

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


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 127v of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), page 236.

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

Textual Note:

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



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

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