Commentary for Bern Riddle 8: De ovo


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

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