RIDDLE POSTS BY TAG: 'OLD ENGLISH'

Exeter Riddle 1

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Wed 20 Feb 2013
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddles 1-3
Original text:

Hwylc is hæleþa þæs horsc      ond þæs hygecræftig
þæt þæt mæge asecgan,      hwa mec on sið wræce,
þonne ic astige strong,      stundum reþe,
þrymful þunie,      þragum wræce
5     fere geond foldan,      folcsalo bærne,
ræced reafige?      Recas stigað,
haswe ofer hrofum.      Hlin bið on eorþan,
wælcwealm wera,      þonne ic wudu hrere,
bearwas bledhwate,      beamas fylle,
10     holme gehrefed,      heahum meahtum
wrecen on waþe,      wide sended;
hæbbe me on hrycge      þæt ær hadas wreah
foldbuendra,      flæsc ond gæstas,
somod on sunde.      Saga hwa mec þecce,
15     oþþe hu ic hatte,      þe þa hlæst bere.

Translation:

Who among heroes is so sharp and so skilled in mind
that he may declare who presses me on my journey,
when I rise up, mighty, sometimes savage,
full of force, I resound, at times I press on,
5     travel throughout the land, I burn the people’s hall,
plunder the palace? The reek rises,
grey to the roofs. There is a clamour on the earth,
the slaughter-death of men, when I shake the forest,
the quick-growing groves, topple trees,
10     sheltered by the sea, pressed into wandering
by the powers on high, sent afar;
I have on my back that which earlier covered each rank
of the earth-dwellers, flesh and spirit,
swimming together. Say what covers me,
15     or how I am called, who bear that burden.

Click to show riddle solution?
Storm, Wind, etc.


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 101r 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 180.

Note that this edition takes this riddle together with the following two, dubbing them all Riddle 1: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 67-70.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 1 

Related Posts:
Commentary for Exeter Riddles 1-3
Exeter Riddle 3
Exeter Riddle 23

Exeter Riddle 1 in Spanish / en Español

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 22 Jun 2021

Dr. José Antonio Alonso Navarro holds a PhD in English Philology from the Coruña University (Spain) and a BA in English Philology from the Complutense University of Madrid (Spain). Currently, Alonso Navarro is a Full Professor of History of the English Language at the National University of Asuncion (Paraguay). His main interest revolves around the translation of Middle English texts into Spanish. Needless to say, he is also very enthusiastic about Old English riddles.

El Dr. José Antonio Alonso Navarro es Doctor en Filología Inglesa por la Universidad de La Coruña (España) y Licenciado en Filología Inglesa por la Universidad Complutense de Madrid (España). Actualmente, Alonso Navarro es Catedrático de Historia de la Lengua Inglesa en la Universidad Nacional de Asunción (Paraguay). Su principal interés gira en torno a la traducción de textos del inglés medio al español. No hace falta decir que también está muy entusiasmado con los acertijos en inglés antiguo.



Original text:

Hwylc is hæleþa þæs horsc      ond þæs hygecræftig
þæt þæt mæge asecgan,      hwa mec on sið wræce,
þonne ic astige strong,      stundum reþe,
þrymful þunie,      þragum wræce
5     fere geond foldan,      folcsalo bærne,
ræced reafige?      Recas stigað,
haswe ofer hrofum.      Hlin bið on eorþan,
wælcwealm wera,      þonne ic wudu hrere,
bearwas bledhwate,      beamas fylle,
10     holme gehrefed,      heahum meahtum
wrecen on waþe,      wide sended;
hæbbe me on hrycge      þæt ær hadas wreah
foldbuendra,      flæsc ond gæstas,
somod on sunde.      Saga hwa mec þecce,
15     oþþe hu ic hatte,      þe þa hlæst bere.

Translation:
¿Quién hay de entre los hombres sabios y prudentes que puedan contar quién me impulsa a viajar, cuándo yo me elevo poderosamente, a veces de manera salvaje y retumbando con fuerza, y cuándo en ocasiones yo mismo me impulso a viajar a través de la tierra, quemando casas y saqueando palacios? El humo gris asciende hasta los tejados. Hay un estruendo sobre la tierra, la muerte violenta de hombres cuando agito bosques y arboledas que crecen con rapidez, cuando derribo árboles, protegido por el océano, obligado a viajar por los poderes en las alturas, (y) forzado a moverme a lo largo y ancho; sostengo en la espalda aquello que antes había cubierto el rango de los habitantes de la tierra, carne y hueso, nadando juntos. Decid qué es lo que me cubre o cómo se me llama, (y) quién sostiene la carga.
Click to show riddle solution?
Tormenta o Viento


Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  old english  riddle 1  José Antonio Alonso Navarro 

Related Posts:
Exeter Riddle 1

Commentary for Exeter Riddles 1-3

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 21 Mar 2013
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 1

Riddles 1 to 3 are quite clearly thematically linked, and it is because of this that they have also been read as one very long riddle (especially because Riddle 2 and the sections of Riddle 3 begin with the same word: Hwilum (sometimes)). This, of course, throws off the riddle numbering system (which you should note is an editorial practice and does not appear in the Exeter Book manuscript). For this website’s purposes, we’re sticking to the old school riddle numbering (i.e. the one in Krapp and Dobbie’s edition – see the About the Exeter Book page for more on this) because this is the system most online riddle resources use.

As for solutions (1), you may have noticed that the same ones crop up for each of the three related riddles. They are all commonly solved as Storm or Wind, but this doesn’t come close to covering all the potential solutions (scholars like to disagree). Other suggestions include Atmosphere, Power of Nature, Sun (esp. for riddles 2 and 3) and all manner of different types of storms (including Apocalyptic Storm, Hurricane, Earthquake, Storm at Sea and Thunderstorm). Riddle 1 has also been solved as Fire and Raiding Party or Army, while Riddle 2 has been solved as Anchor and Riddle 3 as Revenant. In addition to the stormy weather solutions, another trend can be seen throughout the riddles and that relates to religion. This is unsurprising considering the Exeter Book was donated to a cathedral library by a bishop – in fact, most early English literature has a strong religious connection because of the structure of this society and its scribal culture (think monasteries!). So, this religious trend has resulted in the following solutions: Riddle 1 as God, Riddle 2 as Christ and Riddle 3 as Cross, Spirit and Supernatural Force.

Having read a good chunk of Old English poetry, it seems pretty clear that each of the three riddles does possess religious connotations. All this talk of leaders controlling the destructive action of whatever þrymful þeow (powerful servant) is narrating definitely signals a divine entity. In fact, these poems echo in some ways the verse lines of the Old English translation of Boethius’ Consolatione philosophiae (Consolation of Philosophy). A section from Metre 20 (lines 63-74), which deals with the elements, reads:

Habbað þeah þa feower      frumstol hiora,
æghwilc hiora      agenne stede,
þeah anra hwilc      wið oðer sie
miclum gemenged      and mid mægne eac
fæder ælmihtiges      fæste gebunden,
gesiblice,      softe togædre
mid bebode þine,      bilewit fæder,
þætte heora ænig      oðres ne dorste
mearce ofergangan      for metodes ege,
ac [geþweorod] sint      ðegnas togædre,
cyninges cempan,      cele wið hæto,
wæt wið drygum,      winnað hwæðre. (2)
(Nevertheless each of the four have their proper station, their own place, although each of them may be greatly mixed with the other and also, by the might of the almighty father, bound fast, peaceably, gently together by your decree, merciful father, so that none of them dared to go over the other’s boundary because of fear of the lord, but the retainers are made to agree, the champions of the king, cold with heat, wet with dry, yet they compete.)

Stormy water

Rambunctious elements! Photo (by Terry Lucas) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY 3.0).

The rest of the poem goes on to discuss God’s control over the elements, which is again mentioned in relation to binding a hundred lines later:

Hafað fæder engla      fyr gebunden
efne to þon fæste      þæt hit fiolan ne mæg
eft æt his eðle      þær þæt oðer fyr
up ofer eall þis      eardfæst wunað. (153-56)
(The father of angels has bound fire precisely so fast that it may not return to its homeland where that other fire, up over all this, remains firmly fixed.)

Riddle 3’s focus on confinement in particular maps nicely onto this Boethian vision of the cosmos. It’s also noteworthy that Riddles 2 and 3 end with a similar challenge to the listener: the riddler not only asks what is narrating the poem, but also what is controlling the speaker:

                 Saga, þoncol mon,
hwa mec bregde      of brimes fæþmum,
þonne streamas eft      stille weorþað,
yþa geþwære,      þe mec ær wrugon. (12b-15)
(Say, thoughtful one, who draws me from the depths of the ocean, when the streams become still again, obedient the waves, which earlier concealed me.)

and

                  Saga hwæt ic hatte,
oþþe hwa mec rære,      þonne ic restan ne mot,
oþþe hwa mec stæðþe,      þonne ic stille beom. (72b-4)
(Say what I am called, or who raises me, when I may not rest, or who stays me, when I am still.)

Although Riddle 1 doesn’t end this way, it does include a reference to the powers that control it:

                  heahum meahtum
wrecen on waþe,      wide sended (10b-11).
(pressed into wandering / by the powers on high, sent afar).

This all seems to suggest that the solution calls for a master-servant duo. And so, perhaps God and the Elements (or in Old English: God ond þa Feower Gesceafta) would make a nice solution for all three of these poems. Of course, the poet seems to prefer the destructive aspect of each element…but without central heating, this isn’t particularly surprising!

Notes:

(1) For a convenient list of solutions and solvers, see Donald K. Fry’s article, “Exeter Book Riddle Solutions,” Old English Newsletter 15.1 (1981), pp. 22-33, although unfortunately and for obvious reasons it does not take into account suggested solutions after 1981.

(2) These lines are quoted from the brilliant, new-ish edition by Malcolm Godden and Susan Irvine, The Old English Boethius: An Edition of the Old English Versions of Boethius’s De Consolatione Philosophiae, 2 volumes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). The translations, along with this post, are by Megan.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 1  riddle 2  riddle 3 

Related Posts:
Exeter Riddle 2
Exeter Riddle 3

Exeter Riddle 2

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 28 Feb 2013
Original text:

Hwilum ic gewite,      swa ne wenaþ men,
under yþa geþræc      eorþan secan,
garsecges grund.      Gifen biþ gewreged,
fam gewealcen;
5     hwælmere hlimmeð,      hlude grimmeð,
streamas staþu beatað,      stundum weorpaþ
on stealc hleoþa      stane ond sonde,
ware ond wæge,      þonne ic winnende,
holmmægne biþeaht,      hrusan styrge,
10     side sægrundas.      Sundhelme ne mæg
losian ær mec læte      se þe min latteow bið
on siþa gehwam.      Saga, þoncol mon,
hwa mec bregde      of brimes fæþmum,
þonne streamas eft      stille weorþað,
15     yþa geþwære,      þe mec ær wrugon.

Translation:

Sometimes I depart, as people do not expect,
to seek the earth under the tumult of the waves,
the ocean’s base. The sea is roused,
the foam tossed;
5     the whale-mere resounds, loudly pounds,
the streams beat the banks, sometimes they fling
stone and sand on the steep slopes,
weed and wave, when I, struggling,
surround the sea’s might, stir up the earth
10     the broad ocean-base. I may not escape
the watery cover before he allows me, he who is my leader
on every journey. Say, thoughtful one,
who draws me from the depths of the ocean,
when the streams become still again,
15     obedient the waves, which earlier concealed me.

Click to show riddle solution?
Storm, Wind, etc


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 101r 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 180-1.

Note that this edition takes this riddle together with the preceding and following ones, dubbing them all Riddle 1: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 67-70.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 2 

Related Posts:
Commentary for Exeter Riddles 1-3
Exeter Riddle 3
Exeter Riddle 73

Exeter Riddle 2 in Spanish / en Español

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 22 Jun 2021

This Spanish translation of Riddle 2 from the Exeter Book is by Carlos M. Cepero. Carlos is an architect who was born, raised and lives in Rosario, Argentina. He studied English and German at and after school, is a ravenous reader and a declared Britophile. He is passionate about medieval literature, especially Old English and Old Norse literature. Thank you for your translation, Carlos!

Esta traducción al español del Acertijo 5 del Libro de Exeter es de Carlos M. Cepero. Carlos es un arquitecto que nació, creció y vive en Rosario, Argentina. Estudió inglés y alemán en y después de la escuela, es un lector voraz y un britófilo declarado. Es un apasionado de la literatura medieval, especialmente la literatura antigua inglesa y nórdica antigua. ¡Gracias por tu traducción, Carlos!



Original text:

Hwilum ic gewite,      swa ne wenaþ men,
under yþa geþræc      eorþan secan,
garsecges grund.      Gifen biþ gewreged,
fam gewealcen;
5     hwælmere hlimmeð,      hlude grimmeð,
streamas staþu beatað,      stundum weorpaþ
on stealc hleoþa      stane ond sonde,
ware ond wæge,      þonne ic winnende,
holmmægne biþeaht,      hrusan styrge,
10     side sægrundas.      Sundhelme ne mæg
losian ær mec læte      se þe min latteow bið
on siþa gehwam.      Saga, þoncol mon,
hwa mec bregde      of brimes fæþmum,
þonne streamas eft      stille weorþað,
15     yþa geþwære,      þe mec ær wrugon.

Translation:

A veces parto, sin que nadie lo imagine,
bajo el tumulto de las olas, buscando en la tierra,
en el fondo del piélago. El océano se enhiesta,
la espuma se enrosca.....
5     el mar de las ballenas ruge, brama con estruendo,
las corrientes golpean la orilla, arrojan por momentos,
sobre los empinados riscos, rocas y arena,
algas y oleaje, cuando yo forcejeo
oculto bajo recia marea, revolviendo el fondo,
10     el suelo del vasto océano. No puedo rehuir
la acuosa bóveda hasta que aquel
que en cada viaje me guía, me lo permita.
Di, hombre pensativo, quién me atrae de las profundidades del mar
cuando las corrientes y las ondas,
15     que otrora cubríanme, se aquietan y calman.

Click to show riddle solution?
Tormenta o Viento


Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  old english  riddle 2  Carlos M. Cepero 

Related Posts:
Exeter Riddle 2

Exeter Riddle 3

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Sun 10 Mar 2013
Original text:

Hwilum mec min frea      fæste genearwað,
sendeð þonne      under salwonges
bearm þone bradan,      ond on bid wriceð,
þrafað on þystrum      þrymma sumne,
5     hæste on enge,      þær me heord siteð
hruse on hrycge.      Nah ic hwyrftweges
of þam aglace,      ac ic eþelstol
hæleþa hrere;      hornsalu wagiað,
wera wicstede,      weallas beofiað,
10     steape ofer stiwitum.      Stille þynceð
lyft ofer londe      ond lagu swige,
oþþæt ic of enge      up aþringe,
efne swa mec wisaþ      se mec wræde on
æt frumsceafte      furþum legde,
15     bende ond clomme,      þæt ic onbugan ne mot
of þæs gewealde      þe me wegas tæcneð.
Hwilum ic sceal ufan      yþa wregan,
streamas styrgan      ond to staþe þywan
flintgrægne flod.      Famig winneð
20     wæg wið wealle,      wonn ariseð
dun ofer dype;      hyre deorc on last,
eare geblonden,      oþer fereð,
þæt hy gemittað      mearclonde neah
hea hlincas.      Þær bið hlud wudu,
25     brimgiesta breahtm,      bidað stille
stealc stanhleoþu      streamgewinnes,
hopgehnastes,      þonne heah geþring
on cleofu crydeþ.      Þær bið ceole wen
sliþre sæcce,      gif hine sæ byreð
30     on þa grimman tid,      gæsta fulne,
þæt he scyle rice      birofen weorþan,
feore bifohten      fæmig ridan
yþa hrycgum.      Þær bið egsa sum
ældum geywed,      þara þe ic hyran sceal
35     strong on stiðweg.      Hwa gestilleð þæt?
Hwilum ic þurhræse,      þæt me on bæce rideð
won wægfatu,      wide toþringe
lagustreama full,      hwilum læte eft
slupan tosomne.      Se bið swega mæst,
40     breahtma ofer burgum,      ond gebreca hludast,
þonne scearp cymeð      sceo wiþ oþrum,
ecg wið ecge;      earpan gesceafte
fus ofer folcum      fyre swætað,
blacan lige,      ond gebrecu ferað
45     deorc ofer dryhtum      gedyne micle,
farað feohtende,      feallan lætað
sweart sumsendu      seaw of bosme,
wætan of wombe.      Winnende fareð
atol eoredþreat,      egsa astigeð,
50     micel modþrea      monna cynne,
brogan on burgum,      þonne blace scotiað
scriþende scin      scearpum wæpnum.
Dol him ne ondrædeð      ða deaðsperu,
swylteð hwæþre,      gif him soð meotud
55     on geryhtu      þurh regn ufan
of gestune læteð      stræle fleogan,
farende flan.      Fea þæt gedygað,
þara þe geræceð      rynegiestes wæpen.
Ic þæs orleges      or anstelle,
60     þonne gewite      wolcengehnaste
þurh geþræc þringan      þrimme micle
ofer byrnan bosm.      Biersteð hlude
heah hloðgecrod;      þonne hnige eft
under lyfte helm      londe near,
65     ond me on hrycg hlade      þæt ic habban sceal,
meahtum gemagnad      mines frean.
Swa ic þrymful þeow      þragum winne,
hwilum under eorþan,      hwilum yþa sceal
hean underhnigan,      hwilum holm yfan
70     streamas styrge,      hwilum stige up,
wolcnfare wrege,      wide fere
swift ond swiþfeorm.      Saga hwæt ic hatte,
oþþe hwa mec rære,      þonne ic restan ne mot,
oþþe hwa mec stæðþe,      þonne ic stille beom.

Translation:

Sometimes my lord confines me firmly,
then sends me under the broad embrace
of the prosperous plain, and pushes me to a halt,
he restrains some of my power in darkness,
5     violently in confinement, where my keeper, earth,
presses on my back. I have no escape
from that oppression, but I shake
the dwelling place of heroes; the gabled halls tremble,
the homes of men, the walls wobble,
10     steep over the householders. The air over the land
seems still and the ocean is silent,
until I burst forth from my confinement,
even as he instructs me, he who first laid
fetters upon me at creation,
15     bonds and chains, so that I might not bend
from the power that shows me my path.
Sometimes I must excite the waves from above,
stir up the streams and drive to the shore
the flint-grey flood. The foamy water
20     struggles against the wall, a dark mountain
rises up over the deep; dark in its track,
another goes, mixed with the sea,
so that they meet near the borderland,
the high banks. There the wood is loud,
25     the cry of the sea-guests, the steep stone-cliffs
quietly await the watery war,
the wet conflict, when the lofty tumult
crowds onto the cliffs. There the ship is in expectation
of a fierce fight, if the sea bears it
30     on that terrible tide, full of souls,
so that it must be deprived of control
robbed of life, the foamy one [must] ride
the backs of the waves. There a certain terror is
made visible to men, that which I must obey,
35     strong on the harsh path. Who stills that?
Sometimes I rush through, so that a dark water-vessel
rides on my back, I drive apart
the cups of water widely, sometimes I let
them slide together again. That is the greatest of clamours,
40     sounds over the cities, and the loudest of clashes,
when a sharp cloud comes against another,
edge against edge; the dark creatures
eager over the people bleed fire,
bright flame, and the clamour travels
45     dark over the people with a great din,
they go fighting, allow to fall
dark drops, humming, from the compass [of the clouds],
moisture from the belly. A terrible troop travels,
toiling; fear rises up,
50     a great mind-torment for mankind,
terror in the cities, when dark phantoms,
spreading out, shoot with sharp weapons.
The foolish one does not dread the death-spear,
and yet he dies, if the true measurer,
55     according to his right, allows an arrow
to fly through the rain from the tempest above,
a traveling dart. Few escape that,
of those whom the weapon of the racing guest reaches.
I establish the start of that strife,
60     when I go through the crush to force
the cloud-conflict with great strength
over the compass of the stream. Loudly the lofty
crowd crashes; then afterwards I sink
under the helmet of the air near the land,
65     and load up something I must have onto my back,
recovered with the strength of my lord.
Thus I, powerful servant, contend at times,
sometimes under the earth, sometimes I must
descend beneath the humble waves, sometimes above the hill
70     I stir up streams, sometimes I rise up,
excite the cloud-journey, I travel widely,
swift and strong of substance. Say what I am called,
or who raises me, when I may not rest,
or who stays me, when I am still.

Click to show riddle solution?
Storm, Wind, etc


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 101v-102v 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 181-3.

Note that this edition takes this riddle together with the preceding two, dubbing them all Riddle 1: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 67-70.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 3 

Related Posts:
Exeter Riddle 12
Exeter Riddle 14
Exeter Riddle 7

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 4

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Wed 03 Apr 2013
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 4

Riddle-solvers have had fun with this one, so brace yourselves. First off, Fry’s riddle-solution article lists the following suggestions: Bell, Millstone, Necromancy, Flail, Lock, Handmill, Pen and Phallus. How could someone possibly associate a bell and a phallus? I’ll leave that up to you.

But the fun doesn’t stop there. In the same year that Fry’s article was published, Ann Harleman Stewart writes an article (full ref details below) suggesting Bucket of Water, which A. N. Doane goes on to refine in another article. According to the Bucket-reading, the various rings that the riddle describes are either links on a chain, the straps surrounding the bucket (i.e. the ones that hold the pieces of wood in place) and/or a sheet of ice on the surface of the water. Certainly, the description of grumbling, chilly, early-rising servants would fit this interpretation, as does the reference to “bursting” the bound ring, if we’re talking about ice.

Red bucket with frozen water

Photo of a not-very-medieval bucket with frozen water from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 2.0).

But the fun doesn’t stop there. In the very same year (1991), we have another two scholars who suggest a pretty fun solution: Dog or Watchdog. These are Wim Tigges and Ray Brown (the scholars…not the dogs). Now the "cry" is a bark, the rings are a collar and leash and someone is really unhappy to be dragged out of bed by a frolicsome pup. I promise to feed and walk it every morning, mom, really!

But the fun doesn’t stop there. If you’re a cat person, you might agree with the next person to take a crack at solving Riddle 4. In 2007, Melanie Heyworth suggests that what we’re actually dealing with here is the Devil. She compares the use of words keywords in the poem to the language of penitentials (outlines of penance for sins) and homilies and finds a lot of overlap. Noting that most of the words in the poem have double meanings, she sees a lot of condemning with fetters and violation of religious worship (not to mention sex, reading the wearm lim as a "hot penis"). All of this is to say, if you’re a sleepy medieval person, you had better get yourself out of bed and into the church…being tired means you’re not alert and that makes you vulnerable to temptation (see "Hrothgar’s Sermon" in Beowulf, lines 1700-74), if you don’t believe me).

Statue of devil and woman

Photo of a not-so-medieval devil statue from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0).

But, you guessed it, the fun still doesn’t stop there. I’m a big fan of the next solution, Shannon Ferri Cochran’s 2009 suggestion that we’re actually dealing with a Plough Team. This reading takes the various rings as the neck-yoke on the oxen pulling the plough, as well as the wheels of the object itself. The nice, bursty sound now becomes wheels slopping through a muddy field, and the characters in the poem become the driver and his servant. Part of what I like about this interpretation is the way it maps onto a poem we haven’t yet gotten to: Riddle 21, a similarly fettered plough. But you’ll have to wait for that one.

And finally, oh finally, the fun stops (well…for now). Patrick J. Murphy’s 2011 book, Unriddling the Exeter Riddles, brings us full circle to Bell again. That’s right, the solution that had the most supporters in Fry’s 1981 article is back in the spotlight. Here, Murphy concentrates on the rings as puns on "to ring" (you know, like you ring…well…a bell) and the binding as an allusion to the bell’s duty as a servant (it’s "bound" to carry out it’s job…ba-dum ching). Murphy also looks to other texts where bells are governed by the verb hyran, which he points out can mean both ‘"o obey" and "to hear."

Hand bells lying on their side

Photo (by Suguri F) of a not-so-medieval hand bell from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0).

So, what do I think? I simply do not know. To be honest with you, all these readings are pretty convincing. That’s why people keep publishing them. I suppose if push came to shove, I’d be inclined to support the Bucket (or OE wæter-stoppa, according to Niles) reading since it seems to cover all the bases. But if I’ve learned one thing from reading up on Riddle 4, it’s that there’s always room for more!

 

[Editorial Note: Another solution has now been proposed!: Sword. Check out Corinne Dale’s, “A New Solution to Exeter Book Riddle 4” in Notes and Queries, vol. 64, issue 1 (2017), pages 1-3.]

 

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Brown, Ray. “The Exeter Book’s Riddle 2: A Better Solution.” English Language Notes, vol. 29 (1991), pages 1-4.

Cochran, Shannon Ferri. “The Plough’s the Thing: A New Solution to Old English Riddle 4 of the Exeter Book.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology, vol. 108 (2009), pages 301-9.

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

Heyworth, Melanie. “The Devil’s in the Detail: A New Solution to Exeter Book Riddle 4.” Neophilologus, vol. 91 (2007), pages 175-96.

Murphy, Patrick J. Unriddling the Exeter Riddles. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011, esp. pages 71-7.

Niles, John D. Old English Enigmatic Poems and the Play of the Texts. Turnhout: Brepols, 2006, esp. page 147.

Stewart, Ann Harleman. “The Solution to Old English Riddle 4.” Studia Philologica, vol. 78 (1981), pages 52-61.

Tigges, Wim. “Signs and Solutions: A Semiotic Approach to the Exeter Book Riddles.” In This Noble Craft: Proceedings of the Xth Research Symposium of the Dutch and Belgian University Teachers of Old and Middle English and Historical Linguistics, Utrecht, 19-20 January, 1989. Edited by Erik Kooper. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1991, pages 59-82.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 4 

Related Posts:
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 21

Exeter Riddle 5

MATTHIASAMMON

Date: Tue 09 Apr 2013
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 5
Original text:

Ic eom anhaga         iserne wund,
bille gebennad,         beadoweorca sæd,
ecgum werig.         Oft ic wig seo,
frecne feohtan.         Frofre ne wene,
5     þæt me geoc cyme         guðgewinnes,
ær ic mid ældum         eal forwurðe,
ac mec hnossiað         homera lafe,
heardecg heoroscearp,         hondweorc smiþa,
bitað in burgum;         ic abidan sceal
10     laþran gemotes.         Næfre læcecynn
on folcstede         findan meahte,
þara þe mid wyrtum         wunde gehælde,
ac me ecga dolg         eacen weorðað
þurh deaðslege         dagum ond nihtum.

Translation:

I am a lone-dweller, wounded by iron,
savaged by a sword, worn out by war-deeds,
battered by blades. Often I see battle,
fraught fighting. I do not expect succour,
5     that relief from war might come to me,
before I perish utterly among men,
but the leavings of hammers lash me,
hard-edged and sword-sharp, handiwork of smiths,
they bite me in strongholds; I must wait for
10     the more hateful encounter. Never am I able
to find medic-kin in the dwelling-place,
those who might heal my wound with herbs,
but the scars of swords become wider on me
through a death-blow by day and by night.

Click to show riddle solution?
Shield (most widely supported), Chopping Block, Guilt


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 102v 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 183-4.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 3: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 71.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 5 

Related Posts:
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 63
Exeter Riddle 24
Exeter Riddle 63

Exeter Riddle 5 in Spanish / en Español

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 22 Jun 2021

This Spanish translation of Riddle 5 from the Exeter Book is by Carlos M. Cepero. Carlos is an architect who was born, raised and lives in Rosario, Argentina. He studied English and German at and after school, is a ravenous reader and a declared Britophile. He is passionate about medieval literature, especially Old English and Old Norse literature. Thank you for your translation, Carlos!

Esta traducción al español del Acertijo 5 del Libro de Exeter es de Carlos M. Cepero. Carlos es un arquitecto que nació, creció y vive en Rosario, Argentina. Estudió inglés y alemán en y después de la escuela, es un lector voraz y un britófilo declarado. Es un apasionado de la literatura medieval, especialmente la literatura antigua inglesa y nórdica antigua. ¡Gracias por tu traducción, Carlos!



Original text:

Ic eom anhaga         iserne wund,
bille gebennad,         beadoweorca sæd,
ecgum werig.         Oft ic wig seo,
frecne feohtan.         Frofre ne wene,
5     þæt me geoc cyme         guðgewinnes,
ær ic mid ældum         eal forwurðe,
ac mec hnossiað         homera lafe,
heardecg heoroscearp,         hondweorc smiþa,
bitað in burgum;         ic abidan sceal
10     laþran gemotes.         Næfre læcecynn
on folcstede         findan meahte,
þara þe mid wyrtum         wunde gehælde,
ac me ecga dolg         eacen weorðað
þurh deaðslege         dagum ond nihtum.

Translation:

Soy un ser solitario, herido por el hierro,
tullido por tizonas, fatigado por la lid,
exhausto del acero. Frecuentemente presencio de la batalla
el fiero fragor. No anticipo alivio,
5     ningún sosiego me vendrá del forcejeo en la contienda,
hasta que no sucumba enteramente entre los hombres;
mas filosas y templadas me zurran,
la obra de las mazas (1), la manualidad de forjadores,
me muerden en las ciudadelas; deberé soportar, todavía (2),
10     encuentros más odiosos. Jamás encontraré
curanderos en los lugares de reunión,
quienes mediante hierbas sanen mis heridas,
mas mis cicatrices, regalo** de espadas,
aumentan día y noche por medio de golpes mortales.

Click to show riddle solution?
Escudo, Tajo o Culpa


Notes:
(1) obra de mazas: kenning, "espadas" (2) These words are the translator's addition. / Estas palabras son la adición del traductor.

Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  old english  riddle 5  Carlos M. Cepero 

Related Posts:
Exeter Riddle 2

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 5

MATTHIASAMMON

Date: Tue 09 Apr 2013
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 5

This riddle is most commonly solved as "shield" and this is the solution I’m adopting here. The shield is one of the most common accessories of the protagonists of heroic poetry (see for example the importance of this piece of battle-equipment in poems like Beowulf or The Battle of Maldon) and as such is one of the most important symbols of this social world. In this riddle, the usual connotations are subverted. While the poem uses the common associations of the shield with swords (ecg, bill) and battle (wig, beadoweorc), the shield is cast in the role of an exile, as suggested by the poetic term anhaga, familiar to readers of Old English poetry from the first line of The Wanderer (Oft him anhaga are gebideð…, "Often the solitary man himself experiences favour…"), a poem which explores the mental landscape of somebody who is no longer a part of the heroic social world (full translation here). It may for example also be considered significant that the shield cannot find any security in the burg, the "stronghold," a word that is etymologically and semantically connected to other words relating to "safety" in Old English.

Red replica shield

Here’s a reconstructed Viking shield from the Barrow-in-Furness Dock Museum.

Like the main character of The Wanderer, the shield is unable to do anything about what’s happening to it – note that it talks about the things being done to it, with me as the object of the sentences in the middle of the poem and the final two lines. Where the shield is the subject, the verbs are not ones of action (seo: "I see"; forwurðe: "I perish"; findan meahte: "I might find"). As we have already seen in some of the other riddles, the shield – an inanimate object – speaks in the first person (a literary technique known as "prosopopeia"). Through this, the shield to a certain extent takes on the persona of a human warrior, scarred by many battles and left without companions.

The riddle therefore plays with several aspects of the shield’s identity: it is a heroic object, used in potentially glorious battles, but its essentially defensive nature means it’s less glamorous than an active, attacking weapon like a sword – it has things done to it and can do nothing to change its fate. Like the exiles whose plight is evoked in the Old English elegies, the description of the shield shows what one might call the flipside of the heroic world: the scars, the injuries, the grittiness of battle, the potential for the individual to be left without help or companionship.

Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 5 

Related Posts:
Exeter Riddle 5

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 6

MATTHIASAMMON

Date: Mon 06 May 2013
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 6

As we have already seen with the other riddles, the poet here employs language familiar from other contexts to show the sun in a new light (if you’ll excuse the pun). In Riddle 5, elegiac exile imagery was transferred to an object intimately associated with the social world of heroic poetry; here, a part of the natural world is described as a warlike thing. Again, the language of the relationship between a lord and his follower is evoked. The emphasis on Christ as commanding the sun also serves to set this riddle very much in a Christian context. This coming together of heroic imagery and Christian themes is something that is quite common in Old English poetry. In this case, for example, some scholars have argued that the dual nature of the sun, which is sometimes pleasant and sometimes painful, reflects the nature of Christ himself – his "warmth" is pleasant to faithful believers and painful to sinners. There is thus a metaphorical focus within the poem that raises it beyond the playful description of a natural object, which is something worth bearing in mind when reading the riddles in general. At any rate, I’m sure we can agree that the riddle shows a certain early medieval ambiguity about the sun (which some might say has persisted up to the present day).

In the manuscript, the text of the riddle is followed by a single rune, usually taken as representing the letter "s" and standing for Old English sigel or possibly Latin sol. Both of these words mean "sun," so the rune might be a further hint towards the solution of the riddle. We will come back to runes with some of the other riddles.

Actual_Sunset

Photo (by Jessie Eastland) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0).

Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 6 

Related Posts:
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 6

Exeter Riddle 7

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Fri 17 May 2013
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 7

This week’s translation is a guest post from the wonderful Jessica Lockhart. Jessica is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto, and she clearly knows a thing or two about stylish translating. Stay tuned next week for her commentary.



Original text:

Hrægl min swigað,      þonne ic hrusan trede,
oþþe þa wic buge,      oþþe wado drefe.
Hwilum mec ahebbað      ofer hæleþa byht
hyrste mine,      ond þeos hea lyft,
5     ond mec þonne wide      wolcna strengu
ofer folc byreð.      Frætwe mine
swogað hlude      ond swinsiað,
torhte singað,      þonne ic getenge ne beom
flode ond foldan,      ferende gæst.

Translation:

My clothing keeps quiet, when I step on earth
or settle down on dwellings or disturb the waters.
Sometimes my dress and this lofty air
lift me over the home of heroes;
5     and widely, then, does the clouds’ strength
bear me over mankind. My adornments
sound out loud and entune sweetly,
sing clearly, when I am not touching
flood and fold, a soul faring.

Click to show riddle solution?
Swan


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 103r 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 184-5.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 5: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 72.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 7 

Related Posts:
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 73
Exeter Riddle 3
Exeter Riddle 40

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 7

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Fri 24 May 2013
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 7

This post once again comes to us from Jessica Lockhart. Enjoy!

I still remember how baffled I was the first time I came across this riddle in undergrad. A person who walks on earth, inhabits a home, riles up water, and has a singing garment that lifts them over houses? Could it be a saint? Some kind of spirit? A medieval Boba Fett with a jetpack and some jingle bells?

Although Riddle 7 may sound bizarre to our ears at first, it is actually one of those riddles about which scholars feel confident in their solution. Franz Dietrich solved the riddle definitively as "swan" (OE swon or swan) in 1859 – more specifically, as some scholars since have pointed out, the riddle refers to the mute swan, cygnus olor, a species which was resident year-round in early medieval England and found widely throughout Europe.

Mute Swan

This photo (by Arpingstone) is from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

The pivotal clue is the singing of the creature’s clothing in the final lines:

                   Frætwe mine
swogað hlude         ond swinsiað,
torhte singað,         þonne ic getenge ne beom
flode ond foldan,   ferende gæst.
(My adornments sound out loud and entune sweetly, (1) sing clearly, when I am not touching flood and fold, a soul faring.)

This is a beautiful description of the sound the mute swan’s feathers make when the swan is beating its wings in flight. Once we know the solution, the riddle’s earlier clues make sense as well: "treading the land" becomes the swan’s waddle, the dwelling it settles on becomes its nest, and "disturbing the waters" becomes an apt description of the paddling of the swan’s oary feet. Only when the swan is travelling in its third element, the windy air, does the swan’s clothing demonstrate its twin marvellous potentials for flight and song.

But as Megan would say, the fun doesn’t stop there. As you’ve probably noticed, this riddle uses a set of four alliterating verbs to describe the swan’s clothes: first they swigað (keep silent), and then they swogað (make a sound), *swinsiað (make melody), and singað (sing). These similar-sounding words lend the riddle some nice unity (and anticipate the final "sw-" word of "swan"), but as Dieter Bitterli has recently shown, they also work on another level. In the Middle Ages, common wisdom held that the Latin word for swan, cygnus, came from the verb canere, "to sing." Isidore of Seville gives this origin in his Etymologies, and claimed this was because the swan actually sings beautifully with its long throat. (Our legend about the dying "swan-song" actually goes all the way back to ancient Greece). By connecting the swan to singing, this riddle evokes this etymology. But interestingly, instead of going with Isidore’s explanation, the Exeter riddle poet has created a set of clues that explains the mute swan’s "song" using the actual behaviour of the bird, and also implies that the Old English word "swan", too, reveals the bird’s connection with these verbs, especially "swinsiað." (2) Neat, eh?

So, what else is interesting about this riddle? Let’s look at how this riddle establishes a worldview. The first and last sentences of this riddle do a lot of work: they convey all the essential etymological and behavioural clues for "swan" and set up the rhetorical antithesis (poetic contrast) between silence and sound that forms the riddle’s semantic core. These sentences do so much work that if you were to eliminate everything but these first and last sentences, arguably the riddle would still be perfectly complete. (Short pithy riddles like it were very much the style of the Latin riddler Symphosius and several of his English followers.) But what else the riddle does, is create for us a moving meditation on the place of this extraordinary bird in a human-inhabited world. The creature lives in a dwelling, wears adornments, and treads the ground like a human, (3) and when it is carried astonishingly through the air, the riddle emphasizes how close it remains to human civilization:

Hwilum mec ahebbað         ofer hæleþa byht
hyrste mine,         ond þeos hea lyft,
ond mec þonne wide         wolcna strengu
ofer folc byreð.
(Sometimes my dress and this lofty air lift me over the home of heroes; and widely, then, does the clouds’ strength bear me over mankind.)

This is a trick we should watch out for in later riddles: the speaker playfully offers a perspective down on those who (if looking up) would not see an amazing speaker with singing clothes, but the bird we’d know and recognize.

There’s a playful artistry involved in making a riddle very specific while at the same time very misleading, and a new bonus level of artistry when a riddle takes something we have always accepted as normal (a water-bird, a name, a genre, an idea) and uses that concept to crack open reality like an eggshell, to show us wonder and potential that we ignore. Riddles like Exeter 7 work to show us how much more curious we should be than we are.

Notes:

(1) For translating "swinsiað," I adapted the Middle English verb "entune" to convey this idea of music, and added "sweetly" to preserve the "sw" alliteration – it’s also my own secret clue for those who know Chaucer’s description of birdsong in The Book of the Duchess , line 309 as "So mery a soun, so swete entewnes."

(2) Even more impressively, he may have been right; etymologically, the word "swan" does have to do with sound.

(3) Exeter 7 is the first of a series of riddles on birds and other animals in the Exeter Book, and later riddles often closely parallel its wording. Watch out for especially close similarities when we get to Riddle 10, which I won’t spoil here.

References and Further Reading:

Bitterli, Dieter. “Tell-Tale Birds: The Etymological Principle.” In 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, pages 35-46.

Kitson, Peter. “Swans and Geese in Old English Riddles.” Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History, vol. 7 (1994), pages 79-84.

Meaney, Audrey. “Birds on the Stream of Consciousness: Riddles 7 to 10 of the Exeter Book.” Archaeological Review from Cambridge, vol. 18 (2002), pages 120-52.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 7 

Related Posts:
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 10

Exeter Riddle 8

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Wed 29 May 2013
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 8
Original text:
Ic þurh muþ sprece             mongum reordum,
wrencum singe,             wrixle geneahhe
heafodwoþe,             hlude cirme,
healde mine wisan,             hleoþre ne miþe,
5       eald æfensceop,            eorlum bringe
blisse in burgum,             þonne ic bugendre
stefne styrme;             stille on wicum
sittað nigende.             Saga hwæt ic hatte,
þe swa scirenige             sceawendwisan
10       hlude onhyrge,             hæleþum bodige
wilcumena fela             woþe minre.
Translation:
I speak through my mouth with many sounds,
I sing with modulation, frequently vary
my voice, call loudly,
stick to my ways, I do not stifle my speech,
5       an old evening-singer, I bring delight
to dwellers in the cities, when I bellow
with bending voice; still in their homes,
they sit silently. Say what I am called,
who, like an actress, loudly imitates
10       the entertainer’s song, proclaims to people
many greetings with my speaking.
Click to show riddle solution?
Nightingale (likely), Pipe or Flute, all manner of other birds, etc


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 103r 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 185.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 6: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 72.



Tags: riddle 8  anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions 

Related Posts:
Exeter Riddle 23
Exeter Riddle 24
Exeter Riddle 33

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 8

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 14 Feb 2013
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 8

Who knew that early medieval England had such a vibrant nightlife? Whenever I read this poem, I’m struck with the image of lounge lizard monks clubbing and singing karaoke (thanks to Elaine Treharne for tweeting this suggestion!). It’s actually rather distracting when it comes to writing the commentary.

But since you’re no doubt dying to hear more about this riddle, let’s start with the solution. Well, like all of the Exeter Book riddles, this one has had a variety of proposed solutions. According to Fry’s list of riddle solutions (which you really should be getting familiar with by now, but I’ll give you the reference below anyway!), scholars have argued for: Nightingale, Pipe, Woodpigeon, Bell, Jay, Chough, Jackdaw, Thrush, Starling, Crying Baby, Frogs, Soul and Devil as Buffoon. I’ve missed out Flute, but I’m too far away from a library at the minute to check that this suggestion came early enough for Fry to include it in his list. Homework: someone go check this and let us know! But at any rate the solutions are mainly a lot of birds and a few other noisy things. Obviously, sound is the motif we want to tune into (pardon the pun), considering the sheer volume of song/speech words repeated throughout this poem.

But we’ll get to that in a moment. For now, solution-wise, I’m going to throw my lot in with Nightingale, or Old English, Nihtegale. Why?, you might ask, and the reason to that question would be what Dieter Bitterli has dubbed the “etymological principle.” The riddle makes it very clear that what we’re dealing with here is something that sings (galan) in the night (niht). So that would be a night- (niht) singer (gale). A niht-gale. Nihtegale. Got it?

Nightingale

This photo (by J. Dietrich) is from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0).

Another thing to point out is that our previous riddle dealt with the mute swan. Now we’ve got the noisy nightingale and (spoiler alert!) we’ll continue on with a few more birds in the riddles immediately following. These runs of connected riddles are found throughout the Exeter Book collection, as we saw with Riddles 1-3, and I think they’re very useful in narrowing down the general subject matter of a lot of the poems.

As for the sorts of words this riddle makes use of, we have the ever-popular sound/voice range: reord, heafodwoþ, hleoþor, stefn and woþ. Noise-making verbs include: sprecan, singan, wrixlan (sort of), cirman, styrman, onhyrian and bodian. Then, of course, we have the muþ (mouth) and two references to hlude (loudly), etc. etc. which is all contrasted to the stillness of human-life (stille on wicum / sittað nigende).

But human-life is also present very much in the personification of the birds, which tends to take on some fairly off-the-wall diction from time to time. For example, we’ve got heafodwoþe (literally, “head-voice”), a compound word that is only found here and whose elements collocate (that is, appear close together) nowhere else in the Old English corpus. Both parts of the compound are common, although woþ is especially mentioned along with other “voice,” “mouth” and “speech” words in poems about animals, such as The Phoenix (lines 127-8, 547-8), The Panther (lines 42-4) and The Whale (line 2), or animalistic and demonic forces in Guthlac A and B (lines 263-5, 390-3, 898-900).

Another unique compound is æfensceop (evening-singer), which is basically a way of talking around the riddle’s solution: evening/night + a word for a singer = nihtegale, as above. Scirenige is, perhaps, more exciting because it may be an actress-word. Editors frequently emend it (that is, take an educated guess at a correction) to the form scericge, which describes the entertaining St. Pelagia elsewhere in Old English (see Bosworth and Toller). Unfortunately for my dream of becoming an early medieval actress, though, Mercedes Salvador(-Bello) makes a good case for understanding this word not in terms of acting, but as a reference to light and to the Latin form for nightingale, luscinia. Finally, sceawendwis appears to be linked to entertainers as well, gesturing to a sort of jester-type of silliness: elsewhere, we find the compound sceawendspræc, which glosses the Latin scurrilitas (buffoonery). Bosworth and Toller’s dictionary defines this second Old English compound as “the speech of the theatre.” Although, of course, “theatre” may be slightly anachronistic for an early medieval context.

But there’s certainly something theatrical going on here in the bird-community that may or may not be a bit annoying to those quiet city-folk.

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.

Bosworth, Joseph, and T. Northcote Toller. An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1898). Digital edition (Prague: Faculty of Arts, Charles University, 2010): http://bosworth.ff.cuni.cz/.

Fry, Donald K. “Exeter Book Riddle Solutions.” Old English Newsletter, vol. 15, (1981), pages 22-33.

Salvador(-Bello), Mercedes. “The Evening Singer of Riddle 8 (K-D).” Selim, vol. 9 (1999), pages 57-68 (esp. 61-3).



Tags: riddle 8  anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions 

Related Posts:
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 8

Exeter Riddle 9

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Sun 16 Jun 2013
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 9

This week’s translation is a guest post from the very clever Jennifer Neville. Jennifer is a Reader in Early Medieval Literature at Royal Holloway University of London where she is currently working on a book about the Old English riddles. Stay tuned for her commentary in the next post.



Original text:

Mec on þissum dagum      deadne ofgeafun
fæder on modor;      ne wæs me feorh þa gen,
ealdor in innan.      Þa mec an ongon,
welhold mege,      wedum þeccan,
5     heold ond freoþode,      hleosceorpe wrah
swa arlice      swa hire agen bearn,
oþþæt ic under sceate,      swa min gesceapu wæron,
ungesibbum wearð      eacen gæste.
Mec seo friþe mæg      fedde siþþan,
10     oþþæt ic aweox,      widdor meahte
siþas asettan.      Heo hæfde swæsra þy læs
suna ond dohtra,      þy heo swa dyde.

Translation:

In these days my father and mother
gave me up for dead. There was no spirit in me yet
and no life within. Then someone began
to cover me with clothing;
5     a very loyal kinswoman protected and cherished me,
and she wrapped me with a protective garment,
just as generously as for her own children,
until under that covering, in accordance with my nature,
I was endowed with life amongst those unrelated to me.
10     The protective lady then fed me
until I grew up and could set out on wider journeys.
She had fewer dear sons and daughters because she did so.

Click to show riddle solution?
Cuckoo


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 103r-103v 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 185.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 7: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 72-3.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 9  jennifer neville 

Related Posts:
Commentary for Exeter Riddles 1-3
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 77
Exeter Riddle 42

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 9

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Tue 09 Jul 2013
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 9

This post once again comes to us from Jennifer Neville. Enjoy!

However you look at it, Riddle 9 is a sad story. On the surface, it’s the story of a monster-child, a revenant who rewards a well-meaning foster-mother with the murder of her beloved children. Most readers don’t worry too much about that monster, though; already primed to recognise anthropomorphism when they see it, they interpret that loyal kinswoman as a hapless bird that’s had the ill-fortune of a visit from a cuckoo. We are less familiar with cuckoos than we used to be, and so the ornithology may not be more mysterious now than it was during the early medieval period.

Black and white drawing

Drawing of a cuckoo from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

The basic scenario is this: some—not all—cuckoo species do not care for their own chicks. Instead, they lay their eggs one by one in the nests of other birds and leave foster-parents to feed and protect them. When they hatch, these chicks are often bigger than their "brothers and sisters," and they often hatch first. They are not only bigger and earlier, however; they are also louder. In fact, one cuckoo chick on its own makes as much noise as a whole brood of ordinary chicks. Unsurprisingly enough, the most demanding chick wins the most attention, and the most food, from its hard-working parents. The usurper also sometimes tries to edge the other chicks out of the nest; even worse, parent birds finding their own chicks perched precariously on the edge sometimes mistake them for outsiders and finish the job themselves. As a result, once mature enough to fly away, the cuckoo chick leaves its foster-parents with smaller or fewer offspring of their own, or even none at all.

The story is tragic, yet the Old English riddle restrains itself strictly to the cuckoo-chick’s point of view: we hear plenty of praise for the generous mother-bird who is so helpful to the growing parasite, but no sorrow at all for her or for her dead babies, only a classically wry comment that there were fewer of them as a result of their mother’s generosity.

That may be all that is needed to be said. Certainly the natural history of the cuckoo was (and is) interesting enough in its own right (see Bitterli for the literary tradition surrounding the cuckoo). Yet there’s an emotional charge here, despite—or perhaps because—of the poet’s restraint. We aren’t told about the weeping mother, but she’s still there, lurking inside the anthropomorphised bird. And so I wonder whether this riddle might also be seen as a commentary on the social institution of fostering: the custom, particularly among noble families, of sending children to be raised in other households or courts. Beowulf seems to have benefitted, for example, from being raised in the household of his grandfather, King Hrethel (Beowulf, lines 2428-34). In his case, the system seems to have been mutually beneficial: the fosterling maintained a staunch loyalty for the family in which he was brought up, fighting bravely on Higelac’s behalf throughout his kingship and then supporting the rule of Higelac’s young son, Heardred, even though the queen offered him the kingship. Yet it is easy to imagine that the system might not always have worked so well.  What if the visiting prince used up more than his fair share of scarce resources? What if he entered into competition with his foster-parents’ children? What if he "accidently" killed them in a "friendly" duel? The riddle presents precisely the sorrowful outcome that might come out of honourably fulfilling the obligations of fosterage, if one were unfortunate enough to be cursed with a "cuckoo chick".

Cuckoo chick with crow

A cuckoo chick and crow from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 4.0).

Again, that may be all that is needed to be said. It’s worth noting, however, that Riddle 9 neither begins nor ends with an explicit riddling tag, and that the absence of solutions in the manuscript means that there is always the possibility that we should carry on with the interpretive process. After all, we have in the manuscript three entries from the Physiologus: descriptions of animals that lead to allegorical readings. And, in fact, Riddle 9’s narrative can be translated into a story that might have been useful for preachers. Thus the mother bird can be seen as the soul living in the world (souls are often represented as birds). Her "offspring" are her good thoughts, stored in the nest of her heart. Too often, however, the devil (the cuckoo) insinuates himself (or, strictly speaking, herself) into that heart and leaves behind a sinful thought that grows ever larger, more attractive, and more demanding until those other nest-mates dwindle and disappear. The end result, once again, is dryly understated: the absence of good thoughts ultimately means eternal damnation.

As I’ve already said, there is no need in Riddle 9 for an allegorical reading or for social commentary. On the other hand, there is no reason why these things should not be there: Riddle 43 contains an allegory of body and soul, and several of the riddles include considerations of social roles (see, for example, Riddle 20, in which the sword reflects on its relationship with its lord). With no prologue, instructions, or solutions, Riddle 9, like all the Exeter Book riddles, invites a plethora of interpretive strategies. More importantly, it rules none out.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

Bitterli, Dieter. “The Survival of the Dead Cuckoo: Exeter Book Riddle 9.” In Riddles, Knights and Cross-dressing Saints: Essays on Medieval English Language and Literature. Edited by Thomas Honegger. Variations, vol. 5. Bern: Peter Lang, 2004, pages 95-114

Neville, Jennifer. “Fostering the Cuckoo: Exeter Book Riddle 9.” The Review of English Studies, vol. 58 (2007), pages 431-46 [the full text of this article, among others, is available on Jennifer’s university webpage]



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 9  jennifer neville 

Related Posts:
Exeter Riddle 9

Exeter Riddle 10

MATTHIASAMMON

Date: Thu 25 Apr 2013
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 10
Original text:

Neb wæs min on nearwe,         ond ic neoþan wætre,
flode underflowen,         firgenstreamum
swiþe besuncen,         ond on sunde awox
ufan yþum þeaht,         anum getenge
5     liþendum wuda         lice mine.
Hæfde feorh cwico,         þa ic of fæðmum cwom
brimes ond beames         on blacum hrægle;
sume wæron hwite         hyrste mine,
þa mec lifgende         lyft upp ahof,
10     wind of wæge,         siþþan wide bær
ofer seolhbaþo.         Saga hwæt ic hatte.

Translation:

My nose was in a tight spot, and I beneath the water,
underflowed by the flood, sunk deep
into the ocean-waves, and in the sea grew
covered with waves from above, my body
5     touching a floating piece of wood.
I had living spirit, when I came out of the embrace
of water and wood in a black garment,
some of my trappings were white,
then the air lifted me, living, up,
10     wind from the water, then carried me far
over the seal’s bath. Say what I am called.

Click to show riddle solution?
Barnacle goose


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 103v 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 185-6.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 8: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 73.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 10 

Related Posts:
Exeter Riddle 12
Exeter Riddle 24
Exeter Riddle 7

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 10

MATTHIASAMMON

Date: Thu 08 Aug 2013
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 10

While the solutions that have been proposed for this riddle range from "alchemy" and "baptism" to "bubble" and "water lily," the most commonly accepted solution is "barnacle goose" (Old English byrnete). This puts this riddle in line with the preceding bird riddles – once again the bird speaks of itself in the first person and tells the audience of its particular identifying characteristic: in this case, the genesis of the bird from wood and water. It was commonly believed in medieval times that barnacle geese were somehow grown from the barnacle shells that cling to driftwood floating in the sea. In fact, the word "barnacle" stems from the name for the bird rather than the other way around! And while this folk belief in the origin of the barnacle goose pops up a lot in the later Middle Ages, this riddle is in fact the earliest evidence that people thought this. Dieter Bitterli, whose work on the bird riddles has already been mentioned in some of the other commentaries, suggests that this myth may have originated in Britain where the arctic barnacle geese spend the winter and was handed down over generations to the authors of later medieval zoology text books.

The process of the birth of the barnacle goose is somewhat obscurely referred to in lines 4b-5 (with the bird’s body "touching" a floating piece of wood) and in the first half-line, which might allude to the bird’s hanging from the piece of wood by its beak, thus obtaining nourishment. Another characteristic is the "black garment" with "white trappings" which the speaker describes (see below for visual proof of this, though there are probably many other creatures to whom this might apply!). And barnacle geese are indeed "carried widely over the seal’s bath" – they breed on islands in the North Atlantic and come south to winter in Great Britain and the Netherlands (nothing like a balmy British winter to take the chill off…).

Goose

A goose! Photo (by Andrey) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY 2.0).

One interesting expression in this riddle is the feorh cwico of l. 6. I’ve translated this as "living spirit," but Leslie Lockett discusses feorh as meaning something more like "life-force," something that has to enter a thing to give it life – even one born from wood and water (page 44)! If you look back at Riddle 9, the cuckoo likewise explains that it did not have feorh when it was in the egg, so it’s something that comes with being born. And like the cuckoo, which was covered in a protective garment, the barnacle goose is protected by water which allows it to grow and become lifgende.

For those of you who might now be worrying that early medieval folks were a bit obsessed by birds, stay tuned for the next post’s change in direction.

Notes:

References and Suggested Reading:

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



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 10 

Related Posts:
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 10

Exeter Riddle 11

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 12 Aug 2013
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 11
Original text:

Hrægl is min hasofag,      hyrste beorhte,
reade ond scire      on reafe minum.
Ic dysge dwelle      ond dole hwette
unrædsiþas,      oþrum styre
5     nyttre fore.      Ic þæs nowiht wat
þæt heo swa gemædde,      mode bestolene,
dæde gedwolene,      deoraþ mine
won wisan gehwam.      Wa him þæs þeawes,
siþþan heah bringað      horda deorast,
10     gif hi unrædes      ær ne geswicaþ.

Translation:

My garment is stained dark, my ornaments bright,
red and shining on my robe.
I delude the fool and urge the idiot
on reckless tracks; others I steer
5     from suitable ones. I do not know why
they, thus mad, robbed of reason,
deluded in deed, praise my
shadowy way to everyone. Woe to them for that habit,
when they bring the most beloved of hoards on high,
10     if they do not first retreat from recklessness.

Click to show riddle solution?
Wine or Cup of Wine


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 103v 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 186.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 9: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 73-4.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 11 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 11

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Mon 12 Aug 2013
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 11

That’s right, folks, it’s the one you’ve been waiting for. Were you starting to worry that popular conceptions of early medieval England were all made up? Well, here comes the alcohol-riddle (and not the only one at that!), to make things right again. Of course, this is not a carousing drinking party of early medieval boisterousness, but quite a stern look at the effects of too much wine on one’s table manners and mortal soul. That is, of course, if we accept the solution Wine (OE Win) or Cup/Vessel of Wine (OE Winfæt), which most scholars do. Some, however, prefer the solutions Night, Gold and Phallus. I’m going to leave that last one to your imaginations, but will say that both Night and Gold have a little something going for them.

Much of the difficulty in choosing between Night, Gold and Wine lies in the translation of the word, hasofag. In fact, both parts of this unique compound have quite a few meanings. To start with the second element, fah can mean "hostile" or even "foe," as well as "variegated," "discoloured," "bright" or "adorned." I’ve chosen to translate it as "stained," hoping to get across both the sense of colour and bad behaviour. The first element, hasu, is also tricky to translate. It can mean "grey," "ash-coloured" or "tawny". But how can it be both dark/grey and yellowy-brown?, you might ask. The simple answer is that early medieval folks didn’t think of colours in quite the same way that we do. The slightly-more-complicated answer is that, while modern colour theory is more interested in identifying different hues, the early medieval English tended to differentiate based on brightness. I guess if most of your possessions are a dull brownish-grey, the bright glinting of a sword would be far more interesting than that fact that it’s a similar colour (in our sense of the word). Because of the complexities of translating Old English colours into Modern English ones, we can similarly argue that read doesn’t necessarily mean what we think of as "red." And so the first few lines of the riddle can be said to represent some sort of dark thing that has other, shinier things on it! Stars on the face of the night sky? Or light glinting off gold? (gold and read are a common pair in Old English poetry) Or the glistening of wine in a glass? These are all decent options.

The next few lines, then, go on to talk about the silly people who get all turned around and misled by whatever our riddle-object is. Night would, of course, make sense here, but it seems a bit obvious. Early medieval poets like metaphors, so a riddle about people who actually go out and get lost may have less going for it. Gold (like Wine) works, though. Both hoarding and drinking excessively are, after all, clearly no-no’s according to the church. There is, of course, another hoard mentioned in the last two lines, although, again, hord could be translated a number of ways, including as just "treasure." The treasure raised on high, then, may be the riddle-object, i.e. a glass of wine or a piece of gold (though I think it makes more sense to raise up a glass than a piece of gold…unless you’re Gollum). But this may also be a reference to a metaphorical hoard: the soul. Old English poetry often describes the body as a kind of fancy treasure-chest for storing the spirit. According to this metaphorical reading, the raising up bit is of course death, at which point the repentant soul hopes to go to heaven.

Native_gold_nuggets

Gold nuggets! Image from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

So, the wordplay-ish reference to raising things on high has me leaning toward Wine now, over Gold. Not literally. And there are a few other parts of the poem that imply this is the right direction to take. One is the reference to the owner of the riddle-object being mode bestolene (robbed of reason). The deprivation of sense associated with drinking is also mentioned in the equal-parts-awesome-and-gross Old English Judith. This poem tells the story of a woman who chops off the head of her invading enemy, Holofernes, when he’s drunk. Early on in the poem, we hear: Gefeol ða wine swa druncen / se rica on his reste middan, swa he nyste ræda nanne / on gewitlocan (67b-9a) (Then the powerful one fell in the middle of his bed, so drunk from wine that he did not know any reason in his mind). Although these poems don’t share the same words in Old English, they certainly share a similar sense: drinking is bad…it causes you to pass out and/or do stupid things.

Finally, the clincher for the Wine solution, as far as I’m concerned, is the very last line of the poem, gif hi unrædes ær ne geswicaþ. This line is repeated almost word for word at the end of (SPOILER ALERT) Riddle 27, which is commonly solved as Mead. I should also say that the line has close approximations in Juliana, line 120 (gif þu unrædes ær ne geswicest) and Elene, line 516 (ond þæs unrihtes eft geswicaþ), which are more interested in blasphemy than alcohol…but still.

I’m feeling quite thirsty now, so I’m going to leave you there.

Red wine in glass

Red, red wine. In a non-medieval glass. Obv. Image (by André Karwath) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0).

Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 11 

Related Posts:
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 27

Exeter Riddle 12

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Thu 22 Aug 2013
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 12

This week’s translation is a guest post from the enigmatic Cameron Laird. Cameron is PhD student at the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto, where he is working on a thesis about this very riddle collection! Stay tuned for his commentary in the next post.



Original text:

Fotum ic fere,      foldan slite,
grene wongas,      þenden ic gæst bere.
Gif me feorh losað,      fæste binde
swearte Wealas,      hwilum sellan men.
5     Hwilum ic deorum      drincan selle
beorne of bosme,      hwilum mec bryd triedeð
felawlonc fotum,      hwilum feorran broht
wonfeax Wale      wegeð ond þyð,
dol druncmennen      deorcum nihtum,
10     wæteð in wætre,      wyrmeð hwilum
fægre to fyre;      me on fæðme sticaþ
hygegalan hond,      hwyrfeð geneahhe,
swifeð me geond sweartne.      Saga hwæt ic hatte,
þe ic lifgende      lond reafige
15     ond æfter deaþe      dryhtum þeowige.

Translation:

I travel on feet, tear the ground,
the green fields, while I bear my spirit.
If life leaves me, I bind fast
swarthy slaves, sometimes better people.
5     Sometimes I give drink to a brave man
from my breast; sometimes a bride treads on me
so proudly with her feet.  Sometimes a dark-haired
slave girl brought from far away clutches and crushes me;
the dim drunken maid in dark nights
10     wets me in water, sometimes warms me
pleasantly by the fire.  A lustful hand
shoves me to a bosom, turns just enough,
and touches me throughout the dark. Say what I am called,
who, living, ravages the land
15     and after death serves men.

Click to show riddle solution?
Ox, Ox-hide, Leather (object), etc.


Notes:

This riddle appears on folios 103v-104r 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 186.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 10: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 74.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 12 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 12

MEGANCAVELL

Date: Sat 07 Sep 2013
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 12

This post once again comes to us from Cameron Laird:

The solution to this one is the ever-helpful Ox (OE Oxa), who not only pulled the plough for planting crops but also provided leather for all sorts of useful things in early medieval England. Ælfric (c. 955-1010), an abbot of the monastery at Eynsham, tells us that the farmer or ploughman (OE yrþlingc) led his oxen to the field early in the morning and yoked them to the plough (OE sulh), which was fitted with blades to cut and turn over the soil (Colloquy, lines 5-11, 94-97). Using a sharp poker to motivate the poor oxen, the farmer guided the plough back and forth across the field before seeding. Since there were no big work horses in those days, the early English used the ox as their go-to beast for plowing fields, though some poorer folks who couldn’t afford to buy, feed, and house these expensive animals had to push their ploughs around by hand – just wait till Riddle 21 to see how much fun they had! But if you were a farmer in early medieval England, you’d definitely want to have some oxen so that they could do all the hard work for you. So valuable were livestock, in general, that the very word for money in Old English, feoh, also means cattle or livestock. No wonder farmers had someone called an ox-herd (OE oxanhyrde) watch over and protect their oxen from thieves whenever they weren’t ploughing. Even after death, the ox was good to have around, providing meat to eat and also skin for leather. According to Ælfric, the early medieval shoe-maker (OE sceowyrhta) made a lot more than just shoes (OE sceos) with this leather, including bags (OE pusan), bottles (OE butericas), pouches (OE fætelsas) and stuff for riding horses like reins (OE bridelþwancgas) and straps for the spurs (OE spurleþera). Oh, and did I mention the leather pants?! (OE leþerhosa).

Though there’s – perhaps, regrettably – no mention of leather pants in Riddle 12, it’s the ox’s many uses, especially after death, that take up most of the riddle. Lines 3b-4b portray the speaker as leather straps (“I bind fast swarthy slaves, sometimes better people”). In lines 5a-6a, the speaking leather has been made into a drinking vessel (“I give drink to a brave man from my breast”). Then, lines 6b-7a describe a woman walking on him as if he were shoes (“a bride treads on me so proudly with her feet”). Finally, a fourth object is described in lines 7b-13a, but what it is exactly is the subject of much debate, and I’ll return to it later. But besides leather objects, Riddle 12 also portrays the ox as a living beast (“I travel on feet, tear the ground, the green fields, while I bear my spirit”) and again at the end (“I … who, living, ravages the land”). In both cases, the ox’s life is immediately contrasted with its fate after death as leather (first at line 3a “If life leaves me …” and also at line 15 “and after death serves men”). In fact, this contrast of the ox’s life and death in Riddle 12 is one of the main reasons we can be sure the answer to this one is, in fact, an Ox. Let me explain.

Gaurs

The gaur is not technically an ox, but it sure is impressive!

Although almost all the riddles in the Exeter Book are unanswered, many share – at times striking – similarities to Latin riddles, most of which were composed by early English folks too. They really loved riddles! Most manuscripts of these Latin riddle collections include solutions, so we can be fairly certain what their answers are. Riddle 12 is closely related to not just one but a whole bunch of Latin riddles which are solved as Young Bull (Latin Iuvencus) or a Calf (Latin Vitulus) and the like (see Bitterli, pages 26-34). All these contrast the animal’s life of labour and its uses after death, like the one by Aldhelm (c. 639-709), where the young bull says “while living I break up the deepest clods of earth with a great exertion of force, but when my spirit leaves these cold limbs, I can restrain men with terrible bonds” (1). Later Latin versions retain the same duality of life and death as well as describing various uses for leather like bonds and shoes, so there seems to be a tradition of riddling this topic using the same sort of clues. In fact, besides Riddle 12, two other Exeter Book riddles share details with these same Latin enigmas and are solved unanimously by scholars as Ox (and/or Leather: OE Leþer or Ox-hide: OE Oxanhyd) (2).

What makes Riddle 12 unique within this tradition is all that funny business between lines 7b-13a. What is that dumb, drunk girl doing to that piece of leather? Doing is right! She clasps, crushes, wets, warms, and generally has her way with our long-gone ox. Nina Rulon-Miller points out that the description fits a process of hardening leather called cuir bouilli (literally, “cooked leather”) in which soaked leather is molded into a desired shape, heated over a straw fire, and sealed with a mixture of beeswax, soot, and resin from pine trees (pages 119-21). In this case, the girl may be making something like a hard leather flask, though it’s also possible that the scene portrays the girl using an object such a leather shammy for cleaning dishes. Regardless, amid all the confusing flurry of activity performed by the girl, the description takes on another meaning altogether, which seems to be – wait for it – female masturbation with a leather dildo! To reflect this double-meaning, Nina provides two translations of Riddle 12, culminating in lines 11b-13a: the clean version, describing the cuir bouilli process, reads, “she pierces my surface with her skillful hand; she turns me often, rotates me through a black substance,” while the lewd version reads, “with her wanton hand she thrusts me into her womb; she writhes excessively, she swivels me all around her blackness” (Baum, page 125). As Paull Baum first pointed out, the last verb performed by the girl, swifan, which typically means “to sweep” or “to revolve,” is also related to the Middle English Word swiven, which means “to have sex” (page 24).

The sexuality of Riddle 12 has sparked questions about the audience who read this and other lewd riddles in the Exeter Book: how religious were they? Did they view this scene with laughter, with scorn, or both? These questions are further complicated by the identity of the girl in question, whose low social status is highlighted several times. First, she is called a wale, a word which means both “Welsh woman” and “female slave,” since the early English often took their Welsh neighbours into captivity. It is unclear which sense is meant in Riddle 12, as both could be described as brought from afar (line 7b) and dark-haired (OE won-feax). But despite her low-class, she is, at least, not tied-up like her male counterparts are in line 4a (OE swearte wealas). And, in addition to giving her an active role throughout the riddle, the poet has gone to much effort to render the slave-girl a figure of poetic interest by dedicating three of four compound-words to describe her: she is dark-haired and a drunk-handmaiden (or drunk-slave- girl: OE drunc-mennen) whose hand is lustful or wanton (OE hyge-gal: hyge = thought, mind, heart; gal = wanton, lascivious, wicked). All three appear nowhere else in Old English, though it seems like they probably have pejorative connotations. Still, by being complex, compound words they add to the ambiguity of the action portrayed in lines 7b-13a where the poet evokes his raunchy scene.

That’s all for this week, folks. Now here’s a special treat for those of you who’ve managed to plough through this post to the end:

Highland cow

Technically this is a Highland Cow, as opposed to an early medieval ox. But still…Photo courtesy of C.J.W. Brown.

Notes:

(1) Aldhelm's Enigma 83, lines 3-6: “vivens nam terrae glebas cum stirpibus imis nisu virtutis validae disrumpo feraces; at vero linquit dum spiritus algida membra, nexibus horrendis homines constringere possum.”

(2) Spoiler alert! It's Riddles 38 and 72.

References and Suggested Reading:

Baum, Paull F. Anglo-Saxon Riddles of the Exeter Book. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1963.

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, pages 26-34.

Cameron, Esther. “Leather-work.” In The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Edited by M. Lapidge et al. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999, pages 280-1.

Higley, Sarah L. “The Wanton Hand: Reading and Reaching Into Grammars and Bodies in Old English Riddle 12.” In Naked before God: Uncovering the Body in Anglo-Saxon England. Edited by Benjamin C. Withers and Jonathan Wilcox. Medieval European Studies, vol. 3. Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press, 2003, pages 29-59.

Rulon-Miller, Nina. “Sexual Humor and Fettered Desire in Exeter Book Riddle 12.” In Humour in Anglo-Saxon Literature. Edited by Jonathan Wilcox. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2000, pages 99-126.

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. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1994, pages 21-42.

Note that this post was edited for clarity on 15 January 2021.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 12  cameron laird 

Related Posts:
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 21

Exeter Riddle 13

MATTHIASAMMON

Date: Thu 12 Sep 2013
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 13
Original text:

Ic seah turf tredan,      X wæron ealra,
VI gebroþor      ond hyra sweostor mid;
hæfdon feorg cwico.      Fell hongedon
sweotol ond gesyne      on seles wæge
5     anra gehwylces.      Ne wæs hyra ængum þy wyrs,
ne siðe þy sarre,      þeah hy swa sceoldon
reafe birofene,      rodra weardes
meahtum aweahte,      muþum slitan
haswe blede.      Hrægl bið geniwad
10     þam þe ær forðcymene      frætwe leton
licgan on laste,      gewitan lond tredan.

Translation:

I saw them walk on the ground, there were ten of them in all,
six brothers and their sisters with them;
they had living spirits. The skins of each of them hung
clear and visible on the walls
5     of the hall. It was not worse for any of them,
nor the journey more grievous, though thus they,
bereft of their clothing, awoken through the might
of heaven’s guardian, were compelled to tear with their mouths
the dusky harvest. The garments are renewed
10     for them who, before having come forth, left their trappings
lying in their wake, they depart to walk on the ground.

Click to show riddle solution?
Ten chickens (this is the generally accepted one), ten pheasants, butterfly cocoon, alphabet, moth, fingers and gloves


Notes:

This riddle appears on folio 104r 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 187.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 11: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), pages 74-5.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 13 

Related Posts:
Exeter Riddle 22
Exeter Riddle 26
Exeter Riddle 39

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 13

MATTHIASAMMON

Date: Tue 08 Oct 2013
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 13

Having moved into the realm of four-footed animals with Riddle 12, we now leave the oxen to plough his lone furrow and return – supposedly – to the realm of birds. That being said, we immediately encounter the riddle’s first paradox: both the first and last half line refer to the riddle object’s ability to walk or tread (tredan) on the ground (turf and lond). However, some of the motifs used in this riddle may be familiar by now: the feorg cwico (living spirit) mentioned in line 3 takes us back to Riddles 9, 10 and 12 and strongly suggests that we are dealing with an animal. The hrægl of line 9 recalls the swan’s feathers being described by the same term back in Riddle 7. And thus, the argument goes, we are dealing with a kind of bird. At the centre of the riddle is again the transformation that this creature undergoes, when it is awoken through God’s might and gains its living spirit. However, the riddler wants us to puzzle over a more serious paradox: what kind of creature lives, walks and eats even though its skin is hanging on the wall? And who are the six brothers and four sisters of the first two lines?

Early solutions to this riddle focused on the transformation aspect and suggested, for example, a caterpillar which metamorphoses into a butterfly. But I’m sure you’ll agree that this does not really cover all the clues the riddle gives us. A more metaphorical solution was that of ten fingers in a glove (which accounts for the numerological clue and gloves were made out of a fell or skin, but the second part of the riddle doesn’t really fit the metaphor). It was the German scholar Moritz Trautmann who first hit upon the solution of "chick" or "chicken." This quickly gained general acceptance as it matches something we know from the real world: in this reading, the "skin on the wall" is the membrane on the inside of the egg that a newly-hatched chick leaves behind, its "renewed" garment is its new down. Furthermore, the idea of the chick shedding its skin as its distinctive aspect seems to have been part of a wider riddle tradition. There are several Latin riddles that play on this phenomenon; in fact most of them are boiled down (the pun is courtesy of Martha Bayless, who edited one of these Latin riddles) to a couple of lines or so but they all mention the shedding of the skin. On the other hand, one of our readers, Linden Currie, suggests that the "skin hanging on the wall" may in fact refer to the caul of a new-born calf which was used in early medieval Iceland to cover the window-holes in houses when stretched over a frame and made translucent to let light in. Might we not imagine something similar for early medieval England? Such an object, Linden argues, could easily be described as sweotol in the sense of "transparent" as well as "visible" (gesyne). And would the description of something "treading the ground" not fit a calf better than a chicken? Such a solution would also yoke (or yolk?) this riddle to its predecessor.*

At any rate, I hear you cry, what of the six brothers and four sisters? Back in 1950, Erika von Erhardt-Siebold hit on an ingenious solution to this part: she suggested that the answer to the riddle in Old English is ten ciccenu or "ten chickens." Now count the number of consonants and vowels in this phrase and what do you get? Six…and four! Brilliant! Only…the word ciccenu doesn’t really exist in Old English, at least in the texts we have. The standard Old English (or West Saxon) version of this word would be cicenu which ruins our nice solution (and it should really be tien, but we won’t mention that). But we can’t rule out that this is a possible Northern spelling, and nobody has really come up with a better solution – the most recent commentators also accept it, though Patrick Murphy is slightly unhappy with the fact that the "ten" of the answer refers both to the number of chickens in the solution and to the letters in the "name" of the solution (though this is again not unknown in medieval riddle tradition in general).

Hen with 9 chicks

Ten chickens! What are the chances of finding a photo with the right number? Image from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 4.0).

Murphy has also pointed out that this riddle may evoke other associations: some creatures who lose their garments, are "awoken" by their creator and have to walk the earth and are forced to eat what they can get through their own toil? I hope you’ve realised this is of course the story of Adam and Eve being cast out of Eden. Murphy finds some parallels between the language of this riddle and Old English poetic versions of the Edenic story. Somebody who focuses on this allusive metaphorical reading might come up with the solution Adam ond Eue – and if we count the consonants and vowels there…I assume you can guess what the answer is. Murphy is not necessarily disputing the accepted solution but it is a reminder that it is worth keeping in mind that riddles can work on several levels.

By the way, despite all this work, there are some bits in the riddle that have so far defied solution, in particular the haswe blede of line 9. Both of these words have a range of meanings – if we look at the work of previous translators and commentators, the average meaning is something like "grey(ish) fruit," though nobody has been able to come up with a convincing explanation beyond "the stuff that new-born chicks eat" – which, like greyish fruit, is slightly unsatisfying. Any thoughts on this (and anything else) would be welcome in the comments!

Not wishing to overegg the pudding, I have chickened out of giving you the full arguments, but if you want to brood on it a bit more, here are some references you can follow up on:

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, pages 115-21.

Murphy, Patrick J. Unriddling the Exeter Riddles. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011, pages 53-60 and 91-95.

von Erhardt-Siebold, Erika. “Old English Riddle 13.” Modern Language Notes, vol. 65 (1950), pages 97-100.

Williamson, Craig, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1977, pages 168-70.

 

*If you want to know more details, Linden can be contacted under linden.currie(at)gmail.com.



Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 13 

Related Posts:
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 7
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 9
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 10
Commentary for Exeter Riddle 12
Exeter Riddle 13