Enigmatic knowing and the Vercelli Book
in Riddles at work in the early medieval tradition
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Several textual moments in the Vercelli Book have some similarity to the rhetoric of riddles. This chapter illustrates their conformity to a larger pattern in that manuscript’s texts, a pervasive engagement with conditional revelation that promotes what the author calls ‘enigmatic knowing’: a form of access to discourses of authority that stands in radical contrast to those that characterise modern academic structures of thought about similar problem-solving tasks. Many Vercelli Book poems and homilies show a preoccupation with revelation of truth only through the effort or virtue required to obtain privileged understanding; they posit a structuring of information or knowledge whereby signs inscrutable to many nevertheless contain what is needed to interpret them correctly, provided that their interpreters bring the proper ethical orientations and address themselves to the challenge with a spirit of responsibility. Such narratives of revelation often play out through rhetorical engagements with wisdom, celebrations of paradox, and scenes of intellectual confrontation that intersect the discursive mode of riddles in numerous ways.

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