The materiality of fire in Legbysig and Ligbysig (R.30a and b) and an unexpected new solution
in Riddles at work in the early medieval tradition
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Many Exeter Book riddles refer to the primordial phenomenon that enables human life—fire—and the duplicate texts of Legbysig (R.30a) and Ligbysig (R.30b) are no exception. There is a wide consensus that the solution to the riddle is ‘tree or cross’, first suggested by F. A. Blackbaum in 1901. That solution fits very well with the text, which even refers to ‘a blooming grove’ (4a). Blackbaum’s solution depends on understanding the materiality of a tree and cross, the latter created out of the former. Although such a comparison of the tangible world and the fictional world represented in the approach is used widely in Old English studies to explore material culture in poetry, this chapter argues that focusing on materiality, especially on the function and sensory experience of materials, can lead to new interpretations of literary texts. Using an approach from material culture studies to discuss the role of sensory experience in materiality of fire in Legbysig, this chapter offers a new solution, ora (‘ore’, ‘metal in its unreduced state’).

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