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Words, ideas, interactions

Riddles at work is the first volume to bring together multiple scholarly voices to explore the vibrant, poetic riddle tradition of early medieval England and its neighbours. The chapters in this book present a wide range of traditional and experimental methodologies. They treat the riddles both as individual poems and as parts of a tradition, but, most importantly, they address Latin and Old English riddles side-by-side, bringing together texts that originally developed in conversation with each other but have often been separated in scholarship. The ‘General Introduction’ situates this book in its scholarly context. Part I, ‘Words’, presents philological approaches to early medieval riddles—interpretations rooted in close readings of texts—for riddles work by making readers question what words really mean. While reading carefully may lead to elegant solutions, however, such solutions are not the end of the riddling game. Part II, ‘Ideas’, thus explores how riddles work to make readers think anew about objects, relationships, and experiences, using literary theory to facilitate new approaches. Part III, ‘Interactions’, explores how riddles work through connections with other fields, languages, times, and places. Together, the sixteen chapters reveal that there is no single, right way to read these texts but many productive paths—some explored here, some awaiting future work.

Megan Cavell, Jennifer Neville, and Victoria Symons

celebration of communal diversity. It is this interplay between the individual and the communal that, we suggest, lies at the heart of the early medieval riddling tradition. It also speaks to the present popularity of these poems, among both academics and the wider public. 2 The riddles of early medieval England, and particularly the vernacular riddles of the Exeter Book , have enjoyed a surge of critical interest in the past twenty years. No longer nugatory, marginal amusements, they now feature in discussions of gender, literacy, runic encoding, slavery, agriculture

in Riddles at work in the early medieval tradition
Megan Cavell and Jennifer Neville

The chapters in this section go beyond the riddles’ words to explore the ideas that theoretically-inflected approaches can reveal in them. This approach is not new; the study of early medieval riddles has already benefitted from gender and sexuality studies, among other interdisciplinary approaches. The chapters here use the riddles to test ideas about humour, sentience, monstrosity, ecofeminism, hyper-objects, and conceptual blending.

in Riddles at work in the early medieval tradition
Megan Cavell and Jennifer Neville

The early medieval riddles reveal points of contact with the world in which they were created and with which they still interact today. These interactions occur on many levels: between texts within one manuscript, between collections within an overall tradition, between genres and disciplines within an intellectual tradition, between material cultures separated by time and distance, and between poets during the translation process. The chapters in this section seek to explore a small fraction of the interactions between the riddles of early medieval England and the wider world. Each of these chapters is unique and particular to itself, and cannot be reduced to a single, homogeneous approach, but it is perhaps useful to consider them all as aspects of ‘translation’ in its most basic meaning of ‘carrying across’. Fittingly, the collection ends with a chapter that offers new, creative translations of several Exeter Book riddles and reflects upon translation as a practice.

in Riddles at work in the early medieval tradition
James Paz

voice is attributed to or imposed upon a nonhuman and so the things themselves are thought to be mute, or silenced, through a process of anthropomorphism.1 Recent trends in thing theory, however, have fought against the ingrained idea that anthropomorphism is always a simplistic and childish habit to be avoided. As Benjamin C. Tilghman has suggested, it might instead be recognised as a useful tool for making sense of the alterity of nonhuman things. Rather than reinforcing anthropocentrism, early medieval riddles can ‘highlight the agency of things and the human

in Nonhuman voices in Anglo-Saxon literature and material culture
James Paz

animated the body of the entire universe, which, in Stoic cosmology, was a living being whose parts were linked together in one vast cosmic sympathy. As part of his argument, Lapidge contends that the early medieval riddler had been influenced by Seneca’s writings on nature, where the Stoic concept of pneuma is rendered into Latin as spiritus . 18 Although my own reading of Þrymful Þeow identifies more vernacular imagery at work, I do agree that the natural force of the wind overlaps with psychological or spiritual qualities. My aim in this chapter is not to

in Riddles at work in the early medieval tradition
Neville Mogford

, we must already know that it is a riddle and understand the principle of indivisible units. This use of a riddle to enliven a difficult concept from computus is not unique, although the relationship between computus and riddles has rarely been studied. In fact, several early medieval riddle collections include original enigmata on computistical or astronomical subjects. Why riddles were considered as an appropriate medium for communicating these subjects, and how these riddles fit into the tradition inherited from Symphosius, are the central questions of this

in Riddles at work in the early medieval tradition
Incongruity in Feþegeorn (R.31)
Jonathan Wilcox

Dialogues of Solomon and Saturn (Cambridge: Brewer, 2009); Martha Bayless, ‘Alcuin’s Disputatio Pippini and the Early Medieval Riddle Tradition’, in Humour, History and Politics in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages , ed. Guy Halsall (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 157–78. 26 The emendation in 6a is taken from Bernard J. Muir, ed., The Exeter Anthology of Old English Poetry , 2nd edn, 2 vols (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2000), I, p. 307. 27 On wonder in the riddles, see Peter Ramey, ‘The Riddle of Beauty: The Aesthetics of

in Riddles at work in the early medieval tradition
The early medieval contexts of Aldhelm’s cat riddle
Megan Cavell

were the recipients of both good and bad treatment by humans—ranging from deliberate sharing of high-status foods to exploitation for fur. 80 The reality for most cats, however, must have been life in the background, as largely unmediated hunters and scavengers within the human niche. Aldhelm’s Enigma 65 provides an intriguing, seventh-century snapshot of such an existence, which has to date been largely neglected. As the foregoing discussion has made clear, this early medieval riddle deserves greater recognition and should be placed alongside the canonical cats

in Riddles at work in the early medieval tradition