The ‘thingness’ of time in the OldEnglishriddles of the Exeter Book and Aldhelm’s
What do we make of the transformation of things over time?
Maybe one also ought to ask what things make of us over time: how
are human beings transformed by the things that carry the traces
of our voices and our bodies when we are gone? The Old English
and Anglo-Latin riddling traditions give voice to things, as if they
could answer such a question. Yet, for the most part, criticism
has focused on the rhetorical device of prosopopoeia, whereby the
The Welsh borderlands were a distinctive territory where two peoples came together throughout the Anglo-Saxon period. It was here that men skilled at law drew up the Dunsate Agreement, to solve the impending problems with cattle theft. This book explores what sets the Dunsate Agreement apart from other Anglo-Saxon law codes grappling with cattle theft, highlighting that creators of this document, and the community that it concerns, included both Anglo-Saxons and Welsh. It argues that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle represents the military culture of the Welsh borderlands in a distinctive way which aligns its inhabitants with outlaws. The book articulates a discernible culture in the Welsh borderlands prior to 1066. Bede's The Historia Ecclesiastica has long been interpreted as a narrative of Anglo/British strife. His rancour towards the pagan Mercians provides substantial information about the life of Penda of Mercia, whose entire reign over this borderlands kingdom was defined by consistent political and military unity with Welsh rulers. Expanding on the mixed culture, the book examines the various Latin and Old English Lives of the popular Anglo-Saxon saint, Guthlac of Crowland. Vernacular literary tradition reveals a group of Old English riddles that link the 'dark Welsh' to agricultural labour through the cattle they herd, and who have long been understood to show the Welsh as slaves. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is frequently cited as a paradigm of Anglo/Welsh antagonism. The book reveals that the impact of the Norman Conquest on the Anglo-Welsh border region was much greater than previously realised.
The intention of this chapter is to view several of the OldEnglishriddles through the prism of fear: how fear and memories of fear act in the riddles as vehicles of interpretative and moral transformations. I will argue here that, once the concepts of fear and memory are applied to the study of the riddles, a number of them reveal themselves as little short of meditative parables. This is because fear and memory are connected to ideas intrinsic to riddles: to what initially appears unknown, shadowy and uncertain, as well as to the experience of recognition
work focuses on the modern age, the early medieval Exeter Book riddles provide the perfect field for these kinds of discussion and can deepen our understanding of nonhuman agency and ontology.
Just as the OldEnglishriddles range from tiny insects to astronomical bodies, recent studies in thing theory, object-oriented ontology, and other strands of new materialism have turned their attention to issues of scale. For example, Levi R. Bryant’s concept of onticology proposes a horizontal or ‘flat’ ontology where objects of all sorts and at different scales equally
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
his debt to literary tradition and his own literary ambitions. This preface is valuable on a number of counts. It is rare to have such a mission statement attached to any early medieval literary collection. No comparable reading context or textual framework exists for the OldEnglishriddles of the Exeter Book , for example. But it also tells us something about how these riddles work. Aldhelm sings the praises not only of the Christian God, but also of his prophet Moses, Job the soldier, and the psalmist David, alongside references to Castalian nymphs and the peaks
Conceptual blending in Anhaga (R.5) and Wæpnum Awyrged
If we ask ourselves why the Exeter riddles have received considerable scholarly attention over the last century, we may come up with different answers, but one of these answers will certainly relate to the challenge in trying to find a solution. The OldEnglishriddler provides us with many clues, some of which seem to be straightforward, others mysterious or even misleading, but in all cases we solve—or fail to solve—the riddle only after some mental effort. Paradoxes and obfuscation are typical features of the Exeter riddles, as Patrick J. Murphy has
1 Jonathan Wilcox, ‘“Tell Me What I Am”: The OldEnglishRiddles’, in Readings in Medieval Texts: Interpreting Old and Middle English Literature , ed. David Johnson and Elaine Treharne (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. 46–59, at p. 58.
hero to a
material object: a shield that is continually being struck by the sharp implements of
war. However, in recent years alternative non-military solutions have been gaining ground,
most notably whetstone and chopping block . Any of these solutions successfully
resolves the initial level of paradox created by a personified material object. But like the
double-entendre OldEnglishriddles that operate on multiple levels simultaneously,
Anhaga ’s full import is best realized by understanding these two kinds of
Buchli (Oxford: Berg, 2002), pp. 1–22, at p. 18. My emphasis.
5 R. M. Liuzza, ‘The Texts of the OldEnglishRiddle 30 ’, JEGP , 87 (1988), 1–15, at p. 3 (list of textual variants at p. 4). See also A. N. Doane, ‘Spacing, Placing and Effacing: Scribal Textuality and Exeter Riddle 30 a/b’, in New Approaches to Editing Old English Verse , ed. Sarah Larratt Keefer and Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1998), pp. 45–65; Jonathan Wilcox, ‘Transmission of Literature and Learning’, in A Companion to Anglo-Saxon Literature , ed. Phillip Pulsiano and