wording findere me nulli possunt is taken from a riddle, Symphosius’ Enigma 58, Capillus (‘hair’). It is possible that the author mistakenly attributed authorship of the riddle to a certain Capillus, but it seems more likely that the ‘attribution’ is itself playfully prosopopoeiac: ‘just as the hair said’. If the latter is the correct interpretation, then it seems that the computist has cleverly reversed the primary and secondary senses of the riddle: rather than a hair pretending to be an atom, we have an atom pretending to be a hair. Of course, to get the joke
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
literary form. The apparent, jocular solution is well known, thanks to the similarity of this riddle to one of Symphosius’s Enigmata , 24 but, before it is revealed, the riddle is ominous and foreboding because of the fundamental incongruity and disruption of reality that it employs in the figure of a one-eyed but multiheaded creature. In XII Hund Heafda , fear is therefore present both within its narrative frame (in the form of what must be initially understood as a frighteningly monstrous polycephalic wiht interrupting the meeting of the wise) and also in the
subject is the sound-producing reed pipe, the reed pen with its written language, or even a rune staff incised with obscure letters. 7 Its potential source, Symphosius’s second Latin riddle, is solved as reed pipe or reed pen. 8 The Latin riddle plays with the etymology of its solution, calamus, which comes, Isidore claims, from calere (‘rousing’) and means a ‘pouring forth’ of voices. 9 Although the etymological play of the Latin does not appear to translate into the Old English, the ability of the subject of Be Sonde Muðlease to abeodan bealdlice (‘boldly
The early medieval contexts of Aldhelm’s cat riddle
, TEAMS Middle English Texts (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2000), part 8, lines 76–7, http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/text/hasenfrantz-ancrene-wisse-part-eight (accessed 5 February 2019).
52 Gray, ‘Notes on Some Medieval … Cats’, p. 190.
53 Serpell, ‘Domestication’, p. 98.
54 Rogers, Cat and the Human Imagination , p. 47.
55 Serpell, ‘Domestication’, p. 94; and Kitchener and O’Connor, ‘Wildcats’, p. 93.
56 This line is repeated word-for-word at the opening of pseudo-Symphosius’ Enigma 2, Pilax (‘cat’), immediately following
, a detail absent from Symphosius’ reed-pen riddle ( Enigma 2 ). The manufacture of useful objects is often described in terms of pain and trauma, including riddles about the transformation of ore into metal, an animal into vellum, an ox into leather, grain into alcohol, and antlers into inkhorns; Jonathan Wilcox has eloquently described the objects’ narration of these processes as ‘the lament for a movement from natural innocence to manufactured suffering’. 18
This mechanical assemblage incorporates the articulated nature of the product: the riddle’s ‘deal of
widely known, or required reading, in the Middle Ages: antique poetry such as the Distichs of Cato ; Anglo-Latin works such as Aldhelm’s poem on virginity ( Carmen de virginitate ), Bede’s poem on the Day of Judgement, the riddles of Eusebius, Tatwine, Boniface, Symphosius and Aldhelm; Carolingian poetry such as De laudibus sanctae crucis of Hrabanus Maurus and Hucbald of Saint-Amand’s poem in praise of baldness. CC commences at the end of this section, indicated as ‘quedam rithmica carmina’ (‘some rythmic poems’) in the twelfth-century table of contents. 4
are divided, my death is ordained.]
Andy Orchard has argued that, if we allow ourselves to look beyond
similar Latin enigmata by Alcuin and Symphosius, and the conventional ‘fish and river’ solution they offer us, then we might well
understand this as a ‘soul and body’ riddle.12 Patrick J. Murphy
concurs, arguing that, while the correct solution must be a fish
in the river, the ‘descriptive proposition is shaped by something
more –the unspoken metaphor of the soul and body’ so that the
emphasis ‘is on exploring the contrasting relationship of guest
Chaucer (New York: Routledge, 1995), pp. 243–65. On links
between Chaucer’s dream visions and a different insular tradition, see Jessica Jane
Lockhart, ‘Everyday Wonders and Enigmatic Structures: Riddles from Symphosius to
Chaucer’ (University of Toronto, PhD dissertation, 2017), esp. Chapter 3 . At a time when there is increasing interest in the ‘global Middle
Ages’ and when scholarship is rightly continuing to emphasise Chaucer’s
European connections (see, for instance, Turner, Chaucer: A European Life ), seeking