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.
It is well known that riddling was particularly conspicuous as a literary genre in the British Isles. Indeed, riddles were much appreciated in monastic circles because their compact format conveniently favoured the teaching of Latin vocabulary, rhetoric, syntax, and metrics. Dating from about 686, Aldhelm’s Enigmata constitute the earliest riddle collection produced in England that has come down to us. Following in Aldhelm’s steps, Tatwine and Eusebius, both contemporary with Bede, took up the composition of a collection each. 2 In turn, an anonymous author
-three riddles, thirty-nine of which appear in their earliest form in a late eighth-century composite manuscript (Bern Burgerbibliothek, Cod. 611). They are usually considered to be anonymous, although a slightly later, Veronese manuscript (Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, Phillipps 1825) attributes them to a mysterious ‘Tullius’, about whom nothing more is known. Scholarly consensus is that they were probably composed in northern Italy during the seventh or eighth centuries. 2 The forty riddles of Eusebius were added to a collection of sixty riddles authored by Tatwine, the eighth
nature of pride because, as Richard Sowerby observes, ‘this “first defect” among the angels must have been the sin of pride’. 21 For example, in Tatwine’s Enimga XXV, ‘pride’ (the speaker of the riddle) describes its monstrous heavenly birth: ‘a distinguished ancestor begot me long ago and lost his realm through me’. 22 Boniface’s ‘pride’ riddle similarly describes its mothering by ‘an angelic serpent [who] gave birth to me in the height of heaven, viperously and harmfully breathing sins into its heart’. 23 Bede also felt it necessary to elaborate upon the
liquid as birds do; significantly, there is no mention of intelligibility or any signifying practice: instead of humans paradoxically understanding this animal and its tracks, the principle of communication is understood only after the riddle is fully solved. Two Latin riddles also play on the idea of an organic body and its constituent members: Aldhelm’s Enigma 30, Elementum presents a family, with a mother (the pen) and three brothers (the fingers), and Tatwine’s Enigma 6, Penna describes his pen as vincta tribus (‘held by three’). 14 The Exeter Book pen
decision to include additional solutions that are more immediately familiar in versions of or glosses in the Epistola ad Acircium makes a great deal of sense. Regardless, while all the additional solutions listed above are masculine, we know that muriceps is feminine because Tatwine refers to it as such in his Ars grammatica . 66 Personifications that stem from grammatical gender—common in classical and medieval Latin texts—could provide riddle-solvers with a tidy clue. 67 Although Corinne Dale’s chapter in this volume argues against assuming that the feminisation
729, perhaps as early as 716, and the last of the fully independent Kentish kings, Wihtred, died in 725. As Mercian power increased, Northumbria withdrew from intervention in the south. A final turning point, rendering the creation of a Northern archbishopric especially urgent, may have been the appointment of a Mercian, Tatwine, to the see of Canterbury in 731. 121 Bede’s History makes it clear that
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