The nursemaid, the mother, and the prostitute
Tracing an insular riddle topos on both sides of the English Channel
in Riddles at work in the early medieval tradition
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It is firmly established that Anglo-Latin riddles were known on the Continent. The extent of their influence, however, remains unresearched. This cultural transfer has often been interpreted as one-way, disregarding the influence of continental riddling on insular collections. There are, however, riddles of probable continental provenance, notably the Bern riddles, which were no doubt known to early medieval English authors such as Aldhelm. This chapter attends to the exchange of riddles that took place on both sides of the English Channel and proves how fruitful this cultural interaction was by focusing on a riddlic topos that seems to have been of special interest to insular authors: the metaphor of the nursemaid breastfeeding numerous children. This motif also offers a related variant with clues suggesting a prostitute sharing her physical charms, as well as wine and food, with many men. By looking into several versions of this widespread topos, the chapter aims to trace the history of this popular motif in riddles preserved in both insular and continental manuscripts.


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