Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Anglo-Saxon Riddles

As best we can determine, Symposius was a 4th- or 5th-century author of the Ænigmata, a collection of 100 Latin riddles. The oldest known collection of riddles, they have influenced other riddle-makers through the ages, such as Aldhelm.

Why are we talking about Latin riddles in a post titled "Anglo-Saxon Riddles"? Because without Symposius we might have a more difficult time guessing at some of the Riddles of the Exeter Book. Consider Exeter Book Riddle #61:
A creature came     where many men
sat at council     with wise hearts.
It had one eye     and its ears were two;
it had two feet     and twelve hundred heads,
a back and a belly     and two hands,
arms and shoulders,     one neck,
and two sides.     Say what I’m called.
This might have been more difficult if we did not have Symposius' example #94:
Cernere iam fas est, quod vix tibi credere fas est;
Unus inest oculus, capitum sed milia multa;
Quidquid habet vendit, quod non habet unde parabit?
Now may you see, though not believe, I fear,
One eye and many thousand heads are here,
Whate'er he has, he sells. Whence comes what don't appear?
The answer is the same for both, and I will give it to you in footnotes, along with the answers to the rest. Enjoy.

My garment is darkish.     Bright decorations,
red and radiant,     I have on my raiment.
I mislead the stupid     and stimulate the foolish
toward unwise ways.     Others I restrain
from profitable paths.     But I know not at all
that they, maddened,     robbed of their senses,
astray in their actions     —that they praise to all men
my wicked ways.     Woe to them then
when the Most High holds out     his dearest of gifts
if they do not desist     first from their folly.

I war oft against wave     and fight against wind,
do battle with both,     when I reach to the ground,
covered by the waters.     The land is strange to me.
I am strong in the strife     if I stay at rest.
If I fail at that,     they are stronger than I
and forthwith they wrench me     and put me to rout.
They would carry away     what I ought to defend.
I withstand them then     if my tail endures
and the stones hold me fast.     Ask what my name is. 

I saw a thing     in the dwellings of men
that feeds the cattle;     has many teeth.
The beak is useful to it;     it goes downwards,
ravages faithfully;     pulls homewards;
hunts along walls;     reaches for roots.
Always it finds them,     those which are not fast;
lets them, the beautiful,     when they are fast,
stand in quiet     in their proper places,
brightly shining,     growing, blooming.

*Symposius #94 and Exeter #61: a one-eyed garlic seller
Exeter #18: wine
#57: anchor
#31: rake

Source for Symposius
Source for Exeter riddles

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