Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Say What I Am Called: The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book and the Anglo-Latin Riddle Tradition

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Say What I Am Called: The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book and the Anglo-Latin Riddle Tradition

Article excerpt

Dieter Bitterli, Say What I Am Called: The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book and the Anglo-Latin Riddle Tradition (Toronto, Buffalo, NY, and London: University of Toronto Press, 2009). xii + 218. ISBN 978-0-8020-9352-3. £48.00.

The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book continue today to serve the purposes for which they were written and often within the same social setting-to engage the wits of students. Dieter Bitterli's study of many of these Riddles against the background of their Latin tradition is a valuable addition to literature on the Riddles. The strength of the study lies in detailed treatment of Latin sources, where these can be established, and the ways the Old English poet(s) engage with a living tradition of riddling.

Bitterli's study falls into ten chapters in three parts. Part I is concerned with 'Contexts', referring to the traditions within which certain Riddles were composed, and the kinds of knowledge necessarily brought to bear to understand their playful enigmas. Chapter 1 examines innovations in the Old English Riddle 85 ('fish in a river') and three 'ox' riddles (nos 12, 38, 72) in a tradition derived from Symphosius via Anglo-Latin fiddlers. Chapter 2 focuses on the engagement with etymological tradition in Riddle 7 ('swan') and Riddle 8 ('nightingale'), and the inversion of the principles of this tradition. Chapter 3 explores riddles exploiting the rhetoric of numbers, requiring knowledge of the Bible (no. 46) and astronomy (no. 22), but which in the case of the 'oneeyed garlic seller' of Riddle 86 is only solvable with knowledge of the Latin tradition behind it. Numbers feature in the partially solved eschatological Riddle 90, the only Latin riddle in the collection. Part II, 'Codes', discusses the uses of runes and runic letter names. Chapter 4 focuses on those riddles deploying Anglo-Saxon futhorc runes to provide linguistic clues to the reader. …

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