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Writing speaks: oral poetics and writing technology in the Exeter book riddles.

In Riddle 59, a luminous object, passed from hand to hand, speaks. (1) Although silent (dumba), it nevertheless proclaims a message of salvation to those gathered together in a hall. Again, in Riddle 67, a wondrous creature (wroetlice wiht) recites an enchanting song to an assembly and, although it has no mouth, instructs the people in wisdom. These two riddles, usually solved as "Chalice" and "Bible," respectively, are of course describing the technology of writing, in this case two ritual items that are enlivened and made to "speak" through the writing engraved or marked upon their surfaces. Throughout the 95 or so riddles of the Exeter Book, writing technology crops up repeatedly in the form of books, pens, ink, and inscribed objects of various kinds, and in these riddles writing is depicted, with evident fascination, as investing inanimate objects with voice and power. In them, a distinct Anglo-Saxon vernacular concept of writing emerges, one that perceives writing technology, through the lens of an oral poetics, as a material form of speech. (2)

A precedent for this interest in writing implements and materials can be found in the Latin enigmata of Symphosius, Aldhlem, and others, which plainly inspire many of the Exeter Book riddles. (3) Not only do the Latin enigmas share with the Old English riddles an interest in scribal implements and activities, but they similarly make use of prosopopoeia--the rhetorical device through which objects and nonhuman creatures are given speech. Despite these shared features, however, there are important and often overlooked developments between the Latin and Old English riddle genres, particularly in terms of their treatment of chirographic topics. As the concept of writing is "translated" from the Latin riddles into the Anglo-Saxon vernacular, its meaning undergoes a significant shift, and as a result even those writing motifs taken from the enigmata are creatively repurposed. (4) Tropes found in the Latin such as "silent speech" are given greater thematic weight as the Old English riddles gravitate with perceptible fascination toward the paradox of material speech, transforming a literary conceit into a wondrous talking creature, and incorporating it into the formal logic of the Old English riddle genre itself. (5) As writing becomes more prominent in the Exeter Book collection, it also grows more paradoxical. The mysterious quality of the written word as inanimate yet somehow "speaking" is repeatedly stressed, and the objects of writing frequently attract riddle key words such as wundor, wroetlic, searolic, denoting the marvelous, paradoxical qualities that define the riddles generically. One of the most significant developments, however, is the appearance of completely new forms of writing, such as engraved objects and finished codices, finely wrought inscribed artifacts that are pictured as speaking to groups of eager listeners. Such items are not found among the enigmata at all. Where Symphosius and the Anglo-Latin riddlers do little to exploit the association between writing technology and prosopopoeia, the Old English riddles fasten upon this idea of writing as a material voice and present it repeatedly in the act of speaking. (6) In the vernacular riddles, writing concretely embodies and thus informs the riddles' aesthetics of prosopopoeia--the mysterious speaking voice, arising out of the reflexive relationship between speech and thing, that is the salient feature of the Old English riddle genre. (7)

Although this curiously inanimate voice is less perceptible in the enigmata, we do encounter it, in a basic form, in the Anglo-Saxon epigraphic "speaking objects," inscribed artifacts such as the ninth- or tenth-century gold ring that announces "EAPEN MIE AH" ("Eawen owns me") through the lettering encircling its band. (8) While the prosopopoeia of the Old English riddles clearly does not originate in this epigraphic practice, the "speaking object" inscriptions demonstrate a vernacular concept of writing as a material form of speech, and it is precisely this vernacular notion of writing as a voice that mysteriously inheres within the object, yet also stands apart and comments upon its own material identity, that informs the more concrete prosopopoeia of the Exeter Book riddles. As such, the inscribed "speech" of the engraved objects presents a theory of writing that can help revise ideas about the role writing plays in the Exeter Book riddles. (9)

The speaking-object tradition underscores that the inscribed text is to be understood not as a written message but a speaking voice. (10) Writing in these items is perceived as a species of oral communication, as scholarship attentive to the dynamics of orality and oral traditional poetics will attest in related occurrences. (11) Operative in such inscriptions is what Ursula Schaefer, writing in a different context, terms the "staged utterance" of a "vicarious voice." Schaefer points out that, because Old English poetry typically presupposes vocalization, "if the original voice was separated from the hearer because writing interfered, this voice had to be inscribed in the text as a fiction that could be actualized as if' it were present at the time of the performance." This "vicarious voice" was a role that a reader, coming to the text, could readily assume, re-activating the oral-poetic discourse. (12) In the case of the riddles and speaking objects, Schaefer's idea can illustrate how this inscribed voice comes to be centered, not in the voice of a fictitious oral poet, but in the object itself, which was imagined as declaring the verbal message. Similar connections between orality and object personification have been drawn, in regard to Anglo-Saxon "speaking object" inscriptions, by Thomas Bredehoff, (13) and in relation to the Old English scribal colophons and Alfredian "speaking book" prefaces, by Peter Orton. As Orton observes, the idea of a text "speaking" belongs to an environment of "incipient literacy" in order to preserve the "pragmatics of spoken conversation" by personalizing the object as speaker of the message. (14) These recent perspectives uncover a complex interplay of textual practices and oral dynamics. They point toward an oral poetics that is not inevitably subsumed within textual paradigms, one that could be integrated with chirographic technology in interesting and, to us, unexpected ways.


What happens to writing once it is "translated" into the vernacular poetic idiom can clearly be seen in the case of Riddle 60. The Old English riddle is an adaptation of Symphosius's "Arundo," essentially a three-line poetic elaboration of a reed as plant, pen, and pipe. (15)
   Dulcis arnica dei, ripae vicina profundae,
   Suave canens Musis; nigro perfusa colore,
   Nuntia sum linguae, digitis signata magistris.

   [Sweet friend of the god, neighbor of the deep riverbank,
   Singing softly to the Muses, suffused with the color black,
   I am the messenger of the tongue, directed by pressed fingers.]

The Latin text consists of a series of metaphorical and literary frames for arundo (the reed is a "friend of the god" and the "messenger of the tongue"), and only in the final line is it made apparent that these lines are describing the speaker, who announces nuntia sum linguae. Unlike the vernacular riddles, there is no narration of the reed's development from plant to pen or to pipe, and the curious extension of speech via the pen as the tongue's nuntia is less a mystery to be solved than a poetic conceit. Despite the first-person verb given at the end, the prosopopoeia is not used to bring the reed to life, and the paradox of writing as a form of speech is not exploited. The arundo simply represents an opportunity for playful literary display.

The vernacular version differs markedly in all these respects. As Riddle 60 expands the bare outlines of "Arundo," multiplying the three lines of the Latin into a dramatic monologue of seventeen, the identity of the speaker appears to change as well.
   Ic waes be sonde saewealle neah
   set merefarope; minum gewunade
   frumstabole faest. Fea aenig waes
   monna cynnes paet minne paer
   on anaede eard beheolde,                   5
   ac mec uhtna gehwam yo sio brune
   lagufaeome beleolc. Lyt ic wende
   paet ic aer oppe sio aefre sceolde
   ofer meodubence (17) mudleas sprecan,
   wordum wrixlan. baet is wundres dael,      10
   on sefan searolic pam pe swylc ne conn,
   hu mec seaxes ord ond seo swibre hond,
   eorles ingebonc ond ord somod,
   bingum gebydan, paet ic wip be sceolde
   for unc anum twam aerendspraece            15
   abeodan bealdlice, swa hit beorna ma,
   uncre wordcwidas, widdor ne maenden.

   I was by the sand near the sea-cliff
   beside the sea-shore; I dwelled
   firm in my place of origin. There were
     few of any
   of the race of men that there in
     solitude beheld my native dwelling,      5
   but each dawn the brown wave
   sported about me with its watery
     embrace. Little did I expect
   that, before or afterwards,
     I would ever have to speak
   mouthless over the mead-bench,
   exchange words. That is a portion
     of wonder--                              10
   marvelous in mind to such who do not
   how the knife's point and the right
   a man's intent and the point together
   pressed me with this purpose, so that
     I must with thee,
   for the two of us alone, boldly
   a message, so that more of men
   may not tell our words more widely.       15

While the riddle can be solved as "Reed Pen" on the basis of its Latin model, its solution is not as straightforward as Symphosius's. Possibly the speaker of the riddle undergoes a cultural translation from an instrument of writing into an inscription-bearing object such as a rune-staff, which might better explain the concluding scene of its intimate communication "for the two of us alone." (18) Whatever the identity of the speaker--whether reed pen or rune-staff, or something else altogether--what in the Latin text served as a surrogate or messenger for the speech of its author now becomes the subject of speech itself, replete with its own past, development, and subjectivity. (The musical reed pipe disappears, likely a casualty of the cultural translation, replaced by the ubiquitous Anglo-Saxon mead-hall, the arena of poetic performance.) As with many of the Old English riddles, the more thoroughgoing personification of the speaker limits the proliferation of metaphorical expressions found in the Latin, and instead we find a consistency of perspective, tone, and voice that for much of the poem could pass for the monologue of a single human speaker. (19) Put simply, the reed appears to have undergone a transformation from an instrument of writing into an object of writing, one that "speaks" and "boldly announces" its message in a way that closely resembles the speaking-object inscriptions.

Riddle 60 depicts for us this very process of animation via writing. We observe, within the speakers own narrative, how writing allows this dumb creature to "speak." The basic contrasting pattern of this riddle between an original natural state and a later existence as artifact is typical of a number of the riddles, not only those that involve writing. (20) Yet unlike riddles such as "Shield" or "Mail-coat," writing in Riddle 60 presents the culmination of this development by making the personification more literal. Through the technology of writing the object is, in fact, united to the world of human communication. We watch this process unfold in detail. As a solitary plant, the speaker communes only with the tides in its idyllic early life, until unexpectedly the object is drawn into the world of social interaction after being reborn through the carving of a knife and human intention, with the result that now it "boldly announces" an errand-speech. Yet it does so intimately and secretly--for unc anum twam--presumably the recipient and the wooden message or the writing pen. (21) This coded communication is contrasted with those who, ignorant of letters, are unable to decipher it, and for whom this technology is surely a "wonder" and "marvelous." Yet this same sense of astonishment marks the speaker, who not only conveys a message but marvels over its own strange ability to "speak mouthlessly." Thus through its writing the object now joins not the literate world of learning, but that of oral communication, here epitomized by the "exchange of words" formula (wordum wrixlan) denoting social exchange and oral poetic composition (cf. Bwf lines 366 and 874). Its participation in human affairs is juxtaposed against its identity as inanimate thing, yet neither is canceled out by the other. Writing, in Riddle 60, is the embodiment of prosopopoeia par excellence.

In the Latin riddle collections the prosopopoeia is typically less concrete; few enigmata leave the impression that the speech is the actual voice of the object itself. In Symphosius the personification is quite minimal and serves primarily as a rhetorical device for discoursing upon a given topic. The longer riddles of Aldhelm and other Anglo-Latin writers develop it further, yet in them the prosopopoeia largely serves as a means of probing the mysteries and categories of the created order, and the notion of the riddle-topic as speaker of the message is of secondary importance. (22) Many enigmata function as extended etymologies, centering upon the meaning of a given word-concept rather than the qualities of a particular material artifact. Yet it is precisely this lyrical voice, rooted in the physical object, that becomes a defining feature of the Old English riddles. (23)

Much like Riddle 60, other "writing" riddles in the Exeter Book similarly reimagine writing technology in terms of oral discourse, using it as a controlling idea around which to construct this mysterious prosopopoeic voice. Such is the case with the fabulous creature of Riddle 95. It speaks wisdom to its hearers, yet speaks no word at all ("ic monigum sceal / wisdom cypan; no paer word sprecan") (8b-9). The speaker is noble, mobile, and widely known (1-3); it seems to be adorned with or attract to itself treasure and riches (5-6); and although eagerly sought after, it is at the same time self-concealing (7-13). Though couched in these enigmatic terms, the speaker is clearly a codex, probably a religious text of some kind. We are given the speaking-wisdom motif (cf. Riddles 26 and 67), (24) which is accompanied by the familiar wordless speech trope. (The motif of letters on the page as "tracks" recurs often in both vernacular and Latin riddles.) Like other depictions of writing in the Old English riddles this is a creature that has a meaning at once materially immanent yet also spiritually or symbolically transcendent. Both speaking and silent, journeying among the world of humans yet eluding and hiding itself from them as well, the vernacular concept of writing furnishes this richly paradoxical creature.

Elsewhere in the riddles writing appears as a species of (especially potent) oral communication. Riddle 67 depicts a book declaring its message to a live audience. Although unfortunately in a badly damaged state, with eight of its fifteen lines mostly illegible, it is obvious from the text that survives that what is described here is a holy book. (25) The familiar elements again appear: a speaker tells of a wondrous, gold-adorned creature (wrcetlice wiht) placed within a hall scene where men are at drink; it causes wonder on account of its enchanting song (wordgaldra); and it teaches wisdom that leads to eternal life, although it has no mouth. Above all, Riddle 67 and other writing-related riddles fasten upon the duality of written language as both object and speech.


Although the Latin riddle collections do not include depictions of talking books and inscribed objects which are imagined as speaking, Anglo-Saxon epigraphy furnishes numerous instances of this curiously material speech, revealing the way this prosopopoeic voice is generated in the interplay of material and text. Such "speech" is cut, for example, into the reverse side of a late tenth- or early eleventh-century silver brooch found in Sutton, Cambridgeshire, (26) which declares:


"AEdwen possesses me; may the Lord possess her / May the Lord curse him who takes me away from her / Unless she gives me of her own will." While here is no riddle to be solved--the "solution" being physically present--the brooch's configuration of speech, (precious) materiality, and audience operates along the same lines as the "wondrous" speaking objects of the Exeter Book riddles. Through its engraved text the brooch is granted voice and power to work within the world of social discourse, in this case, to pronounce a very particular type of speech act.

It is crucial to interpret the message of the brooch not as encoded information but actual speech. The full significance of the inscription is only grasped once the engraved text is recognized as utterance or, to use Schaefers term, "staged utterance." Of course it would be possible for a text or inscription of any kind to be understood as a type of speech, but since speech usually implies a speaker, with the Sutton Brooch and similar speaking epigraphic texts the personification of the object guarantees that the text will be understood as being spoken, a point that makers and engravers are clearly at pains to express. This is an important distinction because speech is axiomatically equated with power in Old English literature (especially in the metrical charms, which the Brooch curse closely resembles). As both the Riddles and the Brooch inscription make plain, attributing speech to the artifact is a means of investing it with added, illocutionary force. Acting within a staged social encounter, the item is able to curse, proclaim, recall, and convert those who "hear" its message. Writing, as material speech, acts as a force of personification, with the "personality" of the Brooch probably resulting from, rather than initiating, the inscription. (27) This explains why the personification of such artifacts remains in most cases quite limited. While with the Brooch the source of the inscribed speech is reiterated-- each of the lines repeats the pronoun me, thrice reinforcing the Brooch as the source of the spoken text--the objective nature of the Brooch is not altered. In every respect it remains a passive thing, which can be owned, stolen, or sold--but with a single exception: it speaks. By means of this attributed voice the Brooch acquires an agency independent of its owner or maker--a limited, provisional agency, but one that, in the wroetlic and wondrous manner depicted in the Riddles, actually operates within and upon the world of oral discourse and social relationships, both human and divine. This inscribed voice functions as a controlling metaphor, a "personality," for this agency.

Much like the objects of writing in the Riddles, the Sutton Brooch maintains its dual identity as both thing and speaker, with the object's pronouncement weaving together its material identity with its greater social meaning and sacred function. In this case, the voice of the Sutton Brooch establishes a correlation between AEdwen's ownership of the Brooch AEDVPEN ME AG) and God's ownership of AEdwen (AGE HYO DRIHTEN) (28)--a link to the divine that is then used to protect against the inversion of this proprietary relationship by declaring a curse against its theft. In this way the inscribed voice mediates a network of symbolic relations--spiritual, material, proprietary, and aesthetic. (29)

The Sutton Brooch is one of approximately thirty "speaking" inscriptions surviving from the Anglo-Saxon period, ranging in date from the late seventh to the eleventh century. (30) These first-person texts are found engraved upon an assortment of objects, such as rings, weapons, brooches, crosses, sundials, and monuments of various kinds, and carved upon a variety of materials, including stone, metal, bone, leather, and wood, and use both runic and Roman script (in some cases within the same inscription). Nearly all the surviving inscriptions are provenancial or proprietary, employing the owner's, commissioners, or maker's formulae, "X owns/made/commissioned me," although this basic format is occasionally expanded, as in the case of the Eawen ring, the Sutton Brooch, and the two inscribed crosses discussed below. (31) But while the inscribed content of the inscriptions remains for the most part formulaic and quite pragmatic, especially when compared to the more elaborate prosopopoeia of the Riddles, the importance placed on these texts as spoken messages should not be overlooked on that account. The engraved voice of a gold ring that announces, for example, "FdRED MEC AH, EA+RED MEC FXROF" ("AEdred owns me, Eanred engraved me"), perpetually proclaims a rightful relation between owner, ring, and ring-maker. (32) Although there is no curse, invocation, or intricate backstory, nonetheless this speech of nielloed gold lettering pithily reinforces, rather than merely records, the ring's essential value and identity within this web of relationships. (33) It is a performative utterance, spoken, as it happens, in gold.

It should be noted that most of the nearly 300 surviving Anglo-Saxon inscriptions are not of the speaking-object variety, and the majority of these make no reference to the artifact or material medium at all. Instead, most convey information of some kind, memorializing the dead, asking for prayers, quoting scripture, or simply recording a name. When the identity of the specific artifact is in view, however, a different pattern appears, with the "speaking" type-inscriptions becoming much more frequent. (34) Evidently when reference to the particular object was necessary, especially in relation to the humans specifically involved with it, it was thought to be most effective to make the object itself declare the message, in this way rooting its fundamental identity and meaning within its own material "utterance." (35)


Strong comparative evidence can be found for understanding such inscriptions as voiced. The speaking-object phenomenon is not unique to Anglo-Saxon England. Similar first-person inscriptions are found not only in Germanic-speaking areas, (36) but are widespread throughout the Mediterranean world of antiquity as well, some of them containing the earliest forms of writing. (37) The best-known example is the text scratched on the drinking cup known as the "Cup of Nestor," one of the earliest appearances of Greek alphabetic script (ca. 720), which declares "I am the cup of Nestor" and warn of the overpowering effects of its alcoholic contents. (38) In his study of early Greek literacy, Eric Havelock points to this and related Greek inscriptions as indicators of a predominantly oral culture, since they convey the text "as something said aloud rather than silently stated or recorded." (39) Thomas Bredehoft makes a similar observation regarding the Old English "speaking" inscriptions, noting that "many Anglo-Saxons were probably accustomed to seeing such inscriptions and knowing that they 'said' something, and that the texts could be given voice." Literate readers would "lend their voices to the inscribed objects, and the words spoken were to be understood as the speech of the object itself." (40) It is probable that inscriptions of the speaking-object type appear whenever oral discourse remains predominant, and the "inscribed vocality" theorized by Schaefer helps explain the rationale behind such epigraphic conventions. For much of the premodern world, as for Anglo-Saxon riddlers, writing is not necessarily opposed to, but encompassed by, oral language. In such milieux, writing is not merely read and decoded; it can speak and be heard.

Several of the Exeter Book riddles offer a tantalizing glimpse of speaking objects in performance. In the two inscription riddles, 48 and 59, the riddle-poems stage these ritual objects within scenes of reception that give us a poetically rendered portrayal of speaking objects in action. In each case the inscribed text of the mysterious riddle-object is not presented as a message decoded by a reader but as an utterance enacted upon a hearer or group of listeners. Once more writing is described as a mouthless utterance, one that permits a wondrous, precious, and sacred object to speak. In both riddles this object is called a hring, a term that can designate a circular entity of any type. The basic pattern of both can be seen in Riddle 48 (Riddle 67, although clearly a book, conforms to the same pattern): an initial perception of a preciously adorned and wondrous object; the scene of its social reception in which the object proclaims a spiritual message silently/without tongue; and a final challenge.
   Ic gefraegn for haelepum hring gyddian, (41)
   torhtne butan tungan, tila peah he hlude
   stefne ne cirmde strongum wordum.
   Sinc for seegum swigende cwaed:
   "Gehaele mec, helpend gaesta."                      5
   Ryne ongietan readan goldes
   guman, galdorcwide, gleawe bepencan
   hyra haelo to Gode, swa se hring gecwaeo.

   I heard of a ring singing for heroes,
   bright without a tongue, rightly though
     he cried out
   without a loud voice, with strong words.
   The treasure for men spoke silently:
   "Save me, Helper of souls!"
   May men perceive the mystery of the red gold,       5
   the enchanting song, may the wise entrust
   their salvation to God, as the ring said.

Here, as will similarly become apparent with the speaking crosses discussed below, speech is conferred upon an article of a profoundly sacred character (probably an engraved communion chalice), which imbues its religious function with a deepened sense of mystery and power. (42) As this brightly shining hring speaks silently a call for salvation, we are given, briefly, a direct quotation as the vessel invokes divine aid. On the whole the riddle shows little interest in the personified character of this item per se and instead as a reception-type riddle focuses almost entirely on the affective power of its "song" upon those who encounter it. What is surprising about this scene is the way it attributes efficacy less to the sacred contents of the communion cup than to the enchanting effect of its speech. This enigmatic instrument becomes a channel of divine grace to those who can "perceive" the mystery of what is at once both a golden hring and the singer of a mysterious galdorcwide. Despite its marvelous ability to speak without any tongue, this personification of the hring does not alter its status as object; rather, its inscribed song gives voice and expression to the ritual meaning the cup embodies. Notably absent from this riddle is any suggestion that writing acts, as Katherine O'Brien O'Keeffe perceives in the riddles, as "a technology of alienation," or that writing "alienates speech from speaker" as it "transforms words into things." (43) Rather than textualizing oral discourse into artifact, in the scenario described here writing animates the object by conferring upon it voice, permitting it to mysteriously speak to its human users.

Riddle 59 depicts a similar if even more enigmatic scene. (44) The speaker observes a gathering of "wise-minded" men in a hall looking at a golden hring that, as it is held and "turned," begins to speak:
      Word aefter cwaeo
   hring on hyrede, haelend nemde
   tillfremmendra. Him torhte in gemynd
   his dryhtnes naman dumba brohte
   ond in eagna gesiho, gif paes aebelestan
   goldes tacen ongietan cupe                       10
   ond dryhtnes dolg, don swa paes beages
   benne cwaedon.

      Then it spoke an utterance,
   the ring to the gathering, it named the Savior
   of those who do right. Dumb, it brought
   the Lord's name clearly into the mind,
   and into the eyes' sight, if
   one could understand the noblest sign of gold    10
   and the Lords wounds, to do as the ring's
   wounds said.

The recurrent motif of silent declaration, perceptible only to those capable of understanding it, obviously refers to writing, as it does elsewhere in the riddles. The "wounds," which are called wroetlic in line 16, are apparently the letters that have been cut into the surface of the communion cup, perhaps paralleling the wounds of Christ. Although some have argued that this cup displays a religious image rather than a text, writing is clearly what is indicated here, since the circular vessel speaks the "name" of the Savior, and the meaning of this speech is intelligible only to those able to decipher it. (45) Further, the inscription is imagined as the source of this item's strange power and, as with Riddle 48, no mention is made of its sacramental contents. The riddle ends by challenging the listeners/reader to "explain ... how the wounds of this wondrous ring spoke to nobles" (Roede ... hu does wroetlican wunda cwoeden / hringes to hoelepum) (lines 15-17). In both Riddles 59 and 48, the inscribed proclamation unites the valuable material qualities of the object with its greater social and ritual force. Through the paradox of writing as material speech, these objects achieve a heightened sacramental power and efficacy. They do not merely convey a happy or useful message, but in some deeply mysterious, wroetlic, way embody the sacred truths they proclaim.

That such scenes depicting inscribed cultic objects discoursing with worshippers are fanciful, but not purely fantastic, is made clear by the two extant Anglo-Saxon "speaking" crosses, known as the Ruthwell and Brussels Crosses. In them a similar interplay between material form and inscribed voice can be observed, but in the crosses the possibilities of epigraphic speech are much further developed. Although the two crosses are strikingly different from one another in terms of size, materials, date, and even function, both use writing to construct a prosopopoeiac speech intended to deepen their ritual force for those who would "hear" them.

The Ruthwell text is cut with runic characters into the sides of a monumental, eighteen-foot sandstone cross, (46) carved and erected in Northumbria sometime during the late seventh or early eighth century. This runic text corresponds closely to several passages that appear between lines 39 and 64 of Dream of the Rood, a poem preserved in the tenth-century Vercelli Book, although the Ruthwell inscription gives a more spare account and is considerably shorter (roughly nineteen lines of verse compared with the 156-line poem). (47) The inscription narrates solely the crucifixion event, concentrating only on those moments during which the cross comes into physical contact with Christ, beginning with his approach to the cross and ending with the removal of his body by the disciples. This narrative is deeply woven around the cross's own presence and perspective, and its dual role as sentient, speaking subject and physical object is skillfully maintained by alternating the cross's objective observations with its subjective responses and suffering. Through its voice, the cross moves seamlessly from instrument to agent, as the first-person lines collated below demonstrate: (48)
   [B]ug[a ic ni dorstae ...]
   [Ahof] ic riicnse Kynirjc
   ic [waes] mip blodae [b]istemi[d]
   Sar[ae] ic waes mi[p] sorgum
   gidroe[fi]d, h[n]ag
   mip strelum giwundad

   "I dared not bow down" (42)
   "I raised a powerful king" (44)
   "I was drenched with blood" (48)
   "I was sorely troubled with sorrow,
   [nevertheless] I bent [to their hands]" (59)
   "[I was] wounded by arrows" (62)

The inscribed speech fully exploits the possibilities of its dual identity as speaker and material object and artfully but unobtrusively weaves together its passive suffering and its speaking subjectivity, so that both are emphasized while always keeping carefully within the bounds of the cross's identity as object--it does not "bow"; it "raises" Christ; it releases Christ to them, and it suffers emotional anguish. (49) In this respect the cross greatly resembles the Reed Pen and other riddle speakers, which so vividly dramatize the situation of writing.

The later, and much shorter, Brussels Cross inscription exhibits a different interplay of text and object. (50) Although its original jeweled face has been stripped away, the inscribed text survives along the sides and back, where it has been cut into strips of silver fixed to the wood. Accompanying the dedicatory inscription of the two brothers and a makers formula, DRAHMAL ME PORHTE ("Drahmal made me") are two lines of verse in roman letters. (51)


   Cross is my name; earlier I a powerful king
   Bore trembling, drenched with blood.

Here the Ruthwell narrative is reduced to its bare essentials in a two-line verse, succinctly proclaiming the identity, history, subjective response, and sacred character of the cross. Yet in both crosses the inscribed voice speaks from a glorified state of perfection that results from, and deliberately invokes, its past suffering, a painful history that gives meaning to its present perfected state. (The original faces of both the Ruthwell and Brussels Crosses were brilliantly adorned--the Ruthwell stone was once colored with bright gesso, while the Brussels Cross was covered with a jeweled face now lost.) (52) Thus both objects would have been made to speak, through their materials, from a position of perfection; yet in so doing they self-reflexively refer to their past and present selves and substances--they were drenched with blood, they once bore a mighty king--and they are both sacramentally imbued icons and yet also passive instruments of a cruel execution.


This cursory discussion of the epigraphic texts of the two crosses helps elucidate some of the qualities that as a whole characterize the inscribed speech of the Exeter Riddles and the "speaking" objects. As this paradoxical epigraphic voice is fashioned in close relation to its material form, three specific features emerge.

1) This speech is self-referential; as both speaking subject and physical object, this voice reflexively explicates itself, its values, materials, history, provenance, etc. The physical substance and shape of the speaking object form an integral part of its proclamation.

2) This voice is passive yet powerful; these speakers possess a wondrous agency, and work upon their human users in an active and potent manner, yet always in keeping with their own properties as artifacts. As evident in Riddle 60 and the Sutton Brooch, writing, as a species of "speech," lends inanimate items a limited agency that is usually reserved only for human speakers, allowing these items to work within and upon the world of humans.

3) This voice speaks from a position of permanence or completion. As a made thing, the object has reached a condition of stability or perfection (as opposed to the transitory state or momentary emotional condition typical of the human speakers in the Old English elegies, for example). From this position the speaker is thus able to comment upon its essential nature and meaning, as well as recall and make sense of earlier conditions leading up to this state.

All three of these features reflect ideas of writing fused to notions of speaking. As such in the "speaking objects" of Anglo-Saxon epigraphy we see a basic algorithm for the prosopopoeia of the Exeter Book riddles as a whole, one that conjoins oral discourse with materiality to fashion a richly paradoxical voice. It is not difficult to imagine how such a vernacular poetic concept of writing as a material form of speech, embodied in the ambient epigraphic conventions, could come to inform the prosopopoeia of the Exeter Book riddles, not only in the riddles that deal with writing, but also in the construction of its speaking shields, storms, and swans as well. As the rhetorical technique of inanimate speech is adapted from Latin riddle literature and carried into the Anglo-Saxon vernacular idiom, it acquires from this notion of writing the wrcetlic arrangement of materiality and voice so vividly illustrated by Anglo-Saxon "speaking" artifacts.

Perceiving such a synthesis of oral and epigraphic in the Old English riddles can provide a complementary perspective to recent work by Andy Orchard, Dieter Bitterli, and Seth Lerer, (53) which emphasizes the close connection between the Old English and Latin riddle traditions, or even perceives them, as Orchard maintains, as "intimately connected parts of the same literary tradition." (54) On the whole, this scholarship has revealed the great debt the Old English riddles owe their Latin predecessors, a debt that earlier studies often minimized or ignored altogether. This work has been less concerned, however, with elucidating the distinctive qualities of the vernacular riddles. The aim of the present article has been to clarify one of the developments that sets the Old English riddles apart: their remarkably oral-infused perspective on writing. Thus, while the Exeter Book riddles can certainly be seen as part of a wider riddle genre rooted in the Latin enigmata, it is at the same time possible to perceive the Old English riddles as working within another tradition--a tradition of Anglo-Saxon speaking objects that is rooted in the vernacular. (55) From this perspective, the riddlic speakers can be situated on one end of a wide prosopopoeiac spectrum, a continuum ranging from riddles, to talking books and colophons, (56) to swords and crosses that mysteriously speak to those who know how to "hear" them.

Northern State University


I would like to express my gratitude to Elisabeth Okasha for generously sharing with me her current research. This essay is dedicated to the memory of John Miles Foley, beorn boca gleaw.

(1) The riddle numbering used throughout is that of G. P. Krapp and E. V. K. Dobbie, eds. The Exeter Book, The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records, 6 vols. (Columbia U. Press, 1931-53), vol. (3). The texts of the Old English riddles, however, are taken from Craig Williamsons The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (U. of North Carolina Press, 1977), which numbers the riddles slightly differently.

(2) Riddles involving writing in the Exeter Book include the following: "Book" (in some form) (26, 67, 88, 95), "Inkhorn" (88, 93), "Quill Pen and Fingers" (51), "Reed Pen/ Rune-staff" (60), inscribed items (48, 59), and "Book-moth" (47). There are also others that might describe writing in some way, depending upon one's interpretation, such as "Bookcase (?)" (49), "Inkwell (?)" (84), "Quill Pen (?)" (87), and "Book (?)" (28). Studies of the so-called "scribal riddles" include Laurence K. Shook's "Riddles Relating to the Anglo-Saxon Scriptorium," in J. R. O'Donnell, ed., Essays in Honour of Anton Charles Pegis (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1974), 215-36; and, more recently, Dieter Bitterli, Say What I Am Called: The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book and the Anglo-Latin Riddle Tradition (Toronto U. Press, 2009) (see esp. chap. 7, "Silent Speech," 135-150). Shook attributes the prevalence of chirographic themes in the Exeter Book riddles to his notion that the scribes themselves were the authors of the collection and such riddles provided them with a "scribal diversion" (218). Bitterli reads the text-making process depicted in several of the writing riddles as an allegory for saintly martyrdom or cloistered monastic confinement, arguing that in general these riddles dramatize a shift from "tribal culture" to "scribal culture" (168).

(3) Of the 300 enigmata of the collections composed by Symphosius, Aldhlem, Tatwine, and Eusebius, 16 of them directly relate to writing: of Symphosius: nos. 1 ("Stylus"), 2 ("Reed," as both pen and flute), 16 ("Book-worm"); of Aldhelm: nos. 30 ("Alphabet"), 32 ("Writing Tablets"), 59 ("Quill Pen"), 89 ("Bookcase"); of Tatwine: nos. 4 ("Letters"), 5 ("Parchment Sheets"), 6 ("Quill Pen"); of Eusebius: nos. 7 ("Letters"), 30 ("Inkhorn"), 31 ("Wax," as both writing tablet and candle), 32 ("Parchment Sheets"), 33 ("Book Wallet"), 34 ("Quill Pen"). Among these are also several riddles devoted to the letters of the alphabet, although these are not expressly tied to writing. The Anglo-Latin enigmata are compiled in F. Glorie, ed., Collectiones Aenigmatum Merovingicae Aetatis, 2 vols., CCSL 133 and 133A (Turnhout: Brepols, 1968). For Symphosius, I have used Raymond Ohl, ed., The Enigmas of Symphosius (Philadelphia: U. of Pennsylvania, 1928).

(4) As Shook notes, although the enigmata provided the basic subject matter, "the fact remains that the Exeter Book employs many more such subjects and yet rarely takes over either the motifs or the images of the Latin poems." "Riddles Relating to the Anglo-Saxon Scriptorium," 218.

(5) Although the "silent speech" trope appears in three Anglo-Latin riddles--Aldhelm no. 30 ("Alphabet"), Eusebius nos. 7 ("Letters") and 32 ("Parchment Sheets")--the idea is not sustained or developed as it is in the vernacular riddles. The trope derives from Isidore, Etymologiae (I.iii.1-2), where letters are defined as the "signs of words to which is such power that the things said by those who are absent are spoken to us without voice" (Litterae ... sunt ... signa verborum, quibus tanta vis est, ut nobis dicta abscentium sine voce loquantur). See further Marie Nelson, "The Paradox of Silent Speech in the Exeter Book Riddles" Neophilologus 62 (1978): 609-15.

(6) To be clear, the view presented here regarding the relation of Latin and Old English riddles is one of continuity and development rather than dichotomy. Indeed, the Anglo-Latin riddles themselves can be seen as part a movement toward a more thorough prosopopoeia, particularly in comparison to the basic personification found in Symphosius. Nevertheless, the notion of inscription as a form of material speech will receive its fullest expression in the Old English riddles.

(7) Prosopopoeia is defined as "discourse by inanimate objects" by Margaret Schlauch, "The Dream of the Rood as Prosopopoeia" in P. W. Long, ed., Essays and Studies in Honour of Carleton Brown (New York U. Press, 1940), 430. Schlauch cites Priscian's definition of this technique as "quando rei alicui contra naturum datur persona loquendi" (434).

(8) Elisabeth Okasha, Hand-List of Anglo-Saxon Non-Runic Inscriptions (Cambridge U. Press, 1971), no. 155. Unless otherwise noted, the epigraphic texts throughout this article are taken from Okasha, Hand-List, along with its four supplements, "A Supplement to Hand-List of Anglo-Saxon Non-Runic Inscriptions," Anglo-Saxon England 11 (1983): 83-118; "A Second Supplement to Hand-List of Anglo-Saxon Non-Runic Inscriptions," Anglo-Saxon England, 21 (1993): 37-85; "A Third Supplement to Hand-List of Anglo-Saxon Non-Runic Inscriptions," Anglo-Saxon England, 33 (2004), 225-81; "A Fourth Supplement to Hand-List of Anglo-Saxon Non-Runic Inscriptions" (forthcoming). The full inscription of the Eawen ring reads EAPEN MIE AH, S. PETRVS STAN CES. (Here and throughout I have added my own spacing and punctuation to the inscriptions.) Okasha conjectures the translation, "Eawen owns me, may St. Peter the Rock choose (her)," Hand-List, 136.

(9) Although the similarity between "speaking objects" and the Exeter Book riddles is often noted, Craig Williamsons judgment on this similarity is characteristic of most commentators': while considering that "the tradition of speaking things may be related to the early practice of inscribing swords and rings," he concludes that the simple provenancial nature of these inscriptions appears inconsequential "in comparison with the lyric declaration of the Riddles" (The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book, 26). Lois Bragg supplies a useful overview of "inanimate speakers" in Old English verse in The Lyric Speakers of Old English Poetry (Fairleigh Dickinson U. Press, 1991), 43-57.

(10) It is noteworthy that, apart from the Riddles, prosopopoeia occurs only in the two Old English poems associated with inscription, Dream of the Rood and the Husbands Message.

(11) For an example of writing technology perceived as a species of speech in an oral-derived poetic traditions, see John Miles Foley's discussion of Bellerophon's tablet in the Iliad (6.166-80); Homer's Traditional Art (Pennsylvania State U. Press, 1999), 1-12. Recent approaches to oral poetics in medieval literature are summarized in John Miles Foley and Peter Ramey, "Oral Theory and Medieval Literature," in Karl Reichl, ed., Medieval Oral Literature (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2011), 71-102.

(12) Ursula Schaefer, "Hearing from Books: The Rise of Fictionality in Old English Poetry," in A. N. Doane and Carol Braun Pasternack, eds. Vox Intexta: Orality and Textuality in the Middle Ages (U. of Wisconsin Press, 1991), 117-36, 119. She explains further that "an author must inscribe himself or herself into the text with this vicarious voice which may then be staged when the poem is meant to be communicated in vocality" (125-26). Schaefer applies these insights to the poetry of Cynewulf, and she does not discuss inscriptions. More recently, Mary Hayes, "The Talking Dead: Resounding Voices in Old English Riddles," Exemplaria, 20.2 (2008): 123-42, raises the question of the role of the riddles' personification in the context of writing, contending that they do so to "recuperate an elusive author figure" through readers' ventriloquism.

(13) Thomas A. Bredehoft, "First-Person Inscriptions and Literacy in Anglo-Saxon England," Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archeology and History 9 (1996): 103-10, 104.

(14) Peter Orton, "Deixis and the Untransferable Text: Anglo-Saxon Colophons, Verse-Prefaces and Inscriptions," in Stephen Kelly and John J. Thompson, eds., Imagining the Book (Turnhout: Brepols, 2005), 195-207, 206-7.

(15) Ohl, The Enigmas of Symphosius, 36.

(16) Except where indicated otherwise, translations from the Old English and Latin are my own.

(17) The MS. meodu is emended by Williamson to meodubence for meter and sense.

(18) The enigmatic The Husband's Message, which immediately follows Riddle 60 in the Exeter Book manuscript, does in fact describe such a personified written message, in the view of most interpretations. In terms of perspective and tone, the speaker of The Husband's Message resembles the speaker of Riddle 60, telling of its origins as a plant and its new role as secret communicator, stating that "he who engraved this wood has told me to ask you ..." (Hwcet, fee fonne biddan het se fisne beam agrof / feet fu ...). The poem ends with a sequence of runic characters that some interpret as the inscribed content of the message stick.

(19) Bitterli surmises that as the Latin riddles are adapted into the vernacular, many assume the lyrical qualities of the Old English elegies. Say What I Am Called, 164.

(20) The riddles of this type in the Exeter Book are numerous; examples include "Shield" (5), "Gold/Coin?" (83), "Mail-coat" (35), "Spear" (73), "Battering Ram?" (53), and many others.

(21) Lines 12-17 have occasioned much debate, with some interpreters even arguing that Riddle 60 is actually the beginning of The Husband's Message. The pronouns in lines 14b-15a ("paet ic wip pe sceolde / for unc anum twam") have been variously interpreted, and views tend to differ according to how one solves the riddle. Williamson summarizes these perspectives: "If the solution to the riddle is 'rune staff' ... the pe is presumably the wife or lover who is the recipient of the message. If the solution is 'Reed Pen,' then the pen must metaphorically 'speak' to the lady through the written word. With either solution the pe could conceivably refer to the reader and the unc to the reader and riddlic creature together." The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book, 320.

(22) As Aldhelm states in his prologue to the enigmata, his express purpose is "to disclose the hidden mysteries of things" (pandere rerum ... enigmata clandestina) (lines 7-8), and the didactic aims in this text explain why it so quickly became a school text. In De metris et enigmatibus ac pedum regulis, Aldhelm will defend his use of prosopopoeia on biblical grounds: "Porro, quod eadem muta insensibilium rerum natura, de qua enigma clanculum et latens proposito componitur, quasi loqui et sermocinari fingitur, hoc et in sacris litterarum apicibus insertum legitur." [Moreover, the device of representing objects devoid of speech, which are the subject of dark riddles and statements with hidden meanings, as talking and speaking is found employed in Sacred Scripture.] After giving several examples, such as trees "rejoicing" in the Psalms, he concludes by explaining: "Haec idcirco diximus, ne quis forte novo nos et inusitato dicendi argumento et quasi nullis priorum vestigiis trito praedicta enigmata cecinesse arbitretur." [I have made this point so that no one may think that I have composed the metrical riddles in a new and unusual way and, as it were, one untrod by the footsteps of any predecessor.] Text and translation are taken from B. K. Braswell, "'The Dream of the Rood' and Aldhelm on Sacred Prosopopoeia," Medieval Studies 40 (1978): 462-63.

(23) While nearly all of the Exeter Book riddles use personification in some form, not all of the personified objects speak in the first person. Two formats are used throughout most of the collection, the prosopopoeiac, 7c eom-type (approximately 54 riddles), and the perception, Ic geseah-type (approximately 29 riddles), in which a speaker recounts seeing or hearing a strange object or creature (wiht). (Exact numbers for these two types are difficult to determine due to the damaged state of some of the riddles). Only a very small number use neither a first-person frame nor any form of personification (e.g., Riddle 46).

(24) The motif of the book necessarily announcing wisdom, using the sceal-construction, recurs in several of the Alfredian "speaking book" prefaces and epilogues as well as in the Riddles, and seems to be a well established convention.

(25) Although other solutions have been proposed, Williamson points out that the elements of "great teacher," "mouthless speech," and its gold decoration link it to other "book" riddles, and its solution "can only be a religious book, presumably the Bible." The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book, 334.

(26) Okasha no. 114. Now housed in the British Museum, the brooch was discovered in 1694 in a hoard of precious objects buried in a field. The face of the brooch is intricately engraved with zoomorphic patterns in a looped floral design, and the inscription is found on the back, running along the outer edge of the disk in Anglo-Saxon capitals. It is possible that the inscription is secondary. Bredehoft discusses the brooch as evidence of pragmatic literacy in the period ("First-Person Inscriptions," 107). E. V. Thornbury notes that the ownership curse resembles those found on Anglo-Saxon wills and charters. "The Genre of the Sutton Brooch Verses," NQ 48 (2001): 375-77.

(27) On this point, see P. Orton, "Deixis and the Untransferable Text," 206-7.

(28) Cf. the text of the Eawen ring, discussed above, which (if Okasha's reading is correct) invokes St. Peter to "choose" Eawen.

(29) In his discussion of Anglo-Saxon speaking objects and literacy, Bredehoft draws on Brian Stock's concept of "textual communities" to suggest that "even non-reading Anglo-Saxons may well have been expected to recognize inscriptions as texts," and, although they could not themselves decode its message, they were aware that they could "find a reader who could give its inscription voice." "First-Person Inscriptions," 108.

(30) Okasha nos. 2 (stone shaft), 4 (jeweled ornament), 13 (gold ring), 17 (wooden cross reliquary), 19 (silver brooch), 27 (silver brooch), 37 (bronze sword guard), 41 (stone sun-dial), 64 (stone sun-dial), 66 (gold ring), 73 (stone slab), 98 (stone sun-dial), 100 (bronze censer cover), 105 (stone cross), 109 (iron knife blade), 111 (stone slab), 114 (silver brooch), 118 (whale-bone implement), 155 (gold ring), 156 (silver ring), 161 (stone slab), 163 (leather scabbard), 174 (?) (iron knife blade; mostly illegible), 179 (iron sword), 185 (leather scabbard), 186 (carved stone), 204 (gold ring), 207 (leather scabbard), 230 (copper strip). Two additional inscribed items, a lead strap-end, and a copper strip, will appear in a fourth supplement (forthcoming). The inscriptions appear in both Old English and Latin, although the majority of these inscriptions are in the vernacular. I am greatly indebted to Elisabeth Okasha for providing me with information from her manuscript of the fourth supplement prior to publication.

(31) Two other more extensive instances deserve mention. A now nearly illegible church stone slab (Okasha no. 73) originally declared "EIRTIG ME LET WIRCEAN 7 FIOS GODLAN CRISTE TO LOFE 7 SCE MARIE" [Eirtig had me made and endowed with possessions to the glory of Christ and St. Mary]. A rhyming text cut into the stone Bridekirk baptismal font, in runic letters and probably twelfth century, as transliterated in Page and Barnes, reads: "Rikarja he me iwrocte / to pis mero 3er ... me brocte." [Richard he made me and carefully/eagerly brought me to this splendor]. R. I. Page and Michael P. Barnes, The Scandinavian Runic Inscriptions of Britain. Runron 19 (Uppsala, 2006), 283.

(32) Okasha no. 65 (the so-called Lancashire ring).

(33) Elisabeth Okasha discounts as anachronistic the view of such inscriptions as "name-tags," since literacy levels would be too low for such a pragmatic function. She suggests the prestige value of one's name as a more likely reason for this practice. "The Commissioners, Makers and Owners of Anglo-Saxon Inscriptions," Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archeology and History 7 (1994): 71-77, 74.

(34) This pattern becomes especially clear when the same artifact contains multiple inscriptions. Okasha no. 111, for example, is a stone memorial slab that includes two inscriptions: a third-person text referring to the deceased, Asgelward, and asking for prayers; and a first-person maker's formula in which the stone relates that a certain Toki "wrote me."

(35) Apart from this attribution of speech, however, none of the objects is further personified in any way. There are no instances of the engraved item thinking, moving itself, or acting in a manner other than one proper to an inanimate object. The inscribed artifact is nearly always the grammatical object of the sentence and is the passive recipient of the action. It is made, owned, engraved, written, commissioned (worhte, ah, agrof, etc.).

(36) For example, the runic text of the twelfth-century Swedish Burseryd baptismal font announces, "arinbiorn gorthe mik. uitkunder prester skref mik. ok haer skal um stund stanta" [Arinbjorn made me, Vidkun the priest wrote me, and here I shall stand for a while]. Cited in Ralph W. V. Elliot, Runes: An Introduction (New York: Manchester U. Press, 1959), 27.

(37) The most comprehensive account of the speaking inscription phenomenon is Emil Ploss, "Der Inschriftentypus, 'N.N. me fecit' und seine geschichtliche Entwicklung bis ins Mittelalter," Zeitschrift fur deutsche Philologie 77 (1958): 25-46. Ploss demonstrates the ubiquity of this epigraphic convention in premodernity, citing numerous examples of inscriptions in Greek and Latin upon objects of almost every conceivable type, as well as revealing the wide range of medieval forms on the continent, particularly those written using runic characters. Ploss interprets the pervasiveness of this inscriptional practice in both the middle ages and antiquity, not as a result of an oral perspective on writing, but as evidence for an unbroken epigraphic tradition extending from early Greece through the medieval period (despite admitting the existence of a large chronological gap between the inscriptional evidence of both periods).

(38) The full verse inscription reads, in Havelocks translation, "Of Nestor's I am the well-drunk drinking cup / Whoso drinks this drinking cup straightway him / Desire shall seize of fair-crowned Aphrodite." Eric Havelock, A Preface to Plato (Oxford: Blackwell, 1963), 195.

(39) Ibid., 190.

(40) Bredehoft, "First-Person Inscriptions" 104.

(41) The MS here reads hringende an, which all editors emend, although there is no consensus for what verb should be supplied. Williamson's gyddian is a sensible choice, corresponding well to galdorcwide of line 7, and has been adopted by Bernard Muir in The Exeter Anthology of Old English Poetry, 2 vols. (U. of Exeter Press, 2000), 320.

(42) The precise identity of the hring has generated a number of solutions. Williamson surveys the critical opinions and briefly discusses ecclesiastical vessels described in contemporaneous writings. In his view the supplication speech of the object in the riddle ("Gehaele mec ...!") "is probably a religious inscription on the object." The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book, 287-88.

(43) For Katherine O'Brien O'Keeffe, Visible Song: Transitional Literacy in Old English Verse (Cambridge U. Press, 1990), 54, "the use of mouthless speakers, dead lifegivers, clipped pinions--all metaphors of loss--reflect an Anglo-Saxon understanding that speech itself is not a thing," and indicates their ambivalence about writing technology. Such a stark opposition between writing and speech, however, is belied by recurrent images of writing in the riddles as a type of "speech."

(44) A. J. Wyatt, The Old English Riddles (Boston and London: D. C. Heath, 1912), 108, has argued that Riddle 59 is merely an amplification of Riddle 48, which for Wyatt explains its qualities of "vagueness and dulness of phrase."

(45) Williamson interprets the "wounds" as either letters or iconic images inscribed upon the chalice (although it could be describing a combined image-text, such as is common in the religious art). The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book, 313.

(46) Fred Orton, "Re-thinking the Ruthwell Monument: Fragments and Critique; Tradition and History; Tongues and Sockets," Art History 21 (1998): 65-106, revives an earlier theory that the Ruthwell cross was not originally a cross but a column. The problems with this theory are discussed by Eamonn O Carragain, Ritual and the Rood: Liturgical Images and the Old English Poems of the Dream of the Rood Tradition, (U. of Toronto Press, 2005), 27-32.

(47) It remains an open question as to whether an early version of Dream of the Rood inspired the Ruthwell inscription or the speech of the Ruthwell cross led to its elaboration in the poem, or whether they both belong to a common poetic tradition. Michael Swanton, The Dream of the Rood (Manchester U. Press, 1970), 41, admits that all three scenarios are plausible. He ultimately concludes that, due to the metrical defects and the incomplete narrative of the Ruthwell text, "it has all the appearance of reference to or quotation from some familiar text," reshaped to fit the needs of its inscription, much as the Brussels text is reshaped for its object. Whatever the priority of the inscription, what is remarkable is how this inscribed prosopopoeiac voice is readily transposed from text to object or vice versa.

(48) These lines are transliterated from the runic script and partially reconstructed by Swanton, The Dream of the Rood, 90-92, on the basis of the Vercelli Rood, with brackets representing reconstructed text (I have eliminated Swanton's italics and length markers for the sake of readability). The line numbers in brackets refer to the corresponding lines of Rood, not the lineation of the Ruthwell text. The language of the inscription is a Northumbrian dialect. While some, including Page, have argued that the runic text is secondary, Swanton, surveying the evidence, concludes, "there is no reason to doubt that the runes were an original part of the monument" (27).

(49) Peter Orton's observations regarding prosopopoeia in Dream of the Rood can be applied to the Ruthwell text as well; "The Technique of Object-Personification in The Dream of the Rood and a Comparison with the Old English Riddles," Leeds Studies in English, n.s. 11 (1980): 1, examines all the ways that the willed agency of the cross is never placed in conflict with its objective qualities, concluding that Rood represents the most "elaborate exploitation of prosopopoeia" found in all Old English poetry.

(50) Constructed in the south of England, the 18 x 11 -inch oak cross was originally commissioned in the early eleventh century by two brothers, Aethelmasr and Aethelwold, as a reliquary for a fragment of the True Cross, and would have been used processionally as well as for personal acts of veneration. 6 Carragain, Ritual and Rood, 339. Seeta Chaganti similarly correlates inscription, performance, and the materiality of these two crosses in "Vestigial Signs: Inscription, Performance, and The Dream of the Rood',' Publications of the Modern Language Association, 125 (2010): 48-72.

(51) Okasha no. 17.

(52) O Carragain, Ritual and the Rood, 12-62, 339-24.

(53) Seth Lerer, Literacy and Power in Anglo-Saxon Literature (U. of Nebraska Press, 1991) for instance, maintains that Aldhelm's learned and encyclopedic enigmata "provided as a system a model" for the Exeter Book riddles, and that the vernacular riddles thus "as a collection offer the range of experience filtered through textual understanding" (25). According to Lerer, the "'oral' quality of early English poetry" can be interpreted as "a literary fiction" (4), rather than an interplay of multiple communication technologies.

(54) Andy Orchard, "Enigma Variations: The Anglo-Saxon Riddle-Tradition" in Andy Orchard and Katherine O'Brien O'Keeffe, eds., Latin Learning and English Lore: Studies in Anglo-Saxon Literature for Michael Lapidge (U. of Toronto Press, 2005), 300, offers point-by-point refutation of the differences usually cited to distinguish the Old English riddles from the Latin, although he deals with subjects such as prosopopoeia only in passing (e.g., 289-90).

(55) This is not to say that the Anglo-Saxon speaking-object tradition is entirely limited to Old English inscriptions and texts, since Latin is also used. Indeed, as noted above, it is possible that the Anglo-Latin enigmata themselves show the influence of this speaking object tradition.

(56) Richard Gameson, The Scribe Speaks? Colophons in Early English Manuscripts (Cambridge: Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, 2000), provides a survey of Anglo-Saxon scribal colophons, including the "speaking" variety (i.e., Wulfwi me wrat, [18]) and includes a useful summary catalogue. The phenomenon of the "speaking" verse-prefaces is discussed in James W. Earl, "King Alfreds Talking Poems," Pacific Coast Philology 24 (1989): 49-61. Earl defines the function of the speaking book as an "independent intelligence, mediating between author and reader" (54).
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Date:Jun 22, 2013
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