Commentary for Bern Riddle 50: De vino


Date: Wed 31 Mar 2021
Matching Riddle: Bern Riddle 50: De vino
Matching Riddle: Bern Riddle 50A: De charta

Wine was a popular subject for early medieval Latin riddlers. You could say that grape minds think alike! There are two other Bern Riddles on grapes (13) and wine (63), and Symphosius wrote two wine riddles (Nos. 82 and 83), Aldhelm wrote riddles on a wine cask (78) and wine goblet (80), and the Lorsch riddler wrote a riddle about a cup of wine (5). If we believe what we read, wine was also a popular drink with at least one riddler. Symphosius, writing at some point between the third and fifth centuries, tells us that he told riddles during a Saturnalian party cum streperet late madidae facundia linguae (“whilst the eloquence of a tipsy tongue rambles extensively” (Symphosius, page 39)).

Wine 1
“A cellarer sampling wine, from British Library MS Sloane 2435, folio 44v. Photo from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).”

Lines 1, 2, and 3 combine the motifs of the unconventional birth and parental self-sacrifice that we have seen in previous riddles. They look back to Riddle 13, which described grapes as the children of the vine, who are then killed to produce wine. Here, the grapes are presented as the “countless mothers” (innumerae matres), who are killed after receiving “many wounds” (multa vulnera) during the crushing stage of the winemaking process. Only through the “death” of many grapes can the wine be born.

Lines 4, 5, and 6 shift the focus to the power that the wine has over those who drink it. This is a common trope in riddles about alcohol. Riddles are frequently interested in temporarily overthrowing and subverting the status quo. Because wine has the power to temporarily overcome the faculties of the humans who chose to consume it, this makes it the perfect riddle subject. For example, in Riddle 13, excessive drunkenness becomes a form of revenge for the dead grapes– in my commentary, I punningly called it “the wrath of grapes.” Riddle 50 continues to play on this theme, explaining that the wine can only “harm” (iniqua reddere) those who love it, but that it has no power over everyone else. Thus, the story of revenge from the previous riddle is itself turned on its head. I have said in a previous commentary that the Bern Riddles love to talk to each other. We often think of riddles as monologues—a single speaker gives us clues about its identity—but Riddle 50 shows that they are frequently at their best when read as a dialogue. Anyway, what a corking riddle!


References and Suggested Reading:

“Aenigma Laureshamensia [Lorsch Riddle] 5” in Tatuini Opera Omnia. Edited by Maria De Marco. Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 133. Turnholt: Brepols, 1958. Page 351.

Aldhelm of Malmesbury, “Enigmata 78 and 80.” In Rudolph Ehwald (ed.), Aldhelmi Opera, MGH Auctrorum antiquissimorum 15. Berlin: Weidmann, 1919. Pages 127-29. Available here.

Klein, Thomas. “Pater Occultus: The Latin Bern Riddles and Their Place in Early Medieval Riddling.” Neophilologus 103 (2019), 339-417, page 404.

Symphosius, “Preface” in The Aenigmata: An introduction, Text, and Commentary. Edited by T. J. Leary (London: Bloomsbury, 2014). Page 39.

Winterfeld, Paul. “Observationes criticalae.” Philologus vol. 53 (1899). Pages 289-95.

Tags: latin  Bern Riddles 

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