Monday, April 6, 2009

From The Exeter Book

Eleventh century Anglo-Saxon England.  A riddle:

I am a strange creature, for I satisfy women...
I grow very tall, erect in a bed,
I'm hairy underneath.  From time to time
A beautiful girl, the brave daughter
Of some fellow dares to hold me
Grips my reddish skin, robs me of my head
And puts me in the pantry.  At once that girl
With plaited hair who has confined me
Remembers our meeting.  Her eye moistens.

The answer?
An onion.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Notker the Stammerer's Deeds of Charles

Written in the late 9th Century, a generation after Charlemagne.  What grabs you about this passage?

Then came in sight that man of iron, Charlemagne, topped with his iron helm, his fists in iron gloves, his iron chest and his Platonic shoulders clad in an iron cuirass.  An iron spear raised high against the sky he gripped in his left hand, while in his right he held his still unconquered sword.  For greater ease of riding other men keep their thighs bare of armour; Charlemagne's were bound in plates of iron.  His shield was all of iron.  His horse gleamed iron-coloured and its very mettle was as if of iron.  All those who rode before him, those who kept him company on either flank, those who followed after, wore the same armour, and their gear was as close a copy of his own as it is possible to imagine.  Iron filled the fields and all the open spaces.  The rays of the sun were thrown back by this battleline of iron.  This race of men harder than iron did homage to the very hardness of iron.  The pallid face of the man in the condemned cell grew paler at the bright gleam of iron.  'Oh!  The iron!  Alas for the iron!'  Such was the confused clamour of the citizens of Pavia.  The strong walls shook at the touch of iron.  the resolution of the young grew feeble before the iron of these older men.  When therefore Otker, who had foreseen the truth, with one swift glance observed all this, which I, a toothless man with stammering speech, have tried to describe, not as I ought, but slowly and with labyrinthine phrase, he said to Desiderius: 'That is Charlemagne, whom you have sought so long.'  As he spoke he fell half-conscious to the ground.

Could it be, I don't know, all the iron?