Pater Occultus: The Latin Bern Riddles and Their Place in Early Medieval Riddling

  • Thomas KleinEmail author


Although the enigmas found in the seventh-century anonymous Latin collection known as the Bern riddles are highly interesting and dramatic, they have been relatively neglected by scholars. This essay explores the Bern riddles’ place among other early medieval Latin riddle collections. It first explores the question of where the Bern riddles might have been written; as others have noted, it appears that its author was familiar with Mediterranean plants and products, and was thus probably native to southern Europe. The essay then seeks to outline the author’s relationship to the late-classical riddler known as Symphosius and the Anglo-Latin poet and scholar Aldhelm. The essay finds that the Bern riddler was clearly influenced by and drew upon the riddles of Symphosius, but developed this source material in dynamic ways. Furthermore, although the evidence is ambiguous, phrasing and choice of subjects appears to suggest that the Bern riddler preceded and influenced Aldhelm. Overall, the essay attempts to demonstrate that the Bern riddles demonstrate a significant achievement in the development of the Latin riddle form, and are worthy of study in and of themselves.


Bern riddles Aenigmata Tullii Aldhelm Symphosius Old English Exeter Book riddles 



I would like to thank Megan Cavell and Jennifer Neville for inviting me to participate in a riddle session at Leeds and then for encouraging me to submit the paper for this special selection of articles on riddles. I am likewise very grateful to the anonymous readers for their careful attention and many helpful suggestions.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of English and PhilosophyIdaho State UniversityPocatelloUSA

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