Research‎ > ‎

Saint Aldhelm's Riddles

Saint Aldhelm the 7th century Abbot of Malmesbury was, as a young man, a Latin scholar and fascinated by Aenigmata (riddles).  It is only now that these riddles have been made widely available by a new English translation.  Saint Aldhelm's Riddles is a translation by American poet A M Juster.

Juster describes the riddles of Aldhelm as "fun, fascinating and deserving of a wider audience"  the wider audience being those of us who have no Latin.

Aldhelm is a key figure of early British Christianity and as first Abbot was the key figure in  establishing a Benedictine Abbey in  Malmesbury.  These Aenigmata are England's first riddles and will have been written by Aldhelm to introduce and reinforce the teachings of the Church.

 Although written in Latin it is said by later writers (William of Malmesbury and Fauricius of Arezzo) that Aldhelm was a brilliant Anglo-Saxon poet , and whist nothing of his Anglo-Saxon writings exist today  Juster says that he is persuaded that Irish poetry  "has significantly influenced the Aenigmata."  This influence may have come from Maidulf, said to have been the Irish missionary who settled in Malmesbury and started the school at which Aldhelm was a pupil.

There are 100 riddles and Juster thinks that they were created by Aldhelm in the order in which they were written down.  Juster describes the first six as brief, primal and beautiful.

Riddle 6 he says is stunning and written in Aldhelm's original poetic impulse:


Nunc egocum pelagi fatis communibus insto

Tempora reciprosis convolvens menstrua cyclis.

Ut mihi lucifluae decrecit gloria formae,

Sic augmenta latex redundans gurgite perdit


I share with the surf one destiny

In rolling cycles when each month repeats.

As beauty in my brilliant form retreats,

So too the surges fade in cresting sea.

The answer:

The Moon