Runes und Riddles in Old English Literature
|JK 27/106 (Habelschwerdter Allee 45)
Do 10:00–12:00 Uhr
It seems that runes were associated with mysteries and hidden knowledge almost from their very inception. It may seem unsurprising, then, that runes also figure prominently in some of the Old English riddles, as well as in a number of other Old English texts that appear to deliberately shroud their subject matter in mystery. On the other hand, such use of runes in post-conversion, and hence Christian, texts written in the Roman alphabet may seem counter-intuitive to those who wish to associate them primarily with pre-Christian ‘Germanic’ paganism.
Old English texts, transmitted in manuscripts that were mostly compiled over a thousand years ago, composed according to obscure poetic principles, and written in a language that has little to do with modern English, must by necessity appear enigmatic to those studying it today. However, modern scholarship has long noted that many of the texts in question appear to be deliberately enigmatic in their mode of presentation, that presenting their subject matter in vague or contradictory manner forms part of their playful challenge to the readers to decode their meaning. Intriguingly, this is the case not only with more straightforward examples of enigmatic texts such as the Exeter Book riddles, but also with more serious religious poetry.
In this class, we will look at a number of Old English texts that appear to ask their readers to unriddle their meaning. Some of these employ runes as an additional means of encryption. Students should bring to this class a basic interest in medieval literature and a general open-mindedness to unfamiliar linguistic and literary forms and conventions, or at least an enjoyment of riddling and decoding. The final mark will be based on regular and active participation and a final essay of 2,000 words, to be handed in by the end of the semester.