Reakenen med Rådsels / Doing Sums with Riddles

Sassisk

“Hrægl min swigað, þonne ic hrusan trede,
oþþe þa wic buge, oþþe wado drefe.
Hwilum mec ahebbað ofer hæleþa byht
hyrste mine, ond þeos hea lyft,
ond mec þonne wide wolcna strengu
ofer folc byreð. Frætwe mine
swogað hlude ond swinsiað,
torhte singað, þonne ic getenge ne beom
flode ond foldan, ferende gæst.”

The Exeter Book rådsel vyv (neavens Williamson) of söyven (neavens OEPF), https://oepoetryfacsimile.org/

Tja, neet so enkelt, dee rådsels. Seakers in süksen vrömde språke as et angelsassisk (oldengelsk) geit dat neet sou maklik. Ouk astu by de nymoudske engelske öäversetting kykst, hülpet dat ouk neet souvölle. Villicht ouk döärdat et vorskydene en vorskillende öäversettings givt. Sou in de leste sats, ferende gæst, dår Williams segget dat et geit üm en gast en geyst med fledders, of, neavens Hostetter, üm en reisende vrömde. Wat et ouk is, de lösing weyten de weatenskoppers doch: et is en swån.

Disse ard diktwarken nöymen folkloristen, filologen, en andre lüde rådsels. Eyglyks is en rådsel al simpel, dat is, in struktuur: et givt en anter (ouk wel underwarp) en kommentår (clues når et anter to). Interessanter is wat eyn med en rådsel düt. Eyn denket al gauw dat eyn vöär et anter stuv hard nådenken moot. En anter is der eyd, man oft is et neet wichtig, of dat eyn dat anter sülv uutdachted har. Süms geit et meyr üm en traditsioon van anters, dee eyn memoriseard hev, lykas de koans in Japanske zen-Buddhismus. By witsen is sülvs dat anders, dår eyn moot jüüst seggen, et anter neet to kennen – din kin de vorteller van de stek sülv de clou geaven.

Neavens Burns givt et ses vorskydene situatsionen, wårin rådsels vöärkommen. Dat binnen by ritualen, benåm van initsiåtsioon of de doud; by et vorleiden van eyn töt leevde; underwys; ontmoting; in volksvortellingen; en vöär et vernüveren (“Riddling: Occasion to Act” (1976), s. 143-145). In volksvortellingen, glyk wy in disse blog seen sellen, kin eyn med en rådsel oft et eygen leaven redden. Sou givt et in Twente en vortelling um Hüttenklås, dee hangen wurdet – behalve as e syn unskuld bewysen kin. Now, Hüttenklås is dat neet, düs hee bepråt wat anders med de lüde van de jury: hee givt höär en rådsel, en as see dee neet lösen kinnen, dan is Hüttenklås vry. Dit is et rådsel, up en hollandsk:

“Toen ik henen ging en weder kwam

Zes levenden uit één dode nam

De zesde maakte de zevende vrij
Wie van de heren raadt en zegt het mij?”

Kollektsioon Engelbertink, 1. Map, 9. vortelling

De losing: in de tuunde by de gevangenis lüg en paerdenkop (de doude), wårin ses junge voggels sittet; Hüttenklås hev dee der uutnömmen, en dee måket hum vry umreaden see binnen underdeyl van et rådsel (de ses dee de söyvende vrymåket), dår de rechters et rådsel neet lösen kinnen. En sou geit et düs ouk: Hüttenklås is vry, en huuvet neet an de galgenboum to hangen.

Rådsels binnen oft to vinden in glyke rådsel-wedkampen, heyle wearld rund. Ouk in de Oldgermaanske wearld gav et sükse wedkampen. Dårby kin eyn winnen, döär én to råden wat et anter to de ander syn rådsel is, en as dyn eygen rådsel neet döär en ander löst wurden kin. Oft sel de prys vöär et winnen neet meyr as eywige eyr weasen (doch heyl skyr), man in volksvortellingen is et oft meyr, as eyn ouk hyr leasen kin:

“Ooit leaven d’r in een wied land een koning, eenzaam in zien grote paleis. Zien vrouw was estorven, zeuven maol zeuven maol zeuven dage geleden. Elken dag hu:len de koning um eur. Elken dag poetsen hie eur golden krone. ‘Ach, lieve koneginne’, zei e dan, ‘kon ik ow nog maor éne kere zien!’

“Op een aovend, op ‘t twintegste uur, kreeg de koning bezuuk. ‘t Was Nera, de zwarte fee. Ze zei: ‘Wat huul i-j toch? Kan ik ow helpen?’ De koning vertrouwen ‘t niet … maor ach .. hie vertellen aover zien verlies.

“De zwarte fee mos hard lachen um zien verhaal. ‘Ach koning,’ gräölen ze, ‘ik kan ow vrouw zó weer terugge brengen. Maor dan mo’j wel éérst een somme oplossen. Kö’j dat niet? Dan kump de koneginne wél terugge, maor zal ze de volgende dag opni-j starven.’ De koning stemmen greteg toe. Sommen oplossen was zien beste kante!

“‘Goed’, zei de fee, ‘hoevölle is éénentwinteg plus veere? I-j hebt dri-j kansen.’ De koning kon ziene oorne niet geleuven. Dat was makkelijk! ‘Viefentwinteg!’ zei e stralend. Nera lachen heur valse gebit bloot. ‘Jammer, niet goed! I-j hebt nog twee kansen. Tut morgen!’

“De koning krabben zich an zien baard. Had e iets aover ‘t heufd ezien? Kon e niet meer raekenen? D’n helen nacht laezen e alle wiskundebu:ke van veuren naor achteren en weer terugge. Hie hu:len um zien vrouw en poetsen heur golden krone.

“De volgenden dag, op het twintegste uur, stond Nera weer naost ‘m. ‘Besten man, hoe wied bu’j d’rmet? Hoevölle is éénentwinteg plus veere?’ De koning kek heur an met ‘t zweit op zien veurheufd. ‘Viefentwinteg! Het mót viefentwinteg waezen!’ ‘Jammer, wéér niet goed’, grijnzen de fee. ‘I-j hebt nog één kans. Ik zie ow morgen!’

“‘Waorumme klopt mien antwoord niet?’, mompeln de koning, ‘ik snap d’r niks van!’ Hu:lend viel e in slaop, met de golden krone van de koneginnen in zien arme.

“De volgende morgen wier e wakker van vrolek gezang. Het zoontjen van de huusholdster zong een versjen, elke kere van veuren af an. De koning luusteren ‘s goed. Hie heuren:

“‘Eénentwinteg en dan veere d’rbi-j

Is een makkeleke somme

Viefentwinteg is de uutkomst niet,

En dit is waorumme:

“Denk ‘s an de klokke

En de uren in een dag

Eénentwinteg uur met veere d’rbi-j

Mek 1 uur in de nacht!

“Nae heur, ik bun echt niet dom

Eén is de oplossing van de som!’

“De koning häösten zich naor onderen, gooien alle paleisdeuren wiedwagen los en poetsen alle kamers en kroonluchters tut ‘t hele paleis glom van onder tut baoven.

“Op ‘t twintegste uur verscheen Nera. ‘Eén!’ riep de koning eur toe. ‘het antwoord is één!’ Nera wier wit as een doek, verschrompelen, en veranderen in een plesken water. In plaatse van heur kwam de koneginne teveurschien. En ze was nog mooier dan de koning zich herinneren.”

Ida Sluiskes, “De Raekensomme” in Flonkergood (2021), s. 28-29.

By disse wedkamp kriget de könink en al sünderlike prys: syn wyv, dee uut de tyd kommen was, kümt torüch, nüverder as tovören. Üm et rådsel to lösen, müt de könink up en wat andre wyse nådenken as normål. Dat is wat en rådsel düt: en rådsel vråget uns, up en andre wyse når de wearld to kyken. En wel weyt wat uns dat bringen kin.

English

“My gown is silent as I thread the seas,

Haunt old buildings or tread the land.

Sometimes my song-coat and the supple wind

Cradle me high over the homes of men,

And the power of clouds carries me

Windward over cities. Then my bright silks

Start to sing, whistle, roar,

Resound and ring, while I

Sail on, untouched by earth and sea,

A spirit, ghost and guest, on wing.”

The Exeter Book riddle 5 (in the Complete Old English Poems, p. 529-530), translated by Craig Williamson.

Yeah, not that easy, those riddles. Especially such a strange language as Anglo-Saxon (Old English) doesn’t make it any easier. Even consulting the Modern English translation isn’t such a great help. Perhaps also since there are different and quite differing translations. Take, for example, in the last line, ferende gæst, which is translated by Williams as a winged ghost, while Hostetter claims it is a traveling stranger. No matter their interpretations, the scholars have figured out the solution: it is a swan.

These kinds of poems are called riddles by folklorists, philologists, and other people. A riddle is actually pretty simple, at least in its structure: there is an answer (also known as topic) and the comments (clues leading to the answer). More interesting is what one does with the riddle. People often think that one has to think hard for the answer. There is always an answer, but it is not always important that one has came up with it themselves. Sometimes it is more about a tradition of answers that one needs to memorize, like the Japanese Zen Buddhist koans. It is even different for jokes, where one has to say to not know the answer, so that the jokester can deliver the punchline themselves.

According to Burns, there are six differen riddle contexts: during rituals, especially of initiation and at death; during courting; education; meeting someone; in folktales; and as entertainment (“Riddling: Occasion to Act” (1976), p. 143-145). In folktales, like we will see in this blog, one can save their own lives through a riddle. There are folktales in Twente about Hüttenklås who is about to be hanged – except when he can prove his innocence. Well, Hüttenklås is not innocent, so he agrees to something else with the jury: he gives them a riddle, and if they cannot solve it, then Hüttenklås is free. This is the riddle, in Dutch:

“When I went there and then was gone

Took six living from a dead one

The sixth one made the seventh free

Well, gentlemen, what will it be?”

Kollektsioon Engelbertink, 1st folder, 9th story

The solution: in the garden near the prison a severed horse’s head is found (the dead one), which contains six young birds; Hüttenklås takes them out, and these will liberate him by being part of the riddle (the six that make the seventh free), since the judges cannot solve the riddle. And so it goes: Hüttenklås is free, and does not have to dangle from the gallow’s tree.

Riddles are often found in similar riddling competitions around the whole world. This also goes for the Old Germanic world, in which one could win the riddling competition by guessing the answer to the other’s riddle ànd by not having your riddle be solved by others. Oftentimes, the price for winning won’t be much more than eternal honour (still pretty nice), but in folktales it is often quite some more, as one can read here:

“Once upon a time, in a place far, far away, a king lived a lonely life in his big palace. His wife died, seven times seven times seven days ago. Every day, the king cried over her. Each day, he polished up her golden crown. ‘Oh, my dear queen’, he would say, ‘if I could only see you one last time!’

“One evening, on the twentieth hour, the king got a visitor. It was Nera, the black fairy. She said: ‘Why are you weeping? Can I be of aid?’ The king didn’t trust it … but oh well … he told about his loss.

“The black fairy laughed heartedly about his story. ‘Oh king,’ she smirked, ‘I can bring your wife back to you in a whiff! But you have to solve this math problem for me. If you can’t? Then the queen will still come back, but she will die the next day again.’ The king eagerly agreed. Solving math problems was his talent!

“Alright’, the fairy said, ‘how much is twenty-one plus four? You have three tries.’ The king could not believe his ears. That was easy! ‘Twenty-five!’ he said, beaming. Nera laughed, showing her false teeth. ‘Such a shame, that is incorrect! You still have two chances. See you tomorrow!’

“The king scratched his beard. Did he miss something? Did he forget how to do basic math? All night, he spend reading all math books from cover to cover and back again. He mourned for his wife and polished her golden crown.

“The next day, on the twentieth hour, Nera again appeared next to him. ‘My good man, how far did you get? How much is twenty-one plus four?’ The king stared at her, sweat dripping from his forehead. ‘Twenty-five! The answers should be twenty-five!’ ‘Tough beans, wrong again’, the fairy grinned. ‘You have one more chance. I’ll see you tomorrow!’

“‘Why is my answer wrong?’, the king mumbled. ‘I just don’t understand!’ He fell asleep crying, cradling the queen’s golden crown in his arms.

“The next morning, the king woke up to cheerful singing. The little son of the housekeeper sang a song, starting from the beginning each time he finished it. The king listened to it closely. He heard:

“‘Twenty-one, and then add four

Is an easy sum to solve

Twenty-five won’t be the answer,

Your reasoning should evolve:

“Think about a clock

And its daily hours

Twenty-one hours and then add four

The first hour of the night it scours!

“Don’t worry, I ain’t dumb

One is the answer of the sum!’

“The king hurried downstairs, all palace doors were opened wide, and cleaned all rooms and chandeliers, until the whole palace shone from top to bottom.

“Nora appeared on the twentieth hour. ‘One!’ the king shouted to her. ‘The answer is one!’ Nera turned white as a sheet, shrivelled up, and turned into a puddle of water. In her stead, the queen appeared. And she was more beautiful than the king remembered.”

Ida Sluiskes, “De Raekensomme” in Flonkergood (2021), p. 28-29.

This competition awards the king with a special price: his wife, who died, coming back from the dead, more beautiful than ever. In order to solve the riddle, the king needs to think differently than he is used to. That is what a riddle is supposed to do: a riddle asks us to examine the world in a different way. And who knows what that will bring us.

Denk ‘s an de klokke / Think about a clock

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