kids encyclopedia robot

Bern Riddles facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Bern, Burgerbibliothek, Cod. 611, f. 73r – Composite manuscript Merovingian excerpts from grammatical, patristic, computistic and medical works
Bern, Burgerbibliothek, Cod. 611, f. 73v: two of the Bern Riddles ("De sale" 'salt' and "De mensa" 'table'), from the manuscript that gives the collection its name.

The Bern Riddles, also known as Aenigmata Bernensia, Aenigmata Hexasticha or Riddles of Tullius, are a collection of 63 metrical Latin riddles, named after the location of their earliest surviving manuscript, which today is held in Bern (though probably produced in Bourges): the early eighth-century Codex Bernensis 611.


Although it has been suggested that they were composed in late antiquity, most scholars consider that the Bern Riddles were inspired by the c. fourth-century collection of riddles attributed to Symphosius, and date to around the seventh century. The author of the Bern Riddles is not known but they might have been written by "a Lombard familiar with Mediterranean flora and food"; perhaps in the monastery of Bobbio. According to Archer Taylor, "The Berne Riddles are especially interesting for the author's familiarity with the North Italian landscape and its plants. Whoever he was, we may safely call him the first medieval riddle-master in Italy". However, some scholars see the origin of the Bern Riddles in Anglo-Saxon England, where several early medieval collections of metrical riddles originated, such as the Enigmata of Aldhelm.


The subjects of the Bern Riddles are as follows: 1. de olla/bowl; 2. de lucerna/lamp; 3. de sale/salt; 4. de scamno/bench; 5. de mansa/table; 6. de calice/(glass) chalice; 7. de uesica/air-bubble; 8. de ouo/egg; 9. de mola/millstone; 10. de scala/ladder; 11. de naue/ship; 12. de grano/grain of corn; 13. de uite/grapevine; 14. de oliua/olive; 15. de palma/palm-tree; 16. de cedride/cedar-berry; 17. de cribro/sieve; 18. de scopa/broom; 19. de cera/wax tablet; 20. de melle/honey; 21. de ape/bee; 22. de oue/egg; 23. de ignis scintilla/fire-spark; 24. de membrana/parchment; 25. de litteris/letters; 26. de sinapi/mustard; 27. de papiro/(papyrus)-paper; 28. de serico/silkworm; 29. de speculo/mirror; 30. de pisce/fish; 31. de nympha/siphon; 32. de spongia/sponge; 33. de uiola/violet; 34. de rosa/rose; 35. de liliis/lilies; 36. de croco/saffron; 37. de pipere/pepper; 38. de glacie/ice; 39. de hedera/ivy; 40. de muscipula/mousetrap; 41. de uento/wind; 42. de glacie/ice; 43. de uermis bombycibus sericas uestes formantibus/silkworms; 44. de margarita/pearl; 45. de terra/earth; 46. de pistillo/pestle; 47. de cochlea/snail-shell; 48. de castanea/chestnut; 49. de pluuia/rain; 50. de uino/wine; 50a. de charta/[wood-pulp] paper; 51. de alio/garlic; 52. de rosa/rose; 53. de trutina/weighing-scales; 54. de insubulo/weaving-loom; 55. de sole/sun; 56. de sole/sun; 57. de sole/sun; 58. de luna/moon; 59. de luna/moon; 60. de caelo/sky; 61. de umbra/shadow; 62. de stellis/stars; 63. de uino/wine.


LI. De alio.
Multiplici ueste natus de matre productor
Nec habere corpus possum, si uestem amitto.
Meos, unde nasco, in uentre fero parentes;
Viuo nam sepultus, uitam et inde resumo.
Superis eductus nec umquam crescere possum,
Dum natura caput facit succedere plantis.

51. Garlic.
I am brought forth, born from my mother, with many-layered clothing;
I cannot have a body if I lose my clothing.
I carry my parents, from whom I am born, in my womb/stomach;
I live though interred, and from that place I resume my life.
I can never grow up, nurtured, to a great height,
since Nature makes my head go beneath my shoots/the soles of my feet.

LII. De rosa.
Mollis ego duro de corde genero natos;
In conceptu numquam amplexu uiri delector.
Sed dum infra meis concrescunt fili latebris,
Meum quisque nascens disrumpit uulnere corpus.
Postquam decorato uelantes tegmine matrem
Saepe delicati frangunt acumine fortes.

52. Rose.
Soft as I am, I produce sons from my hard heart;
in conceiving I am never delighted by the embrace of a man.
But as my sons grow strong beneath my hiding-places,
each ruptures my body with a wound as it is born.
Thereafter, covering their mother with an ornate blanket,
the weak often break the strong with a sharp point.


The Bern Riddles come down to us in the following manuscripts:

Name Folios Date Number of Riddles Comments
Cod. Bern 611 73-80v 8th c. (early) 33 See manuscript here. Parts of this manuscripts are missing.
Cod. Berlin Philipps 167 37v-45 9th c. 2
Cod. Leipzig Rep. I 74 15v-24 9th or 10th c. 63
Cod. Vienna 67 168v-170 12th c. 62
Cod. Vienna 2285 206-12 14th c. 62
Cod. Paris Lat. 5596 165- 8th or 9th c. 9 See manuscript here.
Cod. Paris Lat. 8071 no foliation 9th c. (late) 2 See manuscript here. Sometimes referred to as Codex Thuaneus.
Cod. Vatican Reg. Lat. 1553 8v-21 (passim) 9th c. (early) 52 See manuscript here. Mixed with riddles of Symphosius and Aldhelm.
Newberry Case MS f.11 12th c. (first half) 62
Cod. Vatican Barb. Lat. 1717 16th c. ?

Editions and translations

The best modern editions of the Bern Riddles are:

  • 'Aenigmata in Dei nomine Tullii seu aenigmata quaestionum artis rhetoricae [aenigmata "bernensia"]', ed. by Fr. Glorie, trans. by Karl J. Minst, in Tatuini omnia opera, Variae collectiones aenigmatum merovingicae aetatis, Anonymus de dubiis nominibus, Corpus christianorum: series latina, 133-133a, 2 vols (Turnholt: Brepols, 1968), II 541–610.
  • Strecker, Karl (ed). “Aenigmata Hexasticha.” MGH: Poetae Latini aevi Carolingi, Vol. 4.2; Berlin, 1914. pp. 732-759.
  • The Bern Riddles, in The Riddle Ages: Old English Riddles, Translations and Commentaries, ed. by Megan Cavell and Neville Mogford, with Matthias Ammon and Victoria Symons (2013-). An edition and English translation of the Bern Riddles begun in 2020.
  • Neville Mogford, 'The Moon and Stars in the Bern and Eusebius Riddles', in Riddles at Work in the Early Medieval Tradition: Words, Ideas, Interactions, ed. by Megan Cavell and Jennifer Neville (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020), pp. 230–46 , .
kids search engine
Bern Riddles Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.