Powerful Patens in the Anglo-Saxon Medical Tradition and Exeter Book Riddle 48
By Megan Cavell
Neophilologus (June 2016)
Abstract: This article discusses Exeter Book Riddle 48 in light of its proposed solutions. While commonly solved as either “chalice” or “paten,” I argue that the riddle points toward the latter solution (OE husel-disc). This riddle is usually read in relation to its counterpart, Riddle 59, which scholarly consensus solves as “chalice” (OE calic or husel-fæt). However, Riddle 48 should be analysed in its own right, especially given evidence from the medical tradition that prescribes writing on patens and performing psalms and other prayers over them in order to cure sickness. It is to this practice and to the psalms that Riddle 48 gestures in its use of the term galdorcwide (incantation), as well as the direct quotation that appeals to God to heal the speaker.
Introduction: Like many of the riddles in the tenth-century Exeter Book, Riddle 48 has had its fair share of proposed solutions. Although it is most commonly interpreted as a sacramental vessel—either a chalice or paten—it has also been read as a book or finger ring, and analysed briefly in relation to coins, bells and brooches. While all of these readings acknowledge the high-status nature of the object depicted in Riddle 48, this article argues that evidence which supports solving the riddle as a husel-disc (paten) can be found in the Anglo-Saxon medical tradition.