250 High Schoolers, the Old English “Onion” Riddle, and Me

My darling son, John, attends a wonderful high school. By sheer coincidence, his amazing English teacher, Ms. Michriky, is teaching Beowulf and John Gardner’s Grendel this fall–just as my novel Grendel’s Mother is being released. John’s teacher and her colleague, Ms. Icaro, asked me to come talk to a class…er…classes…er….as many as 250 freshmen. What a joy it turned out to be today when I visited!

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I prepared a PowerPoint that was interactive. At one point, I had the students translate “Baby Old English” exercises together.

Of course, I had to read them Riddle 25, “The Onion.” Here is it:

Is it an onion? Or could it be something else?

Is it an onion? Or could it be something else?

I am a wondrous creature: to women a thing of joyful expectation, to close-lying companions serviceable. I harm no city-dweller excepting my slayer alone. My stem is erect and tall—I stand up in bed—and whiskery somewhere down below. Sometimes a countryman’s quite comely daughter will venture, bumptious girl, to get a grip on me. She assaults my red self and seizes my head and clenches me in a cramped place. She will soon feel the effect of her encounter with me, this curly-locked woman who squeezes me. Her eye will be wet.

Needless to say, this group of 250 14- and 15-year-olds loved it! I asked them what the answer to the riddle was.  One brave girl ventured, “A boy part!” Everyone laughed. I pretended to be shocked. “A monk wrote it down.  Of course, it’s an onion.”  Tee hee.

This is an advanced school. Not only are they reading Beowulf and Grendel–and in the future, I hope, Grendel’s Mother–they also read the ancient Sumerian epic Gilgamesh.

This translation by Stephen Mitchell is fabulous. It's the one I use when teaching.

This translation by Stephen Mitchell is fabulous. It’s the one I use when teaching.

In my PowerPoint, I even included “authentic” images of the Neolithic  period.

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An almost 15-old-year when he was a young Bronze Age lad. The students cheered John every time he showed up in these images! He even got a wolf whistle.

Much hilarity and learning by all.

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Hadrian’s Wall–as far north as the Romans got.

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Young Roman soldiers.

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Attractive view of Sarah the Soldier.

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Latrine! At last!

I told them about the end of the Anglo-Saxon period as well.

A Norman Soldier at the actual Battle of Hastings. Well, the actual Hastings battlefield.

A Norman Soldier at the actual Battle of Hastings. Well, the actual Hastings battlefield.

Slide67As I reminded them: Life is a pilgrimage.

Full of devout pilgrims

Full of devout pilgrims

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My daughter, Sarah, age 7, at King’s Cross Station.

Thanks to everyone at LASA for letting me be a high schooler again!

 

Follow me on Twitter: @medievalwomen

Riddle #25: Anglo-Saxon Poetry (1982) translated and edited by S. A. J. Bradley (Everyman)

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