The Exeter Book is the source of 95 of the 96 Old English riddles still known today.
Image Credit: ANGELO HORNAK / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO
THE EXETER BOOK, INSCRIBED IN the 10th century, is a rare treasure. Many scholars consider it one of the building blocks of English literature. But it’s suffered damage along the way that goes far beyond the usual wear and tear. For one thing, one of the book’s previous owners used it as a cutting board.
And an entirely different person used the book as a coaster, which left a literal lasting impression: a ring that soaked through the pages.
To understand how horrifying that is, it helps to know what the Exeter Book contains.
Though the Anglo-Saxon period in England lasted for roughly six hundred years, not many Old English (think Beowulf) manuscripts from that era survived. As the longest and oldest of four manuscripts that contain poetry, the Exeter Book is a particularly crucial remnant of a once-rich oral tradition.
The Exeter Book has it all, though: religious odes, tragic elegies, and a surprising number of riddles where the punchlines are jokes about penises.
For example: “A curiosity hangs by the thigh of a man, under its master’s cloak. It is pierced through in the front; it is stiff and hard and it has a good standing-place.
When the man pulls up his own robe above his knee, he means to poke with the head of his hanging thing that familiar hole of matching length which he has often filled before.” (The “answer” is a key.)
But it seems that at several points throughout history, the book fell into the hands of someone who didn’t appreciate it that much. While the first few pages of the book are missing, the opening pages that are intact have deep knife marks—which suggests that the book may have been used as a cutting board. Several folios of the book are stained with a circular ring that bled through the pages, too.
The most popular theory to date holds that someone set a beer down on the book’s unbound pages, staining it irreparably. Alternatively, it could have been a pot of glue.
Valeria Messalina was the third wife of emperor Claudius. She was notorious for being an absolute nymphomaniac.
She married Claudius in A.D. 38 and they had two children, who were rumoured to have actually been fathered by Caligula as she was a frequent attendee to his many banquets and orgies.
After Caligula was finally murdered, Messalina, although now empress, did not suppress her urges.
At night she would even dress up as a prostitute and incognito she would trade as a prostitute – such was her insatiable appetite for men.
She once challenged the famous Roman prostitute, Scylla, to a sex-athon, whereby the winner was the one who copulated with the most men.
The competition lasted for 24 hours and Messalina won with a score of 25 partners.
In 48 A.D. she plotted with one of her lovers, Sillius, to have Claudius murdered and even had a secret marriage ceremony with him. However, one of Claudius’s advisors Narcissus, exposed the plot to him.
Claudius was heartbroken and could hardly believe his own ears, but was eventually persuaded to have her and Sillius promptly executed.
Messalina was given the option of suicide but she could not bring herself to take her own life.
It is already known as the eternal city, and if new archaeological findings prove correct Rome may turn out to be even more ancient than believed until now.
According to a tradition going back to classic times, the brothers Romulus and Remus founded the city on 21 April in the year 753BC.
But it is reported that evidence of infrastructure building had been found, dating from more than 100 years earlier.
The daily Il Messagero quoted Patrizia Fortini, the archaeologist responsible for the Forum, as saying that a wall constructed well before the city’s traditional founding date had been unearthed.
The wall, made from blocks of volcanic tuff, appeared to have been built to channel water from an aquifer under the Capitoline hill that flows into the river Spino, a tributary of the Tiber. Around the wall, archaeologists found pieces of ceramic pottery and remains of food.
“The examination of the ceramic material was crucial, allowing us today to fix the wall chronologically between the 9th century and the beginning of the 8th century,” said Fortini.
It was already known that the settlement of Rome was a gradual process and that the traditional date for its foundation was invented by a later writer.
There is evidence of people arriving on the Palatine hill as early as the 10th century BC.
The find would appear to show that construction in stone began earlier than previously established.
The discovery was made close to the Lapis Niger (‘Black Stone’ in Latin): a shrine that later Romans associated with their city’s earliest days. The site includes a stone block that carries the earliest inscription found in Rome.
Written in the 5th century BC, its meaning is not fully clear, but it is thought to place a curse on anyone who violates the site.
Akhenaten came to the throne of Egypt around 1353 BC. The reign of his father, Amenhotep III, had been long and prosperous with international diplomacy largely replacing the relentless military campaigning of his predecessors.
The reign culminated in a series of magnificent jubilee pageants celebrated in Thebes (modern Luxor), the religious capital of Egypt at the time and home to the state god Amun-Re.
The new king was crowned as Amenhotep IV (meaning ‘Amun is content’) and temple construction and decoration projects began immediately in the name of the new king.
The earliest work of his reign is stylistically similar to the art of his predecessors, but within a year or two he was building temples to the Aten in a very different artistic style and had changed his name to Akhenaten in honour of this god.
Akhenaten was one of the most studied, despised, loved figures of ancient Egypt. Some times thought to be a religous zealot (of Aten the Sun God) who instigated a new form of art into the stuffy staid ways of ancient Egypt.
About Akhenaten there is an air of mystery – why did he choose to worship just one god and banish all the others? The radical changes Akhenaten made have led to his characterisation as the ‘first individual in human history .
Akhenaten’s ‘great king’s wife’ was Nefertiti and they had six daughters. There were also other wives, including the enigmatic Kiya who may have been the mother of Tutankhamun.
Royal women play an unusually prominent role in the art of the period and this is particularly true of Nefertiti who is frequently depicted alongside her husband.
Nefertiti disappears from the archaeological record around year 12 and some have argued that she reappears as the enigmatic co-regent Smenkhkare towards the end of Akhenaten’s reign.