Professor Bahr was photographed in the Libraries’ Wunsch Conservation Laboratory, with a 15th-century Book of Hours. The manuscript volume was donated to the Institute Archives and Special Collections by I. Austin Kelly (MIT 1926).  Photo: Bryce Vickmark
Professor Bahr was photographed in the Libraries’ Wunsch Conservation Laboratory, with a 15th-century Book of Hours. The manuscript volume was donated to the Institute Archives and Special Collections by I. Austin Kelly (MIT 1926).
Photo: Bryce Vickmark

Last spring, MIT literature professor Arthur Bahr found a wrapped package outside his office with a riddle written on it:

Ic eom blac, ac ne untrum
Ic eom stan, ac min dryhten strangra
Feower wraetlice wihta me healdan

The riddle was written in Old English—the difficult, Latin-like English precursor used from roughly the 5th century through the 12th century. The package and riddle were left at his door by one of the 23 MIT undergraduates who signed up to take Bahr’s introductory course in Old English. “I defy any other institution to have students who are that into it,” Bahr says. “It’s just amazing.”

The modern English translation reveals that the text is a medieval-style identity riddle:

I am white, but not unfit
I am a stone, but my lord is stronger
Four remarkable beings hold me

Can you figure out this mash-up of MIT and medieval culture? Here’s a hint: it relates to Bahr’s role as a teacher.

Visit MIT News to read the full story and to find out the answer.

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