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Ant-lion riddle by Aldhelm [695 C.E.]

The English scholar and proto-naturalist Aldhelm (639-730), when Abbot of Malmesbury, composed in about 695 his famous "hundred riddles" in Latin verse (Aenigmata ex diversis Rerum Creaturis composita). The answer to one of the riddles was "Myrmicoleon" or Ant-lion—used in the (uncharacteristic for Aldhelm) mythical, symbolistic tradition of the Physiologus. It is clear that Aldhelm understood the creature to be an insect, presumably through his reading, for he was well versed in earlier literature (Kevan 1992).

Here is the original riddle and an English translation by James Hall Pitman:

Dudum compositis ego nomen gesto figuris :
Ut leo, sic formica vocor sermone Pelasgo
Tropica nominibus signans praesagia duplis,
Cum rostris avium nequeam resistere rostro.
Scrutetur sapiens, gemino cur nomine fingar !

I long have borne the name of hybrid form :
Both ant and lion I am called in Greek
A double metaphor, foreboding doom ;
My beak cannot ward off the beaks of birds.
Let wise men search out why my names are twain.


References

Kevan, D. K. McE. 1992. Antlion ante Linné: [Myrmekoleon] to Myrmeleon (Insecta: Neuroptera: Myrmeleonidae [sic]). Pp. 203-232 in Current Research in Neuropterology. Proceedings of the Fourth International Symposium on Neuropterology [Symposium held in Bagnères-de-Luchon, France, 1991.] M. Canard, H. Aspöck, and M. W. Mansell, eds. Toulouse.

Pitman, James Hall. 1925. The Riddles of Aldhelm. New Haven: Yale University Press.

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Related website

  • Insects.org (Dexter Sear, USA). This elegantly-designed insect reference site is also home to the Cultural Entomology Digest, the definitive resource for studying the influence of insects on human culture as seen in myth, psychology and art.


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