Song of Riddles

Title: Song of Riddles: Deciphering the Song of Songs

Author: Geula Twersky

Publisher: Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem

ISBN: 978-965-229-908-6


Review by Bob Lane



Geula Twersky has written an extra-ordinary book: start with the title, Song of Riddles, which announces immediately the approach taken in the analysis of the biblical “Song of Songs”- one of the most beautiful and, to many, puzzling, books to have been included in the collection of writings included in the Bible – and then consider the author, an award-winning artist who has exhibited in galleries around the world – go here to see some of her works – who also publishes scholarly articles in academic journals anent the study of the early Jewish texts.

The title states that the text to be analyzed is a riddle, and like any good riddle, there must be a secret meaning behind the text, pointed to, suggested, available, to the riddle breaker who invest the time and energy to unpack the “secret” meaning.

Read the review.

Sibyl of the Rhine

Throughout her life, Hildegard had experienced visions, beginning at the age of 3. (Oliver Sacks attributed these to migraines). At age 42, she had a powerful experience that radically changed her life. She described this moment in her writings:

And it came to pass … when I was 42 years and 7 months old, that the heavens were opened and a blinding light of exceptional brilliance flowed through my entire brain. And so it kindled my whole heart and breast like a flame, not burning but warming… and suddenly I understood of the meaning of expositions of the books…


Literary Riddle

Solution to Sunday’s Riddle:

  1. Edmund Spenser


The noblest name in Allegory’s page,


Sixteenth century poet Edmund Spenser is most famous for The Faerie Queene, a fantastical epic poem about knights facing tests of virtue that serves as an allegory for the English House of Tudor and Queen Elizabeth I.


  1. Homer


The hand that traced inexorable rage;


The first line of Homer’s Iliad reads: “Rage—Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,” (translation by Robert Fagles).


  1. Aristotle


A pleasing moralist whose page refined,

Displays the deepest knowledge of the mind;


Aristotle is the first writer to receive two lines in Poe’s poem. In Aristotelian ethics, to achieve lifelong happiness one must have aretē, meaning “moral virtue.” Of course, Aristotle’s works extend well beyond his study of philosophical ethics, establishing foundations for many fields of study including science, poetry, and politics.


  1. Kallimakhos (Callimachus)


A tender poet of a foreign tongue,

(Indited in the language that he sung.)


Callimachus was an ancient greek poet and scholar at the Library of Alexandria in the 3rd century BC. In his poem, Poe seems to be referring to the fact that Callimachus, who wrote in Greek, had a significant influence on Latin works written by ancient Roman poets like Ovid and Sextus Propertius. Callimachus is best known for his elegies.


  1. Percy Bysshe Shelley


A bard of brilliant but unlicensed page

At once the shame and glory of our age,


Shelley died when Poe was only 13, but the Baltimore writer became deeply interested in Shelley’s works of Romantic poetry. Poe praised Shelley, who never received recognition as a great poet during his lifetime, in a review of The Drama of Exile and Other Poems, and he named Shelley’s The Sensitive Plant a poem of “purest ideality.” Shelley, whose second wife Mary wrote Frankenstein, is best remembered today for his poem Ozymandias.


  1. Alexander Pope


The prince of harmony and stirling sense,


Pope, best known for his 1712 poem The Rape of the Lock, was a master of satire and mock-epic poetry. Poe celebrates Pope’s “harmony,” possibly a reference to his frequent use of heroic couplets, and his “stirling sense,” likely a nod to Pope’s satirical criticisms of 18th century English society.


  1. Euripides


The ancient dramatist of eminence,


Euripides is not as well remembered today as his contemporary Greek tragedian Sophocles, but in 5th century BC Athens, Euripides was more famous and widely read. In the Hellenistic period, Euripides was studied alongside Homer as a cornerstone of Greek literature. More plays written by Euripides survive today than from any other ancient Greek tragedian.


  1. Mark Akenside


The bard that paints imagination’s powers,


Eighteenth-century poet and physician Mark Akenside wrote an ambitious poem called The Pleasures of the Imagination, first published in 1744. The work, which attempts to describe imagination as a distinct function separate from philosophy, was praised for is beautiful language, but criticized for being too obscure in its descriptions of an abstract concept.


  1. Samuel Rogers


And him whose song revives departed hours,


Born 46 years before Poe and outliving him by six years, Samuel Rogers was a famed English Romantic poet who has since been eclipsed by his friends William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge, and Lord Byron. Rogers wrote a poem inspired by Akenside’s The Pleasures of the Imagination called The Pleasures of Memory, first published in 1792. The poem is known for freely bouncing from one image to the next.


  1. Euripides


Once more an ancient tragic bard recall,

In boldness of design surpassing all.


Poe includes Euripides for a second time, praising his role in the formation of tragic drama.


  1. William Shakespeare (Shakspeare)


These names when rightly read, a name [make] known

Which gathers all their glories in its own.


The names of the 10 previous poets spell out Shakspeare, a common spelling for Shakespeare at the time: Spenser, Homer, Aristotle, Kallimachos, Shelley, Pope, Euripides, Akenside, Rogers, Euripides.