Archbishop of Canterbury
Riddles of Tatwine, London, British Library, Royal MA 12 c xxiii folio 121v, showing Tatwine's riddles on philosophy and on faith, hope, and charity following on from the riddles of Eusebius
Term ended30 July 734
Other post(s)Abbot of Breedon-on-the-Hill
Consecration10 June 731
Personal details
Bornc. 670
Died30 July 734
Feast day30 July
Venerated in

Tatwine[a] (c. 670 – 30 July 734) was the tenth Archbishop of Canterbury from 731 to 734. Prior to becoming archbishop, he was a monk and abbot of a Benedictine monastery. Besides his ecclesiastical career, Tatwine was a writer, and riddles he composed survive. Another work he composed was on the grammar of the Latin language, which was aimed at advanced students of that language. He was subsequently considered a saint.


Tatwine was a Mercian by birth.[3] His epigraph at Canterbury stated that when he died he was in old age, so perhaps he was born around 670.[4] He became a monk at the monastery at Breedon-on-the-Hill in the present-day County of Leicestershire,[3][5] and then abbot of that house.[6] Through the influence of King Æthelbald he was appointed as Archbishop of Canterbury in 731 and was consecrated on 10 June 731.[7][8] He was one of a number of Mercians who were appointed to Canterbury during the 730s and 740s.[9] Apart from his consecration of the Bishops of Lindsey and Selsey in 733, Tatwine's period as archbishop appears to have been uneventful.[4] He died in office on 30 July 734.[7] Later considered a saint, his feast day is 30 July.[10]


Bede's commentary on Tatwine calls him a "vir religione et Prudentia insignis, sacris quoque literis nobiliter instructus" (a man notable for his prudence, devotion and learning). These qualities were displayed in the two surviving manuscripts of his riddles and four of his Ars Gramattica Tatuini.[4][11]

Ars Gramattica Tatuini

The Ars is one of only two surviving eighth-century Latin grammars from England.[11] The grammar is a reworking of Donatus's Ars Minor with the addition of information drawn from other grammarians, such as Priscian and Consentius.[citation needed] It was not designed for a newcomer to the Latin language, but rather for more advanced students.[12] It covers the eight parts of speech through illustrations drawn from classical scholars, although not directly but through other grammatical works. There are also some examples drawn from the Psalms. The work was completed before Tatwine became archbishop, and was used not only in England but also on the Continent.[13]


It is almost certain that Tatwine was inspired to develop the culture of riddle-writing in early medieval England because he had read the Epistola ad Acircium by the West-Saxon scholar Aldhelm (d. 709), which combined studies of Latin grammar and metre with the presentation of one hundred hexametrical riddles.[14] Frederick Tupper believed that Aldhelm's influence was minimal,[15] but subsequent scholars have argued that Tatwine's riddles owed a substantial debt to those of Aldhelm.[16][17][18]

Tatwine's riddles deal with such diverse topics as philosophy and charity, the five senses and the alphabet, and a book, and a pen,[4] yet, according to Mercedes Salvador-Bello, these riddles are placed in a carefully structured sequence: 1–3 and 21–26 on theology (e.g. 2, faith, hope, and charity), 4–14 on objects associated with ecclesiastical life (e.g. 7, a bell), 15–20 on wonders and monsters (e.g. 16, prepositions with two cases), 27–39 on tools and related natural phenomena (e.g. 28, an anvil, and 33, fire), with a final piece on the sun's rays.[19][4]

Tatwine's riddles survive in two manuscripts: the early 11th-century London, British Library, Royal 12.Cxxiii (fols. 121v–7r) and the mid-11th-century Cambridge, University Library, Gg.5.35 (fols. 374v–77v).[20] In both manuscripts, they are written alongside the riddles of Eusebius: it seems clear that Eusebius (whose identity is uncertain) added sixty riddles to Tatwine's forty to take the collection up to one hundred.[21]

Tatwine gives a sign in one of the riddles of the growing acceptance among scholars in the Christian west of the legitimacy of philosophy: "De philosophia: est felix mea qui poterit cognoscere iura" (Of Philosophy: happy is he who can know my laws).[22] The riddles are formed in acrostics.[23]


An example of Tatwine's work is enigma 11, on the needle:[24]: 178 

Enigma 11
Latin original English translation

Torrens me genuit fornax de uiscere flammae,
Condi<t>or inualido et finxit me corpore luscam;
Sed constat nullum iam sine me uiuere posse.
Est mirum dictu, cludam ni lumina uultus,
Condere non artis penitus molimina possum.

Brought forth in the fiery womb of a blazing furnace,
my maker formed me one-eyed and frail;
yet surely none could ever live without me.
Strange to say, unless my eye is blinded,
my skill produces not the smallest piece of work.


Tatwine's riddles are on the following topics.[24]

Numbered list of Tatwine's riddles
Number Latin title English translation
1 de philosophia philosophy
2 de spe, fide (et) caritate hope, faith (and) charity
3 de historia et sensu et morali et allegoria historical, spiritual, moral, and allegorical sense
4 de litteris letters
5 de membrano parchment
6 de penna pen
7 de tinti(n)no bell
8 de ara altar
9 de cruce Xristi Christ's cross
10 de recitabulo lectern
11 de acu needle
12 de patena paten
13 de acu pictili embroidery needle
14 de caritate love
15 de niue, grandine et glacie snow, hail and ice
16 de pr(a)epositione utriusque casus prepositions with two cases
17 de sciuro squirrel
18 de oculis eyes
19 de strabis oculis squinting eyes
20 de lusco the one-eyed
21 de malo evil
22 de Adam Adam
23 de trina morte threefold death
24 de humilitate humility
25 de superbia pride
26 de quinque sensibus the five senses
27 de forcipe a pair of tongs
28 de incude anvil
29 de mensa table
30 de ense et uagina sword and sheath
31 de scintilla spark
32 de sagitta arrow
33 de igne fire
34 de faretra quiver
35 de pru(i)na ember
36 de uentilabro winnowing fork
37 de seminante sower
38 de carbone charcoal
39 de coticulo whetstone
40 de radiis solis rays of the sun

Editions and translations


  1. ^ Sometimes Tatwin, Tatuini, or Tadwinus[1]


  1. ^ a b Farmer Oxford Dictionary of Saints pp. 492–493
  2. ^ Hutchison-Hall Orthodox Saints of the British Isles p. 81
  3. ^ a b Brooks Early History of the Church of Canterbury p. 80
  4. ^ a b c d e Lapidge "Tatwine" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  5. ^ Yorke Kings and Kingdoms p. 31
  6. ^ Stenton Anglo-Saxon England p. 183
  7. ^ a b Fryde, et al. Handbook of British Chronology p. 213
  8. ^ Kirby Earliest English Kings p. 113
  9. ^ Williams Kingship and Government p. 24
  10. ^ Walsh New Dictionary of Saints p. 571
  11. ^ a b Law "Transmission" Revue d'Histoire des Textes p. 281
  12. ^ Brooks Early History of the Church of Canterbury pp. 98–99
  13. ^ Blair World of Bede pp. 246–247
  14. ^ Salvador-Bello. Isidorean Perceptions of Order. p. 222.
  15. ^ Tupper, Frederick (1910). The Riddles of the Exeter Book. Boston: Ginn. pp. xxxiv.
  16. ^ Lapidge, Michael; Rosier, James (2009). Aldhelm: The Poetic Works. Woodbridge: D.S. Brewer. p. 66. ISBN 9781843841982.
  17. ^ Orchard, Andy (1994). The Poetic Art of Aldhelm. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 242. ISBN 9780521034579.
  18. ^ Salvador-Bello. Isidorean Perceptions of Order. pp. 222–224.
  19. ^ Mercedes Salvador-Bello, 'Patterns of Compilation in Anglo-Latin Enigmata and the Evidence of A Source-Collection in Riddles 1–40 of the Exeter Book, Viator, 43 (2012), 339–374 (pp. 346–49, 373). 10.1484/J.VIATOR.1.102554.
  20. ^ Salvador-Bello, Mercedes (2014). Isidorean Perceptions of Order: The Exeter Book Riddles and Medieval Latin Enigmata. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press. p. 221. ISBN 9781935978527.
  21. ^ Williams, Mary Jane McDonald (1974). The Riddles of Tatwine and Eusebius. University of Michigan: Unpublished PhD thesis. pp. 44–57.
  22. ^ Rory Naismith, Antiquity, Authority, and Religion in the Epitomae and Epistolae of Virgilius Maro Grammaticus' Peritia v.20 (2008) 59, at 66.
  23. ^ Lapidge "Tatwine" Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England
  24. ^ a b 'Aenigmata Tatvini', ed. by Fr. Glorie, trans. by Erika von Erhardt-Seebold, in Tatuini omnia opera, Variae collectiones aenigmatum merovingicae aetatis, Anonymus de dubiis nominibus, Corpus christianorum: series latina, 133-133a, 2 vols (Turnholt: Brepols, 1968), I 165–208.


Further reading

  • Law, Vivien (1977). "The Latin and Old English glosses in the Ars Tatuini". Anglo-Saxon England 6. pp. 77–89.
Christian titles Preceded byBerhtwald Archbishop of Canterbury 731–734 Succeeded byNothhelm