Solomon and Saturn is the generic name given to four Old English works, which present a dialogue of riddles between Solomon, the king of Israel, and Saturn, identified in two of the poems as a prince of the Chaldeans.

On account of earlier editorial tendencies, the two poetical works, Solomon and Saturn I and Solomon and Saturn II, have often been read as a single, continuous poem. They are considered some of the most enigmatic and difficult poems of the Old English corpus.

Prose Solomon and Saturn

The so-called Prose Solomon and Saturn in the Nowell Codex (the Beowulf manuscript) is a question-and-answer text dealing chiefly with issues of biblical or Christian lore. It shares much similarity with the later Old English prose dialogue Adrian and Ritheus[1] and, later still, the Middle English .

Poetic versions


Solomon and Saturn I, Solomon and Saturn II, and the Pater Noster Solomon and Saturn in MS Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (CCCC) 422 are often compared to the Vafþrúðnismál and Alvíssmál and other similar poems in the Poetic Edda.

The poetic versions have been cited as an example of orientalism with the suggestion that it screens anxieties about the cultural identity of the English people. Kathryn Powell claims that at the time it was preserved in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, Anglo-Saxon England was beset by anxieties about the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge, the stability of the kingdom and the efficacy of religious faith. She argues that by displacing ignorance, political instability and lack of faith onto the Eastern and pagan Chaldean people as represented by Saturn, English people were encouraged to identify with ideals and behaviours of the Christianised figure of Solomon. This is cited as an example of bolstering English Christian culture through degrading the east.[2]


As with most Old English poetry, the Solomon and Saturn poems have proven notoriously difficult to date. Patrick O'Neill has argued for a connection to the court of King Alfred in the ninth century,[3] whereas Daniel Anlezark sees the poem as fitting into the mid-tenth-century cultural milieu of Dunstan's Glastonbury.

The Solomon and Saturn texts are often considered the earliest forms of a wider European literary tradition that comprises similar works such as the dialogue between Solomon and Marcolf.

Solomon and Saturn I

Solomon and Saturn I is one of the few Old English poems to survive in more than one manuscript. It appears in MS CCCC 41 and MS CCCC 422. Along with the Pater Noster Solomon and Saturn, Solomon and Saturn I contains runes as a sort of riddling shorthand in which runic characters stand for the words in Old English that name them. From this, we know some of the names for the extended set of runes used to write Old English. The prose version has as one of its riddles: "Who invented letters? Mercurius the giant". The Anglo-Saxons routinely identified Mercury with Woden (known in Old Norse as Óðinn, and widely today as Odin), who gave his name to Wednesday.[4]

Solomon and Saturn II

Solomon and Saturn II, which is often regarded as having more aesthetic merit, contains a number of riddles, including two of the most obscure passages in Old English literature: the weallande Wulf and Vasa Mortis riddles.

Weallende Wulf

Saturn's first riddle describes a dragon slayer named Wulf and the waste land that arises after his death. The poem's earlier editor, , argued that the weallende Wulf passage ultimately stems from ancient Hebrew legends regarding Nimrod and the builders of the Tower of Babel. He interprets Wulf as the Babylonian god Bel, who is connected to Saturn in Isidore's Etymologies. Andy Orchard has found similarities between Wulf and Beowulf.[5] And has found the passage to participate in an "Avernian tradition", which describes impassable waste lands of Antiquity.[6] has suggested that the passage is an orientalist conflation of biblical and classic material, and that Wulf is to be identified with the mythological Perseus.[7]

Vasa Mortis

The riddle describes a mysterious bird that will be bound until Doomsday; it has been bound by Solomon and is feared by the leaders of the Philistines. The final line of the passage names the bird as Vasa Mortis. Robert Menner has argued that ancient Jewish origins on Solomon's struggles with demons are at the heart of the Old English riddle; he identifies the Vasa Mortis with the demon Asmodeus.[8] Cilluffo sees parallels between the Vasa Mortis and the description of Fame in Virgil's Aeneid, as well as the nocturnal monster in the Anglo-Saxon Liber monstrorum and the griffin in the Wonders of the East.[9]


  1. ^ Cross, James E.; Hill, Thomas D. (1982). The Prose Soloman and Saturn and Adrian and Ritheus. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 7. ISBN 0-8020-5472-2.
  2. ^ Kathryn Powell Archived 2008-04-13 at the Wayback Machine, 'Orientalist fantasy in the poetic dialogues of Solomon and Saturn', Anglo-Saxon England 34 (2005), 117-143 Cambridge University Press
  3. ^ Patrick O'Neill, 'On the date, provenance and relationship of the ‘Solomon and Saturn’ dialogues', Anglo-Saxon England 26 (1997), 139-168.
  4. ^ J. S. Ryan "Othin in England: Evidence from the Poetry for a Cult of Woden in Anglo-Saxon England Folklore, Vol. 74, No. 3. (Autumn, 1963), pp. 460-480. See p.476.
  5. ^ Andy Orchard, Pride and Prodigies, pp. 82-5
  6. ^ Anlezark, "Poisoned places"
  7. ^ Major, "Saturn's first riddle"
  8. ^ Menner, "The Vasa Mortis passage"
  9. ^ Cilluffo, "Mirabilia ags."



  • Anlezark, Daniel, The Old English Dialogues of Solomon and Saturn, Anglo-Saxon Texts 7, Cambridge, 2009.
  • Cross, James E. and Hill, Thomas D., The 'Prose Solomon and Saturn' and 'Adrian and Ritheus', Toronto, 1982.
  • Dobbie, Elliott van Kirk, Anglo-Saxon Minor Poems, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 6, New York, 1942.
  • Kemble, John M., The Dialogue of Salomon and Saturnus, London, 1848.
  • Menner, R.J., The Poetical Dialogues of Solomon and Saturn, MLA Monograph Series 13, New York, 1941.


  • Anlezark, Daniel. "Poisoned places: the Avernian tradition in Old English poetry." Anglo-Saxon England 36 (2007): 103-126.
  • Cilluffo, Gilda. "Mirabilia ags.: il Vasa Mortis nel Salomone e Saturno." Annali Istituto Universitario Orientale di Napoli Filologia germanica 24 (1981): 211-226.
  • Dane, Joseph A. "The structure of the old English Solomon and Saturn II." Neophilologus 64.4 (1980): 592-603.
  • Major, Tristan. "Saturn’s First Riddle in Solomon and Saturn II: An Orientalist Conflation." Neophilologus 96 (2012): 301-313.
  • Menner, R.J. "The Vasa Mortis Passage in the Old English Salomon and Saturn." In Studies in English Philology in Honor of F. Klaeber. Minneapolis, 1929.
  • Menner, R.J. "Nimrod and the Wolf in the Old English Solomon and Saturn." 'JEGP' 37 (1938): 332-54.
  • Nelson, Marie. "King Solomon's Magic: The Power of a Written Text." Oral Tradition 5 (1990): 20-36.
  • O'Brien O'Keeffe, Katherine. Visible Song: Transitional Literacy in Old English Verse. Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England 4. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Ch. 3.
  • O'Brien O'Keeffe, Katherine. "The Geographic List of Solomon and Saturn II." Anglo-Saxon England 20 (1991): 123-42.
  • O'Neill, Patrick. "On the date, provenance and relationship of the ‘Solomon and Saturn’ dialogues." Anglo-Saxon England 26 (1997): 139-168.
  • Orchard, Andy. Pride and Prodigies: Studies in the Monsters of the Beowulf Manuscript. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1994.
  • Paz, James. "Magic that Works: Performing Scientia in the Old English Metrical Charms and Poetic Dialogues of Solomon and Saturn." JMEMS 45.2 (2015): 219-43.
  • Powell, Kathryn. "Orientalist fantasy in the poetic dialogues of Solomon and Saturn." Anglo-Saxon England 34 (2005): 117-143.
  • Shippey, T.A. Poems of wisdom and learning in Old English. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1976.
  • Vincenti, A.R. von. 'Die altenglischen Dialogue von Salomon und Saturn mit historische Einleitung, Kommentar und Glossar. Leipzig: Deichert, 1904.

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