Monday, February 14, 2011

Can You Solve This Riddle?

Of honey-laden bees I first was born,   
     But in the forest grew my outer coat;   
     My shoes from tough hides came.  An iron point    
     In artful windings cuts a fair design,  
     And leaves long, twisted furrows, like a plow....  
                    (Riddle 32:  Pitman 18-19)

This riddle poem was written in Latin in the 7th century AD by Bishop Adhelm.  Any ideas?

When I read it, I already knew to what it was referring and found it absolutely delightful!  And for it to be 7the century to boot... very cool...  I love old writings...

Have you guessed it by now?

The answer is a wax tablet!  Now reread it and you'll see it become crystal clear before your eyes.
Born of honey bees would be the wax writing surface... the outer coat being the wooden tablet itself.
They were often carried in leather bags - that being the shoes from hide.  An iron point would be the tip of the stylus, which brings me to the most visually stimulating part of the riddle "in artful windings cuts a fair design, and leaves long, twisted furrows, like a plow"... dang!  I love that...  I've read that when writing in the wax with the stylus, it can pull of curls of wax as it goes...  like the furrows left from plowing the earth.  Cool, huh?

With that in mind, I'm pleased to announce that we're making real bona fide (as close to bona fide as we can) ancient wax tablets!  I'm so excited....truly.  I am..  I love history.  I love old things....and I love being able to put something in the kids' hands that they've read about people in Ancient Rome using.  I am seriously happy about doing this.

So, Darren cut out the tablets....  they are about 5" x 8 1/4"

And then marked off the margins for the inner recessed area for the beeswax:  he left a one inch margin on the left side to put the holes for tying the sides together....

 And then actually recessed the area which is about 3 1/2" x 7 1/2"....

I went to Hobby Lobby and found two blocks of natural colored beeswax and some concentrated candle dye.

I'm not really sure the candle dye will work.  The directions on several sites that I've read say to use a dry yellow ocher or lampblack... neither of which I saw while shopping.  You can make your own lampblack to tint the wax by letting a candle smoke on the underside of a cookie sheet or similar surface and then scraping that off ...the resulting scrapings are lampblack.  However, I read that you need about a tablespoon for each two sided tablet....and I have one two-sided tablet for each of my four children...that seems to be a lot of smoking and scraping.  The only thing that worries me with using the candle dye is that the wax consistency has to be conducive to actual writing.  I think what I'm going to do is try a very small amount in some wax... put the melted wax on wax paper and do the trial and error technique till I get it figured out.
If you want to read more on the history of wax tablets, I enjoyed what I found here...  (this is also the source of the riddle I shared ...)

This is an example of a Roman wax tablet and stylus.  How cool is that??

A Roman girl with her tablet and stylus thinking, "Hmmmmmm.... should I begin today's blog post with a riddle??"   :D

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