Ploughing on
Country Life UK|October 06, 2021
Bleak are the brown hues and pincers of October, the medieval month for sowing seeds, says Amy Jeffs
Amy Jeffs

WHAT turns its nose down to bite and furrow the ground? What is driven by a firm hand to create paths half green, half black? What blade skewers its belly, slicing all in its way? The answer is not animal, vegetable or mineral. It’s mechanical.

This riddle, paraphrased from the original Old English, survives with more than 90 others in the 10th-century Exeter Book. No solutions are given, but the answer to this one is thought to be ‘the plough’. Ploughs may be found illustrated on medieval calendar pages alongside a figure in contemporary laborer’s dress scattering seed from a sling or seed lip. Sowing, the conventional labor of the month for October, comes after the mowing, reaping, threshing, and grape-treading of summer, all scythes, sickles, flails, and feet.

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