In spite of all that is known of the religious, cultural and literary background of The Dream of the Rood in general, the genesis of its form, and especially of its most immediately striking and unique feature, the device of the speaking cross, has so far resisted attempts at explanation and remains something of a mystery. Albert S. Cook long ago called attention to similarities between the mode of portrayal of the cross and the medieval traditions of epigram, epigraph and riddle, while not going so far as to suggest that these traditions had a direct influence on the poet. Now it is true, of course, that our earliest text of the poem is the series of inscriptions on the Ruthwell Cross, but these inscriptions are strikingly different from all others from the Anglo-Saxon period through which inanimate objects are personified and speak. The inscription on Alfred's Jewel, ‘Ælfred mec heht gewyrcean’, for instance, and those, some of them in the first person, in Latin and English, on the blades, hilts and scabbards of various swords and knives are generally quite brief – limited to a simple statement of the object's name, its maker's name or that of its owner – are seldom metrical and, most important, are not couched in the kind of heroic diction used in the poem. While it is quite possible that the poet sensed an analogy between such inscriptions and his personification of the cross, what these inscriptions manifestly lack is the literary quality intrinsic to his personification – whether on the Ruthwell Cross or in the Vercelli Book. Only a literary explanation can account for this.