Anglo-Saxon Riddles of the Exeter Book

Anglo-Saxon Riddles of the Exeter Book

Anglo-Saxon Riddles of the Exeter Book

Anglo-Saxon Riddles of the Exeter Book

Excerpt

The ninety-odd riddles in Anglo-Saxon which have come down to us in a single manuscript are naturally a miscellaneous collection of varying merit. A few of them are poetical in the best sense of Anglo-Saxon poetic style, as good as anything outside the heroic style of the Beowulf. Many of them are interesting as riddles: intentional ambiguities to be solved by reader or hearer. Some of them are learned, turning on the interpretation of runic letters or dealing with subjects only the monkish mind would care about. Some of them are neat and clever and well versified; others are not so good.

In the manuscript the riddles appear in no particular order. The following translations have been grouped according to subject. It was not feasible to arrange them by types, because the typical forms of the riddle are not clearly fixed and the Anglo-Saxon riddles are too few to illustrate many types.

The language of the Anglo-Saxon riddles is often difficult, and even those who are fairly familiar with Old English cannot read them readily. Though some of the best have been translated in scattered places, and there is a prose line-for-line translation in the E.E.T.S. edition of the Exeter Book, not readily accessible to the common reader, it has seemed worthwhile to render them all in similar verse form, with brief explanations, for any who may be interested in the riddles as such and for the glimpses they afford of monkish diversion and of daily life in England of the eighth and ninth centuries--in modern terms, for their psychological and sociological values.

I am deeply indebted to Professor Elliott V. K. Dobbie for reading my manuscript with great care and suggesting many improvements.

P.F.B.

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