A Companion to Old and Middle English Literature

By Laura Cooner Lambdin; Robert Thomas Lambdin | Go to book overview

17

Riddles

Michelle Igarashi


LOCATION, DEFINITION, AND CHARACTERICTICS

There are ninety-five extant Old English riddles. They appear in the Exeter Book, MS 3501 in the Library of the Dean and Chapter of Exeter Cathedral, circa 965, believed to be the earliest codex of Old English literature. It was donated by Leofric (d. 1072) when he moved the episcopal see from Crediton to Exeter in 1046, and was recorded as “i micel englisc boc be gehwilcu[m] pingu[m] on leodwisan geworht” (“a large English book about various things written in verse”).

There are seventeen gatherings in the Exeter Book, most in regular quaternions and with approximately twenty-two lines of text. The first and second sets of riddles, 1–59 and 30b and 60, appear in gatherings 13 (folios 98–105) and 14 (106–111), respectively. There are gaps after folios 105 and 111 that account for missing lines at the end of Riddle 20 and Riddle 40. The third set of riddles appears in gatherings 16 and 17 and concludes the Exeter Book itself.

Today we have only five single folios in the last gathering. John Pope discovered that a folio was missing in gathering 16 in the middle of Riddle 69 (after the word “gesceapo” in line 4). This lacuna prevents the accurate count of riddles and makes it impossible to tell if one or more folios are missing from the beginning of gathering 17. As most gatherings are quaternions, as mentioned earlier, up to three folios may be missing from the end of the book (in addition to the one at the beginning of the gathering). Bernard Muir conjectures that these missing folios may have contained a final six riddles, thus bringing the total to one hundred, the standard number set by Symphosius, who is considered by many to be the “father” of Western riddling.

As with most riddles, Anglo-Saxon enigmata are often viewed in terms of

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A Companion to Old and Middle English Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction ix
  • 1 - Old English and Anglo-Norman Literature 1
  • Selected Bibliography 23
  • 2 - Religious and Allegorical Verse 26
  • 3 - Alliterative Poetry in Old and Middle English 37
  • Selected Bibliography 48
  • 4 - Balladry 50
  • Selected Bibliography 66
  • 5 - The Beast Fable 69
  • Selected Bibliography 84
  • 6 - Breton Lay 86
  • 7 - Chronicle 98
  • 8 - Debate Poetry 118
  • Selected Bibliography 152
  • 9 - Medieval English Drama 154
  • 10 - Dream Vision 178
  • Selected Bibliography 196
  • 11 - Epic and Heroic Poetry 210
  • 12 - The Epic Genre and Medieval Epics 230
  • Selected Bibliography 253
  • 13 - The Fabliau 255
  • 14 - Hagiographic, Homiletic, and Didactic Literature 277
  • Selected Bibliography 294
  • 15 - Lyric Poetry 299
  • 16 - The Middle English Parody/ Burlesque 315
  • Selected Bibliography 333
  • 17 - Riddles 336
  • 18 - Romance 352
  • Selected Bibliography 373
  • 19 - Visions of the Afterlife 376
  • Selected Bibliography 394
  • Selected Bibliography 399
  • Index 425
  • About the Editors and Contributors 431
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