Riddle 49 (or 47)

Ic wat eardfæstne      anne standan,
deafne, dumban,      se oft dæges swilgeð
þurh gopes hond      gifrum lacum.
Hwilum on þam wicum      se wonna þegn,
5     sweart ond saloneb,      sendeð oþre
under goman him      golde dyrran,
þa æþelingas      oft wilniað,
cyningas ond cwene.      Ic þæt cyn nu gen
nemnan ne wille,      þe him to nytte swa
10     ond to dugþum doþ      þæt se dumba her,
eorp unwita,      ær forswilgeð.


I know a lone thing standing earth-fast,
deaf, dumb, which often by day swallows
from a slave’s hand useful gifts.
Sometimes in those dwellings the swarthy servant,
5     dark and sallow-nosed, sends others
from his mouth, dearer than gold,
which nobles often desire,
kings and queens. I will not yet
name that race/kind, who thus renders for their use
10     and advantage what the dumb one here,
the dusky fool, swallows before.


Highlight the box with your cursor to reveal the possible solutions: Oven, Beehive, Falcon Cage, Bookcase, Pen and ink, Barrow, Sacrificial altar, Millpond and sluice

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Commentary for Riddle 48

Who doesn’t like gold, right? It’s shiny, malleable-but-also-hard (because metal), you can use it to add a touch of class to all sorts of things (clothing! tapestries! books!), and you can eat it. Seriously, you can. (can you tell I haven’t had my afternoon cup of tea and biscuit yet?)


Gold nuggets! Photo from the Wikimedia Commons.


But enough about my interest in gold, let’s talk about Anglo-Saxons. They were pretty keen on gold too. In fact, when you look up the word in the Dictionary of Old English database, it lists 725 occurrences – and then there are all the compound words like goldbeorht (bright with gold), goldfæt (gold vessel), goldfinger (ring finger…not that Bond character who looks a bit like ex-Toronto mayor, Rob Ford), and MANY more. So gold things, rather than diamonds, are an Anglo-Saxon’s best friend. And whatever is described in Riddle 48 is made of gold. Is this important? Possibly, but I’ll get to that in a moment. Hold your horses!

What else is going on in Riddle 48? Well, in addition to being golden and round – i.e. ring-shaped – we have the classic paradox of a something that is silently speaking (this one doesn’t even have a tongue, so we know it’s an object). Mercedes Salvador-Bello’s hot-off-the-presses-new book points out that this feature is shared across the riddles immediately leading up to and following this one (page 365). She also notes that there’s no end punctuation immediately following Riddle 47, which may suggest a thematic link between the two poems (page 360). As you may remember, Riddle 47 describes a little critter (possibly subbing in for a dim-witted monk or young student) devouring a religious book without understanding it, while Riddle 48 describes a loud-but-silent treasure that will lead to salvation for humans.

It’s this salvation that Mary Hayes talks about in an article focusing on voices and the soul. She argues that “the reader’s voice represents his or her own soul, offered to God as the prayer written on the sacred vessel is spoken aloud” (page 124).

So, what treasure or sacred vessel is this riddle talking about? Most people reckon it’s some sort of sacramental vessel – a chalice or paten (dish that holds the Eucharist) – used in Christian worship. This solution seems most likely, although which object in particular has been the subject of some debate. Before I elaborate on that, let me also outline the other proposed solutions.

Elisabeth Okasha gives quite a few possibilities, including: paten, chalice, coin, bell, brooch and finger-ring. She goes through each and weighs them up on the basis of whether not we have surviving evidence – both in the form of archaeological finds and in written references from the time – that points to them being

1) gold

2) inscribed (because this riddle appears to bear writing) and

3) in a large quantity.

Based on her findings, she concludes that because there are quite a few gold, inscribed finger-rings floating around this is the most likely solution. (coincidentally, the Old English word for finger-ring is hring, which might seem quite obvious given its use in the opening line…then again, Riddle 47 seems to begin with its solution too)

OEF 6886 CARTER gold finger ring.jpgSixth/Seventh-century engraved ring from north-west Essex. Image via the Portable Antiquities Scheme (covered under CC BY attribution licence).


I personally don’t think an absence of evidence should be used as evidence of absence (in fact Okasha points out that survival rates don’t match up with the number of objects likely in existence at the time), so I’m not terribly inclined to agree with this solution. And anyway, it makes total sense for there to be fewer sacramental vessels than finger-rings, because church equipment is on display to and symbolically shared by the entire congregation in a way that a finger-ring is not.

The fact is we do have very specific written evidence for sacramental vessels made of gold that comes from Anglo-Saxon England. For example, Ælfric’s Pastoral Epistle states: And witað þæt beo ælc calic geworht of myldendum antimbre . gilden oððe seolfren . glæren oððe tinen . ne beo he na hyrnen ne huru treowen (Thorpe, page 384, section 45) (And see to it that each chalice is made of molten material, gold or silver, amber or tin; let it not be of horn nor indeed wood).


In lieu of an Anglo-Saxon chalice, check out the early medieval Irish Ardagh Chalice (made of silver, with some decorations in gold and other metals). Photo (by Kglavin) from the Wikimedia Commons.


Craig Williamson argues that the gold in Riddle 48 points to “chalice” (OE calic or husel-fæt) as the more likely solution, since the ecclesiastical laws mention using gold for chalices, rather than patens (page 287). And, for example, Aldhelm’s Carmina Ecclesiastica describes a gold chalice and a silver paten:

Aureus atque calix gemmis fulgescit opertus,
Ut caelum rutilat stellis ardentibus aptum,
Ac lata argento constat fabricata patena:
Quae divina gerunt nostrae medicamina vitae.
(song 3, lines 72-5; Ehwald, page 18)
(and the gold chalice covered with gems glitters, just as heaven set with burning stars glows, and the broad paten fashioned from silver matches: those which carry the divine remedies of our life.)



The early medieval Irish Derrynaflan Paten. Photo (by Kglavin) from the Wikimedia Commons.


What Williamson doesn’t quote, though, is this reference from the Canons of Ælfric, which makes a fairly explicit link between both objects: Beo his calic eac of clænum antimbre geworht . unforrotigendlic . 7 eallswa se disc (Thorpe, page 349, section 22) (Let his chalice also be made of pure material, incorruptible, and likewise the dish). With no surviving chalices and patens in the archaeological record, it becomes difficult to say for certain whether gold points clearly to chalice over paten.

I have more thoughts on this, but I think I’m going to save them for a future update because I need to do some more digging. So, stay tuned for now and feel free to chime in with your own thoughts in the comments section below.


References and Suggested Reading:

Dictionary of Old English: A-G Online. Ed. by Antonette diPaolo Healey, Dorothy Haines, Joan Holland, David McDougall, and Ian McDougall, with Pauline Thompson and Nancy Speirs. Web interface by Peter Mielke and Xin Xiang. Toronto: Dictionary of Old English Project, 2007.

Ehwald, Rudolf, ed. Aldhelmi Opera. Berlin: Weidmann, 1919.

Hayes, Mary. “The Talking Dead: Resounding Voices in Old English Riddles.” Exemplaria, vol. 20, issue 2 (Summer 2008), pages 123-42.

Okasha, Elisabeth. “Old English hring in Riddles 48 and 59.” Medium Ævum, vol. 62 (1993), pages 61-9.

Salvador-Bello, Mercedes. Isidorean Perceptions of Order: the Exeter Book Riddles and Medieval Latin Enigmata. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2015, esp. pages 359-60.

Thorpe, Benjamin. Ancient Laws and Institutes of England. Vol. 2. London: G. Eyre and A. Spottiswoode, 1840.

Williamson, Craig, ed. The Old English Riddles of The Exeter Book. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977.

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Riddle 48 (or 46)

Ic gefrægn for hæleþum      hring gyddian,*
torhtne butan tungan,      tila þeah he hlude
stefne ne cirmde,      strongum wordum.
Sinc for secgum      swigende cwæð:
5     “Gehæle mec,      helpend gæsta.”
Ryne ongietan      readan goldes
guman galdorcwide,      gleawe beþencan
hyra hælo to gode,      swa se hring gecwæð.


I heard a ring sing before men,
bright, without a tongue, rightly with strong words,
although it did not yell in a loud voice.
The treasure, silent before men, spoke:
5     “Heal me, helper of souls.”
May men interpret the mystery of the red gold,
the incantation, may they wisely entrust
their salvation to God, as the ring said.


Highlight the box with your cursor to reveal the possible solutions: Paten, Chalice, Sacramental vessel


*note that I have followed Williamson’s emendation; the manuscript reads hringende an, and Krapp and Dobbie’s ASPR edition emends to endean.

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Commentary for Riddle 47

First of all: sorry this post has been so long in the making. I’ve been pretty distracted by spiders recently. That is, I was writing a lecture on Anglo-Saxon spiders, which ate up all my time. Of course, creepy crawlies eating things up is pretty much the whole point of Riddle 47, so I think this excuses me. See what I did there?

At any rate, this riddle is quite explicit about which critter it most literally concerns. The obviousness of the opening half-line, Moððe word fræt (a moth ate words), has actually annoyed some scholars into claiming this isn’t a riddle at all…like any Old English text is easy to categorise, pigeonhole and explain! Pfft, I say to that.

This riddle is, in fact, so complex and layered and clever and complex (did I say that already?) that it has amassed an absolute heap of scholarship…too much for me to break down into bite-sized chunks for you. So, I’m going to stick to a few basics and suggest that, if you’re academically inclined, you hop over to Martin Foys’ webpage for the pre-publication draft of his forthcoming article on Riddle 47. It’s pretty comprehensive in the scope of its analysis and literature review, so will be much more helpful than my ramblings below.

But ramble I shall.

Let’s start with the critter that the riddle seems most interested in. Moððe (moth) in line 1a and wyrm (worm) in line 3a tell us we’re dealing with a particular sort of insect in both its adult and larval forms.

Pine Processionary Moth

Photo of a Pine Processionary Moth (by Alvesgaspar) from the Wikimedia Commons.

Given the reference to just what it is the creature is eating (words!), many people take the riddle’s solution to be “bookworm” or “bookmoth.” Others, however, want to push this further and identify an underlying metaphor. Given the popularity of the concept of ruminatio – a Latin term that literally refers to certain animals digesting their food and figuratively to the understanding of religious literature that comes with careful thought and study – Mercedes Salvador-Bello suggests Riddle 47 may point to a monk or student (pages 356-7). Likewise, Martin Foys says that we’re presumably dealing with a student here, given that it’s the larval form of the moth that’s chomping down on the words in question (pages 35-8). I can’t wait to introduce this interpretation to my own students, by the way, since I’m sure they’ll be positively chuffed to be referred to as larvae.

Within this context of education I should also mention that Riddle 47 has a Latin source. That would be Symphosius’ Enigma 16, Tinea (bookworm), which goes a little something like this:

Littera me pavit, nec quid sit littera novi.
In libris vixi, nec sum studiosior inde.
Exedi Musas, nec adhuc tamen ipsa profeci. (Glorie, vol. 133a, page 637)

(Letters fed me, but I do not know what letters are. I lived in books, but am no more studious for that. I devoured the Muses, but still have not myself progressed.)

These two poems are pretty clearly related, but they do have some important distinctions. One is the Old English play on word. As Craig Williamson (pages 285-6), Geoffrey Russom and Nicholas Jacobs all stress, the Old English poem isn’t quite as straightforward as modern folks might think. Because word in Old English doesn’t automatically signify writing. As Riddle 47’s references to songs indicate, we’re dealing with the nexus between orality and literacy here. The Anglo-Saxons trying to solve this riddle have to first figure out what sort of speech can be eaten – that is, they have to figure out that the words are written down. In fact, Jacobs feels that this is so important a point that we ought to be solving the riddle as “writing on vellum.” And John D. Niles reckons line 3b’s reference to wera gied sumes (a certain man’s song) in the riddle actually indicates a particular text: the psalms of King David, which we know were integral to Anglo-Saxon religion and culture (page 121-2). He’d have us solve the riddle as maða ond sealm-boc (“maggot and psalter”).

At any rate, once we’ve figured out that this poem refers to written words, the references to a thief in the darkness that appear in the Old English riddle start to make a lot more sense. That is, thieves steal material objects, sort of like this critter. In fact, this poem may well be pointing toward the treasurely nature of written words; keep in mind that books are pretty high status at the time, especially when blinged out with decorative boards and golden illumination. That context is hit home by the reference to moths and thieves and treasures in Matthew 6.19, which in the Vulgate reads:

Nolite thesaurizare vobis thesauros in terra: ubi aerugo, et tinea demolitur: et ubi fures effodiunt, et furantur

(Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust, and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal.)

So, we’re dealing with that ever-popular theme of fragility and impermanence (Russom, page 133). Creepy crawlies come up in this context a lot in Old English, partly because they’re small and therefore fundamentally fragile, and partly because they invade homes and bodies and so point to our own fragility. Human concerns about being food for worms were, after all, around well before Hamlet expressed them, as many Anglo-Saxon texts attest (see, for example, the middle of Soul and Body I / Soul and Body II).

I think my favourite quote on this comes from Foys, who says: “Unlike other Exeter Book riddles, this riddle redacts its humanity; the animal here is not used to make the book, but to unmake the self-proclaimed status of the human form within the proclamation. As with Aldhelm’s De Creatura, the lower form of nature paradoxically, humblingly exposes the fragility of human endeavour through the textual artifice that both professes and constitutes it. Humans: 0, dumb bug: 1” (page 43).

Of course, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t remind you that the word wyrm, though certainly used in the sense of Modern English “worm” at the time, is also the Old English term for dragons.

Image from public domain pictures

Although there’s nothing in this poem to indicate that we should be fleeing in terror from the word-chomping wyrm of Riddle 47, let’s take a moment to think of another creature associated with treasure and thieves and darkness and maybe even swallowing up speeches (while still on the lips of their speakers!). I’m, of course, thinking of the dragon that sends Beowulf to his grave:

Æfter ðam wordum      wyrm yrre cwom,
atol inwitgæst,     oðre siðe
fyrwylmum fah     fionda niosian,
laðra manna—     ligyðum for. (2669-72)

(After those words the angry dragon came another time, terrible and malicious, stained with surging fire to seek out an enemy, the hateful men – travelled with a wave of fire.)

 So, let’s just be thankful that the wyrm of Riddle 47 doesn’t seem at all inclined to breathe fire. Because those poor Anglo-Saxons were living in a fragile enough world as it was…


References and Suggested Reading:

Bitterli, Dieter. Say What I am Called: The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book and the Anglo-Latin Riddle Tradition. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009, esp. pages 191-3.

Jacobs, Nicholas. “The Old English ‘Book-moth’ Riddle Reconsidered.” Notes and Queries, new series, vol. 35 (1988), pages 290-2.

Foys, Martin. “The Undoing of Exeter Book Riddle 47: ‘Bookmoth’.” In Transitional States: Cultural Change, Tradition and Memory in Medieval England, A Festschrift for Allen Frantzen. Edited by Graham Caie and Michael D. C. Drout. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, forthcoming 2016. Pre-publication draft available online: https://www.academia.edu/15399839/_The_Undoing_of_Exeter_Book_Riddle_47_Bookmoth_pre-publication_draft_ (if you’re citing this for an essay, keep in mind that the page numbers will change when the book is published in 2016)

Glorie, F., ed. Variae Collectiones Aenigmatum Merovingicae Aetatis. Corpus Christianorum Series Latina, vol. 133-133A. Turnhout: Brepols, 1968.

Niles, John D. Old English Enigmatic Poems and the Play of the Texts. Studies in the Early Middle Ages, vol. 13. Turnhout: Brepols, 2006.

Robinson, Fred C. “Artful Ambiguities in the Old English ‘Book-Moth’ Riddle.” In Anglo-Saxon Poetry: Essays in Appreciation, for John. C. McGalliard. Edited by Lewis E. Nicholson and Dolores Warwick Frese. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975, pages 355-62.

Russom, Geoffrey. “Exeter Riddle 47: A Moth Laid Waste to Fame.” Philological Quarterly, vol. 56 (1977), pages 129-36.

Salvador-Bello, Mercedes. Isidorean Perceptions of Order: The Exeter Book Riddles and Medieval Latin Enigmata. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2015, esp. pages 355-9.

Williamson, Craig, ed. The Old English Riddles of The Exeter Book. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977.


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Riddle 47 (or 45)

Moððe word fræt.      Me þæt þuhte
wrætlicu wyrd,     þa ic þæt wundor gefrægn,
þæt se wyrm forswealg     wera gied sumes,
þeof in þystro,     þrymfæstne cwide
5     ond þæs strangan staþol.    Stælgiest ne wæs
wihte þy gleawra,    þe he þam wordum swealg.


A moth ate words. That seemed to me
a curious happening, when I heard about that wonder,
that the worm, a thief in the darkness, swallowed
a certain man’s song, a glory-fast speech
5     and its strong foundation. The stealing guest was not
at all the wiser for that, for those words which he swallowed.


Highlight the box with your cursor to reveal the possible solutions: Book-worm, Book-moth, Maggot and psalter

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Commentary for Riddle 46

Like its translation, the commentary for this riddle is provided by the very capable Dr. Victoria Symons of University College London. Enjoy!


At first glance, following on from two very explicitly sexual riddles (“þrindende þing,” indeed), Riddle 46 is almost disappointingly tame – just a family having dinner together. In fact, it is anything but. It may not look like it, but what we have here is yet another riddle that, once again, is all about sex.

It starts with a situation familiar from Anglo-Saxon poetry: a man sitting down to a drink. Keeping him company are his wives – yes, both of them – his two sons, his two daughters, their two sons, and each sons’ father, uncle and nephew. It’s quite a gathering! Except, as we learn in the final line, there are only five people in the room. Like the Tardis, this is a family that’s bigger on the inside.



Photo (by Steve Collis) from the Wikimedia Commons.


The test of the riddle, then, is to work out how this small group can have quite so many relationships binding them together. The answer starts with sex: this family’s been having rather a lot of it.

Something about incest seems to lend itself to riddles. In Apollonius of Tyre, which was translated into Old English in the eleventh century, the “wicked” King Antiochus requires his daughter’s potential suitors to solve a riddle about his incestuous relationship with her (Lees, pages 37-9; for other examples see Bitterli, pages 57-9). The source material for the similarly incestuous set-up of Riddle 46 is found in the Bible (where else?). After fleeing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and leaving his wife behind as a pillar of salt, Lot finds himself holed up in a cave, together with his two daughters:

And the elder said to the younger Our father is old, and there is no man left on the earth, to come in unto us after the manner of the whole earth. Come, let us make him drunk with wine, and let us lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father. And they made their father drink wine that night: and the elder went in and lay with her father: but he perceived not neither when his daughter lay down, nor when she rose up. And the next day… They made their father drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went in, and lay with him: and neither then did he perceive when she lay down, nor when she rose up. So the two daughters of Lot were with child by their father. (Genesis 19:31-36)


So there you have it. The riddle’s five people are Lot himself, his two daughters, and their sons by him. That makes the boys both the sons of Lot, the sons of his daughters, and each others’ uncle and nephew. Everything is accounted for!

Or at least, almost everything. There’s one relationship in the riddle that doesn’t appear in the Genesis story. In Genesis, Lot is seduced by his daughters, but he doesn’t marry them. In Riddle 46, however, they are referred to as his wifum twam. A reference to multiple wives would, I think, have particular connotations for an Anglo-Saxon reader. There’s evidence to suggest that, before the Conversion, it was accepted for Anglo-Saxon men to have several wives, or concubines (Clunies Ross; Lees). The practice persisted well into the Christian era, although the church was most certainly not ok with it:

Se man ðe rihtæwe hæfð ond eac cyfese ne sylle him nan preost husl ne nan gerihto þe man cristenum mannum deð butan he to bote gecyrre. (Frantzen, Old English Penitential, 2.9)

([Concerning] the man who has a legal wife and also a concubine, let no priest give him the eucharist nor any of the rites which are performed for Christian men, unless he turns to repentance.)


Furthermore, Margaret Clunies Ross argues that polygamy was “practiced much more extensively among the upper classes [of Anglo-Saxon society] … than in the lower social ranks” (page 3), and Clare Lees describes “serial polygamy and concubinage” as “the prerogative of the ruling family of the West Saxons’ (p. 37). It’s fitting, then, that the characters of Riddle 46 are described variously as freolic, ides, æþeling and eorl: all terms with a predominantly aristocratic flavour.

Now you may find yourself wondering how the Anglo-Saxon church justified its stance on concubines (not ok), when there’s polygamy a plenty in the Old Testament – as this riddle itself demonstrates. And you wouldn’t be alone. Ælfric specifically discusses this point in his Preface to Genesis:

On anginne þisere worulde, nam se broþer hys swuster to wife and hwilon eac se fæder tymde be his agenre dehter, and manega hæfdon ma wifa… Gyf hwa wyle nu swa lybban æfter Cristes tocyme, swa swa men leofodon ær Moises æ oþþe under Moises æ, ne byð se man na cristen.

(In the beginning of this world, a brother took his sister as a wife, and sometimes also a father had a child with his own daughter, and many [men] had multiple wives… [but] if anyone wishes to live now, after Christ’s coming, in the same way that men lived before Moses’ law, or under Moses’ law, that man is not a Christian.)


Ælfric’s argument is that things were different back in the day, and Old Testament practices can’t simply be copied without some interpretation. By presenting an Old Testament story in the guise of contemporary Anglo-Saxon culture, I think our riddler is making a similar point. Take the Old Testament literally, and next thing you know you’ll be sitting down to dinner with your brother-uncle. No one wants that.

Read in the context of these penitentials and homilies, we can see how this riddle engages with some pretty topical social issues. Both the specific subject of marriage, and the more general dangers of incorrectly interpreting Biblical material, are touched upon here, with perhaps a bit of a jab at the upper classes thrown in for good measure. As Jennifer Neville summarises, it’s not every day you find a Bible story repackaged into a joke about sex, masquerading as a number game!

But there’s another way that we can read this riddle, too. For all its playfulness, there’s an underlying suggestion of something darker going on. Because, of course, the story of Lot is not simply the story of a man with one too many wives. It’s also a disturbing narrative about incest and exploitation. And I don’t think that’s lost on the author of this riddle.

We get our first sense of this with the reference to wine in the first line. This detail comes straight from the Genesis story, so in one way it gives us a hint about the riddle’s solution (Murphy, page 144). But it also draws attention to the role played by alcohol in all of this. Drinking was, of course, a not uncommon Anglo-Saxon pastime, but nor was it universally celebrated (see Riddle 27, for example). The poem Judith, another Anglo-Saxon adaptation of an Old Testament story, firmly links drunkenness with sexual wrongdoing.

Judith_Beheading_Holofernes_by_CaravaggioThis is where too much drinking gets you in Judith. Image of painting by Caravaggio from the Wikimedia Commons.


The words inne and insittendre place a particular emphasis on the interiority of the setting in this riddle. Combined with the insistent repetition of ond in the opening and closing lines, the poet creates an unsettlingly claustrophobic atmosphere. This is a family that, behind closed doors, is rather too close for comfort.

Now, the Genesis story very clearly presents Lot’s daughters as the incestual instigators, up to and including getting their father insensibly drunk first. That’s problematic enough, but Riddle 46 complicates things even further. Here, the father is presented in a much more central role; the words wær and fæder are positioned prominently at the very start and exact middle of the poem, while the three-fold repetition of his in the opening lines emphasises his authority over everyone else present. It’s a subtle change, but it’s one that encourages us to consider the complexity of the power dynamics at play. In combination with its claustrophobic atmosphere and suggestion of drunkenness, the riddle hints at the more troubling implications that undercut the narrative’s superficially playful presentation.

When reading the Exeter Book riddles, it’s always worth having a look at what’s near them in the manuscript. In this case, Riddle 46 follows hot on the heels of two explicitly sexual riddles, full of raunchy imagery and innuendo-laden puns. Riddle 46 continues the focus on sex, but explores it in a much broader way: in relation to society, to the Bible, to families, and to power. It’s at once short and playful, but also serious and, I think, pretty dark. Not bad for a little poem about family dinner!


References and Suggested Reading:

Ælfric. “Preface to Genesis.” In The Longman Anthology of Old English, Old Icelandic and Anglo-Norman Literatures. Edited by Richard North, Joe Allard and Patricia Gillies. London: Routledge, 2014, pages 740-45.

Bitterli, Dieter. Say What I Am Called: The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009.

Clunies Ross, Margaret. “Concubinage in Anglo-Saxon England.” Past & Present, vol. 108 (1985), pages 3-34.

Frantzen, Allen J., ed. The Anglo-Saxon Penitentials: A Cultural Database. 2003-2015. http://www.anglo-saxon.net/penance/index.php?p=index

Godden, Malcolm. “Biblical Literature: The Old Testament.” In The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature. Edited by Malcolm Godden and Michael Lapidge. 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013, pages 214-33.

Lees, Clare A. “Engendering Religious Desire: Sex, Knowledge, and Christian Identity in Anglo-Saxon England.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, vol. 27 (1997), pages 17-46.

Murphy, Patrick. Unriddling the Exeter Riddles. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2011.

Neville, Jennifer. “Joyous Play and Bitter Tears: The Riddles and the Elegies.” In Beowulf and Other Stories: A New Introduction to Old English, Old Icelandic and Anglo-Norman Literature. Edited by Richard North and Joe Allard. London: Pearson, 2007, pages 130-59.

Swanton, Michael, trans. “Apollonius of Tyre.” In Anglo-Saxon Prose. London: Dent, 1975, pages 158-73.

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Riddle 46 (or 44)

This week’s translation is a guest post from the terribly clever and witty Dr. Victoria Symons. Victoria teaches Old and Middle English at University College London and researches medieval attitudes toward the written word. Stay tuned for her commentary post next week.


Wær sæt æt wine      mid his wifum twam
ond his twegen suno     ond his twa dohtor,
swase gesweostor,      ond hyra suno twegen,
freolico frumbearn;      fæder wæs þær inne
5     þara æþelinga      æghwæðres mid,
eam ond nefa.      Ealra wæron fife
eorla ond idesa     insittendra.


A man sat [drinking] wine with his two wives
and his two sons and his two daughters,
the dear sisters, and their two sons,
noble firstborns. The father of each
5    of those princes was in there,
uncle and nephew. In all there were five
warriors and women sitting within.


Highlight the box with your cursor to reveal the likely solution: Lot and his family

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