Exeter Book

The Riddles

Among the other texts in the Exeter Book, there are over ninety riddles. They are written in the style of Anglo-Saxon poetry and range in topics from the religious to the mundane. Some of them are double entendres, such as Riddle 25 below.

Here are two of these Anglo-Saxon riddles, both in Old English and translated into modern English. The answers to the riddles are included below the text.

Riddle 25[4]

Old English

Ic eom wunderlicu wiht   wifum on hyhte
neahbuendum nyt;   nægum sceþþe
burgsittendra nymthe   bonan anum.
Staþol min is steapheah   stonde ic on bedde
neoðan ruh nathwær.   Neþeð hwilum
ful cyrtenu   ceorles dohtor
modwlonc meowle   þæt heo on mec gripe
ræseð mec on reodne   reafath min heafod
fegeð mec on fæsten.   Feleþ sona
mines gemotes   seo þe mec nearwað
wif wundenlocc.   Wæt bið þæt eage.

Modern English

I am a wondrous creature for women in expectation, a service for neighbors. I harm none of the citizens except my slayer alone. My stem is erect, I stand up in bed, hairy somewhere down below. A very comely peasant's daughter, dares sometimes, proud maiden, that she grips at me, attacks me in my redness, plunders my head, confines me in a stronghold, feels my encounter directly, woman with braided hair. Wet be that eye.

Answer: Onion

Riddle 26

Old English

Mec feonda sum   feore besnyþede,
woruldstrenga binom,   wætte siþþan,
dyfde on wætre,   dyde eft þonan,
sette on sunnan   þær ic swiþe beleas
herum þam þe ic hæfde.   Heard mec siþþan
snað seaxses ecg,   sindrum begrunden;
fingras feoldan,   ond mec fugles wyn
geond speddropum   spyrede geneahhe,
ofer brunne brerd,   beamtelge swealg,
streames dæle,   stop eft on mec,
siþade sweartlast.   Mec siþþan wrah
hæleð hleobordum,   hyde beþenede,
gierede mec mid golde;   forþon me gliwedon
wrætlic weorc smiþa,   wire bifongen.
Nu þa gereno   ond se reada telg
ond þa wuldorgesteald   wide mære
dryhtfolca helm—   nales dol wite.
Gif min bearn wera   brucan willað,
hy beoð þy gesundran   ond þy sigefæstran,
heortum þy hwætran   ond þy hygebliþran,
ferþe þy frodran,   habbaþ freonda þy ma,
swæsra ond gesibbra,   soþra ond godra,
tilra ond getreowra,   þa hyra tyr ond ead
estum ycað   ond hy arstafum
lissum bilecgað   ond hi lufan fæþmum
fæste clyppað.   Frige hwæt ic hatte,
niþum to nytte.   Nama min is mære,
hæleþum gifre   ond halig sylf.

Modern English

Some fiend robbed me from life, deprived me of wordly strengths, wetted next, dipped in water, took out again, set in the sun, deprived violently of the hair that I had after, the hard knife's edge cut me, ground from impurities, fingers folded and a bird's delight spread useful drops over me, swallowed tree-ink over the ruddy rim, portion of liquid, stepped on me again, traveled with black track. After, a man clad me with protective boards, covered with hide, adorned me with gold. Forthwith adorned me in ornamental works of smiths, encased with wire Now the trappings and the red dye and the wondrous setting widely make known the helm of the lord's folk, never again guard fools. If children of men want to use me they will be by that the safer and the more sure of victory the bolder in heart and the happier in mind, in spirit the wiser. They will have friends the more dearer and closer, righteous and more virtuous, more good and more loyal, those whose glory and happiness will gladly increase, and them with benefits and kindnesses, and they of love will clasp tightly with embraces. Ask what I am called as a service to people. My name is famous, bountiful to men and my self holy.

Answer: Bible

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