Exeter Book RiddlesR iddles tend to be metaphorical indeed, the trick is to discern what the metaphor signifies and, in that sense, are somewhat like kennings, where a compound expression such as "sea horse" substitutes for "ship. This notion of an inanimate object speaking in its own voice can be seen in the Alfred Jewel, the inscription of which reads "Alfred ordered me to be made" or, even more poignantly, in The Dream of the Rood , where the cross itself recounts the crucifixion of Christ. At the end of the Exeter Book , there are almost a hundred riddles or enigmata , a dozen or so which are considered to be sexual in nature. Their charm is in the use of double-entendre , whereby one answer is suggested but another is meant, the reader teased by an innocuous object disingenuously described. A curiosity hangs by the thigh of a man, under its master's cloak. It is pierced through in the front; it is stiff and hard and it has a good standing-place.
The Exeter Book of Riddles
How many men are clever enough to identify who sends me on my journey? I go, brave and roaring across the earth, burning buildings and houses in my wake. Smoke rises from the fires as I leave in a trail of disruption and death. I have the power to shake tall trees until their leaves fall down, covered in water, and scatter exiles far from their lands. I carry the bodies and souls of human beings on my back.
There is much to be gained from interpreting the tenth-century Exeter Book riddles as a characteristically biographical group of texts. They comprise a rich source of information for the study of Anglo-Saxon concepts of life courses and life stages, but have yet to be treated as such despite current enthusiasm surrounding the study of historical life cycles. Probably this is due to their status as biographies of largely non-human subjects. These terms are so imprecise as to obfuscate more than they reveal of the ideas of human and non-human life experience and progression at work in these texts. The verse riddles of the tenth-century Exeter Book , around ninety in number, have on occasion been recognized as tending toward a form of biography. As will be seen, the riddles themselves trouble this distinction, describing the development of non-human entities while at the same time engaging with culturally constructed patterns for human life development.
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Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further. The stealing guest was not at all the wiser for that, for those words which he swallowed. In describing the biting of a bookworm as thoughtless thievery, this Old English riddle provides a lesson about the dangers of consuming knowledge without understanding it. Despite it being written down over a thousand years ago, the poem contains a timeless message that I am sure we can all appreciate. In particular, it is a poem that has proven to be invaluable for educators, and we are still mobilising it today!