April 16, 2004


In the last week of term, I covered riddles with my Old English class. I figured it would be a fun way to end the term. We started with the a couple of basic riddles from the textbook and then moved on to some riddles that I prepared as a handout. Mitchell & Robinson’s A Guide to Old English doesn’t contain any of the double-entendre riddles, riddles which seem to suggest a rather salacious solution but in fact have a perfectly ordinary and polite solution, so I had to make up a mini-edition of some good ones (with glossaries) to use in class. I think the class quite enjoyed them and were only a little traumatised by the experience.

The riddles are also quite interesting for a variety of reasons in addition to the use of humour in Anglo-Saxon literature, as they give an insight into the Anglo-Saxon cultural commonplaces and reflections on the natural world.

Here for the entertainment of my readers are (translations of) some of the riddles we looked at in class. A cookie to the first one to guess the solution to each of the riddles. The first two are polite riddles, the second two are suggestive:

Riddle 46
A man sat at wine with his two wives and his two sons and his two daughters, beloved sisters, and their two sons, noble firstborn; the father of each of those two young men was there with them, uncle and nephew. In all there were five of those men and women sitting there.
Riddle 86
A creature came going where many men sat in an assembly, wise in mind; it had one eye and two ears, and two feet, twelve hundred heads, a back and a belly and two hands, arms and shoulders, one neck and two sides. Say what I am called.
Riddle 44
A wonderous thing hangs by a man’s thigh, under the man’s garment. In the front is a hole. It is firm and hard, it has a good place; then the man lifts his garment over the knee, wishes to touch with the head of his hanging object that familiar hole which he regularly before often filled.
Riddle 45
I heard something grows in a corner, swells and is erect, raising its covering; a bride groped that boneless thing with proud hands, the lord’s daughter covered the swelling thing with a garment.
Posted by Mark at April 16, 2004 01:06 PM

#44 is obviously a key, and #86 is probably something stupid like a one-eyed guy carrying baskets of lettuce or broccoli, but my real question here is what kind of numbering scheme are you using?

Posted by: Alasdair at April 16, 2004 11:52 PM

is riddle 45 bread?

Posted by: jocelyn at May 6, 2004 10:03 AM