Medieval LOLs: Old English Riddles

Irina Dumitrescu and Mary Wellesley

Riddles are an ancient and universal form, but few people seem to have enjoyed them more than English Benedictine monks. The Exeter Book, a tenth century monastic collection of Old English verse, builds on the riddle tradition in two striking ways: first, the riddles don’t come with answers; second, they are sexually suggestive. Were they intended to test the moral purity of the reader? Are they simply mischievous rhetorical exercises? Mary and Irina read some of them and consider why Anglo-Saxon culture was so obsessed with the enigmatic.

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Read more in the LRB:

Marina Warner: Doubly Damned

Mary Wellesley: Marking Parchment

Barbara Everett: Poetry and Soda

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