The One-Liners Among the Exeter Book Riddles

  • Dieter Bitterli


The Exeter Book Riddles include four items in Old English consisting of no more than a single verse or line (Krapp/Dobbie nos. 69, 75, 76, and 79). Except for Riddle 75, whose solution is revealed by the accompanying runic letters in the manuscript, the single-liners offer little to the modern reader attempting to solve them. As a consequence, past commentators have taken them to be no more than fragments or abandoned beginnings of longer poems left incomplete by the copyist of the Exeter Book. Yet all four one-liners are meticulously set apart from the surrounding text on the page by both an opening initial and a closing punctuation mark, suggesting that the seemingly abortive items are, in fact, precisely what the anonymous Anglo-Saxon scribe took them to be, namely discrete short riddles. Read in the context of both the Exeter collection and the wider Anglo-Saxon riddle tradition, the four one-liners indeed lose much of their obscurity, and while some of them can be solved, others at least seem to suggest a possible answer. Instead of fragments or aborted lines, the four single-liners in the Exeter Book are simply short riddles—puzzling and tantalising, but nevertheless complete.


Old English Anglo-Latin Riddles Exeter Book Codicology One-liner Riddle 69 Riddle 75 Riddle 76 Riddle 79 


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.English DepartmentUniversity of Zurich UZHZurichSwitzerland

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