Anglo-Saxon Riddles

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One thing that the Anglo-Saxon people were particularly fond of was telling (and trying to guess the answer of) riddles.

It wasn't just children, either, who enjoyed riddles. Adults were quite fond of them. People enjoyed trying to stump their friends and family with just how cleverly riddles could be worded.

This is a children's riddle from Essex that has traveled down through the centuries:

Riddle 1
Four dilly-dandies
Four stick-standies
Two crookers
Two lookers
And a wig wag.

The answer is below.

Here's another one:

Riddle 2
My home is not quiet but I am not loud.
The lord has meant us to journey together.
I am faster than he and sometimes stronger,
But he keeps on going for longer.
Sometimes I rest but he runs on.
For as long as I am alive I live in him.
If we part from one another
It is I who will die.

The answer is below.

Riddles such as these were quite common in stories like Beowulf:

Riddle 3
I am all on my own,
Wounded by iron weapons and scarred by swords.
I often see battle.
I am tired of fighting.
I do not expect to be allowed to retire from warfare
Before I am completely done for.
At the wall of the city, I am knocked about
And bitten again and again.
Hard edged things made by the blacksmith's hammer attack me.
Each time I wait for something worse.
I have never been able to find a doctor who could make me better
Or give me medicine made from herbs.
Instead the sword gashes all over me grow bigger day and night.

The answer is below.

Riddles appear in written form in both Latin and Old English. A well-known scholar named Aldhelm wrote down many riddles in Latin. Aldhelm's riddles are known as enigmata, or enigmas.

A riddle by Aldhelm:

Riddle 4
I am a faithful vigilant guardian, always watching the house;
In the deep night, I walk through the unseeing shadows,
For I do not lose the sight of my eyes, even in black caverns.
Against the hateful thieves who ravage the stores of grain, I ambush, I silently set a snare of death.
A roaming huntress, I invade the lairs of wild beasts,
But I do not wish to chase fleeing herds alongside dogs who bark and bring cruel war against me.

The answer is below.

Many of the most well-known Old English riddles appear in the Exeter Book, which included not one answer to any of the 100 riddles included. Many people have determined what they think are answers to most of the riddles. Riddle 91, however, is still unsolved, historians say. It is this:

I am noble, known to rest in the quiet
Keeping of many men, humble and high born.
The plunderers’ joy, hauled far from friends,
Rides richly on me, shines signifying power,
Whether I proclaim the grandeur of halls,
The wealth of cities, or the glory of God.
Now wise men love most my strange way
Of offering wisdom to many without voice.
Though the children of earth eagerly seek
To trace my trail, sometimes my tracks are dim.

Answers to riddles:
Riddle 1: A cow
Riddle 2: A fish
Riddle 3: A shield
Riddle 4: A cat

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