anglo saxon guide


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Anglo-Saxon Riddles

The telling and guessing of riddles was a popular pass-time for the Anglo-Saxons. Often these riddles had double meanings – a blatant sometimes sexual one and a more subtle true answer.  The riddles became steadily more elaborate and some are very obscure.

Not many of these riddles exist today but The Book of Exeter survived Henry VIII’s destruction of the monasteries and lists about 60. Here are some of them with answers at the bottom:

1. Head down, nosing-I belly the ground. Hard snuffle and grub, I bite and furrow. Drawn by the dark enemy of forests, driven by a bent lord who hounds my trail. Who lifts and lowers me, rams me down. Pushes on plain, and sows seed. I am a ground-skulker, born of wood. Bound by wizards, brought on wheel. My ways are weird: as I walk one flank Of my trail is gathering green, the other Is bright black. Through my back and belly a sharp sword thrusts; through my head. A dagger is stuck like a tooth: what I slash falls in a curve of slaughter to one side if my driving lord slaves well.

2. I saw a creature with its belly behind huge and swollen, handled by a servant, A hard, muscled man who struggled so That the bulge in its belly burst through its eye: Its passion–gorge and spill through death, Then rise and fill with second breath To sire a son and father self.

3. A small miracle hangs near a man’s thigh, Full under folds. It is stiff, strong, Bold, brassy, and pierced in front. When a young lord lifts his tunic over his knees, he wants to greet with the hard head of this hanging creature the hole it has long come to fill.

4. The wind carries small creatures over hill-slopes and headlands: dark coated, black-bodied, bursting with song. They chirm and clamor like a troop on wing, winding their way to wooded cliff-walls, sometimes to the halls of men-singing a name-song.

5. Who am I who stand so boldly by the sea road: hightowering, cheek-bright, useful to men?

So how did you get on. Here are the answers:


1. Plough (OK that one seems clear enough) 2. Bellows (bit obscure if you ask me) 3.  A Key (what were you thinking?) 4. Swallows (or any of many other birds) 5. Lighthouse



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