‘Truth is Trickiest’: The Exeter Book Riddles

Although less famous than Beowulf, the Exeter Book Riddles are among the most popular of Old English poems, delighting their audiences with their insights into material culture, their cleverness, and, occasionally, their suggestive humour. Modern audiences, however, tend to underestimate import of these texts, in part because they are always presented to us with solutions. The reality is that these texts come to us in the manuscript without solutions, and that makes them something a bit different from the joke-texts that we tend to get from the riddle-genre today. This talk will introduce the manuscript context of the Exeter riddle collection and then explore a series of sample texts, with the aim of showing not only why these riddles remain so tantalisingly delightful, but also why they offer much more than a challenge to guess a solution.


Dr Jennifer Neville is a Reader in Early Medieval English Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London, and author of Representations of the Natural World in Old English Poetry (Cambridge, 1999). She specialises in Old English poetry, especially the collection of (almost) one hundred riddles that are collected toward the end of the tenth-century manuscript, the Exeter Book, but recently she has also been working closely with Dr Megan Cavell (University of Birmingham) on Anglo-Latin riddles.

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