Wiht cwom gongan þær weras sæton
monige on mæðle, mode snottre;
hæfde an eage ond earan twa,
ond twegen fet, twelf hund heafda,
hrycg ond eaxle, anne sweoran,
ond sidan twa. Saga hwæt ic hatte.
A creature came walking to where men sat,
many at meeting, wise in mind;
it had one eye, and two ears,
and two feet, twelve hundred heads,
a back and shoulders, one neck,
and two sides. Say what I am called.
Ic eom wunderlicu wiht, wifum on hyhte,
neahbuendum nyt. Nængun sceþþe
burgsittendra nymþe bonan anum.
Staþol min is steapheah; stonde ic on bedde,
neoþan ruh nathwær. Neþeð hwilum
ful cyrtenu ceorles dohtor,
modwlonc meowle, þæt heo on mec gripeð,
ræseð mec on rodne, reafað min heafod,
fegeð mec on fæsten. Feleþ sona
mines gemotes seo þe mec nearwað,
wif wundenlocc- wæt bið þæt eage.
I am a wonderful being: for pleasure to women,
useful to neighbours. None are injured
of the enclosure-dwellers, save the slayer alone.
My foundation is steep-high; I stood in a bed,
hairy somewhere below. A fully-fair
churl’s daughter ventures sometimes,
a spirit-proud maiden, that she gropes me,
rushes me to redness, ravages my head,
fixes me onto fastness. She immediately feels
the encounter with me, she who forces me in,
the woman with braided hair- wet is that eye.
Wrætlic hongað bi weres þeo,
frean under sceate. Foran is þyrel.
Bið stiþ ond heard, stede hafað godne;
þonne se esne his agen hrægl
ofer cneo hefeð, wile þæt cuþe hol
mid his hangellan heafde gretan
þæt he efenlang ær oft gefylde.
The wonder hangs by the man’s thigh,
under the lord’s fold. To the fore is a hole.
It will be firm and hard, has good firmness;
then the man raises his own garment
over his knee, wishes to greet that familiar
hole with the head of his hanging thing
which he has long filled before.
Ic on wincle gefrægn weaxan nathwæt,
þindan ond þunian, þecene hebban;
on þæt banlease bryf grapode,
hygewlonc hondum, hrægle þeahte
þrindende þing þeodnes dohtor.
I discovered something grows in the corner,
swelled and puffing up, raises a cover;
a bride, proud-minded one, grasped that boneless thing,
covered the swelling thing with a garment
using her hands, the lord’s daughter.
This week I offer up a small handful of Old English riddles for your reading pleasure. As with so much of the poetry of the period, these are preserved in the Exeter Book, Exeter Cathedral Library MS 3501. The book was probably compiled in the second half of the tenth century as part of renewed monastic activity. This means that these dirty jokes were almost certainly read by tonsured monks, giggling to one another as they transcribed.
Many of the riddles in the Book remain unanswerable; these four have answers. While I am sure that you could find the correct response with Google or your mighty minds, I would dearly love to hear the craziest answers possible. The first, Riddle 82, particularly offers an opportunity for one’s imagination to go berserk. Please, do.