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EN5609 Old English Riddles

Instructor: Dr Jennifer Neville, Department of English
Term 1.  To be taught at Royal Holloway, Egham, on Wednesdays 3-5pm

Riddles appear to have been especially appealing to the Anglo-Saxons: not only is there a collection of almost 100 riddles in Old English; there are also three collections of Latin riddles written by Anglo-Saxons. Although frequently amusing and insightful in themselves, these riddles also open a window onto areas of Anglo-Saxon life rarely mentioned in other Old English poetic texts: slaves, drunkenness, farming, everyday artefacts, sexuality, humour, etc. 

The texts on this course can be studied in Old English or in translation, depending on the students’ prior knowledge of Old English, and can be approached using literary, historical, or archaeological contexts.  Classes will focus on a large theme (e.g. heroic culture, religion, sexuality, etc) each week.  Students are advised to purchase their own copy of the riddles for their use.  John Porter, ed., Anglo-Saxon Riddles (Hockwold-cum-Wilton: Anglo-Saxon Books, 1995) is recent, easily available online from Anglo-Saxon Books (http://www.asbooks.co.uk/index.htm), and provides the Old English text with a facing page translation.

Introductory Reading:

Peter Hunter Blair, Anglo-Saxon England, rev. edn. (London : The Folio Society, 1997)

Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977)

John D. Niles, Old English Enigmatic Poems and the Play of the Texts (Turnhout: Brepols, 2006).


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