Riddle me this…

Old Door Keyhole

A strange thing hangs by a man’s thigh,
hidden by a garment. It has a hole
in its head. It is still and strong
and its firm bearing reaps a reward.
When the man hitches his clothing high
above his knee, he wants the head
of that hanging thing to poke the old hole
(of fitting length) it has often filled before.
~ Exeter Riddle #44. The answer is a key.

This is just one of many riddles not only found in the Exeter book but in many other literary sources from the Anglo-Saxon and Viking era. Since I began researching the 9th century, riddles have managed to make themselves known to me on a constant basis. I have grown quite fond of them, they are just so clever and fun, and of course just a little bit scandalous. I always laugh when I find out the answer.

Anyway, medievalists.net have posted a small article on such riddles and their importance in teaching us about the lives and thoughts of our medieval ancestors.

It is also interesting to note that as one of the few groups which were educated enough to read and write, priests and other men of the cloth wrote many of these riddles down and taught them to their students as a useful exercise in latin.

I guess that debunks that myth once and for all that the church was a pious and chaste institution… oh hang on!

By A H Gray

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