True stories, fables and anecdotes from the Middle Ages
Can you solve these medieval riddles?
I'm told a certain something grows in its pouch, swells and stands up,
lifts its covering. A proud bride grasped that boneless wonder, the daughter of a king
covered that swollen thing with clothing.
A strange thing hangs by a mans thigh, hidden by a garment. It has a hole
in its head. It is stiff 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.
Quick; quite mum; I die notwithstanding. I lived once, I live again. Everybody
lifts me, grips me, and chops off my head, bites my bare body, violates me.
I don't bite a man unless he bites me; there are many men who bite me.
This creature is odd, its habits unaccountable. It sings through its sides. Its neck is curved,
skilfully carved, and above its back it has pointed shoulders. It plays its fated part
as, gracefully, it stands by the roadside, high and handsome, useful to men.
On the way a miracle: water became bone.
Sea suckled me, waves sounded over me, rollers covered me as I rested on my bed.
I have no feet and often open my mouth to the flood. Now some man will
consume me, who cares nothing for my clothing.
With the point of his knife he will rip the skin away from my side, and straight away eat me
uncooked as I am.
Christ, the true giver of victories, created me for combat. When my lord
urged me to fight, I often scorch mortals; I approach the earth and, without a touch,
afflict a huge host of people. At times I gladden the minds of men,
keeping my distance I console those whom I fought before; they feel my kindness
as they once felt my fire when, after such suffering, I soothe their lives.
A crature came where there sat many wise men in the meeting-place.
He had two ears and one eye, two feet and twelve hundred heads,
a back and a belly, a pair of hands, two shoulders and arms, a neck,
and two sides. Now tell me his name.
I saw a woman, solitary, brooding.
Excerpts from: The Exeter Book Riddles, revised edition. Kevin Crossley-Holland, translator. London: Penguin Books, 1993.
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