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Monday, June 26, 2023

Anglo-Saxon and Viking Riddles

Today,  I thought I would talk a little about a less-well-known aspect of English literature: Anglo-Saxon poetry. There are some beautiful and very poignant poems in Old English. Poems such as 'The Seafarer' and 'The Wife's Lament' speak to us even today of love and loss and longing. There are poems that contain useful information - verse is a useful memory device - and poems celebrating places such as Durham, battles such as the battle of Maldon, biblical heroines such as Judith and profound mystical experiences. 'The Dream of the Rood' takes the idea of the cross on which Christ was crucified: the 'wondrous tree' from which he hung, and has the tree speak to us directly as it too suffered with Christ.

    There are riddles about wine, about a bookworm, about a reed, about a shield, about a plough. Some are saucy and double-edged in meaning; all give clues as to what people noticed in those times, what was important to them, what amused them. Some of the original riddles can be seen here:

I read them and even in translation I feel directly connected to a people long past - a wonderful, slightly eerie event.

The Vikings were also keen on riddles and verse. In one Icelandic saga, the god Odin, who is in disguise, challenges King Heidrek to a contest of wits via riddles which the king has to solve. 

Here is a Viking Riddle, taken from the saga and reproduced from this site

I yearn to have / what I had yesterday.

What do I long for, my lord?

It hurts men / and hinders words,

yet also elevates speech.

Can you solve / oh King, this riddle?

(The answer is ale.)

Here is one my own riddles. Very simple! You will easily guess what it is.

          "A giant, now toppled,

          hollow and dead,

          still glides where it never would

          when alive."

If you are interested in Viking culture and magic, please see my novel, "The Viking and the Pictish Princess" published by Prairie Rose Publications. This novel is set in early medieval Scotland.

Lindsay Townsend


  1. Fascinating, I'd never have got that Viking riddle in a month of Sundays though. Is yours a boat?

  2. Yes, Christine! I agree, some of the Anglo-Saxon and Viking riddles are very complex. Tolkien used Riddles in "The Hobbit" as homage to this aspect of history

  3. What a wonderful post. I love the language and thoughts from the past. Like you, it gives an insight into the lives of those who preceeded us. Doris

  4. Thanks, Doris. I agree with your insight