Exeter Riddle 6


Date: Thu 25 Apr 2013
Matching Commentaries: Commentary for Exeter Riddle 6
Original text:

Mec gesette soð         sigora waldend
Crist to compe.        Oft ic cwice bærne,
unrimu cyn         eorþan getenge,
næte mid niþe,         swa ic him no hrine,
5     þonne mec min frea         feohtan hateþ.
Hwilum ic monigra         mod arete,
hwilum ic frefre         þa ic ær winne on
feorran swiþe;         hi þæs felað þeah,
swylce þæs oþres,         þonne ic eft hyra
10     ofer deop gedreag         drohtað bete.


Christ, the true ruler of victories, placed me
in battle. Often I burn the living,
uncounted peoples I oppress upon the earth,
crush them cruelly, when my lord
5     commands me to fight, but I do not touch them.
Sometimes I comfort the mind of many,
sometimes I console those whom I earlier struggled against
from very far away; although they feel it,
just like that other time, when I again
10     improve their way of life above deep tumult.

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This riddle appears on folios 102v-103r of The Exeter Book.

The above Old English text is based on this edition: Elliott van Kirk Dobbie and George Philip Krapp, eds, The Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), page 184.

Note that this edition numbers the text Riddle 4: Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), page 71.

Tags: riddles  riddle 6 

Commentary for Exeter Riddle 6


Date: Mon 06 May 2013
Matching Riddle: Exeter Riddle 6

As we have already seen with the other riddles, the poet here employs language familiar from other contexts to show the sun in a new light (if you’ll excuse the pun). In Riddle 5, elegiac exile imagery was transferred to an object intimately associated with the social world of heroic poetry; here, a part of the natural world is described as a warlike thing. Again, the language of the relationship between a lord and his follower is evoked. The emphasis on Christ as commanding the sun also serves to set this riddle very much in a Christian context. This coming together of heroic imagery and Christian themes is something that is quite common in Old English poetry. In this case, for example, some scholars have argued that the dual nature of the sun, which is sometimes pleasant and sometimes painful, reflects the nature of Christ himself – his "warmth" is pleasant to faithful believers and painful to sinners. There is thus a metaphorical focus within the poem that raises it beyond the playful description of a natural object, which is something worth bearing in mind when reading the riddles in general. At any rate, I’m sure we can agree that the riddle shows a certain early medieval ambiguity about the sun (which some might say has persisted up to the present day).

In the manuscript, the text of the riddle is followed by a single rune, usually taken as representing the letter "s" and standing for Old English sigel or possibly Latin sol. Both of these words mean "sun," so the rune might be a further hint towards the solution of the riddle. We will come back to runes with some of the other riddles.


Photo (by Jessie Eastland) from Wikimedia Commons (licence: CC BY-SA 3.0).

Tags: anglo saxon  exeter book  riddles  old english  solutions  riddle 6 

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Commentary for Exeter Riddle 6