Anglo-Saxon Riddles of the Exeter Book/I. Natural Phenomena


The Storm riddles have pride of place not only because they stand first in the Exeter Book, but also because they outrank all the rest in poetic merit. After much discussion, the consensus now is that 1 is a separate riddle and 2 and 3 are a single riddle by a different author, in four parts and a conclusion. Thus 1 describes a destructive storm on land; 2, 3, divide as follows (a) 2, ll. 1–15, a submarine storm; (b) 3, ll. 1–16, an earthquake; (c) 3, ll. 17–35, a storm at sea; (d) 3, ll. 36–66, a thunderstorm on land; and (e) 3, ll. 67–72, a concluding review of (a), (b), (c), (d). The chief interest lies of course in the descriptions; the riddling element is merely, What produces the storms—are they from natural causes or are they of divine origin? Both authors reveal a knowledge of “Græco-Roman cosmology” (Plato, Lucretius, Pliny) and of mediæval theory (Isidore, Bede);[1] and the answer is, accordingly, not which but both. The Christian will say “God,” the learned will answer “Natural Causes”; and both are right.

  1. For references see Erika Erhardt-Siebold, “The Storm Riddles,” PMLA lxiv (1949), 884–88.