Exeter Book Riddle 95: ‘The Sun’, a New Solution

  • 1 University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
Dieter Bitterli


Elusive and fraught with textual difficulties, Riddle 95, the ‘last’ of the Old English verse riddles preserved in the tenth-century Exeter Book, has long baffled modern readers as one of a handful of thorny items in the collection that have so far defied solution. ‘Book’ is the answer that has found most acceptance with critics in the past, yet the speaking subject of Riddle 95 is unlike anything described in those items of the collection that actually deal with writing and the tools of the monastic scriptorium. Rather, the linguistic and thematic parallels between Riddle 95 on the one hand, and the cosmological riddles and poems in the Exeter Book on the other, strongly suggest that the subject of Riddle 95 is the sun, a frequent topic of early medieval enigmatography. The poem obliquely relates how the rising sun installs itself in the sky to shed its welcome light upon the earth before it sets and vanishes from sight, completing its daily orbit along unknown paths. The main clues helping to secure the solution ‘sun’ are based upon what was known in Anglo-Saxon England about the solar course and the planetary motions, especially from the astronomical writings of Isidore of Seville and Bede. Further evidence is provided by several analogues in the Anglo-Latin riddle tradition, including the Enigmata of Aldhelm and his followers.

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A renowned journal of English philology, Anglia was founded in 1878 by Moritz Trautmann and Richard P. Wülker. It is thus the oldest journal of English Studies in existence. Anglia publishes essays on the English language and linguistic history, on English literature of the Middle Ages and the modern period, on American literature, on new literatures in English, as well as on general and comparative literary studies.