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Anglo-Saxon Riddles

One of our Festival themes is Eoforwic: Anglian-era York, which provides a glimpse into life between Roman York and the Viking City. To help spread the word about the exciting range of events on offer under this theme, we have created three colourful bookmarks. Each bookmark carries a riddle translated by University of York research Associate Kate Thomas and expertly scribed by Yorkshire-based calligraphers Sue Sparrow, Louise May and Jane Jenkins.

Riddles are a quirky part of the Anglo-Saxon literature which survives to us today. They were written in both Old English and Latin, and the content can be religious, scholarly, comical or obscene. Riddles make us look at the world around us in different ways, and, as is the nature of riddles, have a hidden meaning. Sometimes frustratingly, we don't know all the answers, as they were not always written down alongside the riddles, and some of them have still not been solved.

Find out whether you have answered the riddles on our York Festival of Ideas bookmarks correctly!

Riddle 1

A moth ate words.

To me that seemed a strange fate,

when I heard about that wonder:

that the worm swallowed up a certain man's sayings,

a thief in the darkness, his glorious speech

and its strong foundation.

The stealing guest was not a bit the wiser for swallowing those words.


Answer: Bookworm

Riddle 2

My hall is not silent, nor am I myself loud.

The Lord created a journey together for us two.

I am faster than him, sometimes stronger; he is more powerful.

Sometimes I rest; he must run onwards.

I will dwell in him for as long as I live:

if we two part, death will be fated to me.


Answer: Fish and river

Riddle 3

I saw four strange beings travel together:

black were their tracks, very dark traces.

Fast on its journey, bolder than birds,

it flew in the air, dived beneath the waves.

The labouring fighter suffered restlessly,

he who shows all four of them the paths over ornamented gold.


Answer: Pen and three fingers

Thanks to Kate who translated the riddles.

Discover the fantastic range of events on offer under the Eoforwic theme

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