Degree Year


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




Robert Longsworth


Exeter Book, Riddles, Metaphor


The Exeter Book riddles are a heterogeneous collection, and at first glance it seems they have little III common beyond the riddle format and the final teasing challenge, "Say what I mean," or "Say what I am." The riddles range in length from a few lines to over a hundred, in tone from the religious to the mundane to the obscene; their subjects can be as specific as a butter churn or as broad as creation itself. One crucial similarity, however, does unify the riddles: all (well, almost all) are built around underlying, unstated metaphors. These metaphors-- such as a sword is a warrior, a ship is a dragon, water is a mother-- shape the riddles, governing their content and structure. (A small minority of the Exeter Book riddles are non-metaphoric. I will return to them later, but the thesis will concentrate on the metaphoric riddles). Recognition of the bond between riddles and metaphor dates back at least to Aristotle. "Good riddles do, in general, provide us with satisfactory metaphors," he writes in the Rhetoric, "for metaphors imply riddles, and therefore a good riddle can furnish a good metaphor" (1405b)