Find out what I’m called… A challenge and a taunt to bookend a riddle on a winter’s night by the fire while the wind howls, or resting for a moment in a bit of shade during harvest. The time for riddles is anytime—if their primary purpose is to entertain.
Riddle 53 of the Exeter Riddles (or 47, according to Wikipedia, using a 1967 translation by Paull Franklin Baum) is most usually solved as “battering ram.” This has never quite sat right with me. Then I read Jennifer Neville’s piece, “The Exeter Book Riddles” in Trees and Timber in Anglo-Saxon England, edited by Michael D. J. Bintley and Michael G. Shapland (Oxford University Press, 2013) and found we are of the same mind: battering ram just doesn’t work.
Neville’s main argument is that the Exeter Riddles are questions without answers, designed to force their audience to consider how information is passed on. (Media-studies in miniature?) I am not yet wholly convinced of that. I think they were designed to amuse and entertain—though no doubt they were also used as thought experiments and teaching tools. But in either case it makes sense that they have more than one answer.
Neville runs through a variety of solutions, including bow, arrow, and lathe. Of these I think arrow comes closest—but would like to offer my own solution, with caveats.
What works for me is scaling ladder, the kind of thing used in a siege. My caveats? The Exeter Riddles were compiled and written sometime in the tenth century but I frankly have no clue when they were composed. When did scaling ladders become necessary? Fire would generally do the trick on wood-framed parapets. Penda certainly thought so during his siege of Bebbanburg—though perhaps he had siege ladders handy as a backup. How about Osric at the ‘fortified town’ where Cadwallon over-wintered in 633?
So much depends on the era. I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this.