UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Authorship and unity in the Exeter Book riddles Mason, John Neilson


Nineteenth-century scholars generally felt that the Exeter Book riddle collection was a unified whole under the authorship of Cynewulf, or that it was made up of two major parts, Riddles "1" (now known as "Wul'f and Eadwacer") to 59 and 61-95. Most scholars since the first decade of this century, however, have viewed the riddles as a miscellany, with a few individual riddles perhaps sharing common authorship, but with no overall unity or organization in the collection as a whole. If the riddles are examined in terms of their point of view (I am..., I saw..., There is...), a distinct pattern emerges which demonstrates Riddles 61-95 to be separate from the rest, and which also divides Riddles 1-59 into two more or less equal groups. The distribution of point of view does not indicate the exact point of division between the first two groups, but if the groups originally comprised 60 riddles (like the collection of Eusebius), and if the two groups are assumed to have been equal collections of 30, then deduction based on the amount of missing material due to the loss of folios between fols. 105 and 106, and between 111 and 112, would locate the break between Riddles 29 and 30. Riddle 30b, then, could have been simply a mis-start of the second group at a point later in the MS. Examination of the distribution of opening and closing formulas arid of the adverbs hwilum, oft and nu over the collection supports the three-part theory. Stylistic diversity in the third group, from crude riddles like Nos. 75 and 76 to the fine 'horn' and 'water' riddles suggests that this group is a miscellany containing the work of a number of authors. Connections between riddles of this group and the two earlier ones appear to indicate some sort of dependence of these on riddles of the first two groups. The relationship in several of the cases can be explained as imitation or modelling of the later riddles on earlier ones. Such a suggestion is not inconsistent with practice at the time, as other riddles of the period appear to have been used as exercises in grammar.

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