The Old English Riddles are the first and finest vernacular riddles of the Middle Ages. Although little is known about the possible social context of oral riddling in early Anglo-Saxon England, the riddles are presumably a wedding of oral practice and Latin literary tradition. Both a religious doctrine and a literary tradition were brought to England by Christian missionaries who carried with the gift of script, the Word of God. But as was true of many other Christian traditions, the literary riddle was transformed by the Anglo-Saxons into something uniquely their own.

[Craig Williamson discusses the social and literary background of the Exeter Book Riddles under the three headings listed below. Click on the key word for access to the text.]

1. TheLatin Riddles

2. Learned Riddles

3. Old Norse Riddling

[He concludes with the following brief paragraph.]

Riddlic dialogues like Alcuin's almost certainly took place in the Anglo-Saxon monasteries and in the greater courts as part of the learning process. Whether the game was carried out in the vernacular as "Solomon and Saturn" and the Northern stories suggest is not known-but it seems likely. Elaborate riddle contests are common to a number of cultures and may yet be observed in Britain today.23

[The next section of the Introduction is "Varieties of Riddles"]