Arrow and Sword: Two Riddles from the Eighth Century

Photo of the remains of the Abingdon Sword - Photo by Geni / Wikimedia Commons

One of the little joys I find from the Middle Ages are riddles. Medieval writers were often fond of telling them, and one can find collections of riddles from many diverse cultures. Here are a couple of riddles from eighth-century England that have answers related to warfare.

The first is by Tatwine, who was a monk, abbot, and finally the Archbishop of Canterbury from 731 to 734. He writes:

Amidst soldiers of Mars Fate is ready to help me
To launch an attack and strew the field with death,
And to set careful ambushes against wild beasts,
And to rush amidst the joyful crowds of youths.

The answer is arrow.

The second riddle is by Hwaetberht, another abbot, who is believed to have composed a collection of sixty riddles under the name of Eusebius. One of them is as follows:

Lo, accused of human bloodshed, I will be a fierce avenger too;
Sometimes I defend the body, sometimes, in turn, torment it.
But I do this only when five beings surround me.
I am touched by three parts, and…

The answer is believed to be a sword, although the final section of the riddle is unclear, so another answer might be possible.

Finding English translations of their riddles is difficult - these versions are in The Riddles of Tatwine and Eusebius, by Mary Jane McDonald Williams, a PhD Dissertation from the University of Michigan in 1974.

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