Lori Ann Garner
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From remedies to riddles
Hybridity of genre in an Exeter Book riddle
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Chapter 7 returns to the missing healers referenced in the Exeter Book riddle discussed in the Introduction, known as Riddle 5 or Anhaga. Where previous chapters explored medicinal texts and remedies, this last seeks to demonstrate ways that knowledge of Old English healing can inform interpretations of Old English poetry more widely. As ubiquitous as the medieval healer has become in modern film and media, herbal healing and healers are virtually non-existent in Old English heroic verse, and so we can be left with the (false) impression that healing charms and remedies constituted a distinct position in early medieval thought, separate from narrative genres. Outside of the medical texts, one of the only references left to us in surviving poetry laments a lack of healers. Yet this complaint buried within the highly formulaic language of exile and warfare in the Exeter Book’s Anhaga riddle can nonetheless provide an enormously productive key to interpreting the riddle’s warrior persona within a complex network of material objects that have previously been proposed as possible solutions. This chapter explores insights that this seemingly simple riddle can offer into herbal remedies, into material culture, and – most of all – into the playful, probing modes of thinking that subtly but powerfully link concepts of deadly warfare and herbal healing in Old English poetry and culture.

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Hybrid healing

Old English remedies and medical texts


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