The bibliophilia of Anglo-Saxon England

Eleanor Parker reveals the scholarly network of knowledge that was at the heart of Anglo-Saxon England and the love these scholars had for the pleasures of the written word.

Eleanor Parker | Published in 26 Oct 2016


My insides are filled with holy words, and my entrails bear sacred books – yet I can learn nothing from them.

This is a riddle by the Anglo-Saxon poet Aldhelm, to which the solution (as you may have guessed) is ‘book-chest’. It is one of a number of riddles from Anglo-Saxon England that play with the mechanics of books and writing, teasing the reader with ingenious descriptions of ink, vellum and decorated volumes.

Another celebrated example gives a riddling picture of a bookworm: ‘a thieving guest, no whit the wiser though he swallowed words’. In Old English an object like Aldhelm’s chest could be called a book-hoard (boc-hord) and, like a treasure-hoard, might be inhabited by a devouring wyrm. Neither book-chest nor bookworm learns anything from their encounter with books – so they are a sly warning to human readers to profit by the words they devour.

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