‘Deope gedolgod’: Wounding, Shaping and the Post-Lapsarian World in Exeter Book Riddles 53 and 73

Corinne Dale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper I explore the concept of fallenness in Exeter Book tree-riddles 53 and 73. I begin by discussing the riddles alongside recent eco-criticism and eco-theology and by comparing the act of wounding and shaping in the riddles with The Phoenix and The Dream of the Rood in order to demonstrate how the riddles’ subjects are situated in a post-lapsarian world. I then go on to consider the relationship between the integrity of the tree in its natural environment and its role as an object in the hands of man. I explore how Riddle 53 in particularly engages with the theme of shaping in Christianity and Christianity’s preoccupation with the ‘end product’. A metaphor from Augustine, for example, imagining God’s love of sinners to be like the carpenter’s love for the potentiality of his material, suggests trees are valued for their future use as objects, just as human’s must be considered for their spiritual potential. A riddle solver’s quest for the solution mirrors a similar anticipation for, or preoccupation with, the end product, not the natural source of the material. Yet the puzzling ambiguity of Riddle 53 would seem to challenge this preoccupation, refusing to allow the solver to find a satisfying answer. I argue that what the riddle actually does is allow readers to shape the object for themselves and reflect back on their spiritual state as members of the fallen race. Does the individual reader play the ‘sinful enemy’ and turn the tree into something degraded, or play a more virtuous individual and venerate as the holy cross?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-14
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013


  • exter book riddles
  • eco-criticism
  • eco-theology
  • anglo-saxon

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