The suppression of monasteries and the wars of the 15th and 16th centuries have meant that what survives of Anglo-Saxon literature is scant. What survive are about 400 manuscripts containing various texts in the form of chronicles, hagiographies, laws, charters, poetry, scientific treatises, gospel translations, and sermons. The largely pietistic theme of the texts seems to reflect the ideology of the society that produced them. Most of these manuscripts were written by monks and holy men, who either copied the texts from existing manuscripts or recorded examples from oral culture. It is interesting to note that all surviving Old English poetry is preserved in four manuscripts – The Junius Manuscript, The Exeter Book, The Nowell Codex and The Vercilli Book. The Junius Manuscript contains biblical poetry such as Genesis and Christ and Satan. The Vercilli Book is largely religious in nature, containing both poetry and homilies. The Nowell Codex contains poems such as the epic Beowulf, and prose works such as Solomon and Saturn.The Exeter Book is a unique manuscript in that it holds a large collection of poems interspersed with over ninety riddles. While the theme of the Exeter Book’s poetry is largely religious, the riddles explore various subjects ranging from religious allegory to mundane household objects. Their subject matter, form and genre are unique among the corpus of Old English extant texts, and for this reason I have chosen the Exeter Book riddles as the subject for my final essay and thesis.
Image source: http://blocs.xtec.cat/lasalledevon/2008/04/16/exeter/