The Exeter book was inscribed in the 10th century and is considered by many to be one of the building blocks of English literature. However, for something so invaluable, it’s had a pretty eventful life.
On its cover, knife marks can clearly be seen, indicating that at one stage it was employed as a cutting board. There are also stains from a mug that have soaked through several of the pages. Not exactly the rock-star treatment that would be par for the course for a book of its caliber.
Image Via Atlas Obscura
Not many manuscripts from the Anglo-Saxon period survive, which in itself makes this book an extremely important historical document, but it also contains some pretty amazing religious odes, tragic elegies, and an alarming number of dick jokes. No, seriously. Behold this riddle:
A curiosity hangs by the thigh of a man, under its master’s cloak. It is pierced through in the front; it is stiff and hard and it has a good standing-place. When the man pulls up his own robe above his knee, he means to poke with the head of his hanging thing that familiar hole of matching length which he has often filled before.
Allegedly, the answer is ‘a key.’
The book has resided at Exeter Cathedral library for most of its life, and so it is impossible to tell who treated it so poorly, however it was more than likely people who lived pre-13th century. According to Anglo-Saxon scholar Patrick W. Conner, the writing would have been incomprehensible to most by that stage.
This book survived all of this abuse and went on to inspire J. R. R. Tolkien. The poem Christ I, contains the line “Hail Earendel brightest of angels, / over Middle Earth sent to men,” which is where Tolkien gleaned the name of his fantasy world in which he set his many works.
Feature Image Via Atlas Obscura