Anglo-Saxon Riddles of the Exeter Book/72
This riddle is somewhat related to the above, having a sort of secret writing instead of runes.
|I saw a thing moving over the wave [or ways].
It was gorgeously, wondrously arrayed.
It had four feet beneath its belly
[and eight man hwm wiif mxlkfw
f horse qxxs—up on its back.]
It had two wings and twelve eyes
and six heads. Tell what it was.
It moved over the water; nor was it a bird alone,
but there was a likeness of each of these:
a horse and a man, a dog and a bird,
and also the shape of a woman. You know
how to say, if you can, who know the truth,
just how the nature of the thing may go.
|Ic wiht geseah on wege feran|
seo wæs wrætlice wundrum gegierwed
hæfde feowere · fet under wombe
monn·h·w·m·wiif·m·x·l·kf wf·hors· qxxs·
ufon on hrycge
hæfde tu fiþru twelf eagan
siex heafdu saga hwæt hio wære
fōr flodwegas ne wæs na fugul ana
ac þær wæs æghwylces anra gelicnes
horses monnes hundes fugles
eac wifes wlite þu wast gif þu const
to gesecganne we soð witan
hu þære wihte wise gonge
This looks at first like two different riddles; for it is not usual to solicit the answer twice. The two bracketed lines (4–5) are doubtless an interpolation by some overzealous copyist, to make everything more difficult. He used the simple old code of representing vowels by the alphabetically following consonants. Thus hwm (miscopied) is for homo, ‘man,’ repeating man; mxlkfw f (also miscopied) is for mulier, repeating wiif, ‘woman’; qxxs is for equus, ‘horse.’ For the rest, interpretations vary. Trautmann, for example, has the following: “A man and his wife are seated on a horse; the man has a bird in his hand, the woman a dog on her arm and an unborn child inside her (or the man has the dog and the woman has the bird). The four feet are the horse’s; the eight on its back are the child’s, the bird’s, and the dog’s. The feet of the man and wife are not counted since they are neither underneath nor up above. The six heads and twelve eyes are those of the man, woman, child, dog, bird, horse.” But he admits that difficulties remain. Another guess sees a boat with four oars and eight rowers and on board a horse, a man, a woman, a bird, and a dog. Or no bird, the wings being sails. A more elaborate interpretation is proposed by Erika von Erhardt-Siebold ( lxiii , 3–6). A party of hunters is returning home in a boat with two dogs and the game. The boat had four feet underneath (four oars) and eight above (four oarsmen); the boat had two wings (bird being a conventional metaphor for ship). The twelve eyes were those of the four oarsmen, the dog, and the bird which had been killed. Besides this there was the likeness of a horse (now the boat itself) and a man (as on horseback), and a dog and bird literally. The form of a woman is probably an ornamental design or figurehead of the boat. Thus Mrs. von Erhardt-Siebold with slight changes.