Anglo-Saxon Riddles of the Exeter Book/Annotated/63

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Anglo-Saxon Riddles of the Exeter Book (1963)
translated by Paull Franklin Baum
1190288Anglo-Saxon Riddles of the Exeter Book1963Paull Franklin Baum

63 (k-d 22)

Came sixty riding on horseback to the seashore.
Eleven rode on stately steeds; four white horses.
However they tried they could not cross the water,
for it was too deep and the banks too high and the currents too strong.
So they climbed on a wagon, with their horses under the pole.
Then a horse bore them all, horses and proud men with spears,
across the bay and on to the land,
though no ox drew it, nor powerful slaves,
nor stout steed—neither swam nor walked
on the ground under the strange burden,
nor stirred the waters, nor flew in the air, nor turned back.
Yet the men crossed the stream
and their steeds also, from the high bank.
So they strode up on the other side bravely,
men and horses, safe and sound from the water.



Ætsomne cwom     lx monna
to wægstæþe     wicgum ridan
hæfdon xi     eoredmæcgas
fridhengestas     iiii sceamas
ne meahton magorincas     ofer mere feolan
swa hi fundedon     ac wæs flod to deop
atol yþa geþræc     ofras hēa
streamas · stronge     ongunnon stigan þa
on wægn weras     hyra wicg somod
hlodan under hrunge     þa þa hors oðbær
eh eorlas     æscum dealle
ofer wætres byht     wægn to lande
swa hine oxa ne teah     ne esna mægen
ne fæthengest     ne on flode swom ·
ne be grunde wod     gestum under
ne lagu drefde     ne of lyfte fleag
neon der bæc cyrde     brohte hwæþre
beornas ofer burnan     hyra bloncan mid
from stæðe heaum     þæt hy stopan up
on oþerne     ellenrofe
weras of wæge     hyra wicg gesund

This is a rather simplified rendering (in a somewhat different meter from the others) of what is known as a world-riddle, found in varying forms in the Orient as in the West. Being interpreted, the sixty men are half-days (days and nights) of a month and the month is December. The four white horses are Sundays and the other seven are the feast days of December (Conception of the Virgin, St. Nicholas, St. Thomas, Christmas, St. Stephen, St. John Evangelist, Holy Innocents). The opposite shore is January, the New Year. There are difficulties in all this, but the main interest is the puzzling situation more or less realistically described. A quite different solution is proposed by L. Blakeley, (R.E.S. n.s. 9 [1958], 241–52), who calls it “The Circling Stars,” i.e., the constellation of Charles’s Wain, eleven of which are visible to the naked eye; sixty is a round number for the surrounding stars.