Anglo-Saxon Riddles of the Exeter Book/Annotated/72

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

72 (k-d 36)

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 (PMLA lxiii [1948], 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.