I hope you’re enjoying the summer (or winter)! I’m spending it adapting my doctoral thesis into a book, which is taking up a lot of my writing time at the moment, and I don’t have much left in which to write this blog. Still, I’d hate to miss a fortnightly post date.
A couple of months ago, I mentioned that I had translated some riddles from the Anglo-Saxon Exeter Book in order to publicise the Anglian strand of the York Festival of Ideas. Although we ended up selecting three riddles for the festival, I translated ten in total, and produced five finished translations, which are below. Why not have a guess at the answers?
The Anglo-Saxon text is quoted from Murray McGillivray’s Online Corpus of Old English Poetry, University of Calgary, http://oepoetry.ca/.
Hrægl is min hasofag, hyrste beorhte,
reade ond scire on reafe minum.
Ic dysge dwelle ond dole hwette
unrædsiþas, oþrum styre
nyttre fore. Ic þæs nowiht wat
þæt heo swa gemædde, mode bestolene,
dæde gedwolene, deoraþ mine
won wisan gehwam. Wa him þæs þeawes,
siþþan heah bringað horda deorast,
gif hi unrædes ær ne geswicaþ.
My garment is grey-stained, my decoration bright,
red and shining on my clothing.
I lead the foolish astray and urge the stupid down unwise roads,
and guide others from more useful ways.
I know nothing of why, so maddened, with mind stolen
and erring actions, they praise my empty ways to everyone.
Woe be to them for that behaviour
when afterwards they bring high the dearest of treasures,
if they do not first turn away from foolishness.
Oft ic sceal wiþ wæge winnan ond wiþ winde feohtan,
somod wið þam sæcce, þonne ic secan gewite
eorþan yþum þeaht; me biþ se eþel fremde.
Ic beom strong þæs gewinnes, gif ic stille weorþe;
gif me þæs tosæleð, hi beoð swiþran þonne ic,
ond mec slitende sona flymað,
willað oþfergan þæt ic friþian sceal.
Ic him þæt forstonde, gif min steort þolað
ond mec stiþne wiþ stanas moton
fæste gehabban. Frige hwæt ic hatte.
Often I must struggle against the waters and fight the winds,
strive against them together, then I set out to seek
the earth covered by waves: land is strange to me.
I am strong in the struggle if I become still.
If that goes wrong, they will be stronger than me,
tearing, straight away banish me:
they want to carry away what I must protect.
I will defend it from them, if my tail holds out,
and if the stones might hold fast against firm me.
Ask what my name is!
Moððe word fræt. Me þæt þuhte
wrætlicu wyrd, þa ic þæt wundor gefrægn,
þæt se wyrm forswealg wera gied sumes,
þeof in þystro, þrymfæstne cwide
ond þæs strangan staþol. Stælgiest ne wæs
wihte þy gleawra, þe he þam wordum swealg.
A moth ate words.
To me that seemed a strange fate,
when I heard about that wonder:
that the worm swallowed up a certain man’s sayings,
a thief in the darkness, his glorious speech
and its strong foundation.
The stealing guest was not a bit the wiser for swallowing those words.
Ic seah wrætlice wuhte feower
samed siþian; swearte wæran lastas,
swaþu swiþe blacu. Swift wæs on fore,
fuglum framra; fleag on lyfte,
deaf under yþe. Dreag unstille
winnende wiga se him wegas tæcneþ
ofer fæted gold feower eallum.
I saw four strange beings travel together:
black were their tracks, very dark traces.
Fast on its journey, bolder than birds,
it flew in the air, dived beneath the waves.
The labouring fighter suffered restlessly,
he who shows all four of them the paths over ornamented gold.
Nis min sele swige, ne ic sylfa hlud
ymb ……* unc dryhten scop
siþ ætsomne. Ic eom swiftre þonne he,
þragum strengra, he þreohtigra.
Hwilum ic me reste; he sceal yrnan forð.
Ic him in wunige a þenden ic lifge;
gif wit unc gedælað, me bið deað witod.
* here there is damage to the manuscript
My hall is not silent, nor am I myself loud.
The Lord created a journey together for us two.
I am faster than him, sometimes stronger; he is more powerful.
Sometimes I rest; he must run onwards.
I will dwell in him for as long as I live:
if we two part, death will be fated to me.
11 – wine
16 – anchor
47 – bookworm
51 – pen and three fingers
85 – fish and river