Riddle 19 (or 17)

We have a slight complication this week, folks: RUNES! Runes are great, but they can be a bit of a technological nightmare, so bear with me. If you can’t see the runes in the Old English riddle below, you have two options: download the Junicode font or just scroll to the bottom of the post, where you’ll find a screen shot from a word-processing program. Not ideal, I know, but this way everyone should get to revel in the glory of runes. Aaaaaaaaand, go!


Ic on siþe seah      . ᛋ ᚱ ᚩ
ᚻ . hygewloncne,      heafodbeortne,
swiftne ofer sælwong      swiþe þrægan.
Hæfde him on hrycge      hildeþryþe
5     . ᚾ ᚩ ᛗ .      nægledne rad
. ᚪ ᚷ ᛖ ᚹ.      Widlast ferede
rynestrong on rade      rofne . ᚳ ᚩ
ᚠᚩ ᚪ ᚻ .      For wæs þy beorhtre,
swylcra siþfæt.      Saga hwæt ic hatte.

I saw on a journey a mind-proud,
bright-headed S R O H,
the swift one running quickly over the prosperous plain.
It had on its back a battle-power,
5     the N O M rode the nailed one
A G E W. The far-stretching track conveyed,
strong in movement on the road, a valiant C O
F O A H. The journey was all the brighter,
the expedition of such ones. Say what I am called.

Highlight the box with your cursor to reveal the possible solutions: Ship, Falconry/Horseman and hawk [sometimes with wagon/servant] and Writing

Screen shot for Junicode-less readers:

Riddle 19 runes screen shot


9 thoughts on “Riddle 19 (or 17)

  1. Linden Currie

    1. In the manuscript ‘on siþe’ is not present, there is no blank space where it might be but the line is deemed ‘too short’. Editors have made up for this possible deficiency by adding a variety of inserts to balance the line. For example Grein ‘Somod ic seah…..’ and Wyatt ‘Is seah swoncorne …….’. There appears to be no real justification for any addition. It might even render an already problematic riddle unsolvable,
    2. What is the consensus opinion on how the runes were pronounced when the poem was spoken?

    1. Thanks, Linden. You are certainly right that Krapp and Dobbie (whose edition we’re using as a base because it’s one that many students of OE will come into contact with) have added ‘on siþe’. I’ll talk about the editorial emendations to the text in my upcoming commentary, but it’s useful to note that Krapp and Dobbie (and may other editors) do make rather drastic changes from time to time.

      As for your question about runic pronunciation: good one! Again, I’ll touch on this in my commentary, but I’ll also try to answer you briefly now. The person to talk to is University College Cork’s Thomas Birkett, who tells me that he has an article about this very topic in the works. Apparently, there is no consensus, but in his opinion the runic riddles were written exercises that were not intended to be spoken. He has pointed out that OE metre is occasionally preserved by pronouncing the rune’s names, but also sometimes completely muddled by doing so. While you’re waiting for Tom’s article to come out (in the Medium Ævum book, On Play: Some Medieval Aspects and Approaches), he recommends reading Robert DiNapoli’s ‘Odd Characters: Runes in Old English Poetry’ in Verbal Encounters: Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse Studies for Roberta Frank, edited by Antonina Harbus and Russell Poole, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005.

      I hope that helps! It certainly gives me lots to think about for next week’s commentary post…

  2. Linden Currie

    Very helpful thanks.
    A further comment that might amuse you – if they were to be spoken aloud, the runes ‘S’ ‘R’ ‘O’ , might be delivered as ‘se-ar-o’. (That word is used nine times elsewhere within the riddles.) I do love the riddles – there are just so many intriguing possibilities.

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