Riddle 23 (or 21)

Agof is min noma      eft onhwyrfed;
ic eom wrætlic wiht      on gewin sceapen.
Þonne ic onbuge,      ond me of bosme fareð
ætren onga,     ic beom eallgearo
5     þæt ic me þæt feorhbealo     feor aswape.
Siþþan me se waldend,     se me þæt wite gescop,
leoþo forlæteð,     ic beo lengre þonne ær,
oþþæt ic spæte,      spilde geblonden,
ealfelo attor     þæt ic ær geap.
10     Ne togongeð þæs     gumena hwylcum,
ænigum eaþe      þæt ic þær ymb sprice,
gif hine hrineð     þæt me of hrife fleogeð,
þæt þone mandrinc      mægne geceapaþ,
fullwered fæste      feore sine.
15     Nelle ic unbunden      ænigum hyran
nymþe searosæled.     Saga hwæt ic hatte.

Wob is my name turned back;
I am a wondrous being, shaped for battle.
When I bend, and from my bosom travels
a poisonous dart, I am very ready
5     so that I sweep that deadly evil far away from me.
When my ruler, he who designed that distress,
looses my limbs, I am longer than before,
until I spit, debased by destruction,
the terrible poison that I took in before.
10     What I speak about here does not
easily pass away from anyone,
if that which flies from my belly strikes him,
so that he buys that evil drink with his strength,
[pays] full compensation with his very life.
15     Unbound, I will not obey anyone
unless skillfully tied. Say what I am called.

Highlight the box with your cursor to reveal the possible solutions: Bow

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6 thoughts on “Riddle 23 (or 21)

  1. Constantine

    Firstly, the blog is amazing! Thank you so much for your translations and commentary. This riddle in particular has piqued my interest, since I was kind of working on my own translation of it. And if I may, I would suggest a tiny emendation for the 2nd line. You translate “on gewin sceapen” as “shaped in battle” but “gewin” is clearly in accusative case and “on” with accusative usually implies some sort of movement, not resting. Therefore, I believe it is more likely that “on” here marks a purpose (cfr. Bosworth-Toller: “on” meaning B. III. 7.). The translation in this case would look like “created for battle” or “shaped for battle”. Now, I might be completely off base seeing as I study Old English on my own and not even that long, but some other published translations, like those of Paull Franklin Baum and Erika von Erhardt-Siebold, seem to agree on this point. I’d really love to see your comment on that and possibly on a couple other shady portions of this fascinating ridle.

    1. Hello, and thank you for your comments. Having looked at the riddle more closely once again, I completely agree with you that “for” works better here than “in”. I’m going to change this now!

  2. Constantine

    Great, but could you also share your opinion on the meaning and syntax of lines 10-11? I’ve found two major variants of translation: one by Mackie (“What I am speaking about does not easily pass away from any man”) and one by Erhard-Siebold (“Not easily does a man escape what I spirt about”). You follow the former and I as well favor it out of the two, but it raises two questions.

    Firstly, if you translate “gumena hwylcum” as “from any man”, then what does “ænigum” refer to? “Hwylcum” and “ænigum” both seem to mean the same thing here. Is it some sort of rhetoric doubling? I’ve toyed with the idea of “hwylcum” being a dative plural from “hwylca”, a noun which could mean a “festering wound” in the context. But this interpretation leaves “hine” in line 12 without a word to refer to. Plus, Bosworth-Toller under “to-gangan” cites a shortened version of the phrase: “Ne tógongeþ gumena hwylcum eáþe ðæt ic ðǽr ymb sprice” translating is as “what I speak of does not easily pass away from any man”. As you can notice, “ænigum” is left out.

    And secondly, you take “sprice” as a form of “sprecan” — “to speak”, but it’s not exactly regular for a class 5 strong verb. Would you call such alternation of radical vowels common? I haven’t nearly the experience with Old English to judge, but Erika von Erhard-Siebold states that “sprice” as a form of “sprecan” is “untenable on linguistic grounds”. I find her proposed emendation “spirce” from “spircan” — “to sparkle” even more questionable, but what do you think?

  3. Craig Williamson’s notes in his edition of the riddles say that the clause at 11b is the subject of “togongeð” (he agrees with Mackie’s translation), and he notes that Erhardt-Siebold’s emendation to “spirce”/“sparkle” is problematic because OE “spircan” is only used with reference to fire/objects that are on fire. We *are* talking about flying poison here, though, and poison is often associated with fire, so I’m not sure his counter-argument is that strong. That being said, I’d go with Mackie, since over-zealous emending is no longer as common in OE scholarship as it was when Erhardt-Siebold was writing. It’s not too hard to imagine an OE scribe writing the 1st-person form “sprice” in analogy with the verb’s 2nd/3rd-person forms “spricest”/”spriceð” even if it’s technically incorrect. It’s certainly not a common form, but the same phrase (“þe ic her ymb sprice”) comes up at the end of Riddle 43, and “ic sprice” also appears in the Eadwine Psalter (Psalm 77.2). These are both clearly instances of speaking rather than sparkling, so there’s precedent!

    As for “hwylcum” and “ænigum,” it looks like most translators take this as doubling for the sake of metre and alliteration. “Gumena hwylcum” is a common phrase, and “gumena ænigum” appears elsewhere, so I reckon this is just a splicing of the two. When redundant doubling occurs in OE poetry (frequently!), translators usually aim for good modern English (or whichever language they’re translating into) and thus only include one of the two words in their translation.

    I hope that helps!

    1. Constantine

      Oh, it does help a lot! You’ve confirmed some of my suspicions and now I’m ready to proceed with my translation. Of course, there’s a massive crux of “full wer fæste”, which, in my humble opinion, still awaits a satisfactory solution. (I’ve just noticed that your translation does not follow the original cited above in this regard, since you use Holthausen’s “fullwered” instead of Tupper’s “fullwer”.) Also, this riddle doesn’t completely conform to the rules of versification set by Sievers. But apart from that I’m all set to go. Thanks again!

  4. I’m not even going to touch “fullwered”! We use Krapp and Dobbie’s edition of the Exeter Book for the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records as our base text for the OE, so we’ve gone with them on this one. I agree, though: a crux indeed!

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