Riddle 35 (or 33) and the Leiden Riddle

It’s BOGOFF day at The Riddle Ages! For the low, low (free) price of one riddle, you get two related poems! First, take a look at Riddle 35 from the (West Saxon) Exeter Book. Then scroll down to see the Leiden Riddle, a very similar version in another Old English dialect (Northumbrian). Notice any interesting differences?

 

Riddle 35

Mec se wæta wong,    wundrum freorig,
of his innaþe     ærist cende.
Ne wat ic mec beworhtne    wulle flysum,
hærum þurh heahcræft,     hygeþoncum min.
5     Wundene me ne beoð wefle,   ne ic wearp hafu,
ne þurh þreata geþræcu    þræd me ne hlimmeð,
ne æt me hrutende     hrisil scriþeð,
ne mec ohwonan   sceal am cnyssan.
Wyrmas mec ne awæfan   wyrda cræftum,
10     þa þe geolo godwebb   geatwum frætwað.
Wile mec mon hwæþre seþeah   wide ofer eorþan
hatan for hæleþum   hyhtlic gewæde.
Saga soðcwidum,   searoþoncum gleaw,
wordum wisfæst,   hwæt þis gewæde sy.

 

The wet plain, wonderfully cold,
first bore me out of its womb.
I know in my mind I was not wrought
of wool from fleeces, with hair through great skill.
5    Wefts are not wound for me, nor do I have a warp,
nor does thread resound in me through the force of blows,
nor does a whirring shuttle glide upon me,
nor must the beater strike me anywhere.
The worms who adorn fine yellow cloth with trappings
10     did not weave me together with the skills of the fates.
Nevertheless widely over the earth
someone calls me a garment joyful for warriors.
Say with true words, clever with skillful-thoughts,
with very wise words, what this garment might be.

 

The Leiden Riddle

Mec se ueta uong,     uundrum freorig,
ob his innaðae     aerest cæn[.]æ.
Ni uaat ic mec biuorthæ   uullan fliusum,
herum ðerh hehcraeft,     hygiðonc[…..].
Uundnae me ni biað ueflæ,   ni ic uarp hafæ,
5     ni ðerih ðreatun giðraec    ðret me hlimmith,
ne me hrutendu     hrisil scelfath,
ni mec ouana     aam sceal cnyssa.
Uyrmas mec ni auefun    uyrdi craeftum,
ða ði geolu godueb     geatum fraetuath.
10     Uil mec huethrae suae ðeh    uidæ ofaer eorðu
hatan mith heliðum   hyhtlic giuæde;
ni anoegun ic me aerigfaerae   egsan brogum,
ðeh ði n[…]n siæ     niudlicae ob cocrum.

[Old English text from Smith, A. H., ed., Three Northumbrian Poems. London: Methuen, 1933.]

 

The wet plain, wonderfully cold,
first bore me out of its womb.
I know in my mind I was not wrought
of wool from fleeces, with hair through great skill.
5     Wefts are not wound for me, nor do I have a warp,
nor does thread resound in me through the force of blows,
nor does a whirring shuttle shake upon me,
nor must the beater strike me anywhere.
The worms who adorn fine yellow cloth with trappings
10     did not weave me together with the skills of fate.
Nevertheless widely over the earth
one calls me a garment joyful for warriors;
nor do I fear terror from the peril of a flight of arrows,
though they be eagerly pulled from the quiver.

 

Highlight the box with your cursor to reveal the solution: Mail-coat (i.e. armour)

2 thoughts on “Riddle 35 (or 33) and the Leiden Riddle

  1. Linden Currie

    There are many interesting differences including the complete divergence in the last two lines but has anyone noticed that wherever (with one exception*) the Exeter Book scribe uses the character ‘thorn’, the Leiden riddle uses ‘eth’ and similarly Exeter Book ‘eth’ = Leiden riddle ‘th’. That ‘consistency of difference’ is quite fascinating.
    (*The exception is ‘hwæþre/huethræ’ in line 11)

  2. Hi Linden,

    Sorry for taking my time in replying — I’ve been trying to track down a reference to give you. I haven’t got a publication to recommend beyond Richard Dance’s chapter on ‘The Old English Language and the Alliterative Tradition’, in Corinne Saunders’ Companion to Medieval Poetry (he briefly alludes to these poems’ spelling differences on pp. 40-1).

    ‘Th’ is a Northumbrian-ism, and the preference for ð over þ may speak to date, since the Leiden Riddle is typically dated to the eighth century, while the Exeter Book scribe tends to prefer later spelling conventions. A very clever palaeographer friend (Chris Voth, U of Göttingen) assures me that most earlier scribes prefer ð to þ. Since the Exeter Book scribe does use ð fairly regularly, it’s worth noting if/when he stops using it (particularly since we know riddles in general could have a wide circulation and that this particular one did). So, letter forms have the potential to indicate something about the exemplar, especially if there’s a consistent preference with no exceptions. Although, in addition to the exception you noted, there’s also an ð in line 5’s biað (Leiden) and beoð (Rid35).

    That’s quite enough palaeography for me at this time of night!
    Megan

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