Riddle 76

Listen to the Old English version

Ic eom æþelinges "I am the prince's"

æht ond willa; "property (possession) and joy (will, desire, pleasure)." Though the concepts are certainly different in Old English, "willa" can mean a valuable object pleasurably possessed," and "æht" may suggest the proud pleasure that comes with property. The ideas of pleasure and property are thus linked both in the riddle and in Anglo-Saxon culture.

ic eom æþelinges This is a repetition of line 1a and could be a scribal miscopying, but since the b-lines are different, it is probably an instance of repitition and variaton which is common in OE poetry.

eaxlgestealla, "shoulder-companion." This is a poetical word which usually is a metaphor for "comrade" or "counsellor"--someone who rides or stands near the shoulder. As the horn is portrayed as a battle-companion, the metaphoric usage fits here. But as this comrade turns out to be literally a horn (which could be carried at the shoulder), it is more true that we at first imagine.

fyrdrinces gefara, "warrior's comrade (travelling companion)." OE "fyrd-rinc" means literally "army-man."

frean minum leof, "dear to my lord." OE "leof" is nominative singular masculine; the other words are dative singular.

cyninges geselda. "a king's comrade (retainer)"

Cwen mec hwilum "A queen me sometimes..."

hwitloccedu "fair (bright, white) haired." Even simple color terms are notoriously difficult to translate from one language and culture to another. See William Mead, "Color in Old English Poetry," PMLA xv (1898): 169-206.

hond on legeð, "lays on (me) a hand"

eorles dohtor, "a man's (nobleman's, warrior's) daughter." Queen's and other high-ranking women were often called upon to serve mead at the dinner table to guests and members of the lord's troop. This was part of the woman's duty as "friðowebbe" or "peace-weaver." There are numerous instances of this in Beowulf.

þeah hio æðelu sy. "though she is (may be, should be) noble." The subjunctive may hide all kinds of playful ambiguities here. If we know that the creature is a horn, the woman should lay hands on it at dinner because she is noble. The horn, however, is masquerading as a warrior or prince's shoulder-companion; as such it would be ignoble (possibly even lascivious) for the noble woman to lay hands on him! Thus the tongue-in-cheek use of "þeah."

Hæbbe me on bosme "I have in my bosom (lap, interior)," literally, "I have in the bosom of (with respect to) myself." The dative is often used instead of the genetive in this respect.

þæt on bearwe geweox. "what grew in the woods." These lines constitute a riddle-within-the riddle: "I have in my bosom what grew (fluorished) in the wood." This is mead, made from honey, which in turn came from the necter of flowers collected by bees.

Hwilum ic on wloncum "Sometimes I on a proud..." OE "hwilum" often marks a shift in the riddles. Here the creature turns from its use as a drinking vessel to its use as a battle-horn. Riddlic creatures are always changing shapes and "hwilum" often marks this metamorphosis.

wicge ride "horse ride." With the foregoing half-line, "Sometimes I on a proud horse ride..."

herges on ende-- "at the end of the troop," literally, "of the troop at the end."

heard is min tunge. "hard is my tongue" or "harsh (cruel) is my speech." The horn would have literally a hard tongue and also call forth in battle with a harsh speech or song." Notice how we still use both "hard" and "tongue" in the same ways today. "The rock was hard." "She had a hard fate." "He had a long tongue." "They spoke in a strange tongue."

Oft ic woðboran "Often I to the singer (song- or sound-bearer)..." The poet or scop as "bearer of song" is a common poetic convention. The riddlic language here has passed into the realm of the conventional.

wordleana sum "a certain song-gift (or reward for words)." Notice that the horn can musically carry a kind of "song-gift" and as drinking vessel can also hold reward (mead) as a gift to the poet for his "gift of words."

agyfe æfter giedde. "give (the scop) after (his) song." Gift-giving is very important in Anglo-Saxon society as an indication of trust, loyalty, and reward. It holds the society together. All kings are ideally good gold- or gift-givers. Stingy kings were often seen as monstrous, even dragonic because dragons (like the one inBeowulf ) were thought to hoard gold.

Good is min wise "Good is my nature (manner, custom)

ond ic sylfa salo. "and I myself (am) dark (dusky)." See the article on OE color words noted above.

Saga hwæt ic hatte. "Say what I am called." This is a common ending in a number of the first-person OE riddles. It throws a challenge down to the solver and emphasizes the nature of the game. The relation of "Say what I am called" to "Say what I am" (another riddlic ending) may be part of a larger metaphysical game in the riddles. What something is called may be finally a "cover" or "disguise" or verbal simplification for what it deeply or intrinsically is. Is all meaning caught or articulated by language? Does some of it escape in the way that meaning escapes as we move from the OE original to the translation in these exercises? The creature's nature and history is finally defined in poetic and narrative terms by its use and history in this riddle and elsewhere. Once you have guessed "horn," you may have solved the riddle, but have you yet understood the nature of the Anglo-Saxon horn?


Click a phrase in the poem to view a translation/explaination of each phrase.

Use the links in the menu above to view the full translation, read the commentary or to return to these instructions.