Friday, 7 February 2014

Enigmata Saxonica...

These riddles, composed by J.R.R Tolkien, were first published in A Northern Venture in 1923. They were included in the second annotated edition of The Hobbit, but were removed from subsequent editions (for reasons unknown). Very clever, I think.

Meolchwítum sind marmanstáne
wágas míne wundrum frætwede;
is hrægl ahongen hnesce on-innan,
seolce gelícost; siððan on-middan
is wylla geworht, wæter glæs-hluttor;
Ðær glisnaþ gold-hladen on gytestreamum
æppla scienost. Infær nænig
nah min burg-fæsten; berstaþ hwæðre
þriste þeofas on þrýþærn min,
ond þæt sinc reafiaþ - saga hwæt ic hatte!

In marble of milk-white are
my walls wonderfully wrought;
a delicate garment is hung within,
just like silk; since in the middle
desire is filled, water glass-clear;
There glistens gold-laden in still streams
the shiniest apple. No one has entered
my fortress fast; nevertheless will burst
thirsty thieves in my splendid hall,
if that treasure reave - say what I'm called!

Hæfþ Hild Hunecan hwíte tunecan,
ond swa réad rose hæfþ rudige nose;
þe leng heo bídeþ þe læss heo wrídeþ;
hire teáras háte on tán bláte
biernende dreósaþ ond bearhtme freósaþ;
hwæt heo sie saga, searoþancla maga.

Hild Hunecan hath a white tunic,
and hath a ruddy nose as red as a rose;
the longer she bideth, the lesser she riseth;
her tears glowing hot on a twig lividly
burning fall dead and in brightness freeze;
say what she is, man of wisdom.

Old English riddles are largely anthropomorphic. Many found in the Exeter Book describe common objects in the day-to-day life of the Saxons, revealing an earthy similarity between rustic implements or weapons and the people or animals who use them. The solutions to the riddles are often surprising; in fact, some of them are just as bawdy as any modern innuendo, though most are serious in tone and are rather inciteful. They are, as a rule, told in the first person, and in some, the subject describes itself to the reader, even if it is inanimate. Can anyone guess the answers?


  1. An egg, the gold-laden apple is the yolk. The second answer is a candle, the tears are the dripping wax and the ruddy red nose is the flame.

    I can't think of anything else that would fit these.

    1. Nicely done. Also the walls wonderfully wrought will burst. And, of course, the longer she bideth, the lesser she riseth. Quite simple, really.

    2. Yes, though the literary register might put off certain people. I can't gauge it properly, as I'm not a native speaker.

  2. I recently read this ridiculous pile of bilge spewed by some American imbecile who considers himself a "Traditional" catholic priest, and instantly wished to draw it to your attention as a man of considerable insight into Tolkien's works:

    1. Forgive the delay in replying, Dr Mórán; I was out all day yesterday.

      Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I have begun the composition of a critique myself now. I agree entirely with your sentiments. My first thoughts were: only an American!