Old English 'Hring' in Riddles 48 and 59

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Two of the Old English riddles in the Exeter Book (numbers 48 and 59), describe the object to be idendfied as a hring.(1) Various solutions have been put forward for these riddles, most of them suggesting that the hring is some soft of sacramental vessel. This note proposes an alternative solution. Riddle 48 reads:(2)

Ic gefraegn for haelepum hring endean,

torhtne butan tungan, tila Peah he hlude

stefne ne cirmde, strongum wordum.

Sinc for secgum swigende cwaeo:

"Gehaele mec, helpend gaesta." 5

Ryne ongietan readan goldes

guman galdorcwide, gleawe be pencan

hyra haelo to gode, swa se hring gecwaeo.

I heard of a hring speaking before men, bright without a tongue, (speaking) well

although it did not call out with a loud voice in brave words. The treasure, being

silent, spoke before men: |Save me, helper of souls'. Let men understand the

mystery, the magic utterance, of the red gold, wisely entrust their salvation to

God, as the hring said. Riddle 59 reads:

Ic seah in heaue hring gyldenne

men sceawian, modum gleawe,

ferppum frode. Fripospede baed

god nergende gaeste sinum

se pe wende wripan; word aefter cwaeo 5

hring on hyrede, haelend nemde

tillfremmendra. Him torhte in gemynd

his dryhtnes naman dumba brohte

ond in eagna gesiho, gif paes aepelan

goldes tacen ongietan cupe 10

ond dryhtnes dolg, don swa paes beages

benne cwaedon. Ne maeg paere bene

aeniges monnes ungefullodre

godes ealdorburg gaest gesecan,

rodera ceastre. Raede, se pe wille, 15

hu oaes wraetlican wunda cwaeden

hringes to haelepum, pa he in healle waes

wylted ond wended wloncra folmum.

I saw in the hall men gazing on a golden hring, prudent in their minds, wise in

their hearts. He who turned the band prayed to God the Saviour for abundant

peace for his soul; afterwards, in company, the hring spoke words, named the

saviour of those doing good deeds. It showed to him in his mind the name of

its lord; the dumb one brought it forth into the sight of his eyes if he knew how

to understand the sign (made) of noble gold and (understand) die wounds of the

Lord, (knew how) to do as the wounds of the ring said. The prayer of any man

being unfulfilled, his soul cannot attain the metropolis of God, the city of the

heavens. Let him who desires explain how the wounds of the wondrous hring may

have spoken to men, when it was twisted and turned by the hands of proud ones

in the hall.

In both riddles the object being described is called a hring. In Riddle 48, the word hring is used in the first and last line and the same object is described as sinc |treasure' (4). We are told that the hring is bright (z) and is of red gold (6). The hring has no tongue (2) and is silent (4), yet it speaks. What it |says' has therefore been taken to be a text inscribed on it. This text is given as |gehaele mec helpend gaesta' (|save me, helper of souls', 5).

In Riddle 5 9, the word hring is used three times, at the beginning, the middle and the end (1, 6, 17). The same object is described as wripa |band' (5) and as beag |ring' (11), a word which is often used in the context of treasure. The hring is dumb (8) and yet it speaks (5). What it |says' is to be understood through its wounds (benne 12, wunda i 6) which have been taken to be the incised letters of its text. The wounds of the hring are paralleled by |dryhtnes dolg' (|the wounds of God', 11), underlining the religious significance of the inscribed text. …