Translating Eh

There’s lots of words for horse in Old English, hors, for one. But there’s wicg, hengest, friþhengest, onrid, radhors, mearh, sceam, steda, stott, blanca, gelew, all words that mean specific types of horses by the style, sex, physical appearance, color. This was a horse culture. Horses were a very big deal. Why? They made life easier. They were useful for pulling stuff, not for ploughing though, they would use oxen for that, but they would use horses to bring goods to market and to haul just about anything anywhere, including themselves: in carts and on horseback. During their prime, horses were particularly indispensable for sending messages long distances. Speedy communication has always been a desirable thing. Finally, literally, chop marks in their bones mean that sometimes horses were eaten, particularly after they reached five years of age. Even more finally, horses were sometimes sacrificed in funeral rites. Sometimes a whole horse would be included in a funeral pyre, particularly for women, or they would show up in human burials, usually for high status males, but mostly in these cases it was just the horse’s head, which makes perfect sense. Otherwise think of the size of the hole you’d have to dig.

The horse in this stanza was not for pulling a cart or for speeding a rider (was this a lighter weight female rider?) with news from place to place. Look in The Ride stanza for that one. The word for this horse is eh. What kind of horse is that? Let’s pick apart this riddle:

Clue 1: This horse is a prince’s delight for the eorlum. What delights a prince? You know what. It’s always the expensive stuff, the best of the best. The eorlas are not princes, but they can afford stuff that might delight one. These eorlas show up other times in the rune poem too: they are the nobles with sweet looking bows for making them look good on horses, they are waited on by thegns, they are the community leaders who take hope from what Odin is telling them, and they are everybody going to the grave in the end.

Clue 2:  Hofum. Dative plural. To or for hooves. Something about the hooves on this hors makes him feel wlanc. Proud. This one is going to rear up a lot and show us his hooves. It can kick with these, they are weapons of war. And look at that, iron shoes. Bold. That’ll hurt. That iron on its feet is nice for the horse too, protects its hooves from splitting and such, makes it possible to move faster and carry a heavy weight. And look at the eorls, they are covered in iron too, kitted out in all kinds of protective metal gear, must weigh a ton.

Clue 3: What’s ymbe (around) the horse? The hæleþ. Hæleþ means many things, it means hero when it is used to describe Ing, and it means both health and omens in the Need stanza. These are healthy people, heroes. Warriors.

Clue 4: They are also welege on wicgum or wealy on widges. Come again? Obsolete words, pardon me for using lingo that went out of fashion half a millennium ago, I should try to keep up. Wealy on widges = wealthy on horses.

Clue 5: What are these rich heroes doing on their horses? Wrixlaþ means barter, exchange, trade. Spraece is speach. The are talking, exchanging words. They do like to talk a big game.

Clue 6: Biþ. The start of most of the stanzas. And. There’s another part to this riddle, like in the Oak stanza. This horse is one thing to the eorlum, and a whole other thing for the unstyllum. Who are the the unstyllum? What is styll? Still. Styll also means quiet, calm, and secret. Unstyllum sometimes means something in motion, something not at rest, but most often it describes a feeling: disturbed, not at peace, troubled, disquieted. For the unstyllum this horse is always frofur, a consolation a comfort. This horse is a comfort for troubled people who are not at peace.

Answer: This is a war horse.

Some people are not at peace because they want to go someplace, restless, and yes a horse is a fantastic consolation for the traveler in need of a vehicle. But not this horse. A war horse is not for riding long distances: they are massive and uncomfortable and there are more suitable kinds of horses for a journey. If you are taking a war horse to battle, you ride something else to get there and bring your war horse alongside to keep it fresh for the fight. These unstyllum are troubled for a reason besides their own wanderlust. Somebody is coming to raid them. They feel uneasy about that. But they should look at all the wealthy people with the big horses and be comforted. These heroes know how to go to war. And the war horse is perfectly suited for combat. It is big and strong enough to hold a person wearing a lot of heavy armor, it doesn’t freak out in a battle situation, and it can kick and bite and charge at an enemy. Yes it does eat a ton more than other horses, but these rich guys have the extra fields for that. They can afford to turn whole acres over to feeding these brutes, but don’t think they have to farm for a living. They’ve got people for that. So the least they can do is protect them.