Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

2\. Early Riddles

  • The enjoyment of puzzles or mysteries is as old as humanity itself.
  • First there is the ancient Riddle, that draws upon the imagination and play of
  • fancy. Readers will remember the riddle of the Sphinx, the monster of B?otia,
  • who propounded enigmas to the inhabitants and devoured them if they failed to
  • solve them. It was said that the Sphinx would destroy herself if this one of
  • her riddles were ever correctly answered: "What animal walks on four legs in
  • the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening?" It was explained by
  • Oedipus, who pointed out that man walked on his hands and feet in the morning
  • of life, at the noon of life he walked erect, and in the evening of his days
  • he supported his infirmities with a stick. When the Sphinx heard this
  • explanation, she dashed her head against a rock and immediately expired.
  • Puzzle solvers may be really useful on occasion.
  • Then there is the riddle propounded by Samson. It is perhaps the first prize
  • competition in this line on record, the prize being thirty sheets and thirty
  • changes of garments for a correct solution. The riddle was this: "Out of the
  • eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness." The answer
  • was, "A honeycomb in the body of a dead lion."
  • The classic "Riddle of the Sphinx" is mythological rather than historical, and
  • belongs to the Grecian deity, not the Egyptian Sphinx. Its date is
  • unauthenticated, but at least it wears the halo of antiquity, for Sophocles
  • wrote of it in the Fourth Century B.C.
  • Samson has been called the Father of Riddles, but merely because his famous
  • riddle was among the first to creep into print. Doubtless older and better
  • ones were buried in an oblivion from which they can never be disinterred.
  • "Out of the eater," propounded 1200 B.C., does not strike us as an exquisitely
  • clever conceit, but it embodies the true principle of the riddle and of the
  • riddle story. The asker already knew the solution, and that was why the
  • guessers strove to attain a re-solution.
  • In those days riddles were proposed at wedding feasts and other social
  • gatherings, a practice still obtaining to a degree.
  • The Queen of Sheba came to visit Solomon, "to prove him with hard questions."
  • And Solomon, in his turn was addicted to the giving of riddles to Hiram, King
  • of Tyre, who was fined for those he failed to guess.
  • Among the Egyptians, puzzling was a religious rite and the Sphinx was their
  • goddess. We are told that such was the esoteric religion of the Egyptians that
  • all the priests were riddlers and their religion one vast enigma.
  • Other recorded ancient riddles are of interest to the antiquarian, but enough
  • has been said here to prove the inherent love of Question and Answer in man's
  • mind from the earliest ages. From earlier than Samson to later than Sam Lloyd
  • the puzzle has held its own among mental activities.
  • And puzzle, in its broader sense includes all branches of mystery or detective
  • stories as well as mere riddles or conundrums.
  • The Century Dictionary defines puzzle as "A riddle, toy or contrivance which
  • is designed to try one's ingenuity."