Riddles (Greek)

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Attic red-figure pelike, Oedipus solves the riddle of the Sphinx and frees Thebes, by the Achilleus painter, 450-440 BC, Altes Museum Berlin (13718779634)

The main Ancient Greek terms for riddle are αἴνιγμα (ainigma, plural αἰνίγματα ainigmata, deriving from αἰνίσσεσθαι 'to speak allusively or obscurely', itself from αἶνος 'apologue, fable')[1] and γρῖφος (grîphos, pl. γρῖφοι grîphoi). The two terms are often used interchangeably, though some ancient commentators tried to distinguish between them.[2]

Riddles appear to have been a popular component of ancient symposia, and have at various points in the history of the Greek-speaking world also been a significant literary form.

Ancient period[edit]

Sources[edit]

Most surviving ancient Greek riddles are in verse.[3] Though there may already have been anthologies of riddles written down in the Hellenistic period, these do not survive.[4] By far the largest extant collection of Antique Greek riddles is Book 14 of the Greek Anthology, as preserved in Codex Parisianus suppl. Graecus 384, which contains about 50 verse riddles.[5][6] They are in a group of about 150 puzzles: the first fifty or so are oracles; the second fifty or so are arithmetical problems; and the third fifty or so riddles in the traditional sense.[3] The date when this compilation was originally made is uncertain, and the dates of individual riddles even less clear: the oldest may go back to Archaic Greek, the youngest to Byzantine;[7] but the emergence of the compilation in its present form is generally associated with Constantine Cephalas, working in the tenth century.[8] Most concern everyday objects such as smoke, a fish, a mirror, wine, or pipes; the second largest group concern mythological figures, taxing the audience's knowledge of the details of their stories.[9] It is likely that among the forerunners of the Greek Anthology, the ninth-century anthology of Cephalus contained riddles.[10]

Allegedly, Athenaeus of Naucratis (fl. c. 200 AD) compiled a copious anthology of ancient Greek riddles citing some 1,250 authors under the title Epitome.[citation needed]

Ancient riddles and riddle-culture[edit]

According to Naerebout and Beerden,

In the competitive Greek societies, words were a primary locus of competition: there can be no doubt about the popularity of wordplay in the Greek world. Riddles shared in this popularity: sympotic riddles are particularly well attested--it seems there was no symposium without a fair number of riddles. The contest-riddle was a known form of riddling. So riddling pervaded Greek life on many levels and during many occasions.[11]

A key source for this culture is Athenaeus.[12]

The most famous Classical riddle is the Riddle of the Sphinx: Oedipus killed the Sphinx by grasping the answer to the riddle it posed.[13] This is just one example, however, of a considerable body of riddlic oracles in Ancient Greek literature: the gods' enigmatic answers to people asking questions of oracles appears to have been a significant literary trope, amongst other things a way to warn listeners of the perils and difficulties of seeking divine guidance.[14] Heraclitus's enigmatic style overlaps to some extent with riddles.[15] Although Plato reports that ancient Greek children did indeed engage in riddle play (Republic 479c), he also recognized the important function that riddles can play in showing what cannot literally be said about ultimate truths (Letters, book 2, 312d). Aristotle considered riddles important enough to include discussion of their use in his Rhetoric. He describes the close relationship between riddles and metaphors: "Good riddles do, in general, provide us with satisfactory metaphors; for metaphors imply riddles, and therefore a good riddle can furnish a good metaphor".[16] Aristotle is not known to have composed riddles, but 'among his pseudepigrapha there apparently was a collection of metaphorical, riddle-like phrases and expressions', now lost.[17]

Some of the riddles in the Greek Anthology may date back to the ancient period. The following, for example, is an example of the widespread year-riddle attributed to Cleobulus (fl. C6 BCE):

There is one father and twelve children; of these each
Has twice thirty daughters of different appearance:
Some are white to look at and the others black in turn;
They are immortal and yet they all fade away.[18]

(The answer is the year and its days and nights.)

Other examples from the Greek Anthology, as translated by E. S. Forster, include:

My mother I bring forth, she brings forth me:
I'm sometimes greater, sometimes less than she. (xiv.41)

I look at you whene'er you look at me;

You see but I see not; no sight have I;
I speak but have no voice; your voice is heard;

My lips can only open uselessly. (iv.56)

One wind there is: ten sailors row amain
Two vessels, and one steersman steers the twain. (xiv.14)

I am a black child sprung from a bright sire,

A wingless bird, fleeting to heaven from earth.
Each eye that meets me weeps, but not from grief,

And in thin air I vanish at my birth. (xiv.5)

A blackened lump am I-and fire begat me:

My mother was a tree on mountain steep.
I save from wounds the chariot of the sea,

If my sire melts me in a vessel deep. (xiv.61)

The answer are: night and day; a reflection in a mirror; double flute played by one person with ten fingers; smoke; pitch, used for caulking ships.[19]

The last of Greece's known literary non-Christian riddle-masters is the Emperor Julian.[20]

Byzantine period[edit]

Literary riddles were also composed in Byzantium, from perhaps the tenth century with the work of John Geometres, into the fifteenth century, along with a neo-Byzantine revival in around the early eighteenth century.[21] There was a particular peak around the long twelfth century: Christopher of Mytilene's στίχοι διάφοροι ('Various Verses') contain riddles, while John Mauropous, Michael Psellos, Basilios Megalomites, Theodore Prodromos, Eustathios Makrembolites, and Manuel Moschopoulos were all part of this movement.[22] In form,

Byzantine riddles differ from classical ones more in terms of metre than in terms of subject-matter. [...] The structure of the riddle is basically the same. Most often a riddle is built around a paradoxical or ironical antithesis. The subject nearly always speaks of itself in the first person (in a personified form). Its speech usually begins with an explanation of its origins, provenance, birth, etc., in terms like: 'my mother was such-and-such, my father is so-and-so', or 'without my mother's help my father has given birth to me' (a very popular formula). At the end of its speech the subject will occasionally address the reader and dare him to use his brains and find the correct answer.[23]

Byzantine riddles also include many whose solution involves subtracting a letter from a word. Thus a riddle attributed to Basilos Megalomites says 'A tiny animal, I am not edible; my name consists of three letters only; should you take away the first of my letters, I'd be a large one, and ready for eating'. The answer is both μυς ('mouse') and υς ('hog').[24]

Alongside folk-riddles and literary riddles, Byzantine riddles also include riddles whose form is not sophisticated, but whose content tests knowledge of the Bible. This corpus is attested from the early fifth century onwards.[20]

Modern Greek[edit]

A key collection of modern Greek riddles is N. G. Polites, 'Demode Ainigmata', in Neohellenika Analekta, I (Athens, 1870), 193-256.

Influence[edit]

It is likely that Greek riddles were among the influences on the seventh- to eighth-century Anglo-Latin poet Aldhelm.[5]

Editions and translations[edit]

  • Beckby, H. 1968. Anthologia Graeca, vol. 4, 2nd edn (Munich: Heimeran)
  • Buffière, F. 1970. Anthologie grecque, pt. 1: Anthologie Palatine, vol. 12: books 13-15 (Paris: Les Belles Lettres)
  • Cougny, E. 1890. Epigrammatum Anthologia Palatina cum Planudeis et appendice nova epigrammatum veterum ex libris et marmoribus ductorum, vol. 3 (Paris: Firmin-Didot), pp. 563–78 (a collection of riddles supplementary to the Palatine Anthology)
  • Schulz, W. 1909-12. Rätsel aus dem hellenischen Kulturkeise, Mythologische Bibliothek, 3, 5, vols 1-2 (Leipzig: Hinrichs)
  • Byzantina aenigmata: Vizantijske zagonetke, ed. and trans. [into Serbian] by C. Milovanovic (Belgrade, 1986) (the main edition of Byzantine riddles, covering 214 of about 300 known riddles)

Six riddles from the Palatine Anthology are available in English translation in Palatine Anthology, trans. by W. R. Paton, Loeb Library, 5 vols (Cambridge, MA, 1916–18).

Major studies[edit]

  • Luz, Christine, 2010, Technopaignia, Formspiele in der griechischen Dichtung, Mnemosyne Supplements, 324 (Leiden: Brill)
  • Ohlert, K., 1912, Rätsel und Rätselspiele der alten Griechen (Berlin: Mayer & Müller)

References[edit]

  1. ^ "enigma, n." OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2016. Web. 18 July 2016.
  2. ^ Christine Luz, 'What has it got in its Pocketses? Or, What Makes a Riddle a Riddle?', in The Muse at Play: Riddles and Wordplay in Greek and Latin Poetry, ed. by Jan Kwapzt, David Petrain, and Mikolaj Szymanski (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013), pp. 83-99 (pp 96-98).
  3. ^ a b Christine Luz, 'What has it got in its Pocketses? Or, What Makes a Riddle a Riddle?', in The Muse at Play: Riddles and Wordplay in Greek and Latin Poetry, ed. by Jan Kwapzt, David Petrain, and Mikolaj Szymanski (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013), pp. 83-99 (p. 84).
  4. ^ Jan Kwapisz, 'Were there Hellenistic Riddle Books?', in The Muse at Play: Riddles and Wordplay in Greek and Latin Poetry, ed. by Jan Kwapzt, David Petrain, and Mikolaj Szymanski (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013), pp. 148-67.
  5. ^ a b Milovanović-Barham, Čelica (1993). "Aldhelm's Enigmata and Byzantine Riddles". Anglo-Saxon England. 22: 51–64 [p. 53 n. 10]. doi:10.1017/S0263675100004300..
  6. ^ E. S. Forster, 'Riddles and Problems from the Greek Anthology', Greece & Rome, 14 (1945), 42-47.
  7. ^ Christine Luz, 'What has it got in its Pocketses? Or, What Makes a Riddle a Riddle?', in The Muse at Play: Riddles and Wordplay in Greek and Latin Poetry, ed. by Jan Kwapzt, David Petrain, and Mikolaj Szymanski (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013), pp. 83-99 (p. 83, n. 1).
  8. ^ Jan Kwapisz, 'Were there Hellenistic Riddle Books?', in The Muse at Play: Riddles and Wordplay in Greek and Latin Poetry, ed. by Jan Kwapzt, David Petrain, and Mikolaj Szymanski (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013), pp. 148-67 (p. 148).
  9. ^ Christine Luz, 'What has it got in its Pocketses? Or, What Makes a Riddle a Riddle?', in The Muse at Play: Riddles and Wordplay in Greek and Latin Poetry, ed. by Jan Kwapzt, David Petrain, and Mikolaj Szymanski (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013), pp. 83-99 (pp. 91-93).
  10. ^ A. Cameron, A., The Greek Anthology from Meleager to Planudes (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993) 207-16.
  11. ^ Frederick G. Naerebout and Kim Beerden, ' "Gods Cannot Tell Lies": Riddling and Ancient Greek Divination', in The Muse at Play: Riddles and Wordplay in Greek and Latin Poetry, ed. by Jan Kwapzt, David Petrain, and Mikolaj Szymanski (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013), pp. 121-47 (p. 140).
  12. ^ Erin Sebo, 'In scirpo nodum: Symphosius’ Reworking of the Riddle Form', in The Muse at Play: Riddles and Wordplay in Greek and Latin Poetry, ed. by Jan Kwapzt, David Petrain, and Mikolaj Szymanski, Beiträge zur Altertumskunde (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013), pp. 184-95 (p. 184).
  13. ^ Oedipus Tyrannus, lines 380 onward.
  14. ^ Frederick G. Naerebout and Kim Beerden, ' "Gods Cannot Tell Lies": Riddling and Ancient Greek Divination', in The Muse at Play: Riddles and Wordplay in Greek and Latin Poetry, ed. by Jan Kwapzt, David Petrain, and Mikolaj Szymanski (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013), pp. 121-47.
  15. ^ Lisa Maurizio, ‘Technopaegnia in Heraclitus and the Delphic Oracles: Shared Compositional Techniques', in The Muse at Play: Riddles and Wordplay in Greek and Latin Poetry, ed. by Jan Kwapzt, David Petrain, and Mikolaj Szymanski (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013), pp. 100-120.
  16. ^ 1405b4-6; cf. 1458a; cf. Christine Luz, 'What has it got in its Pocketses? Or, What Makes a Riddle a Riddle?', in The Muse at Play: Riddles and Wordplay in Greek and Latin Poetry, ed. by Jan Kwapzt, David Petrain, and Mikolaj Szymanski (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013), pp. 83-99 (p. 97).
  17. ^ Milovanović-Barham, Čelica (1993). "Aldhelm's Enigmata and Byzantine Riddles". Anglo-Saxon England. 22: 51–64 [53]. doi:10.1017/S0263675100004300.
  18. ^ Quoted from Christine Luz, 'What has it got in its Pocketses? Or, What Makes a Riddle a Riddle?', in The Muse at Play: Riddles and Wordplay in Greek and Latin Poetry, ed. by Jan Kwapzt, David Petrain, and Mikolaj Szymanski (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013), pp. 83-99 (p. 86).
  19. ^ E. S. Forster, 'Riddles and Problems from the Greek Anthology', Greece & Rome, 14 (1945), 42-47 (pp. 43-44).
  20. ^ a b Čelica. "Enigmata and Byzantine Riddles". Anglo-Saxon England. 22: 51–64 [54]. doi:10.1017/S0263675100004300.
  21. ^ Milovanović-Barham, Čelica (1993). "Aldhelm's Enigmata and Byzantine Riddles". Anglo-Saxon England. 22: 51–64 [pp. 53–54, esp. n. 11]. doi:10.1017/S0263675100004300.
  22. ^ Archer Taylor, The Literary Riddle before 1600 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1948), pp. 42-52.
  23. ^ Milovanović-Barham, Čelica (1993). "Aldhelm's Enigmata and Byzantine Riddles". Anglo-Saxon England. 22: 51–64 [55]. doi:10.1017/S0263675100004300.
  24. ^ Milovanović-Barham, Čelica (1993). "Aldhelm's Enigmata and Byzantine Riddles". Anglo-Saxon England. 22: 51–64 [57]. doi:10.1017/S0263675100004300.