Riddle Me This!

64 Arts

30: Riddles

Utilizing formulas in which the sound and meaning of the words are uncertain.

Back a couple of arts ago we did Conundrums, which we defined as short riddles with a pun-based answer. So what’s a riddle? A riddle is a cryptic set of clues, sometimes in rhyme, sometimes not, that describe the answer in a multitude of ways. There’s a lot of metaphor and simile in a riddle, and a lot of thinking outside the box.

I’m not terribly good at riddles.

That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them, I do, just when someone else is solving them 🙂

I was reading Emma not too long ago and they spend an awful lot of pages on Harriet’s project of constructing a book of riddles. Apparently taking on such projects was a bit of a thing in the Regency era, something nice young ladies did to keep themselves occupied and to expand their mind.

Of course there was ample opportunity for schemes (Austen liked that word for any sort of plan, good or ill-intended, which leads me to believe it’s only in modern times that scheming has become purely negative) in a pursuit like this, since to collect riddles to expand on the ones everyone already knew, you had to ask people to contribute to them. The girls naturally got one from Mr Elton, the local clergyman, and, of course, it was taken the wrong way.

Scratch that, it was taken the right way, but for the wrong girl.

The riddle in question?

My first displays the wealth and pomp of kings,
Lords of the earth! their luxury and ease.
Another view of man, my second brings,
Behold him there, the monarch of the seas!
But ah! united, what reverse we have!
Man’s boasted power and freedom, all are flown;
Lord of the earth and sea, he bends a slave,
And woman, lovely woman, reigns alone.
Thy ready wit the word will soon supply,
May its approval beam in that soft eye!

The answer, a compound word of court (the spectacle of kings) plus ship (monarch of the seas), hinted towards marriage. Too bad the girl he was wooing wasn’t looking for affection.

Another famous riddle is the Riddle of the Sphinx, which the legendary hero Oedipus solved to remove the scourge from Thebes (Sphinxes were not limited to Egypt).

What goes on four legs in the morning,
on two legs at noon,
and on three legs in the evening?

The answer to the much simpler riddle is “a man”. In the morning (the early part of one’s life) he crawls, in the middle he walks upright, and in the later years (golden twilight anyone?) he’s granted a third “leg” via a cane or walking stick.

Of course, today’s title was inspired by the Riddler from the Batman television show. Maybe it was the context of the riddles (or maybe the show just led you down the right path), but those seemed a lot more obvious than the classical riddles mentioned above.

Maybe I should just stick to kids riddles. You know this one, right?

What’s black and white and red all over?

Leave your answer in the comments!