The History of riddles


The history of Riddles is not limited to any single place or culture but riddles are something that is commonly solved throughout the world. There are riddles from China, Mongolia, Russia, Mongolia, Hungary, Persia, India, Africa, Philippines and Scandinavia. The people who successfully solved riddles were a much admired lot in ancient Greece and Egypt. In certain cultures riddles formed an important means to carry forward folklore from one generation to another.


What is the history of riddles?

The history of  riddles and puzzles can be traced back to thousands of years as found by archeologists. The walls of the ancient temples in Japan, China and Tibet have intriguing puzzles etched on them. Many of them reveal mathematical formulas while some of them were mainly used for games and fun and may have even led to the modern version of board games such as chess.


What are riddles?

Riddles mostly entail a question that needs to be solved using intelligence and reasoning apart from mere guessing. Riddles use several strategies that give them a certain twist which is not all that easy to guess. Common techniques would be the use of double meanings or the use of a pun to make the riddle difficult. Riddles were widely used in “Old English” poetry to convey two or more shades of meanings. Aristotle talked about the close association of riddles with metaphors.


The famous riddles

The following is believed to be Theodore Roosevelt’s favorite riddle: “I talk, but I do not speak my mind. I hear words, but I do not listen to thoughts. When I wake, all see me. When I sleep, all hear me. Many heads are on my shoulders. Many hands are at my feet. The strongest steel cannot break my visage. But the softest whisper can destroy me”.The answer to the above riddle is “an actor”.

A popular riddle of Greek Mythology refers to the Sphinx who sat outside Thebes asking passers-by the riddle-“What goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening?” The one who failed to answer would meet with death. When Oedipus solves the riddle, the sphinx destroys itself. The Ancient Greeks used the riddles to mark the intelligence and creativity of a person.

One of the instances used in the Bible refers to riddle by Samson which he used to overpower the Philistines. Samson’s riddle was - “Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet.” Well, the mystery of the riddle was that Samson could lay hands on sweet honey that had for its hive, the carcass of a man-eater lion.

Riddles were used in an interesting and entertaining way since ancient times. The Middle Ages show instances where street entertainers often made a living by entertaining travelers with interesting riddles. In Fiji riddle tournaments were a common practice with the champions treated to a grand feast to honor their intelligence.

In recent times riddles are used more as a form of competitive games and it is no longer associated with life and death as prevalent in ancient Greece. Today many of us love to spend our leisure time solving riddles, puzzles and other such fun games.