riddle, puzzling question, specifically one that consists of a fanciful description or definition of something to be guessed. A famous riddle was asked by the Sphinx: "What goes on four legs in the morning, on two at noon, on three at night?" Oedipus guessed the answer correctly: "Man—in infancy he crawls, at his prime he walks, in age he leans on a staff." Samson's riddle is also famous: "Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness" (Judges 14.14). It refers to a lion he had just killed, on which he saw bees and honey; he ate some of the lion and the honey. Punning riddles are common, as: "When is a door not a door?" The answer is, "When it's ajar." There is comparatively little riddle literature, but riddles do figure prominently in Old English. The Exeter Book contains many English verse riddles of uncertain date; they vary considerably in matter. There are also many riddles in Latin hexameters dating from Anglo-Saxon England.

See A. Taylor, English Riddles from Oral Tradition (1951); H. H. Abbott, ed., The Riddles of the Exeter Book (1968).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Riddles: Selected full-text books and articles

Untying the Knot: On Riddles and Other Enigmatic Modes By Galit Hasan-Rokem; David Shulman Oxford University Press, 1996
Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: An Introduction By Elliott Oring Utah State University Press, 1986
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 8 "Riddles and Proverbs"
Folklore in America: Tales, Songs, Superstitions, Proverbs, Riddles, Games, Folk Drama and Folk Festivals By Tristram P. Coffin; Hennig Cohen Anchor Books, 1970
Librarian’s tip: "Riddles" begins on p. 153
Our Living Traditions: An Introduction to American Folklore By Tristram Potter Coffin Basic Books, 1968
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 18 "Riddles: 'Do-It- Yourself Oracles'"
A Feast of Creatures: Anglo-Saxon Riddle-Songs By Craig Williamson; Craig Williamson University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011
Folklore from the Working Folk of America By Hennig Cohen; Tristram Potter Coffin Anchor Press, 1973
Librarian’s tip: "Riddles" begins on p. 144
A Companion to Old and Middle English Literature By Laura Cooner Lambdin; Robert Thomas Lambdin Greenwood Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 17 "Riddles"
Anglo-Saxon Riddles of the Exeter Book By Paull F. Baum Duke University Press, 1963
Toward New Perspectives in Folklore By Américo Paredes; Richard Bauman University of Texas Press, 1972
Librarian’s tip: "Theory and Practice of Riddle Analysis" begins on p. 51
An Annotated Collection of Mongolian Riddles By Archer Taylor American Philological Association, 1954
The Bachelor-Warrior of Exeter Book Riddle 20 By Tanke, John Philological Quarterly, Vol. 79, No. 4, Fall 2000
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