What Riddles Used to Be

They used to be statements, not questions.

Know Humpty Dumpty? It’s a riddle. Of course you see it in kids’ nursery rhyme books illustrated with an anthropomorphized egg, so the riddleness isn’t obvious. Here’s a better example of how riddles used to be:

From The Big Book of Nursery Rhymes

Can you figure out who these legged things are and what’s going on?

Two more examples: You might know the story in the book of Judges about Samson killing a lion, and later finding a bees nest inside the carcass. To quote the riddle in context:

And Samson said unto them, I will now put forth a riddle unto you: if ye can certainly declare it me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty sheets and thirty change of garments: But if ye cannot declare it me, then shall ye give me thirty sheets and thirty change of garments. And they said unto him, Put forth thy riddle, that we may hear it.

And he said unto them, Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.

And they could not in three days expound the riddle. And it came to pass on the seventh day, that they said unto Samson’s wife, Entice thy husband, that he may declare unto us the riddle, lest we burn thee and thy father’s house with fire: have ye called us to take that we have? is it not so? And Samson’s wife wept before him, and said, Thou dost but hate me, and lovest me not: thou hast put forth a riddle unto the children of my people, and hast not told it me. And he said unto her, Behold, I have not told it my father nor my mother, and shall I tell it thee? And she wept before him the seven days, while their feast lasted: and it came to pass on the seventh day, that he told her, because she lay sore upon him: and she told the riddle to the children of her people. And the men of the city said unto him on the seventh day before the sun went down, What is sweeter than honey? And what is stronger than a lion? and he said unto them, If ye had not plowed with my heifer, ye had not found out my riddle.

Okay, this one is less serious. My dad liked to quote it to me when I was a kid:

As I looked over Castor’s wall,
I heard a man let out a squall
His beard was meat, his mouth was horn;
Such a man was never born.

Maybe I’ll tell the answer if someone asks.