An Artificer's History of Riddles

There is a house. The blind enter it and then come out seeing. What is that house?

(The oldest riddle on record I was able to find, dating from around the 18th century BC, in Ancient Sumer)



The ancient and almost forgotten wisdom of the artificers teaches us that the first riddles date back to the oldest antiquity, so long ago that the things of the world weren’t yet entirely separated, and humans and things could still find ways to hear one another. Riddles, it is said, were the attempts of the things of the world to communicate with humans, tell them what and why they are, so that the world can be in harmony.


Then why the secrecy, why the equivocation and veiled meanings, you may ask. As some believe, it may be simply that this is the best we could do translating the ancient meanings into our modern tongues. Others, such as Martinus of the Clearing, believe that the things had the most honourable intentions, but by the time the dialogue ensued, the things and humans were already too far apart to be able to understand each other clearly.


This theory is validated by our own attempt to communicate and explain ourselves to the world around us, an attempt which, the more it grew in purpose, the more it turned into a fuzzy flow of endless ideas with precarious shapes and elusive boundaries–that which we today know as philosophy. And as the philosopher would say, in order to understand something, you first need to not understand it.


It matters not. For better or worse, time has passed, the world we live in has become fragmented enough, some say to the point of disintegration. And in this world of ours, drowned as it is by the roiling swarms of identical, machine-made objects, which come and go in endless waves faster than the stars blink in the sky, the most philosophers can do is warn us that we have forgotten being.


I have gathered the best of the few riddles that have managed to reach down in a booklet called 99 Riddles. Some you may have heard before, others, hopefully, are new. Some are easy, and some are hard–others are downright mischievous, their only apparent aim being to trick you. These are probably the newest of all, and made by humans, themselves trying to mimic the voice of things with their impish tongues.


Dig down into the words, let yourself flown at leisure through the meanders of meaning. Savour the poetry infused like a fine spice into each of them–until finally, you reach the grain of truth, or at least of wisdom, each of them carries deep inside.

As always, the poet comes to the aid of the philosopher:


Maybe we humans are here only to say: house, bridge, well, gate, jug, olive tree, window–at most, pillar, tower… but to say them, remember, oh, to say them in a way that the things themselves never dreamed of existing so intensely.

(The answer to the riddle at the beginning is school)