Guide to Literary Terms

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What is a riddle?

A riddle is a puzzling statement or question that can be solved through metaphorical thinking.


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Last Updated May 26, 2023.

A riddle presents a question or problem requiring clever thinking or playful use of language. Riddles often use metaphorical or cryptic language to challenge the reader or listener. They can be found in various cultures and have been used for entertainment and intellectual stimulation for centuries.

Riddle comes from the Old English word rĒ£delse, meaning "opinion, riddle, imagination, discussion, counsel."

One of the oldest known riddles is the Riddle of the Sphinx. When confronted by the Sphinx, a mythical creature with the head of a human and the body of a lion, Oedipus is asked the following riddle:

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

Oedipus successfully solves the riddle, answering:

"Man. He crawls on all fours as a baby, walks on two legs as an adult, and uses a cane in old age."

By correctly answering the riddle, Oedipus defeats the Sphinx and saves the city of Thebes.

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