Bobbie Wayne's Blog
Riddles Wisely Expounded
I have read that our lifespan has been decreasing. The average lifespan for an American is about seventy-six years. Compared to human lifespans in the Bronze Age, (twenty-six years), I guess we shouldn't complain. Despite this, many people are out-living their brains, and dementia has become a colossal problem. To ward it off, a whole industry of games to keep usalert has arisen. Sudoku, Wordle, crosswords, word searches and coloring books are administered the way aspirin used to be taken to prevent heart attacks.
The idea is to keep the brain stimulated through tasks that require cognitive skills, logical reasoning and communication. "What," I wondered, "did people use in other eras to keep their brains busy?" One of the answers is, riddles. Used a a teaching tool as well as entertainment, riddles were once a respected literary form. They likely existed in most cultures. The earliest know riddle was Sumerian and is 4,000 years old. Let's see if you can guess it:
"There is a house. One enters it blind and comes out seeing."
I will post the answer in Monday's blog. Sophocles, the Bible and other early sources include riddles, or enigmas. A collection of riddles called the Aenigmata, written after AD 368 by the supposedly North African poet, Symphosis was celebrated in 10th c. England. The Latin scholar and Bishop of Wessex produced a collection called The Exeter Book, which, in turn, inspired other riddle collections. There was a rebirth of riddles during the Renaissance. Shakespeare mentions a riddle book in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Jane Austin's novels feature riddles. The Victorians loved them.
So, why were riddles relegated to my Mother Goose book and regarded as antiquated word games for kids? Perhaps other things filled that slot as we entered the 20th c. Entertainment media comes to mind. The radio, movies, television, the computer all require time which used to be spent in what I like to think of as freestyle thinking. Earlier generations did not have a soundtrack of constant noise and music pursuing them. Evenings were spent in the company of one's family or friends telling stories, playing games or making music.
Was there ever a sweet spot in our history where we had just enough leisure time for contemplation, talking, playing, listening and paying attention to each other before it was taken over by external stimulation? Did our ancestor's lives require greater use of cognitive skills, effective communication and reasoning just to get through the day? And, more to the point, are we losing the ability to do all those human things for ourselves? Do we now need puzzles to replace the skills people used to practice in everyday life to keep our information-age minds functioning properly?
This is a riddle with no easy answer; one with which we must all struggle. What do you think?
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