The Poetic Enigma


Aulus Gellius 13.6 On the enigma


“What the Greeks call enigmas, some of most ancient writers called this genre “scirpi” (“rushes”). I have just found an example of this that is very old, by Hercules, and very charming, composed in three iambic trimeters. I have left it without an answer so that I can prompt theories of my readers in answering it. These are three lines:

I don’t know whether he is less once or twice
Or both of these at once; as I once heard him say
That he did not wish to yield his place to king Zeus himself

He who does not wish to bother himself for too long over this will find what the answer is in the second book of Varro’s On Latin Language, dedicated to Marcellus.”


[The answer is Terminus. Once and twice minus equals thrice minus (terminus). Terminus refused to be removed from a section of the temple to Capitoline Jupiter].



6 De aenigmate.


1 Quae Graeci dicunt “aenigmata”, hoc genus quidam ex nostris veteribus “scirpos” appellaverunt. Quale est quod nuper invenimus per hercle anticum, perquam lepidum, tribus versibus senariis compositum aenigma, quod reliquimus inenarratum, ut legentium coniecturas in requirendo acueremus. 2 Versus tres hi sunt:

semel minusne an bis minus sit nescio,

an utrumque eorum; ut quondam audivi dicier,

Iovi ipsi regi noluit concedere.


3 Hoc qui nolet diutius aput sese quaerere, inveniet quid sit in M. Varronis de sermone Latino ad Marcellum libro secundo.



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