Figure Name enigma
Source Silva Rhetoricae (http://humanities.byu.edu/rhetoric/Silva.htm);Quintilian 8.6.52-53; Bede 616;Trebizond 61v ("aenigma"); Susenbrotus (1540) 14 ("aenigma"); Sherry (1550) 45 ("aenigma," "sermo obscurus"); Peacham (1577) D2r; Putt. (1589) 198 ("enigma," "the riddle"); Day 1599 80 ("aenigma"); JG Smith(1665)("aenigma"); Holmes (1806) ("aenigma"); Bain (1867) 38 ("fable"); De Mille (1882) ("fable"); Hill (1883)("fable," "obscurity"); Waddy (1889) ("fable," "obscurity"); Demetrius (1902) 145 ("fable"); Bullinger (1898) ("aenigma; or, dark saying"); Kellog (1880) ("fables")
Earliest Source None
Synonyms ainos, fable, aenigma, sermo obscurus, the riddle, dark saying, obscure allegory, obscurity, hypaenixis, hypaenigma
Etymology from Gk. ainigma from ainissethai "to tell a strange tale," then "to speak darkly" or "in riddles"
Type Trope
Linguistic Domain Semantic

1. Obscuring one's meaning by presenting it within a riddle or by means of metaphors that purposefully challenge the reader or hearer to understand. (Silva Rhetoricae)

2. A Riddle, or an obscure Allegory.;Aenigma: [ainigma] oratio verborum involucris tecta: A riddle or dark saying, derived from [ainitto] obscure loquor, aut rem involucris tego, to speak obscurely, or to hide a thing in dark sayings: But it is rather derived from [ainos] which (inter alia) denotes a saying worthy of praise and admiration. Aenigma is a kinde of an Allegory, differing only in obscurity, and may not unfitly be compared to a deep myne, the obtaining of the metall whereof requires deep digging; or to a dark night, whose stars are hid with thick clouds. If there be a singular obscurity in a Trope continued, it is called an Aenigma, for that it renders a question obscure, or a speech knotty, and as it were wrapped in: or, It is a sentence or form of speech, whereof for the darknesse, the sense may hardly be gathered. (JG Smith)

3. Aenigma in dark words the sense conceals; But that, once known, a riddling speech reveals. (Holmes)

4. "a Fable is a short allegory. According to Lessing, the Fable embodies a moral in a special case; this is invested with reality and narrated as a story, which suggests the moral at onceā€¦. Many Fables are made to turn on the actions and characters of certain animals, regarded as representatives of the qualities by which they are most distinguished." (Bain)

5. 114. FABLE.
The fable originally meant any short story conveying a moral; but at the present time its application is confined to those stories in which animals or inanimate objections are represented as endowed with intelligence and other human attributes, and acting or speaking in such a way as to convey a useful lesson. (De Mille)

6 a) The allegory proper, the fable, and the parable, agree in not claiming 'to be the truth,' but merely 'vehicles' of the truth. The fable and the parable are distinguished chiefly by this difference; the fable recounts what is impossible if literally interpreted; the parable is generally literally possibly. This distinction does not hold with those who use the words without discrimination. (Hill)

6 b) 2) Obscurity.- The misplacement of words some times produces such obscurity that the sentence seems to be nonsense. Most cases of obscurity resulting from a violation of the law of proximity are really instances of ambiguity so absurd as to seem nonsensical. (Hill)

7 a) The Fable differs from the parable in this, that it gives the actions and words of human beings to brutes and inanimate objects-brutes and plants are made to think, and speak, and act like men. Purely fictitious, it serves to teach some moral lesson or to inculcate some prudent maxim. (Waddy)

7 b) The faults opposed to clearness are two: (1) Obscurity, which leaves us wholly in doubt as to the author's meaning; (2) Ambiguity, which leaves us in doubt as to which of two or more meanings is the one intended. (Waddy)

8. A Truth expressed in obscure Language... Hence an enigma is a dark or obscure saying, a puzzling statement or action. A statement of which the meaning has to be searched for in order to be discovered. (Bullinger, 761)

9. FABLES are short stories in which, by the imagined dealings of men with animals or mere things, or by the supposed doings of these alone, useful lessons are taught. (Kellog, 213)


1. An enigma may simply mean the presentation of a paradox: Those hunger most who are most full.(Silva Rhetoricae)

1. An enigma often takes the form of providing descriptive attributes but leaving to the audience to guess what it is that could have those attributes (which are sometimes apparently contradictory):
Rain is spent.
Now colors bent
Frame a clear, blue sky.
[answer: a rainbow] (Silva Rhetoricae)

1. Enigma also occurs when tropes are used in series, each of which is fairly clear, but their combined effect teases with its obscurity. In this example, periphrasis (or antonomasia) is employed repeatedly to bring about enigma:
Elizabeth Taylor, twice Cleopatra to her Anthony, never quite reconciled her Marilyn Monroe with her Scarlett O'Hara. (Silva Rhetoricae)

2. I consume my mother that bare me, I eat up my nurse that fed me, then I die, leaving them all blind that saw me.

This is meant of the flame of a Candle, which when it hath consumed both wax and wicke, goes out, leaving them in the dark that saw by it. (JG Smith)

3. Niletis's Quill brought forth the Daughters of Cadmus; i.e. a Pen, made of a Reed growing by the Side of the River Nile, wrote the Latin and Greek Letters invented by Cadmus. (Holmes)

5. The most familiar examples are AEsop's Fables. (De Mille)

6 b) Lord Bolingbroke says that "The minister who grows less by his elevation, 'like a little statue on a mighty pedestal,' will always have his jealousy strong about him." At first glance, we may take the phrase, "like a little status on a mighty pedestal," with the last clause; but the idea of a little statue on a pedestal with his jealousy strong about him is nonsensical. (Hill)

7. "It perishes of hunger, when its beak grows
more and more bent. This fate it suffers because once when it was human it broke the laws of hospitality.' (Aristotle qtd. in Demetrius)

8. Gen. 49:10 is in the form of Enigma. "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be." (Bullinger, 761)

Kind Of
Part Of
Related Figures paradox, metaphor, Figures that obscure or conceal meaning: noema, schematismus, allegory
Confidence Unconfident
Last Editor Ioanna Malton
Confidence Unconfident
Editorial Notes Should this be Opposition because sometimes the enigma can sound contradictory? Or Identity?
Reviewed No