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eureka!!!
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From the same authors of the article
Sarcone and Waeber
Curiopticals
Curiopticals, ISBN 1847322298
What are you looking at?
What are you looking at, ISBN 1847321836
Eyetricks
Eyetricks, ISBN 1844427773
Make your own 3D illusions
Make your own 3D illusions, ISBN 1844426327
Big Book of Optical Illusions
Big Book of Optical Illusions, ISBN 0764135201
New Optical Illusions
New Optical Illusions, ISBN 1844423271
Fantastic Optical Illusions
Fantastic Optical Illusions, ISBN 184442295X
Dazzling Optical Illusions
Puzzillusions, ISBN 1844420647
MateMagica book
MateMagica, ISBN 8889197560
Almanach book
L'Almanach du mathématicien en herbe, ISBN 2844690254

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Antique Puzzles

 
by Gianni A. Sarcone and Marie J. Waeber
latin deco
 
Rebuses/riddles
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Rotas square
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Palindromes
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Chronograms
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Word Labyrinth
 
Tongue-twisters
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Double-meanings
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Anagrams
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Ancient jokes
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Ostomachion
early latin puzzles
latin decoration Graeco Roman legacy latin decoration

  Salve amice, ut vales? Puzzles and riddles are as old as history itself. Ancient Greeks and Latins - from Epimenides ("all Cretans are liars") to Eubulides of Miletus ("this statement is false"), from Archimedes ("Ostomachion puzzle") to Celsus ("posthumous twins" problem) - were ingenious inventors of puzzles and paradoxes. They appreciated particularly simple and neat recreational math problems, playwords and riddles and used them for educational purposes. This page is a tribute to the inventiveness of our ancestors. Some ones of the puzzles presented here are from the late Roman and medieval period.
  On this page you'll find a collection of interesting latin rebuses and riddles, pangrams, a vanish puzzle, magic ROTAS squares, Greek and Latin palindromes, chronograms, tongue twisters, famous double-meaning sentences, anagrams, a verbal labyrinth, some jokes, and finally the Archimedes' puzzle (aka 'Stomachion' or 'Ostomachion'). Specta, lege atque delecteris. Vale!

:: REBVS 1 ::
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O  QVID  TVÆ
BE  EST  BIÆ
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"O superbe quid superest tuae superbiae?"
O conceited man, will anything
remain of your arrogance?
:: REBVS 2 ::
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RA   RAM  
RA  ES ET IN  RAM  II 
RA   RAM  
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"Terra es et in terram ibis"
Dust (earth) you are and into dust you will go
:: REBVS 3 ::
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MITTO TIBI NAVEM
PRORA PVPPIQVE
CARENTEM
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(This is a riddle by Cicero)
:: REBVS 4 ::
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HOMO TRIVM
LITERARVM
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In a Plautus' comedy:
'Man of three letters!'
(i.e. FUR, "thief!")
:: REBVS 5::
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EGO SVM PRINCIPIVM MVNDI ET FINIS SÆCVLORVM ATTAMEN NON SVM DEVS
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I am the beginning of the world and the end of the ages, but I am not God...
:: REBVS 6::
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CVM MENTIOR ET MENTIRI ME DICO, MENTIOR AN VERVM DICO?
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"When I lie and say I am lying, am I lying or saying the truth?" - Aulus Gellius
:: REBVS 7::
sola fides sufficit 1 sola fides sufficit 3
sola fides sufficit 2 sola fides sufficit 4
:: RIDDLE ::
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ULTIMA RATIO
REGUM
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The last resort of kings...

arrow More original latin riddles!

:: Latin Pangrams ::

(A pangram, or holoalphabetic sentence, is a sentence which uses every letter of the alphabet at least once)

"DUC ZEPHIRE EXURGENS CURRUM CUM FLATIBUS ÆQUOR"

"SIC FUGIENS, DUX, ZELOTYPOS QUAM KARUS HABERIS"

"VIX PHLEGETON ZEPHIRI QUÆRENS MODO FLABRA MYCILLO"

:: The unsolved riddle of Bologna ::
The Latin enigmatic inscription illustrated below was discovered, in the sixteenth century, upon a Roman tombstone near Bologna. It has obsessed and exercised the wits of many puzzlers for more than four hundred years to find out its meaning. Mario L. Michelangelo published a 410-page pamphlet on it at Venice, in 1548. In 1683, Count Carlo Cesare Malvasia in his work 'Aelia Laelia Crispis non nata resurgens in expositione legali' enumerates 43 attempted solutions of it. It has been thought to denote: rain, the soul, Niobe, Lot's wife, a child promised in marriage that died before its birth, etc. (source 'Bibliotheca Chemica', John Ferguson) Carl Gustav Jung dedicated a full chapter to this enigma in his 'Mysterium Conjunctionis'. The French writer Gerard de Nerval cited the enigma in two tales: 'Pandora' and 'Le Comte de Saint-Germain'. Until now, no univocal solution to this riddle and its puzzling antitheses has been found.
[key words: negative disjunction (neque...neque), contraries, antonyms, antithesis]
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D. M.
AELIA LAELIA CRISPIS
NEC VIR NEC MULIER
NEC ANDROGYNA
NEC PUELLA NEC JUVENIS
NEC ANUS NEC CASTA
NEC MERETRIX NEC PUDICA
SED OMNIA
SUBLATA
NEQUE FAME NEQUE FERRO
NEQUE VENENO
SED OMNIBUS
NEC COELO NEC AQUIS
NEC TERRIS
SED UBIQUE JACET
LUCIUS AGATHO PRISCUS
NEC MARITUS NEC AMATOR
NEC NECESSARIUS
NEQUE MOERENS
NEQUE GAUDENS
NEQUE FLENS
HANC NEQUE MOLEM
NEC PYRAMIDEM
NEC SEPULCHRUM
SCIT ET NESCIT
CUI POSUERIT

HOC EST SEPULCHRUM
INTUS CADAVER NON HABENS
HOC EST CADAVER SEPULCHRUM
EXTRA NON HABENS
SED CADAVER IDEM EST
ET SEPULCHRUM SIBI

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[TO THE GODS OF THE DEAD]
Aelia Laelia Crispis,
Not man, nor woman, nor hermaphrodite;
Not girl, nor youth, nor old woman;
Not chaste, nor unchaste, nor modest;
But all [of these]:
Carried off,
Not by hunger, not by sword, nor by poison
But by all [of them]:
Lies,
Not in air, not in earth, not in the waters,
But everywhere.
Lucius Agatho Priscus,
Not her husband, nor her lover, nor her friend;
Not sorrowing, nor rejoicing, nor weeping;
Erecting
This, not a stone-pile, nor a pyramid,
Nor a sepulchre
But all:
Knows, and knows not,
To whom he erects it.

This is a tomb that has no body in it.
This is a body that has no tomb round it.
But body and tomb are the same.

italiano/francais

Do you have an original interpretation for this puzzle? Mail it to us!

:: Tongue Twisters ::
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Te te, ro ro, ma ma, nu nu, da da, te te, la la, te te!
(properly: Te tero, Roma, manu nuda, date tela, latete!)
"I will destroy you, Rome, with my bare hands, give arms and hide yourself!" This sentence is said to be pronounced by Hannibal (or even by Alaric the Visigoth) as he neared the gates of Rome. - Posted by Austin J. Peters

O Tite tute Tati, tibi tanta, tyranne tulisti!
O thou tyrant, Titus Tatius, such great troubles you brought upon yourself! (By Ennius)

In mari meri miri mori muri necesse est
In a sea of delightful wine a mouse may only die.

Summergimurne?
Are we sinking?

Quantum materiæ materietur marmota monax si marmota monax materiam possit materiari?
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

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:: Paronyms and equivocal sentences ::
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Ave, ave, aveo esse aves.
Hi Grandpa, I'd like to eat birds.

Cane decane, canis? Sed ne cane, cane decane, de cane; de canis, cane decane, cane.
Do you sing, o white-haired old man? But please don't sing about your dog, o venerable old man; Sing about your old age.

Malo malo malo malo.
I'd rather (stay) on a mast (than) on a bad apple tree.

Cum eo eo eo libenter.
I go there with him with pleasure.

Persevera, per severa, per se vera.
Persist through difficulties, even though it is hard.

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:: The incredible vanish puzzle ::
septem turbido october Cut the marble plate on the left into 3 pieces in order to make a latin word disappear once the pieces are reassembled to form a square again

:: Solution ::
SEPTEM
TUR
 
BIDO

OCTO
LUC
TRI
 
FLU
 
LI

BER
IFER
GINTA
TAMEN
VIALIS
 
VIDUS
SEPTEM
TUR
OCTO
LUC
TRI
 
FLU
BER
IFER
GINTA
TAMEN
VIALIS

VIDUS
 
LI
 
BIDO
Count the number of latin words before and after permutation.
Where did the 8th word go?

:: Latin magic square ::

The palindromic "SATOR square" below dates back to Roman times. It is inscribed on a stone tablet outside Rome in Italy and is the earliest known 2D palindrome. "SATOR AREPO TENET OPERA ROTAS" means something like: "the sower Arepo works with the help of wheels" or "countryman Arepo runs a wheel shop"...
S A T O R
A R E P O
T E N E T
O P E R A
R O T A S
pompeian sator
Opposite is a variant called "ROTAS Square" inscription carved on the wall of a private house in Pompei
(Click 'Start' to reveal the script)

:: Chronograms ::

A chronogram is a sentence or inscription that has hidden numbers which have to be summed for revealing a date of a particular event. These numbers are represented by letters of the Roman numerals: I, V, X, L, C, D, or M. For instance, the inscription "CHRISTVS DVX ERGO TRIVMPHVS" gives MDCXVVVVII or 1632. Although the practice originated in the late Roman Empire, it was particularly popular during the Renaissance, when chronograms were often used on tombstones and foundation stones. Many lengthy examples can be found in Germany, notably in and around the town of Bad Salzuflen. These commemorate the building of houses in the form of prayers or quotations from the Bible.
:: Palindromes ::

"IN GIRUM IMUS NOCTE ET CONSUMIMUR IGNI"
This famous maccaronic verse, called "the devil's verse", is a riddle in the form of a palindrome - literally a puzzle inside a puzzle... It means "we wander in the night, and are consumed by fire" or "we enter the circle after dark and are consumed by fire" and is said to describe the movement of months. Some others believe that it is about the 'mayfly', that insect that circles the fire only to be consumed by flame.

arrow See variants.

"SIGNA TE, SIGNA, TEMERE ME TANGIS ET ANGIS / ROMA TIBI SUBITO MOTIBUS IBIT AMOR"
According to a legend, the devil himself said this sentence to St. Martin, who had changed him into a donkey and ridden him to Rome. Each half of the sentence is palindromic; in translation: 'Cross thyself, you plague and vex me without need / For by my efforts you are about to reach Rome, the object of your travel'.

"SUM SUMMUS MUS"
'I am the mightiest mouse'

"ABLATA AT ALBA"
'Secluded but pure'

arrow More Latin palindromes.


ΝΙΨΟΝ ΑΝΟΜEΜΑΤΑ ΜE ΜΟΝΑΝ ΟΨΙΝ
"NIPSON ANOMEMATA ME MONAN OPSIN"
Graeco Christian palindromic inscription found on baptismal fountains. It translates as "wash the sin as well as the face"

NOMON O KIONOS EKHE SON OIKONOMON
"NOMON O KIONOS EKHE SON OIKONOMON"
Another early Greek palindrome meaning "whoever you are, always let the law be your guide"

::Double-meaning sentences::

"PORTA PATENS ESTO NULLI CLAUDARIS HONESTO"
This sentence carved on the gate of an early Cistercian gatehouse means "Gate, be thou open - Never closed to honest man", but also "Gate, be thou never open - Closed to honest man"!

An ambiguous Latin message of the Archbishop of Esztergom (János) to the conspirators who killed queen Gertrudis, wife of the Hungarian King András II (1213):
"REGINAM NOLITE OCCIDERE TIMERE BONUM EST SI OMNES CONSENTIUNT EGO NON CONTRADICO"
Means: 'Don't kill the queen, it's good to be afraid of it, if everybody agrees, I don't, I oppose it' or 'Don't be afraid of killing the queen, it's good if everybody agrees, I don't oppose it'.

:: Bilingual sentences ::

"I VITELLI DEI ROMANI SONO BELLI"
You can read this both in Latin and in Italian, but the meaning is not quite the same! (in Latin it means: 'go forth, Vitellius, on the call of war of the Roman God!', and in Italian: 'The Roman calves are beautiful')

"CANE NERO MAGNA BELLA PERSICA!"
'Sing, o Nero, the great Persian wars!', in Latin - 'The black dog eats a nice peach', in dialectical Italian.

"IN MARE IRATO, IN SUBITA PROCELLA INVOCO TE, NOSTRA BENIGNA STELLA"
This poetic verse has exactly the same meaning in Latin and in Italian!

 

:: Anagram ::

A famous Latin anagram was an answer made out of a question asked by Pilate. The question was: "QUID EST VERITAS?" ('What is the truth?'), and the answer: "EST VIR QUI ADEST" ('it is the man who stands before you').

 :: More historical Latin anagrams ::

On August 1610, Galileo Galilei sent the following coded message to Kepler to announce an important discovery he had made:
"SMAISMRMILMEPOETALEVMIBVNENVGTTAVRIAS"
Kepler worked hard to solve the enigma and concluded that the term was an anagram for a Latin verse to state that he had discovered a Moon around Mars:
"SALVE VMBISTINEVM GEMINATVM MARTIA PROLES" (in English: 'hail, burning twins, offspring of Mars'). But the real answer was:
"ALTISSIMVM PLANETAM TERGEMINVM OBSERVAVI" ('I have observed the highest planet [Saturn] in triplicate form'). In december of the same year, Galileo sent another anagram-like message to Kepler:
"HAEC IMMATVRA A ME IAM FRVSTRA LEGVNTVR O.Y."
which, translated, means roughly 'These immature ones have already been read in vain by me -oy'. Kepler again tried to decrypt the message and came up with this sentence:
"MACVLA RVFA IN IOVE EST GYRATVR MATHEM, ETC."
which in translation reads: 'There is a red spot in Jupiter which rotates mathematically' (The wondrous thing is: how could Kepler have known of the red spot in Jupiter, then not yet discovered? It was discovered by Giovanni Domenico Cassini in the 1660's, after the time of Kepler and Galileo!). About a month after, however, Galileo revealed the solution of his anagram:
"CYNTHIAE FIGVRAS AEMVLATVR MATER AMORVM"
'The mother of love imitates the shapes of Cynthia', in plain words Venus (the mother of Love) manifests all the phases that the Moon (Cynthia) goes through (and hence Venus must pass on both sides of the sun). Galileo's observation absolutely proved the Ptolemaic system wrong.

:: Labyrinth of St. Bernard ::

The table below is a sample of a verbal labyrinth which consists in forming 5 maxims by selecting words in a proper order. You can solve this puzzle by starting with the word at the foot of the left-hand column, then the first maxim will be: NOLI DICERE OMNIA QUAE SCIS QUIA QUI DICIT OMNIA QUAE SCIT SAEPE AUDIT QUOD NON VULT...

DICERE SCIS DICIT SCIT AUDIT NON VULT
FACERE POTES FACIT POTEST INCURRIT NON CREDIT
CREDERE AUDIS CREDIT AUDIT CREDIT NON EST
DARE HABES DAT HABET MISERE QUAERIT NON HABET
JUDICARE VIDES JUDICAT VIDET CONTEMNIT NON DEBET
NOLI OMNIA QUAE QUIA QUI OMNIA QUAE SAEPE QUOD
:: Antique Joke 1 ::

Ἀφυὴς γραμματικὸς ἐρωτηθείς· ἡ μήτηρ Πριάμου τίς ἐκαλεῖτο; ἀπορῶν ἔφη· ἡμεῖς κατὰ τιμὴν κυρίαν αὐτὴν καλοῦμεν.
An incompetent schoolteacher was asked who the mother of Priam was. Not knowing the answer, he said: "It's polite to call her Ma'am".

:: Antique Joke 2 ::

Μισογύναιος, τῆς γυναικὸς αὐτοῦ ἀποθανούσης, ἐπὶ τῶι θάψαι ἐκήδευε. τινὸς δὲ ἐρωτήσαντος· τίς ἀνεπαύσατο; ἔφη· ἐγὼ ὁ ταύτης στερηθείς.
A misogynist paid his last respects at the tomb of his dead wife. When someone asked him, "Who has gone to rest?", he replied: "Me, now that I'm alone".

arrow More Ancient Greek jokes are recorded in the 'Philogelos' of Hierocles and Philagrios.

:: Antique Joke 3 ::

Puer: Cur hi homines, pater, currunt?
Pater: Certant de argenteo calice
Puer: Et quis accipiet?
Pater: Primus
Puer: Cur igitur ceteri currunt?
A boy: Why are those men running?
The father: They compete in order to win a cup.
Boy: And who will win the cup?
Father: The first one...
Boy: So, why keep the other men running?

:: Antique Joke 4 ::

When Cicero saw his son-in-law, Lentulus, a man of small stature, with a long sword by his side, he said: "Quis generum meum ad gladium alligavit?" ('Who has girded my son-in-law to that sword?'). In another occasion, on seeing the half-length portrait of his brother Quintus, drawn with very large features and an immense shield, Cicero exclaimed: "Frater meus dimidius maior est quam totus!" ('Half of my brother is greater than the whole!').

arrow Many similar wits of great men are recorded in the 'Saturnalia' of Macrobius.

:: Loculus Archimedis ::
(Archimedes' puzzle)

The 14-piece puzzle opposite is supposed to have been invented by Archimedes (287-212 B.C.), an inventor and mathematician who lived in Syracuse, Sicily. Magnus Ausonius (310-395 A.C.) described the puzzle in this way: "...simile ut dicas ludicro quod Graeci Ostomachion vocavere. Ossicula ea sunt: ad summam XIV figuras geometricas habent. Sunt enim aequaliter triquetra, vel extentis lineis, vel ejusdem frontis, vel rectis angulis, vel obliqui: isoskele ipsi, vel isopleura vocant, orthogonia quoque et skalena. Harum verticularum varis coagmentis simulantur species mille formarum...".

arrow Continue to Ostomachion original texts.

This puzzle is improperly named Stomachion by some puzzle game researchers who assert that the word Stomachion has as its root the Greek word, meaning 'stomach' (?)... That's nonsense, because 'stomach' in ancient Greek is called gaster! Actually, Stomakhos in ancient Greek means 'orifice, gullet, humor' (from stoma 'mouth'); there is also an infinitive stomachêin which means 'to be disgusted, to resent'. In our opinion, Ostomáchion or Syntemáchion are more accurate names meaning approximately "challenge, contest [mákhion < dim. or subst. of makhê, 'battle'] with (ivory) bone pieces [osto < ostoun, ostéon]" or "challenging [mákhion] pieces to assemble [syntê < syntithémi 'put together']".

Ostomachion wasn't originally a put-together puzzle at all, but rather a geometric dissection problem. The challenge was to divide a square into 14 pieces, so that each piece has an area in rational proportion to the whole area of the puzzle. Could you represent geometrically the numbers 1, 2 and 3 with the pieces of the Ostomachion? (arrow Solution)

Ostomachion puzzle

The Ostomachion, also called Syntemachion or Loculus Archimedis, consists of 14 flat pieces of various shapes (lamellae eboreae, in Latin) forming a square.

ostomachion sketch plan

The area of each piece is commensurate with the area of the square in the ratio 1:48

How many possible distinct square arrangements can be made using all 14 pieces of the Ostomachion? Bill Cutler, a seasoned puzzlist, by means of a computer program he wrote found the answer: 536 possibilities (reflections and rotations of a square arrangement were not considered).

Do you need further information about this puzzle? Or any original figures to match with the puzzle pieces? Try these ones or visit this site!

Related Links Share your thoughts
arrow Ostomachion original texts
arrow Leonardo's rebuses

arrow Alcuin's puzzles
arrow Symposius riddles
arrow Heraclitus' aphorisms
arrow 'Memento mori' quotations
arrow Fibonacci's numbers
You're encouraged to expand and improve the articles featured on this page. Send us your comments that you would like considered for publication. Please include your name and location. Thanks!

 

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