A Riddle, Wrapped in a Mystery, Inside an Enigma


This post is part of a series written by Alison Hobbs, curator of the 2017 Archives and Special Collections exhibition, “Tales of Mystery and Imagination.”

This week, we are exploring another “mystery” from our Fall 2017 Archives and Special Collections exhibition, “Tales of Mystery and Imagination”: a riddle! This one comes from a 1880 issue of Journal des Demoiselles (Paris).

A forerunner of modern fashion magazines, Journal des Demoiselles was the central source of fashion, beauty and romantic stories for the women of France in the late 19th century. The monthly magazine featured beautifully engraved steel plate illustrations with original hand painted coloring, demonstrating the latest fashions from Paris. They also included a page of puzzles and brain teasers, including Énigme and Mosaique (riddles), Mot Carré (a crossword puzzle in the form of a small square) and Rébus (a puzzle involving several illustrations). In case you do not speak French, the translation to the “Enigma” in the January edition pictured above reads:

I water charming sites,

And my name is found in two regions

That my waters bathe.

I am the place from whence the professor teaches

The high truths of religion;

Or even the science of all four domains.

Subject to more than one misfortune,

With the spirit I am often at odds;

But the spirit, says St. Paul, must over me dominate;

My role is to serve and not to hamper

(or hinder, your pick, just felt less physical…)

If you want in good health to preserve yourself,

Friend believe me, do not have me too good!

What do you think? Do you know the answer?