enigma enigma
 e-nig'-ma from Gk. ainos, "fable"
Also sp. aenigma
sermo obscurus
the riddle, dark saying

Obscuring one's meaning by presenting it within a riddle or by means of metaphors that purposefully challenge the reader or hearer to understand.
  An enigma may simply mean the presentation of a paradox:
Those hunger most who are most full.

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]

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.

Related Figures

  Sources: 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")

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Gideon O. Burton, Brigham Young University
Please cite "Silva Rhetoricae" (rhetoric.byu.edu)

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