Just found this text on a sheet of paper in my dad's desk, along with his many attempts at a solution. He never solved it, and I can't either.

In the constituency of the ancient hyperbolical belligerents, there lies an unfathomable abyss to which only aesthetic concatenation can adequately approximate.

Looks like it is of the type of riddle that resolves to a common saying. (Such as my favorite, "Individuals who perforce are constrained to be domiciled in vitreous structures of patent frangibility should on no account employ petrous formations as projectiles.")

You will doubtless find this text in the scanned Brudder Bones' Book of Stump Speeches...

  • $\begingroup$ Pretty sure it's a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote; Brudder Bones' Book semi-jokingly attributes it to "Walter Raff Emerson". $\endgroup$
    – DylanSp
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 13:42
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    $\begingroup$ Source: Brudder Bones's Stump Speeches and Burlesque Orations, Google Books. $\endgroup$
    – DylanSp
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 16:51
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not convinced this is a riddle - you may be reading more into this than exists. $\endgroup$ Commented May 19, 2016 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ @leqid Yeah, I read the section - it just seems like a pseudoloquacious statement being made for comic effect by a caricature of a black person in a pretty racist book. $\endgroup$ Commented May 19, 2016 at 18:27
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    $\begingroup$ There may not be an answer anymore. Not every saying that was commonplace in the 1800's has survived. It is, however, fairly close to Congreve's "Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast." $\endgroup$ Commented May 20, 2016 at 7:36

8 Answers 8


Is it

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Some reasoning:

"ancient hyperbolical belligerents" could refer to a Beholder, a monster in Dungeons and Dragons with a large eye, referred to here as the "constituency". The "unfathomable abyss" could be the pupil of the eye. Finally, "aesthetic concatenation can adequately approximate" could refer to measuring beauty. Not my greatest reasoning, but I keep coming back to it.

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    $\begingroup$ @Matt, that is a killer stab at the riddle! Not sure that is the answer though, as this riddle is from the mid-1800's (as near as I can tell), and "Unlike many other Dungeons & Dragons monsters, the beholder is an original creation for D&D, as it is not based on a creature from mythology or other fiction." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beholder_(Dungeons_%26_Dragons) $\endgroup$
    – leqid
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 21:01
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I more or less forced the rest reasoning once I told myself that "aesthetic concatenation can adequately approximate" meant measuring beauty $\endgroup$
    – Matt
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 21:03
  • $\begingroup$ If you upvote this answer, would you please leave a comment about your reasoning? $\endgroup$
    – leqid
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 19:29
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    $\begingroup$ @leqid Here is the reason. $\endgroup$
    – manshu
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 19:54
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    $\begingroup$ @leqid Upvote does not necessarily mean, "I think this is the right answer." It means, "I appreciate the thought put into this and feel it deserves rewarding." $\endgroup$ Commented May 10, 2016 at 20:47

I'm going to hazard a guess here, but it feels like a long shot:

"Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see."


This saying is attributed to Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether" which was published in 1845 and is in the right time frame.

"In the constituency of the ancient hyperbolical belligerents,"

A "belligerent" can describe someone in an argument and the word "hyperbolical" also suggests a verbal conflict rather than physical since exaggeration is more commonly associated with speech rather than action.

"there lies an unfathomable abyss to which only aesthetic concatenation can adequately approximate."

I've interpreted "unfathomable abyss" to mean "nothing". I've taken "aesthetic concatenation" to mean "what you see" since the word aesthetic concerns beauty (typically visual) and concatenation is a series of events. As for "adequate approximation", the quote directs us to believe "one half" of what we see which I've taken to mean what we see is a approximation of the truth.

So all together

It seems that the quote is saying in other words "There's nothing true in what people say, and partial truth in what we see.

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    $\begingroup$ I upvoted this, because I think it's a solid attempt, but the only words that mean what you're using them to justify here are 'aesthetic' and maybe 'unfathomable abyss'. $\endgroup$ Commented May 19, 2016 at 18:06
  • $\begingroup$ I agree, it's not a strong answer but I intended to just get some thoughts down that may help out others. $\endgroup$
    – Tonkleton
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 18:09
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    $\begingroup$ Also upvoting for solid attempt... and for learning about Poe as true author of the quote! Seems tantilizingly close, or at least on the right track. $\endgroup$
    – leqid
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 18:21

This is almost certainly not the right answer but might help put your mind to rest on the subject. Since it's bound up with memories of your father, it would be nice to come as close as we can.

Consider the following:

Dante was the first to sing of heaven and of hell, not as the dreams of mythological fiction, but as the objects of a real faith. He was the first who launched from this promontory on which we stand, into the vast immensity of the universe, traversed the abyss amidst demons and infernal tortures, and mounting afterwards through angelic hosts and undiscovered worlds, gazed with stedfast eye upon the glories of the Highest... Dante was the Columbus who discovered this new world of poesy... Dante probably surpassed even Homer himself. Edmund Dorr Griffin, in Remains of the Rev. Edmund D. Griffin (1831), p. 335.

I got this from the quotes at the bottom of this page. Take a look at some of the others. There are several from the right time period that say almost the right thing.

The basic sense of the lines ("in the constituency...") is that there is a big gap in the land of some traditional, perhaps mythical, enemies that only art (poetry? music?) can bring us close to (approximate). Still more basically, there is some gap or divide that we can only understand through art.

According to this reference, it looks as if Brudder Bones was published about 1868. The American Civil War was fought from 1861 - 1865. Gaps and divides and long-standing disputes would be a fairly hot topic at the time, one would imagine. (Incidentally, the famous Hatfield-McCoy feud was just getting started at that time.) My guess is that

There was some quote that was current at the time referring to a work like Dante's Inferno or Milton's Paradise Lost or Homer's account of the Trojan war that resonated because of the conflict that America had just gone through. I would guess it said something like the quote above in a more concise form.

Here is a quote from that time period: “No tongue can tell, no mind conceive, no pen portray the horrible sights I witnessed.” This was written by a captain in the Union army, John Taggart, after the battle of Antietam in 1861. It's says the opposite of what we want (he says that art can't approximate) but it shows that this sort of vocabulary was current. For that matter, Luke 16:26 in the King James Bible says this: "between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot;" which sounds pretty unfathomable-abyss-like to me.

The sixties were only fifty years ago. How many of the saying on this page do you recognize? (If you were around in the sixties, ask your kids about them.) The 1860s were 150 years ago and it is doubtful that the author of Brudder Bones was writing with an eye to distant posterity. If we were to see the words that the author had in mind, would we even recognize them as a quote? I wouldn't "bet my sweet bippy" on it.

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    $\begingroup$ This is almost certainly the "right" answer - if there was ever a quote the sentence was meant to imitate, it's very likely lost to time. $\endgroup$ Commented May 26, 2016 at 12:15
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    $\begingroup$ Awarding the bounty to you as acknowledgement for an amazing answer and as thanks for your sensitivity to my dad and closure on the matter. "Outtasight!" $\endgroup$
    – leqid
    Commented May 26, 2016 at 15:17

Consider the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote:

"Every actual State is corrupt. Good men must not obey laws too well."

After reading an excerpt from The Inner Ocean: Individualism and Democratic Culture by George Kateb (see google books link ) and reading the source text (Brudders), I think the following connections can be justified:

"The constituency" is

Good men

The "ancient hyperbolical belligerents"

the (corrupt) "State"

The "unfathomable abyss"

two meanings: 1) following the REAL/PERFECT rules perfectly to avoid Hell, aka infernal pit; 2) "the highest moral feeling" as mentioned in Kateb's Inner Ocean;

"aesthetic concatenation"

the State-made, corrupt, imperfect "laws", series of rules. This because aesthetic can mean a set of rules and concatenation can mean a series or things put together

"adequately approximate"

A loquacious way to say "not too well".


In the source text, the orator is giving this quote to end a rallying speech, and attributes it to a name very similar to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Given the tone and intent of Brudder's, I feel the quote should actually be based on a real-life Emerson quote. The orator says he agrees with the quote (which aligns him to thinking the State is corrupt and/or willingness to not follow the letter of the law) and then he refers to the audience as "feller-stugents", which I take to mean "fellow constituent" (as in 'the constituency' which in the Emerson quote would translate to "fellow Good Man"). This seems to fit the context of the speech/chapter in Brudders.

Any suggestions are welcome.

  • $\begingroup$ This is amazing! Especially your Additionally section: I like the way you considered the riddle in its context of Brudder's. The create date of Emerson's quote (Politics - 1844?) seems to fit right in with that of the riddle. $\endgroup$
    – leqid
    Commented May 24, 2016 at 19:57

In the constituency of the ancient hyperbolic belligerents, there lies an unfathomable abyss to which only aesthetic concatenation can adequately approximate.

To solve this riddle, we have to simplify the words so we can understand them.

  • Constituency- a group of people who elect an official
  • Hyperbolic- Prone to exaggeration, or hyperbole
  • Belligerents- Aggressive ones
  • Unfathomable- Unable to be understood (I use "Incomprehensible")
  • Abyss- Pit
  • Aesthetic- Understanding beauty
  • Concatenation- Having to do with being linked together
  • Approximate- Guess

In the (group of voters who elect an official) of the ancient (aggressive people prone to exaggerating), there lies an (incomprehensible pit) to which only (beautiful connectivity) can adequately guess.

Now we must simplify it more by taking needless phrases out.

The (Group of voters who elect an official) of (the exaggerating aggressive people of olden times) contains a (pit which can not be understood) and only (people who understand the connection of beauty) can guess closely.

I say it stands that in politics there is a something missing that only those who understand beauty and connection of things can guess what it is.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for enumerating some synonyms for the riddle! This reminds me of my dad's page, where he listed a bunch of synonyms for each word. Your result reminds me of Nietzsche more than anyone... $\endgroup$
    – leqid
    Commented May 24, 2016 at 19:32

In the constituency of the ancient hyperbolical belligerents,

In age (maybe describes the constituency of old people),

there lies an unfathomable abyss to which only aesthetic concatenation can adequately approximate.

comes wisdom? (maybe describes life in a very abstract way - something unfathomable and un-ending that only a string of poetic words could describe) ...Or something.


You are certainly reading too much into it (or at least in the wrong direction). The original source is a comic "Political Stump Speech" from "Brudder Bones"'s collection of "Humorous Lectures, Negro Drolleries, and Comic Recitations, interspersed with Racy Yankee Stories" (here). It begins:

My remarks on dis glorious 'caision, my downtrodden taxpayers, will be on de subjec' ob de Onion, de Constitution, and de Scar-spangled Banner!


As Emerson Bennett, de editor ob de Herald, says, "De coils ob de ticonderoga am a-tightenin' [...]"

and ends:

I will now conclude wid a quotation from Walter Raff Emerson, when he says—says he—"In de constituency ob the ancient hyperbolical belligerents dere lies an unfathomable abyss, to which only aesthetic concatenation can adequately approximate." I agreed wid him, feller-stugents. Good ebenin'!

In this context it seems obvious that we're not looking at an exercise in (as you suspected) erudite synonymy, but rather crude homophony.

Dime-novel writer Emerson Bennett was never the editor of the Herald; but the Herald did print the phrase "the coils of the anaconda" once, in the issue of October 29, 1863. So there we have one case of a malapropped name and a made-up quotation (although apparently with a little tiny kernel of inspiration).

So the quotation we're looking for here might be something from Ralph Waldo Emerson's journals; but it could also be from someone who's not Emerson at all, and it could also be (like the Bennett "quotation") totally made up.

I suggest that "aesthetic concatenation" could be "aesthetic concentration"; "constituency" might be "constitution"; and "to which [...] can adequately approximate" might be "which [...] can adequately appreciate." Unfortunately I have no guess for "ancient-hyperbolical," which seems to be the most important word or words in the sentence.

So we have something like "[Some kind of] belligerence constitutes an unfathomable abyss adequately [appreciated or approximated] only by aesthetic concentration," maybe attributable to Emerson or Thoreau or someone, or maybe to nobody at all. And there may be more to discover about the original source than I've discovered so far. But it's certainly not a "vitreous abodes" kind of puzzle like you thought at first.


My idea

How to get laid

Explanation: In the constituency of...

Simply explaining what a large group of people think

...the ancient hyperbolical belligerents

I feel like this is describing the masculine stereotype of being loud, rough, aggressive, and essentially a cave man.

...there lies an unfathomable abyss

I can see a vagina being described as an abyss, and it can be quite unfathomable if one has not had experience with it. This thought specifically resides in our cave man group, desiring the unknown.

...to which only aesthetic concatenation can adequately approximate.

The only people who get a chance to really understand a vagina are the ones who are stylish and most likely have the wealth to support keeping up with fashion trends.

In summary:

Brutish men will never lay a woman, only a stylish gentleman will. I know nothing of the time period in regards to literature, or society, but I feel like this fits in a way. :P

  • $\begingroup$ This answer stands quite on its own. :) I want to go to Piano Island... $\endgroup$
    – leqid
    Commented May 24, 2016 at 19:16

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