Name: Klára Széles, D. Sc.

Address: Institute of Literary Studies, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, 11-13 Ménesi Street, Budapest, 1118 Hungary. 


Fields of interest: History of Literature, Theory of Literary Studies, Theory and Methods of Interpretations.

Awards: Memorial Medal of Babits (Hungarian Academy of Sciences), 1983; Price of Critical Standard (Hungarian Academy of Sciences), 1990; Artisjus-Price, 1995; Price of Attila József, 1996; Memorial Medal for Education (Ministry of Education), 2001. 

Publications: A Hungarian art-theoretical concept, from the 19th century (Imre Henszlmann), Acta Litteraria Acad. Sci. Hung., 31 (1989), Nos. 1-2, pp. 13-48; Henszlmann Imre muvészetelmélete és kritikusi gyakorlata, [Theory of Art and Critical Practice of Emerich Henszlmann, in Hungarian], Budapest: Argumentum, 1992, 107 pp.; An attempt of setting up a model for literary analysis, In: Essays in Poetics, Keele, 1990, pp. 29-54 [Cf., Filológiai Közlöny, 1972, Nos. 1-2, pp. 130-146; Literatura, 1984, No. 3, pp. 249-327]; Symmetry of interpretation-patterns, Symmetry: Culture and Science, Vol. 3 (1992). No 1; Van-e értelme a muértelmezésnek? Ha van, mi az? [Is there any Point of Literary Analysis? If there is, what is it?, in Hungarian], Budapest: Panem-McGraw-Hill, 1996, 218 pp.; Symmetry and infinity in the work of art, Symmetry: Culture and Science, Vol. 10 (1999), Nos. 3-4, pp. 255-267; Rajz és irodalom a szecesszió idején, [Drawing and literature in the period of Secession, in Hungarian], Magyar Tudomány, 2000, No. 2, pp. 158-165; Komjáthy-illusztrációk, [Illustrations of Komjáthy, in Hungarian], In: A Gödölloi Muvésztelep 1901-1920, [The Artists’ Colony of Gödöllo], Gödöllo, 2003, pp.134-138.

Abstract: Is there any rebus in art? When there is, where, how and what kind of is it? What is the meaning of rebus e.g. in a work of art? This paper focuses on some hypothesis. The ideas discussed are connected to each other, therefore illustrate them with some representative examples rather than look for the possible conclusions. I define rebus as a puzzle in which a word or a phrase has to be guessed from pictures or diagrams that suggest the syllables that make it. I think, this word is synonymous with the word: enigma, mystery, sometimes riddle.
The rebus and its solution are symmetrical. In the following example: "set the axe to the root of an evil" the phrase, - metaphor, which includes tales, histories, experiences, - in our minds conjures up abstract meanings, such as "axe" (cf.: axis, axiom/atic etc.) The common figure is heuristic, both in the puzzle and the solution.



In the case of Oedipus’ rebus, we can think at first of the explicit rebus, the rebus, the question the Sphinx puts to Oedipus. (About the man, in pictures). This rebus is solved by Oedipus. He will become the king and not a dead man (unlike other men before him, who could not guess the solution). Oedipus will be (in this case), victorous, and the Sphinx dies. But, - as we know – essentially – Oedipus is the real loser. This rebus is important. But it is only a prelude: the "game" between Sphinx and Oedipus is a micro-variation before the great game of Fate. In the continuation of this real "game"/ quasi-struggle, the oracle appears, from the birth of Oedipus, along every basic stage of his life, (very much like as in the former Sphinx-rebus.) Every oraculum has all the properities of rebus. Oedipus, the self, the man, the king and mainly a cripple, beggar is at the heart of this "puzzle"/ "mystery". His fate, all career, and his name (Oedipus: gummy-legged, swollen-legged) equally hint at these oracles.

The rebus-es are symmetrical, however different look on the surface, and the multiply symmetries in the structure of the play (of the work of art). E.g.: the parallels/repetitions of the several oracles; the repetition/parallels of the meaning and visual figure of rebus, embodied. (The "Sphinx"- figure is the picture of rebus.). The "Oedipus-complex" is not only an drama-poetical and psychological point. This is a figure of the man’s Fate, and the (figuratively) point of symmetries, too.


In the myth and in the play (works of art) Oedipus rebus is multiplied. (Rebus of Sphinx; the figure of Sphinx, oracles, all Oedipus-fate etc.). These several rebuses are elements/ motifs of the work of art, but at the same time every single one includes the totality of the work, too. This totality is also an advantageous, secret way, "voyage" in time and in space (stages of life, Thebes, Colonus, etc.) The line of this way is hidden, itself is "rebus", too. There is a via, or rather a labyrinth. Similar to the line of Theseus, or other variations of it. There are basically important some symetrically points: the entrance and the way out; the possible of aberration or finding his way out. Both in a literal sense and figuratively as well.

This symmetrical alternative (unavoidable choice) is the question of life or death. At the same time it is paralell with the double-possibility of other rebuses. This dichotomy is the same in all rebus (riddle, enigma, mistery etc.): whether the hero/heroine can find the solution (key, way out) or not. The question and answer, the task and solution, guessing could be by word, phrase, picture, diagram. The common essence is in the ancient figures (circle, square, serpent, several kinds of crosses, etc.).


The quoted figures, - as a "holy geometry" - are some special interpretation, too. As the work of art solves the universal rebus (mistery etc.), other kinds of the interpretations as in plays from reading to performance and analysis are essentialy "interpretations of interpretations".


These hypothetical, symmetrical characteristics in the elements and total work of art; and in several ancient signs and cods, and their interpretations share the common basic problems of Heuristics. The "rebus" is an example, maybe means, of demonstration.


Beardsley, Monroe C. (1962) The metaphorical twist, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 22, 293-307.

Fónagy, Iván (no year) A költ?i nyelvr?l, [About the Poetical Language, in Hungarian], Budapest: Corvina; Also see from the same author: Füst Milán: Öregség – Dallamfejtés, [Milán Füst: Agedness - Expounding of a Melody of a Poem, in Hungarian], Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1974.

Fontana, David (1953) The Secret Language of Symbols, Duncan Baird Publishers.

Frye, Northrop (1981) The Grat Code: The Bible and Literature, San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg (1953) Die Aktualitä t des Schönen, Reprinted in: Gesammelte Werke, Vol. 8, Ästhetik und Poetik I: Kunst als Aussage, Ed. by J. C. B. Mohr, Tübingen, 1993.

Gránicz, István (1996) Az intertextualitás problémája az orosz filológiában, [Problem of intertextuality in the Russian philology, in Hungarin], Helikon, Nos. 1-2.

Kristeva, Julia (1974) La Révolution du Language of Symbols, Paris: Seuil.

Koller, Hermann (1954) Die Mimesis in Antike, Bern.

Laurent, Jenny (1996) A forma stratégiája, [The Strategy of Form, in Hungarian], Helikon, Nos. 1-2.

Meletinskii, E. M. (1976) Poetika mifa, [Poetics of Myth, in Russian], Moskva [Moscow]: Nauka; Also see, Meletinskii, E. M. in: Veselovskii, A. N. Istoricheskaya poetika, Moskva: Vysshaya shkola, 1989.

Morrison, Tessa (2002) The mnemonics of the cretan labyrinth, Symmetry: Art and Science, Vol. 2. (new series) , Nos. 1-4, 203-217.

Ricoeur, Paul (1981) Essays on Biblical Interpretation, Ed. by Lewis S. Mudge, London: SPCK, 27-145.

Steiner, George (1984) Antigones, Oxford: Clarendon Press; see the Preface.