Two Riddles

A: PHOEBUS, arise! / And paint the sable skies / With azure, white, and red:

Phoebus arises, and paints the sable skieses. What colour is sable?

B: “Skieses” is a superplural — a plural of plurals, akin to “peoples”. What could justify me in using this superplural besides its preserving the rhyme scheme?

A: Sable is black. I made the mistake of thinking sable was blue, since the sky is blue. But it is blue only after Phoebus has arisen and painted it.

B: The plural “skies” is sometimes used to refer to Earth’s atmosphere (other times we use the singular “sky”). If there are, as seems increasingly plausible, several planets with atmospheres like that of Earth, then there are multiple skieses.

“Phoebus” must then be a god who is incarnate not just in our Sun but in any star that plays the role of our Sun to an Earth-like planet. Phoebus is then multiply located in his incarnations. But we are quite comfortable with the idea of supernatural beings who can be multiply located in many incarnations at once. Arguably Christ managed this in his post-resurrection appearances. Also, children see Santa in different shopping centres around the world, often at the same time, though there is only one Santa.



Lecturer in Philosophy, University of St. Andrews — personal website:

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