As I Was Going to St Ives
Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers.
"As I was going to St Ives" is a traditional nursery rhyme. The earliest known published version of it dates to around 1730. The words are, in one version, as follows:
- As I was going to St. Ives
- I met a man with seven wives
- And every wife had seven sacks
- And every sack had seven cats
- And every cat had seven kits
- Kits, cats, sacks, wives
- How many were going to St. Ives?
The nursery rhyme is generally thought to be a
riddle to which the answer is one. The explanation is that the person reciting the rhyme was going to
St. Ives, and everyone else was going the opposite way.
Going away from St. Ives were: one (1) man, seven (7) wives, seven times seven (49) sacks, seven times seven times seven (343) cats, and seven times seven times seven times seven (2,401) kits, making a total of 8 humans, 49 sacks, and a slightly implausible 2,744 felines; a grand total of 2,801 kits, cats, sacks, wives, and man.
St. Ives is a village in Cornwall.
A very similar riddle has been found in an old manuscript dated to around 1650 BC:
- There are seven houses,
- each with seven cats;
- each cat kills seven mice;
- each mouse would have eaten seven heads of wheat,
- each of which would have produced seven hekat measures of grain.
- How many hekat measures of grain were saved by the cats' actions?
The manuscript provides the answer to the riddle as 19,607, which is the sum of 7 (houses), 49 (cats), 343 (mice), 2,401 (heads of wheat), and 16,807 (hekat measures of grain), but here the latter number alone is the correct answer: 16,807 (= 7 to the power of 5) hekat measures of grain were saved.