A sphinx is a type of mythical character believed to possess the human head and the body of the lion. The Greeks, however, hypothesize that a sphinx has the wings of a bird, the head of a man and the thighs of a lion. The sphinx is an evil and cruel creature who asks for puzzles and those who cannot answer have suffered the fate of being killed and eaten by the monster according to mythological stories. The Egyptian sphinx is a male (an androsphinx), unlike the Greek sphinx which is believed to be female. The Egyptian sphinx was considered compassionate and understanding, but had a strength similar to that of the Greek vicious sphinx, and both were used to protect temple entrances.
Sphinxes have a connection with architectural structures ranging from royal tombs to temples. During the Renaissance in the European art scene, the sphinx was revived and later was diffused in different cultures where it obtained unique interpretations thanks to different interpretations.
The most commonly known sphinx is the Sphinx of Giza, which is also known to be among the largest and oldest statuettes in the world. It is located on the Giza plateau and is adjacent to the Giza pyramids. Though uncertain, the sources believe it was carved around 2500 BC and its face resembles that of the pharaoh Khafra. The Great Sphinx is huge with an approximate length of 241 feet. Its width is about twenty feet and it has a height of 66 feet. Furthermore, it is made of remnants from seawater. It is believed that the great Sphinx originally had a long beard with braids and a nose that was torn down.
The image of the great Sphinx is commonly used in Egypt to embellish stamps, coins and official documents. In addition to the Sphinx of Giza, there were other well-known sphinxes in Egypt, including the only granite carving and the head of Pharaoh Hatshepsut.
In Greek, the word sphinx means “to tighten”. It is said that the name comes from the act of hunting lionesses. The hunt involves the strangulation and the death of the prey. The Greeks believe that Orthus and Echidna or Chimera have conceived a daughter who they believe to be the only sphinx that ever existed. According to them, he lived outside the city of Thebes and riddled travelers before letting them proceed. His riddle questioned about a creature that had a unique voice and used four, two and three legs in the morning, day and night respectively. The penalty for giving a wrong answer to this riddle was an instant death.
The person who provided the correct answer was Oedipus. His answer was “the man”, who uses four legs as a child, two as an adult and needs a stick when he is old. The Sphinx has been killed since the riddle was finally answered correctly. As a result of this death, the ancient Greeks abandon their spiritual practices which the Sphinx represented and began to worship the deities represented by Oedipus.