A SPHINX (
Ancient Greek : Σφίγξ , Boeotian : Φίξ , plural
SPHINGES) is a mythical creature with the head of a human and the body
of a lion .
In Greek tradition , it has the head of a human , the haunches of a
lion , and sometimes the wings of a bird . It is mythicised as
treacherous and merciless. Those who cannot answer its riddle suffer a
fate typical in such mythological stories, as they are killed and
eaten by this ravenous monster. This deadly version of a sphinx
appears in the myth and drama of
Oedipus . Unlike the Greek sphinx,
which was a woman, the Egyptian sphinx is typically shown as a man (an
ANDROSPHINX). In addition, the Egyptian sphinx was viewed as
benevolent, but having a ferocious strength similar to the malevolent
Greek version and both were thought of as guardians often flanking the
entrances to temples.
In European decorative art, the sphinx enjoyed a major revival during
Renaissance . Later, the sphinx image, something very similar to
the original Ancient Egyptian concept, was exported into many other
cultures, albeit often interpreted quite differently due to
translations of descriptions of the originals and the evolution of the
concept in relation to other cultural traditions.
Sphinxes are generally associated with architectural structures such
as royal tombs or religious temples. The oldest known sphinx was found
Gobekli Tepe at another site, Nevali Çori , or possibly 195
kilometres (120 mi) to the east at Kortik Tepe,
Turkey , and was dated
to 9,500 BCE.
* 1 Egyptian sphinxes
* 2 Greek traditions
* 2.1 The
Riddle of the
* 3 South and Southeast Asia
* 6 Popular culture
* 7 Similar creatures
* 8 Gallery
* 9 See also
* 10 Notes
* 11 References
* 12 Further reading
* 13 External links
Sphinx before clearance,
Brooklyn Museum Archives
Back of Sphinx,
The largest and most famous sphinx is the
Great Sphinx of Giza
Great Sphinx of Giza ,
situated on the
Giza Plateau adjacent to the Great Pyramids of
the west bank of the
Nile River and facing east (29°58′31″N
31°08′15″E / 29.97528°N 31.13750°E / 29.97528;
31.13750 ). The sphinx is located southeast of the pyramids. Although
the date of its construction is uncertain, the head of the Great
Sphinx now is believed to be that of the pharaoh
What names their builders gave to these statues is not known. At the
Sphinx site, a 1400 BCE inscription on a stele belonging to the
18th dynasty pharaoh
Thutmose IV lists the names of three aspects of
the local sun deity of that period, _
Atum _. The
inclusion of these figures in tomb and temple complexes quickly became
traditional and many pharaohs had their heads carved atop the guardian
statues for their tombs to show their close relationship with the
powerful solar deity,
Sekhmet , a lioness. Other famous Egyptian
sphinxes include one bearing the head of the pharaoh
Hatshepsut , with
her likeness carved in granite , which is now in the Metropolitan
Museum of Art in New York, and the alabaster sphinx of Memphis ,
Memphis, Egypt , currently located within the open-air museum at that
site. The theme was expanded to form great avenues of guardian
sphinxes lining the approaches to tombs and temples as well as serving
as details atop the posts of flights of stairs to very grand
complexes. Nine hundred with ram heads, representing Amon , were built
in Thebes , where his cult was strongest.
Sphinx has become an emblem of Egypt, frequently appearing
on its stamps, coins, and official documents.
Bronze Age , the Hellenes had trade and cultural contacts
with Egypt. Before the time that
Alexander the Great occupied Egypt,
the Greek name, _sphinx_, was already applied to these statues. The
historians and geographers of Greece wrote extensively about Egyptian
Herodotus called the ram -headed sphinxes CRIOSPHINXES and
called the hawk -headed ones HIERACOSPHINXES .
The word _sphinx_ comes from the Greek Σφίγξ, apparently from
the verb σφίγγω (_sphíngō_), meaning "to squeeze", "to tighten
up". This name may be derived from the fact that the hunters for a
pride of lions are the lionesses, and kill their prey by
strangulation, biting the throat of prey and holding them down until
they die. However, the historian Susan Wise Bauer suggests that the
word "sphinx" was instead a Greek corruption of the Egyptian name
"shesepankh", which meant "living image", and referred rather to the
_statue_ of the sphinx, which was carved out of "living rock" (rock
that was present at the construction site, not harvested and brought
from another location), than to the beast itself.
There was a single _sphinx_ in Greek mythology, a unique demon of
destruction and bad luck. According to
Hesiod , she was a daughter of
Orthrus and either Echidna or the Chimera , or perhaps even
according to others, she was a daughter of Echidna and
Typhon . All of
these are chthonic figures from the earliest of Greek myths, before
the Olympians ruled the Greek pantheon . The
Sphinx is called Phix
Hesiod in line 326 of the
Theogony , the proper name for
Sphinx noted by
Pierre Grimal 's _The Penguin Dictionary of
Greek mythology , a sphinx is represented as a monster with a head
of a woman, the body of a lioness , the wings of an eagle , and a
serpent -headed tail.
The sphinx was the emblem of the ancient city-state of
Chios , and
appeared on seals and the obverse side of coins from the 6th century
BCE until the 3rd century CE.
THE RIDDLE OF THE SPHINX
Riddle of the Sphinx" redirects here. For other uses, see
Sphinx (other) . Marble Sphinx, dated 540 BCE, in
Acropolis Museum ,
Sphinx is said to have guarded the entrance to the Greek city of
Thebes, and to have asked a riddle of travellers to allow them
passage. The exact riddle asked by the
Sphinx was not specified by
early tellers of the stories, and was not standardized as the one
given below until late in Greek history.
It was said in late lore that
Ares sent the
Sphinx from her
Aethiopian homeland (the Greeks always remembered the foreign origin
of the Sphinx) to Thebes in Greece where she asks all passersby the
most famous riddle in history: "Which creature has one voice and yet
becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed?" She strangled
and devoured anyone who could not answer.
Oedipus solved the riddle by
answering: Man—who crawls on all fours as a baby, then walks on two
feet as an adult, and then uses a walking stick in old age. By some
accounts (but much more rarely), there was a second riddle: "There
are two sisters: one gives birth to the other and she, in turn, gives
birth to the first. Who are the two sisters?" The answer is "day and
night" (both words—_ἡμέρα_ and _νύξ_, respectively—are
feminine in Ancient Greek). This riddle is also found in a Gascon
version of the myth and could be very ancient.
Bested at last, the tale continues, the
Sphinx then threw herself
from her high rock and died. An alternative version tells that she
devoured herself. Thus
Oedipus can be recognized as a "liminal " or
threshold figure, helping effect the transition between the old
religious practices, represented by the death of the Sphinx, and the
rise of the new, Olympian gods.
Jean Cocteau 's retelling of the
Oedipus legend, _The Infernal
Machine _, the
Oedipus the answer to the riddle in order
to kill herself so that she did not have to kill anymore, and also to
make him love her. He leaves without ever thanking her for giving him
the answer to the riddle. The scene ends when the
Sphinx and Anubis
ascend back to the heavens.
There are mythic, anthropological, psychoanalytic and parodic
interpretations of the
Riddle of the Sphinx, and of Oedipus's answer
to it. Sigmund Freud describes "the question of where babies come
from" as a riddle of the Sphinx. Numerous riddle books use the Sphinx
in their title or illustrations.
Michael Maier in his book, the _
Atalanta Fugiens _ (1617) writes the
following remark about the Sphinx's riddle, in which he states that
the solution is the Philosopher\'s Stone :
Sphinx is indeed reported to have had many Riddles, but this offered
Oedipus was the chief, "What is that which in the morning goeth
upon four feet; upon two feet in the afternoon; and in the Evening
upon three?" What was answered by
Oedipus is not known. But they who
interpret concerning the Ages of Man are deceived. For a Quadrangle of
Four Elements are of all things first to be considered, from thence we
come to the Hemisphere having two lines, a Right and a Curve, that is,
to the White Luna; from thence to the Triangle which consists of Body,
Soul and Spirit, or Sol, Luna and Mercury. Hence Rhasis in his
Epistles, "The Stone," says he, "is a Triangle in its essence, a
Quadrangle in its quality."
SOUTH AND SOUTHEAST ASIA
Burmese depiction of the Manussiha
A composite mythological being with the body of a lion and the head
of a human being is present in the traditions, mythology and art of
South and South-East Asia. Variously known as _purushamriga_
(Sanskrit, "man-beast"), _purushamirugam_ (Tamil, "man-beast"),
_naravirala_ (Sanskrit, "man-cat") in India, or as _nara-simha_
(Sanskrit, "man-lion") in Sri Lanka, _manusiha_ or _manuthiha_ (Pali,
"man-lion") in Myanmar, and _norasingh_ (from Pali, "man-lion", a
variation of the Sanskrit "nara-simha") or _thep norasingh_ ("man-lion
deity"), or _nora nair_ in Thailand.
In contrast to the sphinx in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece, where
the traditions largely have been lost due to the discontinuity of the
civilization, the traditions of the "Asian sphinx" are very much
alive today. The earliest artistic depictions of "sphinxes" from the
South Asian subcontinent are to some extent influenced by Hellenistic
art and writings. These hail from the period when Buddhist art
underwent a phase of Hellenistic influence.
In South India, the "sphinx" is known as _purushamriga_ (Sanskrit) or
_purushamirugam_ (Tamil), meaning "human-beast". It is found depicted
in sculptural art in temples and palaces where it serves an apotropaic
purpose, just as the "sphinxes" in other parts of the ancient world.
It is said by the tradition, to take away the sins of the devotees
when they enter a temple and to ward off evil in general. It is
therefore often found in a strategic position on the gopuram or temple
gateway, or near the entrance of the
Sanctum Sanctorum . Male
purushamriga or Indian sphinx guarding the entrance of the Shri Shiva
Nataraja temple in
The _purushamriga_ plays a significant role in daily as well as
yearly ritual of South Indian
Shaiva temples. In the
shodhasha-upakaara (or sixteen honors) ritual, performed between one
and six times at significant sacred moments through the day, it
decorates one of the lamps of the diparadhana or lamp ceremony. And in
several temples the _purushamriga_ is also one of the _vahana _ or
vehicles of the deity during the processions of the
In Kanya Kumari district, in the southernmost tip of the Indian
subcontinent, during the night of
Shiva Ratri , devotees run 75
kilometres while visiting and worshiping at twelve
Shiva temples. This
Shiva Ottam (or Run for Shiva) is performed in commemoration of the
story of the race between the
Bhima , one of the heroes of
the epic _
The Indian conception of a sphinx that comes closest to the classic
Greek idea is in the concept of the _
Sharabha _, a mythical creature,
part lion, part man and part bird, and the form of
Sharabha that god
Shiva took on to counter
Narasimha 's violence.
Philippines , the sphinx is known as _nicolonia_. Depicted as part
man and part eagle, it is known to ask riddles to wanderers who
trespass in the Bicol region. Anyone who fails to answer its riddle is
said to be carried off to the
Mayon Volcano where the person is said
to be offered to the volcano god, Gev\'ra , to appease his anger.
Sri Lanka , the sphinx is known as _narasimha_ or man-lion. As a
sphinx, it has the body of a lion and the head of a human being, and
is not to be confused with
Narasimha , the fourth reincarnation of the
Vishnu ; this avatar or incarnation is depicted with a human
body and the head of a lion. The "sphinx" narasimha is part of the
Buddhist tradition and functions as a guardian of the northern
direction and also was depicted on banners.
Burma , the sphinx is known as _manussiha _ (_manuthiha_). It is
depicted on the corners of Buddhist stupas , and its legends tell how
it was created by Buddhist monks to protect a new-born royal baby from
being devoured by ogresses .
Nora Nair, Norasingh and Thep Norasingh are three of the names under
which the "sphinx" is known in
Thailand . They are depicted as upright
walking beings with the lower body of a lion or deer, and the upper
body of a human. Often they are found as female-male pairs. Here, too,
the sphinx serves a protective function. It also is enumerated among
the mythological creatures that inhabit the ranges of the sacred
La Granja , Spain, mid-18th century
Fernand Khnopff 's
symbolist version of a sphinx.
The revived Mannerist sphinx of the late 15th century is sometimes
thought of as the "French sphinx". Her coiffed head is erect and she
has the breasts of a young woman. Often she wears ear drops and pearls
as ornaments. Her body is naturalistically rendered as a recumbent
lioness. Such sphinxes were revived when the _grottesche _ or
"grotesque" decorations of the unearthed _
Domus Aurea _ of
brought to light in late 15th-century Rome, and she was incorporated
into the classical vocabulary of arabesque designs that spread
Europe in engravings during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Sphinxes were included in the decoration of the _loggia _ of the
Vatican Palace by the workshop of
Raphael (1515–20), which updated
the vocabulary of the Roman _grottesche_.
The first appearances of sphinxes in French art are in the School of
Fontainebleau in the 1520s and 1530s and she continues into the Late
Baroque style of the French Régence (1715–1723).
From France, she spread throughout Europe, becoming a regular feature
of the outdoors decorative sculpture of 18th-century palace gardens,
as in the Upper Belvedere Palace in
Sanssouci Park in Potsdam
, La Granja in Spain, Branicki Palace in
Białystok , or the late
Rococo examples in the grounds of the Portuguese Queluz National
Palace (of perhaps the 1760s), with ruffs and clothed chests ending
with a little cape.
Sphinxes are a feature of the neoclassical interior decorations of
Robert Adam and his followers, returning closer to the undressed style
of the _grottesche_. They had an equal appeal to artists and designers
of the Romantic , and later Symbolism movements in the 19th century.
Most of these sphinxes alluded to the Greek sphinx , rather than the
Egyptian, although they may not have wings.
Sphinx adopted as an emblem in Masonic architecture
The sphinx image also has been adopted into Masonic architecture.
Among the Egyptians, sphinxes were placed at the entrance of the
temple to guard the mysteries, by warning those who penetrated within
that they should conceal a knowledge of them from the uninitiated.
Champollion says that the sphinx became successively the symbol of
each of the gods. The placement of the sphinx expresses the idea that
all the gods were hidden from the people, and that the knowledge of
them, guarded in the sanctuaries, was revealed to the initiates only.
As a Masonic emblem, the sphinx has been adopted in its Egyptian
character as a symbol of mystery, and as such often is found as a
decoration sculptured in front of Masonic temples, or engraved at the
head of Masonic documents. It cannot, however, be properly called an
ancient, recognized symbol of the order. Its introduction has been of
comparatively recent date, and rather as a symbolic decoration than as
a symbol of any particular dogma.
The 1992 animated film _Aladdin _ depicts the construction of the
Great Sphinx of Giza
Great Sphinx of Giza . In the film, a man is carving the Sphinx's
human face just as Aladdin flies by on a flying carpet . The sight
proves such a distraction to the sculptor that he mishits the great
statue, causing its nose to break off.
Sphinx makes an appearance in the 2016 film _Gods of Egypt _,
where it is voiced and motion-captured by Kenneth Ransom . It is found
in Set 's pyramid and poised to kill any who cannot solve its riddle:
I never was, am always to be. No one ever saw me, nor ever will, and
yet, I am the confidence of all who live and breathe. What am I?
Horus and mortal Bek bring
Thoth , the god of wisdom, with them, sure
he will be able to solve whatever riddle is posed.
Thoth stumbles at
first, offering _order _ and other suggestions before landing on, at
the last second, the correct answer: _tomorrow_. The
its disappointment before residing.
* The 32,000-year-old
Aurignacian Löwenfrau Goddess is the oldest
known anthropomorphic statue. Previously known as the Lion-man , she
has a human female body and a lioness head.
* Not all human-headed animals of antiquity are sphinxes. In ancient
Assyria , for example, bas-reliefs of shedu bulls with the crowned
bearded heads of kings guarded the entrances of the temples.
* In the classical Olympian mythology of Greece, all the deities had
human form, although they could assume their animal natures as well.
All the creatures of Greek myth who combine human and animal form are
archaic survivals: centaurs ,
Typhon , Medusa , Lamia .
Narasimha ("man-lion") is described as an incarnation (
Avatar ) of
Vishnu within the
Puranic texts of
Hinduism who takes the form of
Asiatic lion , having a human torso and lower body, but
with a lion-like face and claws.
Manticore is a similar creature, which also features a lion's
body with human-like face.
Winged sphinx from the palace of
Darius the Great during Persian
Susa (480 BCE).
Head from a female sphinx, c. 1876-1842 BCE,
Sphinx and Pyramid., n.d.
Brooklyn Museum Archives
Great Sphinx of Giza
Great Sphinx of Giza in 1858
Typical Egyptian sphinx with a human head. (
Museo Egizio ,
Sphinx of Egyptian pharaoh
Hatshepsut with unusual ear and ruff
Ancient Greek sphinx from
Modern reproduction of symbol used for Chian goods and coinage during
3000-year-old sphinxes were imported from Egypt to embellish public
Saint Petersburg and other European capitals .
Upper Belvedere Palace in
Park Sanssouci in
Queluz wingless rococo sphinx.
Classic Régence garden
Sphinx in lead, Château Empain, the Parc
Park Schönbusch in
Bavaria , 1789-90.
Ingres , _
Oedipus and the Sphinx_.
Hôtel de Ville, Paris , 1870s.
Oedipus and the Sphinx_ by
Gustave Moreau .
A contemporary sphinx by Botero , in
Medellín, Colombia .
Sphinx at Plaza de los Emperadores (Parque de El Capricho,
Lester B. Pearson Building in
Ottawa was designed to resemble the
Marble sphinx on a cavetto capital, Attic, c. 580-575 BCE
Sphinx guarding the entrance of Parque Eduardo Guinle (pt).
"Future," shielding its face with its wings, one of two sphinxes at
National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri
, United States.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to SPHINXES _.
* Hybrid creatures in mythology
List of hybrid creatures in mythology
SIMILAR HYBRID CREATURES
* Anzû (older reading: Zû), Mesopotamian monster
* Chimera , Greek mythological hybrid monster
Cockatrice , snake with rooster's head and feet and bat's wings
Dragon , European and East Asian reptile-like mythical creature
Griffin or griffon, lion-bird hybrid
Harpy , Greco-Roman mythological bird monster with woman's face
Lamassu , Assyrian deity, bull/lion-eagle-human hybrid
Manticore , Persian monster with a lion's body and a humanoid
Nue , Japanese legendary creature
Pegasus , winged stallion in Greek mythology
* Phoenix , self-regenerating bird in Greek mythology
Pixiu or Pi Yao, Chinese mythical creature
Qilin , Chinese/East Asian mythical hybrid creature
Sharabha , Hindu mythology: lion-bird hybrid
Simurgh , Iranian mythical flying creature
Sirin , Russian mythological creature, half-woman half-bird
Lion , Tibetan mythological celestial animal
* Yali , Hindu mythological lion-elephant-horse hybrid
Ziz , giant griffin-like bird in Jewish mythology
Komainu to compare its use in Japanese culture
Chinthe similar lion statues in Burma, Laos and Cambodia
Shisa similar lion statues in the Ryukyu Islands
Nian to compare with a similar but horned (unicorn) mythical beast
Pixiu to compare with a similar but winged mythical beast
Haetae to compare with similar lion-like statues in
* ^ "Dr. J\'s Lecture on
Oedipus and the Sphinx". People.hsc.edu.
* ^ Kallich, Martin. "Oepidus and the Sphinx." Oepidus: Myth and
Drama. N.p.: Western, 1968. N. pag. Print.
* ^ Stewart, Desmond. Pyramids and the Sphinx. : Newsweek, U.S.,
* ^ "Is The