Marble Riddles

Statue depicting Sphinx (570-560 BC, h: 222 cm w: 135 cm) in the Archeological Museum of Delphi

wiki: a Sphinx is a mythical creature with the haunches of a lion, the wings of a great bird, the face of a woman and according to some, a serpent-headed tail. She is mythicised as treacherous and merciless. Those who cannot answer her riddle suffer a fate typical in such mythological stories, as they are killed and eaten by this ravenous monster

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

It was said in late lore, that Hera or Ares sent the Sphinx from her Ethiopian homeland (the Greeks always remembered the foreign origin of the Sphinx) to Thebes in Greece, where she have guarded the entrance and have asked of travellers the most famous riddle in history to allow them passage:

“Which creature has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed?”

She strangled and devoured anyone unable to 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 he 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 are feminine in 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…

* a modern Sphinx in Naxos island, here:



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