A sphinx is a type of mythical character that is believed to possess the human head and the lion’s body. The Greeks, however, speculate that a sphinx has a bird’s wings, a human's head, and a lion's haunches. The sphinx is an evil and cruel creature that asks riddles and those who cannot answer it 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 sympathetic but had similar strength to that of the vicious Greek sphinx, and both used to guard entrances of temples.
Sphinxes have a connection to architectural structures ranging from royal tombs to temples. During Renaissance in Europe's art scene, the sphinx was revived and was later spread to different cultures where it got unique interpretations due to diverse understandings.
The most commonly known sphinx is the Sphinx of Giza, which is also known to be among the biggest and ancient statuettes worldwide. It is located on Giza plateau and is adjacent to the pyramids of Giza. Though uncertain, sources believe that it was sculpted around 2500 BC and its face resembles that of Pharaoh Khafra. The Great Sphinx is enormous with an approximate length of 241 feet. Its width is about twenty feet and it has a height of 66 feet. Moreover, it is made of remains from the sea water. The great Sphinx is believed to have originally had a long beard with braids and a nose that has been struck down.
The image of the great Sphinx is commonly used in Egypt to beautify stamps, coins, and on official documents. Apart from the Sphinx of Giza, there were other well-known sphinxes in Egypt including the one granite carving and Pharaoh Hatshepsut's head.
In Greek, the word sphinx means, “to squeeze.” The name is said to have come from the act of hunting of lionesses. The hunting involves strangling and holding the prey down to death. The Greeks believe that Orthus and either Echidna or Chimera conceived a daughter whom they believe to be the only sphinx ever to exist. According to them, she lived outside the city of Thebes and riddled travelers before letting them proceed. Her riddle questioned about a creature that had a unique voice and used four, two, and three legs in the morning, the day, and the 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 feet as a baby, two as grownup, and needs a stick when old. The Sphinx killed herself since the riddle was finally answered correctly. As a result of this death, the ancient Greeks abandon their spiritual practices that the Sphinx represented and began to worship the deities that Oedipus represented.