SPHINX

ΣΦΙΝΞ

Oedipus the Wayfarer (detail), by Gustave Moreau (1826-1898), French Symbolist

Oedipus the Wayfarer (detail), by Gustave Moreau
(1826-1898), French Symbolist painter

Or Phix , a monstrous being of Greek mythology, is said to have been a daughter of Orthus and Chimaera, born in the country of the Arimi (Hes. Theog. 326), or of Typhon and Echidna (Apollod. iii. 5. § 8; Schol. ad Eurip. Phoen. 46), or lastly of Typhon and Chimaera (Schol. ad Hes. and Eurip. l. .c.). Some call her a natural daughter of Laius (Paus. ix. 26. § 2). Respecting her stay at Thebes and her connection with the fate of the house of Laius, see OEDIPUS. The riddle which she there proposed, she is said to have learnt from the Muses (Apollod. iii. 5. § 8), or Laius himself taught her the mysterious oracles which Cadmus had received at Delphi (Paus. ix. 26. § 2). According to some she had been sent into Boeotia by Hera, who was angry with the Thebans for not having punished Lains, who had carried off Chrysippus from Pisa. She is said to have come from the most distant part of Ethiopia (Apollod. l. c. ; Schol. ad Eurip. Phoen. 1760); according to others she was sent by Ares, who wanted to take revenge because Cadmus had slain his son, the dragon (Argum. ad Eurip. Phoen.), or by Dionysus (Schol. ad Hes. Theog. 326), or by Hades (Eurip. Phoen. 810), and some lastly say that she was one on the women who, together with the daughters of Cadmus, were thrown into madness, and was metamorphosed into the monstrous figure. (Schol. ad Eurip. Phoen. 45.)

The legend itself clearly indicates from what quarter this being was believed to have been introduced into Greek mythology. The figure which she was conceived to have had is originally Egyptian or Ethiopian; but after her incorporation with Grecian story, her figure was variously modified. The Egyptian Sphinx is the figure of an unwinged lion in a lying attitude, but the upper part of the body is human. They appear in Egypt to have been set up in avenues forming the approaches to temples. The greatest among the Egyptian representations of Sphinxes is that of Ghizeh, which, with the exception of the paws, is of one block of stone. The Egyptian Sphinxes are often called androsphinges (Herod. ii. 175; Menandr. Fragm. p. 411, ed. Meineke), not describing them as male beings, but as lions with the upper part human, to distinguish them from those Sphinxes whose upper part was that of a sheep or ram. The common idea of a Greek Sphinx, on the other hand, is that of a winged body of a lion, having the breast and upper part of a woman (Aelian, H. A. xii. 7; Auson. Griph. 40 ; Apollod. iii. 5. § 8; Schol. ad Eurip. Phoen. 806). Greek Sphinxes, moreover, are not always represented in a lying attitude, but appear in different positions, as it might suit the fancy of the sculptor or poet. Thus they appear with the face of a maiden, the breast, feet, and claws of a lion, the tail of a serpent, and the wings of a bird (Schol. ad Aristoph. Ran. 1287 ; Soph. Oed. Tyr. 391 ; Athen. vi. p. 253; Palaephat. 7); or the fore part of the body is that of a lion, and the lower part that of a man, with the claws of a vuiture and the wings of an eagle (Tzetz. ad Lycoph. 7). Sphinxes were frequently introduced by Greek artists, as ornaments of architectural and other works. (Paus. iii. 18. § 8, v. 11. § 2; Eurip. Elect. 471.)

In the Boeotian dialect the name was Phix (Hes. Theog. 326), whence the name of the Boeotian mountain, Phikion oros. (Hes. Scut. Herc. 33.)

Oedipus and the Sphinx, by Gustave Moreau (1826-1898), French Symbolist painter

Oedipus & the Sphinx, by Gustave Moreau (1826-1898), French Symbolist