The Sphinx in Greek and Egyptian Legend

Sphinx in Egypt
Sphinx in Egypt. TravelPhoto (C) Michal Charvat

There are two creatures called a sphinx.

  1. One sphinx is an Egyptian desert statue of a hybrid creature. It has a leonine body and the head of another creature -- typically, human.
  2. The other type of sphinx is a Greek demon with a tail and wings.

The 2 types of sphinx are similar because they are hybrids, having body parts from more than one animal.

Mythological Sphinx and Oedipus

Oedipus was made famous in modern times by Freud, who based a psychological condition on Oedipus' love of his mother and murder of his father. Part of Oedipus' ancient legend is that he saved the day when he answered the riddle of the sphinx, who had been ravaging the countryside. When Oedipus ran into the sphinx, she asked him a riddle she did not expect him to answer. Should he fail, she would eat him.

She asked, "What has 4 legs in the morning, 2 at noon, and 3 at night?"

Oedipus answered the sphinx, "Man."

And with that answer, Oedipus became king of Thebes. The sphinx responded by killing herself.

Great Sphinx Statue in Egypt

That may have been the end of the most famous, mythological sphinx, but there were other sphinxes in art and some of them still exist. The earliest is the sphinx statue made from the native bedrock in the desert sands at Giza, Egypt, a portrait thought to be of Pharaoh Khafre (fourth king of the 4th dynasty, c. 2575 - c. 2465 B.C.). This -- the Great Sphinx -- has a lion body with a human head. The sphinx may be a funerary monument to the pharaoh and of the god Horus in its aspect as ​Haurun-Harmakhis.

Winged Sphinx

The sphinx made its way to Asia where it gained wings. In Crete, the winged sphinx appears on artifacts from the 16th century B.C. Shortly thereafter, around the 15th century B.C., the sphinx statues became female. The sphinx is often depicted sitting on her haunches.

Great Sphinx
This InterOz site says "sphinx" means "strangler," a name given the woman/lion/bird statue by the Greeks. Site tells about repair and reconstruction efforts.

Guardian's Sphinx
Photographs and physical description of the Great Sphinx which is thought to have been commissioned by the Fourth Dynasty's King Khafre.

Saving the Secrets of the Sand
Interview and article on Dr. Zahi Hawass, director of the Sphinx Restoration Project, by Elizabeth Kaye McCall. See Recent Interviews for more information from Dr. Hawass.

Remnants of a Lost Civilization?
Zahi Hawass and Mark Lehner explain why most Egyptologists ignore the early dating theories of West and Schoch -- West and Schoch ignore the evidence of Old Egyptian society.

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Your Citation
Gill, N.S. "The Sphinx in Greek and Egyptian Legend." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Gill, N.S. (2020, August 26). The Sphinx in Greek and Egyptian Legend. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "The Sphinx in Greek and Egyptian Legend." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).