Sphinx in Greek, Roman and Egyptian Mythology

12/08/2021

     Sphinx is a Mythological being known since Egyptian Mythology, later the Greeks adapted their Myth with Oedipus. The Romans did the same thing. Meet the Sphinx in Greek, Roman and Egyptian Mythologies.

Origin of the Sphinx:

     Sphinx is an iconic image of a lion stretched out with the head of a falcon or a person, present both in Greek Mythology, as well as in Egyptian and Roman architecture. The Egyptian sphinx is an ancient mystical creature usually thought of as an outstretched lion with a human head, usually that of a pharaoh. Also used for demonstration of power.


In Egypt, there were a few different names and descriptions:

     Seen as guardians in Egyptian statuary, sphinxes are depicted in one of two forms: Androsphinx: lion's body with the head of a person; Hierocosphinx: lion body with falcon head. The largest and most famous is Sesheps, the Sphinx of Giza, situated on the Giza plateau on the west bank of the River Nile, made in two to the east, with a small temple between its paws. The face of that sphinx is considered to be the head of Pharaoh Chefren or possibly that of his brother, Pharaoh Djedefré, who would date its construction to the fourth dynasty.

     However, there are some alternative theories that relate the sphinx to pre-ancient empire and, according to one hypothesis, to prehistoric times. Other famous Egyptian sphinxes include the alabaster sphinx of Memphis, now located inside the open-air museum there; and the sheep-headed sphinxes (Greek, cryosphinxes) representing the god Amon at Thebes, of which there were originally some nine hundred.

Sphinx and Oedipus in Greek Mythology:

     There was a single Sphinx in Greek Mythology (unlike the Egyptian where it had several names and descriptions), a unique demon of destruction and bad luck, according to Hesiod a daughter of Chimera and Ortros or, according to others, of Typhon and of Echidna.

     She was depicted in vase and bas-relief painting more often sitting upright rather than extended, like a winged lion with a woman's head; or she was a woman with the paws, claws and breasts of a lion, a serpent's tail and eagle's wings.

     Hera or Ares sent the sphinx from their home in Ethiopia (the Greeks remembered the sphinx's foreign origin) to Thebes and, in Oedipus King of Sophocles, asks everyone who passes the most famous puzzle in history, known as the "riddle of the sphinx", decipher me or I will devour you:

"What creature in the morning has four feet, at noon it has two, and in the afternoon it has three?"

Oedipus solved the Sphinx puzzle and answered:

"- Man! who crawls like a baby, walks on two feet in adulthood, and uses a cane in old age."

     Furious at such a response, the sphinx would have committed suicide by throwing herself off a precipice. The exact puzzle asked by the sphinx was not specified by several storytellers and was not standardized as the data about until much later in Greek history. Thus, Oedipus can be recognized as a threshold or figure of a sole of a door, helping to effect the transition between the old religious practices, represented by the sphinx, and the new ones, Olympic unity.


Sphinx in Roman Mythology:

     In terms of Roman Mythology, Sphinx was described very similar to Greek Myth, as it is known by many, Roman Mythology is basically a "copy" of ancient Greek tales, so they later called it Greco-Roman Mythology.


South and Southeast Asia:

     A mythological being like the Greek Sphinx, composed of a lion's body and a human's head, is present in the traditions, mythology and art of South and Southeast Asia. Differently known as "beast man", "cat man" or "lion man", they had the head of a lion and the body of a human.

     In contrast to the sphinxes of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece, whose traditions were largely lost due to the discontinuity of civilization, traditions related to "Asian sphinxes" are very much alive today.

     Early artistic representations of "sphinxes" from the South Asian subcontinent are to some extent influenced by Hellenistic art and writing. They come from the period when Buddhist art went through a phase of Hellenistic influence.

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