Mythological creature, depicted in Egyptian, Assyrian, and Greek art as a lion with a human head. The Greek Sphinx of Thebes was winged with a woman's breasts, and was adopted as an emblem of wisdom. She killed all those who failed to answer her riddle about which animal went on four, then two, and finally three legs: the answer being humanity (baby, adult, and old person with stick). When Oedipus gave the right reply, she committed suicide.
Representation One of the oldest monuments is the Great Sphinx at El Gîza, Egypt, 58 m/189 ft high, which was probably built about 2900–2750 BC. It is believed to represent King Khafre with the body of a recumbent lion, guarding the royal cemetery and mortuary temples. Subsequently it was imitated on a smaller scale, and avenues of sphinxes frequently flanked the approaches to temples. The Great Sphinx has been buried by sand and dug out on a number of occasions; one such event is recorded by an 18th dynasty inscription.
Another example of an early sphinx is that of King Pepi I, hewn out of red granite, and now on display in the Louvre, Paris. In certain Egyptian religious art, the king as sphinx is shown making offerings to deities or tearing his enemies to pieces.
From Egypt, the concept of the sphinx spread to Assyria and Phoenicia, its figure being commonly found on Persian gems, and also to Greece.
Great Sphinx of El Gîza
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The word "sphinx" is Greek in origin, although some scholars have suggested that it was derived from the Egyptian shesepankh, meaning living image;
Human-headed or ram-headed zoomorphic statues set up to guard sacred sites or to line processional ways. Occasionally, as in the Middle...
[16 century] The original Sphinx was a monster, half woman and half lion, which terrorized the country around Thebes in ancient Greece....