Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: sphinx from Philip's Encyclopedia

Mythical beast of the ancient world, usually represented with the head of a person and the body of a lion. In Greek mythology, Oedipus solved the riddle of the Sphinx of Thebes, so destroying the Spinx's evil power. Although found throughout the Middle East, images of sphinxes were especially popular in Egypt, where thousands were built. The most famous is the Great Sphinx near the Pyramids at Giza.

Summary Article: Sphinx
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

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



© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

Related Articles

Full text Article Sphinx
Who's Who in Ancient Egypt, Routledge

Human-headed or ram-headed zoomorphic statues set up to guard sacred sites or to line processional ways. Occasionally, as in the Middle...

Full text Article sphinx
Word Origins

[16 century] The original Sphinx was a monster, half woman and half lion, which terrorized the country around Thebes in ancient Greece....

Full text Article sphinx
The Bloomsbury Guide to Art

Two distinct mythological beasts, one Egyptian, the other Greek. The Egyptian sphinx has the body of a lion with the head of a pharaoh and was...

See more from Credo