A monster of ancient mythology. In Greece it is represented as having the head of a woman, the body of a lion, and winged; in Egypt, as a wingless lion with the head and breast of a man.
The Grecian Sphinx was generally said to be a daughter of Typhon and Chimaera. She infested Thebes, setting the inhabitants a riddle and devouring all those who could not solve it. The riddle was --
What goes on four feet, on two feet, and three,
But the more feet it goes on the weaker it be?
It was at length solved by Oedipus with the answer that it was a man, who as an infant crawls upon all-fours, in manhood goes erect on his two feet, and in old age supports his tottering legs with a staff. On hearing this correct answer the Sphinx slew herself, and Thebes was delivered.
The Egyptian sphinx is a typification of Ra, the sun god. The colossal statue of the reclining monster was old in the days of Cheops, when the Great Pyramid, near which it lies, was built. It is hewn out of the solid rock; its length is 140 feet, and its head 30 feet from crown to chin.
Emerson has a poem entitled The Sphinx ( 1841), and Oscar Wilde also wrote one.