Tag Archives: Greek stelae

Goddess, or Monster?

Sphinx

In ancient Greece, a Sphinx had a woman’s head; in Egypt, the creature is often androgynous, or male. The Great Sphinx of Giza, in Egypt, is one of the oldest sculptures in the world. It still generates mystery today because its human head has clearly been re-worked from a more ancient face.

In Greek mythology, Sphinx was the daughter of Typhon and Chimaera. She was said to have come from the most distant part of Ethiopia, and proposed her famous riddle (“What walks on four legs in childhood, two legs in adulthood, and three legs in old age?) as punishment to Thebans. Oedipus solved the riddle: “As a baby man crawls on all fours, as an adult he is two-footed, and as he grows old he gains a third foot in the form of a cane.” At this the Sphinx threw herself from the Acropolis.

A sphinx was often used on a grave marker or stelae of a young man, as in this headless Greek example from 530 BC in the Museum of Fine Arts.

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