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by Micha F. Lindemans
In ancient Egypt, the Sphinx is a male statue of a lion with the head of a human, sometimes with wings. Most sphinxes however represent a king in his appearance as the sun god. The name "sphinx" was applied to the portraits of kings by the Greeks who visited Egypt in later centuries, because of the similarity of these statues to their Sphinx. The best known specimen is the Great Sphinx of Gizeh (on the western bank of the Nile) which is not a sphinx at all but the representation of the head of king Khaf-Ra (Chephren) on the body of a crouching body. It was supposedly built in the 4th dynasty (2723-2563 BCE), although others claim it dates back to the 7th-5th millennium.


The Greek Sphinx was a demon of death and destruction and bad luck. She was the offspring of Typhon and Echidna. It was a female creature, sometimes depicted as a winged lion with a feminine head, and sometimes as a female with the breast, paws and claws of a lion, a snake tail and bird wings. She sat on a high rock near Thebes and posed a riddle to all who passed. The riddle was: "What animal is that which in the morning goes on four feet, at noon on two, and in the evening upon three?" Those who could not solve the riddle were strangled by her. Finally Oedipus came along and he was the only who could answer that it was "Man, who in childhood creeps on hands and knees, in manhood walks erect, and in old age with the aid of a staff." The Sphinx was so mortified at the solving of her riddle that she cast herself down from the rock and perished.

The name 'sphinx' is derived from the Greek sphingo, which means "to strangle". In ancient Assyrian myths, the sphinx usually appears as a guardian of temple entrances.

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