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The Sphinx Mythology

Updated on October 22, 2011

Ever since the beginning of the human civilization, man has believed in the presence of certain mythological creatures that possess great magical powers and have a great influence in their lives. Although their presence can never be completely proven, these mythical creatures have been influencing the human culture for centuries.

The history of human cultures consists of many of such creatures claiming the great impact on human life. These creatures also form the basis of some religions the followers of which still believe in the power of these creatures and worship them.

The fact that has still kept the myth of these creatures still alive is that many of such creatures are found in different cultures having the same identity but with different stories and concepts. One of such mythical creatures is the sphinx. 

The sphinx in many cultures is portrayed as a hybrid structure consisting of a human head, particularly of a woman, body of lion and wings of an eagle. This powerful and mystical creature has played its part in many of the world ancient cultures and its presence in some is still lingering on.

From where the concept of this creature emerged is hard to tell. But the oldest known sphinx can be dated back to 9500BC and was found in Gobekli Tepe, Turkey. Its structural artifacts are found in many of the ancient temples and many of its monuments are seen all over the world, the most famous being the great Giza of Egypt.

Sphinx is also an important figure in Greek and Asian mythologies. Let’s look at what different cultures and mythologies have to say about the great sphinx.

The Greek Sphinx.
The Greek Sphinx.

Sphinx In Greek Mythology

In the Greek mythology, the sphinx was the ill fated daughter of Echidna, which had a head of a nymph and a body of a serpent and the Typhon which breathed fire and had many venomous heads. It had a head of a woman, body of a lioness and the tail of a serpent. She was an evil giant monster who guarded the gates of the Thebes.

The myth has it, that she would arrest anyone passing the gates and ask them the following riddle: “Which creature in the morning goes on four legs, at mid-day on two, and in the evening upon three, and the more legs it has, the weaker it be?” she would not let the passenger go until the passenger solved the riddle. If the person failed, she would strangle him and eat him. 

She continued doing so, as none of the passer bys were ever able to solve her riddle. Her game was put to an end when the great Oedipus passed the gates.

Just like the other passer bys he too was arrested by the sphinx and was put into a test, but unlike others he boldly faced the monster and was able to solve her riddle.

The answer to her riddle was: the man. On hearing the answer from the Oedipus, the sphinx could not accept her defeat and jumped off a rock, killing her. Hence, the great Oedipus was victorious and the evil monster was finally defeated and the gates of Thebes were free again

The Egyptian Sphinx.
The Egyptian Sphinx.
The Great Sphinx of Giza
The Great Sphinx of Giza

Sphinx In The Egyptian Mythology

In contrast to the Greek mythology which portrays the sphinx as a greedy and an evil creature, the Egyptians paid much more respect to the sphinx. The ancient Egyptians considered the sphinx as a powerful creature that guarded their temples, palaces and their pyramids also guarding the secrets within their temples.

The Egyptian sphinx had a head of human or an animal, particularly of a ram, and the body of a lion. In many of the sphinx monuments that were made in the later part of the Egyptian era, the sphinx had a head of a pharaoh. The greatest example is the world’s greatest sphinx monument, the Giza, guarding the pyramid of Khafre, it also has the head of the same pharaoh.

The sphinx is most prominent in the Egyptian mythology than other mythology showing what a great role it played in their culture.

The Asian Sphinx

The sphinx plays a great role in many southeast and south Asian countries where, unlike other cultures, its legend is still followed and is alive. The sphinx in the culture of many Asian countries has the same identity like other i.e. having a woman’s head and body of a lion. But the Asian sphinx has wings and a strong tail.

Sphinx in India:

The sphinx in India is given the name ‘purushamriga’, a Sanskrit word mean the ‘man beast”. Its idols are still worshiped and it is believed that purushamriga takes off the sins and evils of a man.

A depiction of the Asian Sphinx,in India.
A depiction of the Asian Sphinx,in India.

Sphinx in Srilanka:

The Srilankan sphinx is known as the ‘Narashima’. The narashima is of the Buddhist origin and is believed to be the guardian of north direction.

Sphinx in Burma:

In Burma the sphinx is named as ‘manussiha’. It is believed that it was created by Buddhist monks to protect newborn babies.


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      raylove 6 years ago

      Oh wow this article is amazing! I mean it. I was looking up the Sphinx for my research paper on monsters in Greek Mytholohy and this website helped a bunch :)