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The Great Sphinx of Giza, with the Pyramid of Khafre in the background
Perhaps the first sphinx, Hetepheres II from the fourth dynasty (Cairo Museum)
Avenue of ram-headed sphinxes at Karnak in Luxor dating to the eighteenth dynasty
Winged sphinx from the palace of Darius the Great during Persian Empire at Susa (480 BC).

A sphinx (Ancient Greek: Σφίγξ / Sphinx, sometimes Φίξ /Phix) is a mythological figure which is depicted as a recumbent lion with a human head. It has its origins in sculpted figures of Old Kingdom Egypt, to which the ancient Greeks applied their own name for the male monster, the "strangler", an archaic figure of Greek mythology. Similar creatures appear throughout South and South-East Asia. In European decorative art, the sphinx enjoyed a major revival during the Renaissance. Later, the sphinx image, something very similar to the original Egyptian concept, was exported into many other cultures, albeit often interpreted quite differently due to translations of descriptions of the originals and the evolution of the concept in relation to other cultural traditions.

Generally the role of sphinxes was as temple guardians; they were placed in association with architectural structures such as royal tombs or religious temples. The oldest known sphinx was found in Gobekli Tepe, Turkey and was dated to 9,500 B.C.[1] Perhaps the first sphinx in Egypt was one depicting Hetepheres II, of the fourth dynasty that lasted from 2723 to 2563 BC. The largest and most famous is the Great Sphinx of Giza, Arabic: أبو الهول, sited at the Giza Plateau on the west bank of the Nile River and facing due east, is also from the same dynasty (29°58′31″N 31°08′15″E / 29.97528°N 31.1375°E / 29.97528; 31.1375). Although the date of its construction is uncertain, the head of the Great Sphinx now is believed to be that of the pharaoh Khafra.

What names their builders gave to these statues is not known. At the Great Sphinx site, the inscription on a stele erected a thousand years later, by Thutmose IV in 1400 BCE, lists the names of three aspects of the local sun deity of that period, Khepera - - Atum. The inclusion of these figures in tomb and temple complexes quickly became traditional and many pharaohs had their heads carved atop the guardian statues for their tombs to show their close relationship with the powerful deity, Sekhmet.

Other famous Egyptian sphinxes include one bearing the head of the pharaoh Hatshepsut, with her likeness carved in granite, which is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the alabaster sphinx of Memphis, currently located within the open-air museum at that site. The theme was expanded to form great avenues of guardian sphinxes lining the approaches to tombs and temples as well as serving as details atop the posts of flights of stairs to very grand complexes. Nine hundred with rams' heads, representing Amon, were built in Thebes, where his cult was strongest.

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Greek traditions

From the Bronze Age, the Hellenes had trade and cultural contacts with Egypt. Before the time that Alexander the Great occupied Egypt, the Greek name, sphinx, was already applied to these statues. The historians and geographers of Greece wrote extensively about Egyptian culture. They sometimes called the ram-headed sphinxes, criosphinxes, and the bird-headed ones, hierocosphinxes.[citation needed]

The word sphinx comes from the Greek Σφίγξ, apparently from the verb σφίγγω (sphíngō), meaning "to strangle".[2] This name may be derived from the fact that the hunters for a pride of lions are the lionesses, and kill their prey by strangulation, biting the throat of prey and holding them down until they die. The word sphincter derives from the same root. However, the historian Susan Wise Bauer suggests that the word "sphinx" was instead actually a Greek corruption of the Egyptian name "shesepankh," which meant "living image," and referred rather to the statue of the sphinx, which was carved out of "living rock" (rock that was present at the construction site, not harvested and brought from another location), than to the beast itself.[3]

There was a single sphinx in Greek mythology, a unique demon of destruction and bad luck. According to Hesiod, she was a daughter of Echidna and Orthrus; according to others, she was a daughter of Echidna and Typhon. All of these are chthonic figures from the earliest of Greek myths, before the Olympians ruled the Greek pantheon. Pierre Grimal's The Penguin Dictionary of Classical Mythology states that Sphinx's proper name was Phix (Φίξ), though it does not identify a source for this information.The Sphinx, though, is called by this name (Phix (Φίξ)) by Hesiod in line 326 of the Theogony.

In Greek mythology, a sphinx is represented as a monster with a head of a woman, the body of a lion, the wings of an eagle, and a serpent headed tail.

The sphinx was the emblem of the ancient city-state of Chios, and appeared on seals and the obverse side of coins from the sixth century BC until the third century AD.

A sphinx appeared at the middle of the helmet of the statue of Athena Parthenos.

Marble Sphinx dated 540 B.C. Acropolis Museum, Athens
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The Riddle of the Sphinx

The Sphinx is said to have guarded the entrance to the Greek city of Thebes, and to have asked a riddle of travelers to allow them passage. The exact riddle asked by the Sphinx was not specified by early tellers of the stories, and was not standardized as the one given below until late in Greek history.[4]

It was said in late lore that Hera or Ares sent the Sphinx from her Ethiopian homeland (the Greeks always remembered the foreign origin of the Sphinx) to Thebes in Greece where she asks all passersby the most famous riddle in history: “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 strangled and devoured anyone unable to answer. Oedipus solved the riddle by answering: Man—who crawls on all fours as a baby, then walks on two feet as an adult, and then walks with a cane in old age. By some accounts[5] (but much more rarely), there was a second riddle: "There are two sisters: one gives birth to the other and she, in turn, gives birth to the first." The answer is "day and night" (both words are feminine in Greek).

Bested at last, the tale continues, the Sphinx then threw herself from her high rock and died. An alternative version tells that she devoured herself. Thus Oedipus can be recognized as a "liminal" or threshold figure, helping affect the transition between the old religious practices, represented by the death of the Sphinx, and the rise of the new, Olympian gods.

In Jean Cocteau's retelling of the Oedipus legend, The Infernal Machine, the Sphinx tells Oedipus the answer to the riddle, to kill herself so that she did not have to kill anymore, and also to make him love her. He leaves without ever thanking her for giving him the answer to the riddle. The scene ends when the Sphinx and Anubis, who is there to kill the victims who cannot answer the riddle, ascend back to the heavens.

Sphinxes in South and South-East Asia

Purushamriga or Indian sphinx depicted on the Shri Varadaraja Perumal temple in Tribhuvana, India

A composite mythological being with the body of a lion and the head of a human being is present in the traditions, mythology and art of South and South-East Asia[6] Variously known as purushamriga (Sanskrit, "man-beast"), purushamirukam (Tamil, "man-beast"), naravirala (Sanskrit, "man-cat") in India, or as nara-simha (Pali, "man-lion") in Sri Lanka, manusiha or manuthiha (Pali, "man-lion") in Myanmar, and nora nair or thepnorasingh in Thailand.

In contrast to the sphinx in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece, where the traditions largely have been lost due to the discontinuity of the civilization,[7] the traditions of the "Asian sphinx" are very much alive today. The earliest artistic depictions of "sphinxes" from the South Asian subcontinent are to some extent influenced by Hellenistic art and writings. These hail from the period when Buddhist art underwent a phase of Hellenistic influence. But the "sphinxes" from Mathura, Kausambi, and Sanchi, dated to the third century BC until the first century AD, also show a considerable non-Hellenist, indigenous character. It is not possible, therefore, to conclude the concept of the "sphinx" originated through foreign influence.[8].

In South India, the "sphinx" is known as purushamriga (Sanskrit) or purushamirukam (Tamil), meaning "man-beast". It is found depicted in sculptural art in temples and palaces where it serves an apotropaic purpose, just as the "sphinxes" in other parts of the ancient world.[9] It is said by the tradition, to take away the sins of the devotees when they enter a temple and to ward off evil in general. It is therefore often found in a strategic position on the gopuram or temple gateway, or near the entrance of the Sanctum Sanctorum.

Male purushamriga or Indian sphinx guarding the entrance of the Shri Shiva Nataraja temple in Chidambaram

The purushamriga plays a significant role in daily as well as yearly ritual of South Indian Shaiva temples. In the sodasa-upacara (or sixteen honors) ritual, performed between one to six times at significant sacred moments through the day, it decorates one of the lamps of the diparadhana or lamp ceremony. And in several temples the purushamriga is also one of the vahana or vehicles of the deity during the processions of the Brahmotsava or festival.

In Kanya Kumari district, in the southernmost tip of the Indian subcontinent, during the night of Shiva Ratri, devotees run 75 kilometres while visiting and worshiping at twelve Shiva temples. This Shiva Ottam (or Run for Shiva) is performed in commemoration of the story of the race between the Sphinx and Bhima, one of the heroes of the epic Mahabharata.

The Indian conception of a sphinx that comes closest to the classic Greek idea, is in the concept of the Sharabha, a mythical creature, part lion, part man and part bird, and the form of Sharabha that god Shiva took on to counter Narasimha's violence.

In Philippines, the sphinx is known as nicolonia. It is depicted as part man and part eagle that is known to ask riddles to wanderers who trespas in the Bicol region. Anyone who fails to answer its riddle is said to be carried off to the Mayon Volcano where they are said to be offered to the volcano god, Gev'ra, to appease his anger.

In Sri Lanka, the sphinx is known as narasimha or man-lion. As a sphinx, it has the body of a lion and the head of a human being, and is not to be confused with Narasimha, the fourth reincarnation of the deity Vishnu; this avatara or incarnation is depicted with a human body and the head of a lion. The "sphinx" narasimha is part of the Buddhist tradition and functions as a guardian of the northern direction and also was depicted on banners.

In Burma, the sphinx is known as manusiha and manuthiha. It is depicted on the corners of Buddhist stupas, and its legends tell how it was created by Buddhist monks to protect a new-born royal baby from being devoured by ogresses.

Nora Nair and Thep Norasingh are two of the names under which the "sphinx" is known in Thailand. They are depicted as upright walking beings with the lower body of a lion or deer, and the upper body of a human. Often they are found as female-male pairs. Here, too, the sphinx serves a protective function. It also is enumerated among the mythological creatures that inhabit the ranges of the sacred mountain Himapan.[10]

La Granja, Spain, mid-18th century
Fernand Khnopff's symbolist version of a sphinx.

Revived sphinxes in Europe

The revived Mannerist sphinx of the sixteenth century is sometimes thought of as the French sphinx. Her coiffed head is erect and she has the breasts of a young woman. Often she wears ear drops and pearls as ornaments. Her body is naturalistically rendered as a recumbent lioness. Such sphinxes were revived when the grottesche or "grotesque" decorations of the unearthed "Golden House" (Domus Aurea) of Nero were brought to light in late fifteenth century Rome, and she was incorporated into the classical vocabulary of arabesque designs that spread throughout Europe in engravings during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Sphinxes were included in the decoration of the loggia of the Vatican Palace by the workshop of Raphael (1515-20), which updated the vocabulary of the Roman grottesche.

The first appearances of sphinxes in French art are in the School of Fontainebleau in the 1520s and 1530s and she continues into the Late Baroque style of the French Régence (1715–1723).

From France, she spread throughout Europe, becoming a regular feature of the outdoors decorative sculpture of eighteenth-century palace gardens, as in the Upper Belvedere Palace in Vienna, Sanssouci Park in Potsdam, La Granja in Spain, Branicki Palace in Białystok, or the late Rococo examples in the grounds of the Portuguese Queluz National Palace (of perhaps the 1760s), with ruffs and clothed chests ending with a little cape.

Sphinxes are a feature of the neoclassical interior decorations of Robert Adam and his followers, returning closer to the undressed style of the grottesche. They had an equal appeal to artists and designers of the romantic, and later symbolism movements in the nineteenth century. Most of these sphinxes alluded to the Greek sphinx, rather than the Egyptian, although they may not have wings.

Sphinxes in Freemasonry

Sphinx adopted as an emblem in Masonic architecture

The sphinx image also has been adopted into Masonic architecture. Among the Egyptians, sphinxes were placed at the entrance of the temple to guard the mysteries, by warning those who penetrated within, that they should conceal a knowledge of them from the uninitiated; and hence, Portal derives from the word from the Hebrew TSaPHaN, to Hide. Champollion says that the sphinx became successively the symbol of each of the gods, by which Portal suggests that the priests intended to express the idea that all the gods were hidden from the people, and that the knowledge of them, guarded in the sanctuaries, was revealed to the initiates only. As a Masonic emblem, the sphinx has been adopted in its Egyptian character as a symbol of mystery, and as such often is found as a decoration sculptured in front of Masonic temples, or engraved at the head of Masonic documents. It cannot, however, be properly called an ancient, recognized symbol of the Order. Its introduction has been of comparatively recent date, and rather as a symbolic decoration than as a symbol that announces any dogma.

Similar creatures

  • Lion man, a 32,000 year-old lion anthropomorphic aurignacian figurine, has a human body with a lion head.
  • Not all human-headed animals of antiquity are sphinxes. In ancient Assyria, for example, bas-reliefs of bulls with the crowned bearded heads of kings guarded the entrances of the temples.
  • In the classical Olympian mythology of Greece, all the deities had human form, although they could assume their animal natures as well. All the creatures of Greek myth who combine human and animal form are archaic survivals: centaurs, Typhon, Medusa, Lamia.
  • Narasimha ("man-lion") is described as an incarnation (avatar) of Vishnu within the Puranic texts of Hinduism who takes the form of half-man / half-lion, having a human torso and lower body, but with a lion-like face and claws.
  • The Manticore is a similar creature, who also features a lion's body with human-like face.

Gallery

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Birch, N., 7000 Years Older Than Stonehenge: The Site that Stunned Archaeologists, The Guardian, April 2008
  2. ^ Note that the γ takes on a 'ng' sound in front of both γ and ξ.
  3. ^ Bauer, S. Wise (2007). The History Of The Ancient World. New dick: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.. pp. 110–112. 
  4. ^ Edmunds, Lowell (1981). The Sphinx in the Oedipus Legend. Königstein im Taunus: Hain. ISBN 3-445-02184-8. 
  5. ^ Grimal, Pierre (1996). The Dictionary of Classical Mythology. trans. A. R. Maxwell-Hyslop. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0631201025.  (entry "Oedipus", p. 324)
  6. ^ Deekshitar, Raja. "Discovering the Anthropomorphic Lion in Indian Art." in Marg. A Magazine of the Arts. 55/4, 2004, p.34-41; Sphinx of India.
  7. ^ Demisch, Heinz (1977). Die Sphinx. Geschichte ihrer Darstellung von den Anfangen bis zur Gegenwart. Stuttgart. 
  8. ^ Deekshithar, Raja. "SPHINX OF INDIA". Retrieved on 21 January 2007.
  9. ^ Demisch, Heinz (1977). Die Sphinx. Geschichte ihrer Darstellung von den Anfangen bis zur Gegenwart.. Stuttgart. 
  10. ^ Thep Norasri

Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010
(Redirected to The Sphinx article)

From Wikisource

The Sphinx
by Edgar Allan Poe


DURING the dread reign of the Cholera in New York, I had accepted the invitation of a relative to spend a fortnight with him in the retirement of his cottage ornee on the banks of the Hudson. We had here around us all the ordinary means of summer amusement; and what with rambling in the woods, sketching, boating, fishing, bathing, music, and books, we should have passed the time pleasantly enough, but for the fearful intelligence which reached us every morning from the populous city. Not a day elapsed which did not bring us news of the decease of some acquaintance. Then as the fatality increased, we learned to expect daily the loss of some friend. At length we trembled at the approach of every messenger. The very air from the South seemed to us redolent with death. That palsying thought, indeed, took entire posession of my soul. I could neither speak, think, nor dream of any thing else. My host was of a less excitable temperament, and, although greatly depressed in spirits, exerted himself to sustain my own. His richly philosophical intellect was not at any time affected by unrealities. To the substances of terror he was sufficiently alive, but of its shadows he had no apprehension.

His endeavors to arouse me from the condition of abnormal gloom into which I had fallen, were frustrated, in great measure, by certain volumes which I had found in his library. These were of a character to force into germination whatever seeds of hereditary superstition lay latent in my bosom. I had been reading these books without his knowledge, and thus he was often at a loss to account for the forcible impressions which had been made upon my fancy.

A favorite topic with me was the popular belief in omens—a belief which, at this one epoch of my life, I was almost seriously disposed to defend. On this subject we had long and animated discussions; he maintaining the utter groundlessness of faith in such matters, I contending that a popular sentiment arising with absolute spontaneity—that is to say, without apparent traces of suggestion—had in itself the unmistakable elements of truth, and was entitled to as much respect as that intuition which is the idiosyncrasy of the individual man of genius.

The fact is, that soon after my arrival at the cottage there had occurred to myself an incident so entirely inexplicable, and which had in it so much of the portentous character, that I might well have been excused for regarding it as an omen. It appalled, and at the same time so confounded and bewildered me, that many days elapsed before I could make up my mind to communicate the circumstances to my friend.

Near the close of an exceedingly warm day, I was sitting, book in hand, at an open window, commanding, through a long vista of the river banks, a view of a distant hill, the face of which nearest my position had been denuded, by what is termed a land-slide, of the principal portion of its trees. My thoughts had been long wandering from the volume before me to the gloom and desolation of the neighboring city. Uplifting my eyes from the page, they fell upon the naked face of the hill, and upon an object—upon some living monster of hideous conformation, which very rapidly made its way from the summit to the bottom, disappearing finally in the dense forest below. As this creature first came in sight, I doubted my own sanity—or at least the evidence of my own eyes—and many minutes passed before I succeeded in convincing myself that I was neither mad nor in a dream. Yet when I described the monster (which I distinctly saw, and calmly surveyed through the whole period of its progress), my readers, I fear, will feel more difficulty in being convinced of these points than even I did myself.

Estimating the size of the creature by comparison with the diameter of the large trees near which it passed—the few giants of the forest which had escaped the fury of the land-slide—I concluded it to be far larger than any ship of the line in existence. I say ship of the line, because the shape of the monster suggested the idea—the hull of one of our seventy-fours might convey a very tolerable conception of the general outline. The mouth of the animal was situated at the extremity of a proboscis some sixty or seventy feet in length, and about as thick as the body of an ordinary elephant. Near the root of this trunk was an immense quantity of black shaggy hair—more than could have been supplied by the coats of a score of buffaloes; and projecting from this hair downwardly and laterally, sprang two gleaming tusks not unlike those of the wild boar, but of infinitely greater dimensions. Extending forward, parallel with the proboscis, and on each side of it, was a gigantic staff, thirty or forty feet in length, formed seemingly of pure crystal and in shape a perfect prism—it reflected in the most gorgeous manner the rays of the declining sun. The trunk was fashioned like a wedge with the apex to the earth. From it there were outspread two pairs of wings—each wing nearly one hundred yards in length—one pair being placed above the other, and all thickly covered with metal scales; each scale apparently some ten or twelve feet in diameter. I observed that the upper and lower tiers of wings were connected by a strong chain. But the chief peculiarity of this horrible thing was the representation of a Death's Head, which covered nearly the whole surface of its breast, and which was as accurately traced in glaring white, upon the dark ground of the body, as if it had been there carefully designed by an artist. While I regarded the terrific animal, and more especially the appearance on its breast, with a feeling or horror and awe—with a sentiment of forthcoming evil, which I found it impossible to quell by any effort of the reason, I perceived the huge jaws at the extremity of the proboscis suddenly expand themselves, and from them there proceeded a sound so loud and so expressive of woe, that it struck upon my nerves like a knell and as the monster disappeared at the foot of the hill, I fell at once, fainting, to the floor.

Upon recovering, my first impulse, of course, was to inform my friend of what I had seen and heard—and I can scarcely explain what feeling of repugnance it was which, in the end, operated to prevent me.

At length, one evening, some three or four days after the occurrence, we were sitting together in the room in which I had seen the apparition—I occupying the same seat at the same window, and he lounging on a sofa near at hand. The association of the place and time impelled me to give him an account of the phenomenon. He heard me to the end—at first laughed heartily—and then lapsed into an excessively grave demeanor, as if my insanity was a thing beyond suspicion. At this instant I again had a distinct view of the monster—to which, with a shout of absolute terror, I now directed his attention. He looked eagerly—but maintained that he saw nothing—although I designated minutely the course of the creature, as it made its way down the naked face of the hill.

I was now immeasurably alarmed, for I considered the vision either as an omen of my death, or, worse, as the fore-runner of an attack of mania. I threw myself passionately back in my chair, and for some moments buried my face in my hands. When I uncovered my eyes, the apparition was no longer apparent.

My host, however, had in some degree resumed the calmness of his demeanor, and questioned me very rigorously in respect to the conformation of the visionary creature. When I had fully satisfied him on this head, he sighed deeply, as if relieved of some intolerable burden, and went on to talk, with what I thought a cruel calmness, of various points of speculative philosophy, which had heretofore formed subject of discussion between us. I remember his insisting very especially (among other things) upon the idea that the principle source of error in all human investigations lay in the liability of the understanding to under-rate or to over-value the importance of an object, through mere mis-admeasurement of its propinquity. "To estimate properly, for example," he said, "the influence to be exercised on mankind at large by the thorough diffusion of Democracy, the distance of the epoch at which such diffusion may possibly be accomplished should not fail to form an item in the estimate. Yet can you tell me one writer on the subject of government who has ever thought this particular branch of the subject worthy of discussion at all?"

He here paused for a moment, stepped to a book-case, and brought forth one of the ordinary synopses of Natural History. Requesting me then to exchange seats with him, that he might the better distinguish the fine print of the volume, he took my armchair at the window, and, opening the book, resumed his discourse very much in the same tone as before.

"But for your exceeding minuteness," he said, "in describing the monster, I might never have had it in my power to demonstrate to you what it was. In the first place, let me read to you a schoolboy account of the genus Sphinx, of the family Crepuscularia of the order Lepidoptera, of the class of Insecta—or insects. The account runs thus:

"'Four membranous wings covered with little colored scales of metallic appearance; mouth forming a rolled proboscis, produced by an elongation of the jaws, upon the sides of which are found the rudiments of mandibles and downy palpi; the inferior wings retained to the superior by a stiff hair; antennae in the form of an elongated club, prismatic; abdomen pointed, The Death's- headed Sphinx has occasioned much terror among the vulgar, at times, by the melancholy kind of cry which it utters, and the insignia of death which it wears upon its corslet.'"

He here closed the book and leaned forward in the chair, placing himself accurately in the position which I had occupied at the moment of beholding "the monster."

"Ah, here it is," he presently exclaimed—"it is reascending the face of the hill, and a very remarkable looking creature I admit it to be. Still, it is by no means so large or so distant as you imagined it; for the fact is that, as it wriggles its way up this thread, which some spider has wrought along the window-sash, I find it to be about the sixteenth of an inch in its extreme length, and also about the sixteenth of an inch distant from the pupil of my eye."


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

SPHINX (Gr. σφίγγειν, to draw tight, squeeze), the Greek name for a compound creature with lion's body and human head. The Greek sphinx had wings and female bust, and the male sphinx of Egypt (wingless) is distinguished as "androsphinx" by Herodotus. The type perhaps originated in Egypt, where figures of gods with human bodies and animal heads, and compound animal forms like the gryphon were numerous from very early times. The sphinx, however, is a perfectly clear and well-defined type there, and is usually recumbent. The most celebrated example is the Great Sphinx of Giza, 189 ft. long, a rock carved into this shape, and from its situation likely to be a work of the IVth Dynasty. The pattern of the wig-lappets has been quoted to prove that it dates from the XIIth Dynasty, but it is said that the peculiar disposition of the uraeus on its forehead agrees with that in the earliest sculptures. The face looks out due eastward from the pyramid field over the Nile valley, and, according to the inscriptions of the XVIIIth Dynasty in the shrine between the paws, it represented the sungod Harmachis. Sphinxes of granite, &c., occur of the XIIth Dynasty and later. A pair from Tanis are attributed by Flinders Petrie to Pepi I. of the VIth Dynasty. The heads of the sphinxes are royal portraits, and apparently they are intended to represent the power of the reigning Pharaoh. The king as a sphinx, in certain religious scenes, makes offerings to deities; and elsewhere he tears his enemies in pieces. In the Saite period accordingly the figure of the sphinx was used as a hieroglyph for neb, " master," "lord." Recumbent sphinxes were especially used in pairs to guard the approach to a temple, and it may be conjectured that the Great Sphinx was sculptured at Giza to guard the entrance of the Nile valley. The name of the sphinx in Egyptian was Hu.

The great temple avenues at Thebes are lined with recumbent rams, true sphinxes (a few late instances), and with the so-called criosphinxes or ram-sphinxes, having lion bodies and heads of the sacred animal of Ammon. A falcon-headed sphinx was dedicated to Harmachis in the temple of Abu Simbel, and is occasionally found in sculptures representing the king as Horus, or Mont, the war-god. It is distinguishable from the gryphon only by the absence of wings.

W. M. F. Petrie, History of Egypt from the Earliest Times to the XVIth Dynasty, p. 51, &c.; L. Borchardt, "Das Alter der grossen Sphinx," in Sitzungsberichte of the Berlin Academy (1897), p. 752. Baedeker's Egypt; Prisse d'Avennes, Histoire de l'art egyptien (Paris, 1878), vol. ii. pl. 26, 35, text, pp. 405, 410. (F. LL. G.) From Egypt the figure of the sphinx passed to Assyria, where it appears with a bearded male head on cylinders; the female sphinx, lying down and furnished with wings, is first found in the palace of Esar-haddon (7th cent. B.e.). Sphinxes have been found in Phoenicia, one at least being winged and another bearded. They are copies of the Egyptian, both in form and posture, wearing the pshent and the uraeus, but distinguished by having the Assyrian wings. The sphinx is common on Persian gems, and the representations are finely executed. On a Persian intaglio are two sphinxes face to face, each wearing a tiara and guarding a sacred plant which is seen between them; but the sphinx, whether of the Egyptian or the Assyrian type, is not found in Persian sculptures (Perrot and Chipiez, History of Art in Persia, Eng. trans., London, 1892). In Asia Minor the oldest examples are the "Hittite" sphinxes of Euyuk. They are Egyptian sphinxes treated in the Assyrian style. They are not recumbent, and the hair falling from the head is curled, not straight, as in the true Egyptian sphinx. An ancient female sphinx, but wingless, stands on the sacred road near Miletus. Sphinxes of the usual Greek type are represented seated on each side of two doorways in an ancient frieze found by Sir Charles Fellowes at Xanthus in Lycia, and now in the British Museum. The same type appears on the early sculptures of the half-Greek, half-Oriental temple at Assus. In the early art of Cyprus - the half-way house between Asia and Greece - sphinxes of this type are not uncommon. On the other hand, on a gem of Phoenician style found at Curium in Cyprus there appear two male (bearded) sphinxes, with the tree of life between them. With regard to Greece proper, in the third tomb on the acropolis of Mycenae were found six small golden sphinxes; they are beardless, but the sex is doubtful. The bust is not that of a woman, though the head and face are distinctly feminine. A shallow cap covers the head, and from the middle of it there is always a sort of tail or plume, blown back by the wind. It is curious that, though the sphinx (as also the gryphon) were thus common in the Mycenaean period, the words σφίγξ and γρύψ do not occur in Homer. Helbig suggested that the word κύων (dog), which is connected with the sphinx in the tragedians, was used by Homer for the sphinx, but this theory has not met with general acceptance. In the ancient tomb discovered in 1877 at Spata near Athens (which represents a kindred but somewhat later art than the tombs at Mycenae) were found female winged sphinxes carved in ivory or bone. Sphinxes on glass plates have been found in graves at Camirus in Rhodes and on gold plates in Crimean graves. Sphinxes were represented on the throne of Apollo at Amyclae and on the metopes at Selinus; in the best period of Greek art a sphinx was sculptured on the helmet of the statue of Athena in the Parthenon at Athens; and sphinxes carrying off children were sculptured on the front feet of the throne of Zeus at Olympia. There is also an Athenian vase from Capua in the form of a sphinx painted white. It is winged, and the face is smooth and delicate in contour. Though Greek sphinxes are in general winged, there have been found in Boeotia terra-cotta figures of wingless sphinxes. Roman sphinxes of a late period have sometimes a man's, sometimes a woman's head with an asp on the forehead. An indefinable man-lion (nara sinha) represents the fourth avatar of the Indian Vishnu, and is found also among the Tibetans.

In Greek mythology the most famous sphinx was that of Thebes in Boeotia, first mentioned by Hesiod (Theog. 326), who calls her the daughter of Orthus and Chimaera. According to Apollonius (iii. 5, 8), she was the daughter of Typhon and Echidna, and had the face of a woman, the feet and tail of a lion and the wings of a bird. She dwelt at the south-east corner of Lake Copais on a bald rocky mountain called Phicium (mod. Fagas), which was derived from Φίξ, the Aeolic form of σφίγξ. The Muses taught her a riddle and the Thebans had to guess it. Whenever they failed she carried one of them off and devoured him. The riddle was this: "What is that which is four-footed, three-footed, and two-footed?" At last Oedipus guessed correctly that it was man; for the child crawls on hands and feet, the adult walks upright, and the old man supports his steps with a stick. Then the sphinx threw herself down from the mountain.

The story of the sphinx's riddle first occurs in the Greek tragedians. Milchhdfer believes that the story was a mere invention of Greek fancy, an attempt to interpret the mysterious figure which Greek art had borrowed from the East. On the other hand, he holds that the destroying nature of the sphinx was much older, and he refers to instances in both Egyptian and Greek art where a sphinx is seen seizing and standing upon a man. And, whereas the Theban legend is but sparingly illustrated in Greek art, the figure of the sphinx appears more commonly on tombs, sculptured either in the round or in relief. From this Milchhöfer seems to infer that the sphinx was a symbol of death.

Among the remains of the Mayan culture in Yucatan are found examples of sphinxes, male and female, which are not unlike those of Egypt and Asia Minor.

Milchhdfer, in Mitth. d. deutsch. archäol. Instit. in Athen (1879), p. 46 seq.; J. Ilberg, Die Sphinx in der griechischen Sage and Kunst (1895); Sir R. C. Jebb's edition of Sophocles, Oed. Tyrann., app., note 12. U. M. M.)


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Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also sphinx

Contents

English

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Proper noun

Sphinx

  1. (definite: The Sphinx) An ancient, large statue in Egypt, with the face of a man and the body of a lion, lying near the Great Pyramids.
  2. (mythology) The demon of destruction and bad luck in Greek mythology.

Synonyms

  • (definite: large monument in Egypt): The Great Sphinx, The Great Sphinx of Giza

Translations

The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Help:How to check translations.
  • Alsatian: Sphinx
  • Latin: Sphinx m., Sphingis
  • Luxembourgish: Sphinx

German

Noun

Sphinx f.

  1. Sphinx

Latin

Noun

Sphinx f. (plural: Sphinges)

  1. Sphinx

Wikispecies

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikispecies

Taxonavigation

Main Page
Cladus: Eukaryota
Supergroup: Unikonta
Cladus: Opisthokonta
Regnum: Animalia
Subregnum: Eumetazoa
Cladus: Bilateria
Cladus: Nephrozoa
Cladus: Protostomia
Cladus: Ecdysozoa
Phylum: Arthropoda
Subphylum: Hexapoda
Classis: Insecta
Cladus: Dicondylia
Cladus: Pterygota
Cladus: Metapterygota
Cladus: Neoptera
Cladus: Eumetabola
Cladus: Endopterygota
Superordo: Panorpida
Cladus: Amphiesmenoptera
Ordo: Lepidoptera
Subordo: Glossata
Infraordo: Heteroneura
Divisio: Ditrysia
Sectio: Cossina
Subsection: Bombycina
Superfamilia: Sphingoidea
Familia: Sphingidae
Subfamilia: Sphinginae
Tribus: Sphingini
Genus: Sphinx
Species: S. adumbrata - S. arthuri - S. asellus - S. aurigutta - S. balsae - S. biolleyi - S. caligineus - S. canadensis - S. centrosinaria - S. chersis - S. chisoya - S. constricta - S. crassistrgia - S. dollii - S. drupiferarum - S. eremitoides - S. eremitus - S. formosana - S. franckii - S. geminus - S. gordius - S. istar - S. justiciae - S. kalmiae - S. leucophaeata - S. libocedrus - S. ligustri - S. lugens - S. luscitiosa - S. maura - S. maurorum - S. merops - S. morio - S. oberthueri - S. perelegans - S. phalerata - S. pinastri - S. pitzahuac - S. poecila - S. porioni - S. praelongus - S. pseudostigmatica - S. separatus - S. sequoiae - S. smithi - S. tricolor - S. vashti - S. xantus


Simple English

File:Sphynx of
The Great Sphinx of Giza is a famous archaeological structure

A sphinx is a mythological figure, which looks like a lion with a human head. It dates back to the Old Kingdom of Egypt, and its name comes from the Ancient Greek name for a "stranger". The Sphinx is also common in South and South-East Asia, and was popular in Europe from the times of the Renaissance.

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