Monsters of Europe: The Sphinx of Greek Mythology.

Sphinx, © 2007 Liz Vitale
Sphinx, © 2007 Liz Vitale

I found this drawing in an old sketch pad, so I decided to use it as a rare opportunity to show a humanish beast, as I hate drawing people. Actually, this was drawn during a life drawing class in which I was becoming tired and my mind was wandering.

In Greek mythology,The Sphinx is represented as a monster with a head and breasts of a woman, the body of a lioness, the wings of an eagle, and  sometimes a serpent-headed tail. By many accounts,she is supposedly the offspring of the Chimera –the three-headed monster that was part lion, goat, snake and dragon– and was sister to the Nemean lion and half-sister of Cerberus,the three-headed dog that guarded the gates of Hell.

Hera, being offended by the residents of Thebes, sent the beast as a punishment for their misdeeds. Ruling from a rocky precipice near the city of Thebes and guarding a passageway which the Thebans had no choice but to use in their daily journeys, The Sphinx propositioned all travelers with a riddle. Anyone who dared to answer the riddle and failed to do so correctly was torn to pieces and devoured, which was pretty much……. everyone.

Creon at the time was the regent of Thebes, and, in desperation, offered his kingdom and his daughter Jocaste to anyone who could answer The Sphinx’s question. Oedipus accepted the challenge,and thus was asked:

“A thing there is whose voice is one;
Whose feet are four and two and three.
So mutable a thing is none
That moves in earth or sky or sea.
When on most feet this thing doth go,
Its strength is weakest and its pace most slow.”

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.”

Having been defeated, the creature cast herself off the mountainside in despair and in accordance with an oracle declaring the terms of her demise.


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