For kids who love animals by a kid who loves animals
This week’s installment of Anatomy of a Monster not only covers a curious hybrid creature, but one that also happens to be one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World! The sphinx is another score for the Greeks on the coolest mythology competition. Did you know that the Greek word “sphinx” means “the strangler”? Once you start to look into the mythology surrounding the sphinx, it’s no surprise why: she was known for forcing those traveling into Thebes to answer riddles. When they failed to solve the tricky questions, she invoked a harsh punishment on them–that is, devouring them whole! Brutal as she was, I am sort of loving the sight of another shamelessly ferocious she-beast. Perhaps men would’ve been much easier on women if there were more deadly she-beasts out there…..
The sphinx’s main method of attack is having the body of a lion–and we’ve discussed previously just how powerful an adult lion can be! She’s also in possession of a wide, brilliant set of eagle wings. Although she lacks the sharp, tearing beak and the powerful talons for ripping and tearing flesh, the wings no doubt add to the swiftness and power of her descent. And the sphinx must be a relative of our pal the chimera because she’s also rumored to pack a fearsome serpent’s tail with a venomous bite and destructive disposition. Sphinxes appeared to be quite common, catching the minds and hearts of many Greek vase painters so much that many appeared upon the tombs of young men.
Most interesting to me, though, is the female human head of the beast. A monster who plays with your mind before killing is most scary of all! In Greek mythology, she’s a clever and mysterious lover of riddles, and when I first heard her legend I insisted on knowing the literally life-and-death riddle. Traditionally, this is the sphinx’s riddle:
“What goes on four legs in the morning,
Two legs in the afternoon,
And three legs in the evening?”
Pondered it for a minute? The answer is a man (that is, a human)! Human beings crawl on four legs as infants, in the ‘morning’, or beginning of their life, walk on two legs in the middle of life, and three legs once they age and require a cane.
But the Great Sphinx of Giza, which you see depicted as an ancient wonder of the world in Egypt is quite different than you’d expect, based on the mythology. This sphinx is not even a woman! The Great Sphinx of Giza, who guards the Pyramid of Giza, is topped with the head of Ramses II. The Egyptians viewed the sphinx as a protective, positive figure that would emphasize the kind and gentle divine power of the king who built it and ordered his own head to be placed upon it. Clever man! I wouldn’t want to challenge a sphinx, that’s for sure.