Or Phix, a monstrous being of Greek mythology, is said to have been a daughter of Orthrus and Chimaera, born in the country of the Arimi,1 or of Typhon and Echidna,2 or lastly of Typhon and Chimaera.3 Some call her a natural daughter of Laius.4

She had settled on a rock in the neighborhood of Thebes, and put a riddle to every Theban that passed by, and whoever was unable to solve it was killed by the monster. When Oedipus approached the Sphinx she gave the riddle as follows; "A being with four feet has two feet and three feet, and only one voice; but its feet vary, and when it has most it is weakest." Oedipus solved the riddle by saying that it was man [who crawls on all four as a baby, walks on two feet as an adult, and walks with a cane as an old man], and the Sphinx thereupon threw herself from the rock. The riddle she is said to have learned from the Muses,5 or Laius himself taught her the mysterious oracles which Cadmus had received at Delphi.6

According to some she had been sent into Boeotia by Hera, who was angry with the Thebans for not having punished Laius, who had carried off Chrysippus from Pisa. She is said to have come from the most distant part of Ethiopia;7 according to others she was sent by Ares, who wanted to take revenge because Cadmus had slain his son, the Aeionian dragon,8 or by Dionysus,9 or by Hades,10 and some lastly say that she was one on the women who, together with the daughters of Cadmus, were thrown into madness, and was metamorphosed into the monstrous figure.11

The legend itself clearly indicates from what quarter this being was believed to have been introduced into Greek mythology. The figure which she was conceived to have had is originally Egyptian or Ethiopian; but after her incorporation with Grecian story, her figure was variously modified.

In the Boeotian dialect the name was Phix (Φίξ),12 whence the name of the Boeotian mountain, Φίκιον ὄρος (Phikion oros).13


The Egyptian Sphinx is the figure of an unwinged lion in a lying attitude, but the upper part of the body is human. They appear in Egypt to have been set up in avenues forming the approaches to temples. The greatest among the Egyptian representations of Sphinxes is that of Giza. The Egyptian Sphinxes are often called androsphinges,14 not describing them as male beings, but as lions with the upper part human, to distinguish them from those Sphinxes whose upper part was that of a sheep or ram.

The common idea of a Greek Sphinx, on the other hand, is that of a winged body of a lion, having the breast and upper part of a woman.15 Greek Sphinxes, moreover, are not always represented in a lying attitude, but appear in different positions, as it might suit the fancy of the sculptor or poet. Thus they appear with the face of a maiden, the breast, feet, and claws of a lion, the tail of a serpent, and the wings of a bird;16 or the fore part of the body is that of a lion, and the lower part that of a man, with the claws of a vulture and the wings of an eagle.17 Sphinxes were frequently introduced by Greek artists, as ornaments of architectural and other works.18