Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Day XXII - Sphinx

Composite creature,
Poses perplexing riddle,
Death to the clueless.

A hybrid oddity from ancient Egyptian and Greek mythology, the Sphinx is a tricksy figure most often represented in stone form, crafted to guard temples. Usually (though not exclusively) described as having the head and breasts of a human woman, the wings of an eagle, the body of a lion and a snakish tail, the Sphinx enjoys asking passers-by riddles and killing them when they can't answer. Whether the Sphinx strangles or devours the simple soul who can't solve whatever conundrum is cast their way depends on the story, but in the tragic legend of Oedipus it's the beast herself who ends up the loser. Oedipus solved the riddle, saved the city of Thebes from the monster's brainscrambling and barbarism and consequently the Sphinx is reckoned to have either eaten herself or thrown herself off a cliff. It's not all bad though, as the composite creature lasts through the ags as a bizarre cross-cultural symbol powerfully recreated in statue-form (most iconically to guard the Pyramids of Giza); Oedipus only ended up with an incestuous psychological complex named after him.

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