Sphinx and Oedipus
Oedipus' travels brought him to the place where
guarding the gates of Thebes (in Greece) was a terrible monster with the body of
a lion and the head and torso of a woman. She allowed no one to enter or leave
the city without answering the riddle that she posed. If the traveler could not
answer correctly, she would kill and devour him.
As no one had yet come up with the right answer, the sphinx was well-fed, and
the city of Thebes was effectively cut off from all trade and all contact with
the world outside the city walls.
When Oedipus reached the gates
of the city, the creature posed her riddle:
What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs in the
Oedipus solved the riddle, answering that man crawls on all fours in infancy,
walks upright on two legs in adulthood, and uses a cane as a third leg in old
The sphinx was so
frustrated that Oedipus had answered her riddle that she threw herself from the
city walls, and died there on the road in front of the city that she had
terrorized for so long. The Thebans were immensely grateful to Oedipus for
having rid them of the monstrous sphinx.Based on the painting Oedipus and the
by Gustave Moreau (1826-1898) -- French Painter
Metropolitan Museum of Art, N.Y.
Oil on canvas.
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