THE SPHINX (or Phix) was a female monster with the body of a lion, the breast and head of a woman, eagle’s wings and, according to some, a serpent-headed tail.
She was sent by the gods to plague the town of Thebes as punishment for some ancient crime. There she preyed on the youths of the land, devouring all those who failed to solve her riddle. Kreon, the then regent of Thebes, offered the kingship to any man who could destroy her. Oidipous accepted the challenge, and when he solved the Sphinx’s riddle, she cast herself off a mountainside in despair and in accordance with an oracle declaring the terms of her demise.
Sphinxes were popular in ancient art, especially as sculptural grave stele set upon the tombs of men who died in youth. Decorative sphinxes also appear in animal processions on archaic Greek vases, often alongside lions and bird-bodies sirens.