Oedipus and the Sphinx  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Oedipus and the Sphinx is a famous riddle, best-known from Sophocles's Oedipus Tyrannus: "Which creature in the morning goes on four feet, at noon on two, and in the evening upon three?" Oedipus solved the riddle: answering, Man—who crawls on all fours as a baby, then walks on two feet as an adult, and walks with a cane in old age.

It was said in late lore that Hera or Ares sent the Sphinx from her Ethiopian homeland (the Greeks always remembered the foreign origin of the Sphinx) to Thebes in Greece where, in the writings of Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus, she asks all passersby history's most famous riddle: "Which creature in the morning goes on four feet, at noon on two, and in the evening upon three?" She strangled and devoured anyone unable to answer. In another tale of late Greek lore, a Sphinx once blocked the way to Thebes. She would give a riddle: "What walks on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening?" Oedipus solved the riddle: answering, Man—who crawls on all fours as a baby, then walks on two feet as an adult, and walks with a cane in old age.

Bested at last, the tale continues, the Sphinx then threw herself from her high rock and died. An alternative version tells that she devoured herself. Thus Oedipus can be recognized as a liminal or "threshold" figure, helping effect the transition between the old religious practices, represented by the death of the Sphinx, and the rise of the new, Olympian deities.

In art

See also

See Oedipus and sphinx



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