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The Greek Sphinx – A Demon Of Death And Esoteric Wisdom
The Sphinx is best described as a symbol of “arcane wisdom” (Older 126), and evil power in ancient Greece around 1200 BCE. Her character is characterized by the legend associated with her, in particular, her interactions with Oedipus. The Sphinx also predates many other meanings in cultures such as Egypt. Since then, its symbolism has become so iconic that its meaning is almost proverbial in the West today (Britannica 16).
The Sphinx truly lives up to its title as a beast. In Greek mythology, the Sphinx was a female symbol with the body and feet of a lion, the head and breasts of a woman, and the wings of an eagle (Scafella 179). Although the sphinx literally means hideous things, the imagery of ancient Greece is fascinating. The most common such representations appear on ivories, carved wooden signs, and clay (Britannica 16). Although there are many representations of the sphinx, for the purposes of this essay, the example used is the Greek Sphinx seated on a short ionic column before Oedipus. This representation was painted on Athenian pottery from the Archaic Period in Greece, between 800 and 500 BCE (Boardman 246).
The name “Sphinx” is a Greek name derived from the verb spphiggein, which means “to fasten or to bind” (qtd. in Scafella 179). His myth is well described by Albert E. Cowdrey in his story The Name of the Sphinx : “His job was to trouble and disrupt the tourist trade of Thebes by forcing visitors to answer a riddle. If they got it wrong, he killed them. ” (104). He asked this riddle, taught to him by the Muses: “What is that which has a voice and becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed?” (Britannica) Although not clear in ancient mythology, the meaning of his name suggests that he may have killed those who answered incorrectly by strangulation. the wonderful story of Oedipus.
Oedipus was the prince of Thebes, who was abandoned by his father at birth because of a prophecy that his son would kill him. His father tied his legs together and left him on a lonely mountain (Encarta). Oedipus eventually wanders back to Thebes, which is pitied by the Sphinx. However, when Oedipus was asked his question, he answered correctly: “Man, who crawls on all fours as a child, walks on two legs when he grows up.” , and hanged himself on a pole in his old age” (Britannica 16). The Sphinx was so sad, he jumped from his perch and killed himself. The story goes that the Thebans thanked Oedipus for giving him the kingdom, which was his right anyway, and he unknowingly married his mother, the Queen (Encarta).
The Sphinx appeared in Greece for the first time around 1600 BCE, but it wasn’t until later, around 1200 BCE, that history took on a recognizable meaning and developed into what we commonly know today. Before the Greek era, however, the Sphinx as a symbol had existed for more than a thousand years in cultures such as in Egypt, where it is most widely believed to have originated (Scafella 180). While many characteristics have remained the same in Sphinx, some cores have changed. The most obvious difference is the sex of the Sphinx. While the Egyptian Sphinx was only male, the Greek Sphinx was always female. The Greek Sphinx is usually used as a symbol of wisdom and evil, not unlike the Egyptian Sphinx, especially in its first form, which is often associated with divinities, and is used as a symbol of protection . It has no mystery or trickery. An example of this effect is his presence “before the temples of the Nile valley, outside the Kaphren pyramid” (Suhr 97). Also, in Egypt, the Sphinx does not have wings and is always standing, in contrast to the Greek Sphinx, which is usually seated, especially on its high perch in Thebes (Scafella 180).
Looking at the deepest symbols of the sphinx, it may be one of the greatest symbols of human history. While many theories converge and digress like choppy waves, they have only one aspect, that its meaning is, above all else, enigmatic. One important idea, however, is a clear reference to the intelligence combined with the animal: “… the hybridizing of man and lion suggests human intellectual power over animal power” (Hajar). This idea was further elaborated by Friedrich Hegel, a German philosopher in the 1800s: “The human head emerging from the animal body represents Mind as it begins to elevate itself above Nature… without, however, benefiting to free himself completely from his chains” (qtd. in Scafella 185). These ideas do well with the time period in which they exist, in that civilization and war are the real contests of everyday life.
Another interesting interpretation is that the sphinx is a symbol of pure science, representing the complexity and duality of the human mind: “Unlike many mythical creatures, the sphinx is not believed to be more than a figment of the imagination” (Hajar). In today’s Freudian terms, the Sphinx would be considered an element of the unconscious, whose existence is confirmed only because of the tangible consequences of its existence (Cirlot 304).
Finally, on the observation of a far-reaching difference, one scholar commented that “the mask of the sphinx applies to the image of the mother and also to the symbol; but under the mask there are meanings of the myth of multiplication or of the irrational division of the cosmos” (Cirlot 304). most of the Sphinx, apparently belonging to her famous breasts. It is noted that feminine symbols, which almost always refer to dedication to love and compassion, are used in the Sphinx, the opposite symbol of anger. It it is possible, as Cirlot points out, that such symbols are used to create a symbolic representation using a misleading physical appearance.
From its slow rise to power from ancient Egyptian myth to Greek legend and today’s colloquial knowledge, the Sphinx has become the visual embodiment of deception, anger, enigma, and understanding. His death commemorates the victory over the beast’s wrath. But that memory is a heartwarming mistake. The triumph of man did not end the disease of the beast, nor the corruption of the intellect. It ends up being only a visual representation of the reality to which humanity is forever a victim, its own collective mind. The light of the Sphinx is now, to shine more in false destruction than when it lives.
The services mentioned
Boardman, John. Athenian Red Figure Vases: The Archaic Period. London: Thames and Hudson, Ltd., 1975.
Britannica, Encyclopaedia. “Sphinx.” Encyclopaedia Britannica: 200th Anniversary Edition. Vol. 21. USA: William Benton, 1969.
Encarta Encyclopedia. “Oedipus.” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2005. http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761557812/Oedipus.html
Cowdrey, Albert E. “The Name of the Sphinx.” Fantasy and Science fiction. Vol. 107, issue 6 (December, 2004): 100-120.
Cirlot, JE A Dictionary of Symbols. Great Britain: Redwood Books, Towbridge, Wiltshire, 1971.
Hagar, Rachel. “Tradition: The Human Wisdom of the Sphinx.” Life & I. Vol. 14, issue 2 (February, 1999): 228.
Elder, Steven. Brand: A comprehensive dictionary. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1986.
Soans, Catherine, and Alan Spooner, eds. “Sphinx.” Oxford Dictionary Thesaurus. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2001.
Scafella, Frank A. “The Sphinx.” Myths and supernatural creatures: a sourcebook and research guide. Ed. Malcolm South. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1987.
Suhr, Elmer G. “The Sphinx.” history Vol. 81, No. 2 (Summer, 1970): 97-111.
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