Climbing Olympus: The Sphinx

September 12, 2011


The Sphinx

Identity: Female monster

Description: Creature with a woman’s head, lion’s body, serpent’s tail and eagle’s wings

Symbol: Winged lion

The Greek Myth

Unlike the benign Egyptian Sphinx, the Greek version was anything but friendly. This daughter of Typhon and Echidne, who was of bizarre four-fold appearance, was sent by Hera to punish Thebes for displeasing the goddess. She settled on Mount Phicium, near to the city, and asked everyone who passed by to answer a riddle she had learned from the three Muses:

What being, with only one voice, has sometimes two feet, sometimes three, sometimes four, and is weakest when it has the most?

Anyone unable to render the correct answer was immediately despatched and devoured by her.  One day Oedipus chanced along that road and, guessing the answer, made the reply: “Man, because he crawls on all fours an an infant, stands firmly on his two feet in his youth, and leans on a staff in his old age.”  Completely shattered by her defeat, the Sphinx threw herself from the mountain and was dashed to pieces in the valley below, whereupon Oedipus was acclaimed king.

The message here would appear to be that once people have recognized their weaknesses and strengths, they are then ready to overcome the evils of blind ignorance which have previously condemned them to captivity or death.

Upright Meanings

A problem or riddle to be solved. A perplexing situation.

Reversed Meanings

Sulkiness. The spoiled child syndrome. Attempted destruction through anger or petulance.

Psychological Comment

Sphinx problems are very much connected with the workings of the left hemisphere of the brain, in that it only needs a little logic to unravel them. Anyone too lazy to take this trouble will pay the price that ignorance inevitably exacts. Sphinx’s ‘spoiled child syndrome’ refers to the immature action of causing self-harm in order to hurt others: ‘If you don’t do what I want, I’ll go into the garden, eat worms and make myself sick and then, perhaps you will love me and comply with my wishes’ and so on.

On the positive side, the person who has the common sense or sagacity to sit quietly and work out his or her problems could be rewarded by an increase in self esteem, as well as by the good things of life.

[Extract from Olympus: An experience in Self-Discovery by Murry Hope, The Aquarian Press, 1991]

About Murry Hope at Wikipedia

The Changeling: An Autobiography of Murry Hope, 1999 ~ reviewed at The Mysteries of Sirius



  1. Do you know the poem “Myth” by Muriel Rukeyser? The Sphinx figures prominently in it.

  2. No, I didn’t until you mentioned it. Now I have read it (short and sweet), I can see why the image from that movie selected itself. The Sphinx has a sly humour.

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