"the sphinxes on the walls"

The Great Sphinx of Giza
GNU Free Documentation LicenseThe Great Sphinx of Giza - Credit: Barcex
The sphinx is a mythological creature with the body of a lion and the head of a human or a cat. Many sphinx statues were built in Ancient Egypt, guarding the entrances to the Pyramids, and the most famous in the world is the Great Sphinx of Giza, the largest monolith statue in the world. However sphinxes also existed in Ancient Greece; the oldest in the world was discovered in modern-day Turkey and dates back to 9,500BC. Sphinxes can also be found in some South-East Asian artwork, and were adopted in the sixteenth century in European sculpture as a curiosity.

There were some crucial differences between Egyptian and Greek sphinxes – in Egypt they were male, benign and viewed as guardians, whereas in Greece they were female, sometimes winged and associated with demons and bad luck. In Greek mythology, there was a sphinx guarding the entrance to the city of Thebes, who would ask anyone wishing to pass a riddle – if they failed to answer, they would be devoured. The most famous riddle in history: ‘Which creature walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening?’, was finally answered by Oedipus: ‘Man – who crawls on all fours as a baby, walks upright as an adult and uses the aid of a stick in old age.’ The sphinx, finally defeated, threw herself off a nearby cliff and the entrance to Thebes was once again free.