"a sphinx-like expression"

A winged sphinx from Delphi, c 570-560 BC
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeA winged sphinx from Delphi, c 570-560 BC - Credit: Ricardo André Frantz
A mythological creature with the body of a lion and the head of a human or a cat, the sphinx has a reputation for mystery. Many sphinx statues were built in Ancient Egypt, guarding the entrances to the Pyramids: the most famous in the world is the Great Sphinx of Giza, the largest monolith in the world. However sphinxes also existed in Ancient Greece where they were traditionally associated with bad luck; 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.

In Greek mythology a sphinx guarded the entrance to the city of Thebes and 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.