Oedipus and the Sphinx

Long ago, when the land and little islands of Greece were divided into many kingdoms there was a city called Thebes. Its ruler was a man named Laius, and his harsh ways and injust acts soon made him very unpopular with his subjects. The gods who lived on Mount Olympus, and watched over all living creatures, saw that King Laius had grown very proud, and they sent a terrible monster called the Sphinx, to punish him.

The Sphinx settled on a mount, overlooking the road that led to the city, and she waylaid everyone who passed by and asked them a riddle. If they did not answer correctly, then she fell upon them and ate them.

One day a young man called Œdipus was travelling along the road. He had heard tell of the Sphinx, but he was strong and courageous, and continued undaunted.

Suddenly he espied the monster seated on a rock. She had the head of a woman, the body of a lion, the tail of a serpent and the wings of an eagle. At the sight of Œdipus her face lit up, and she addressed him in these words.

"Halt, O traveller; you may not continue until you have answered my riddle, which was taught to me by the blessed Muses.*"

Very well," said Œdipus calmly. "Tell me your riddle, and I will give you an answer."

"You are very confident, young man," said the Sphinx. "But know that all other travellers before you have lost their lives. Now, hearken to my riddle. What creature with only one voice has sometimes two feet, sometimes three, sometimes four, and is weakest when it has the most?"

"That is simple," said Œdipus, calmly. "The answer is Man. He crawls on all fours in infancy, stands firmly on his feet in his youth, and in his old age leans upon a staff."

"You have guessed correctly," cried the Sphinx, and soaring upwards in a fury, she hurled herself to her doom, over the edge of the cliff.

Œdipus travelled on to the city of Thebes, and when the citizens heard that he had rid him of the Sphinx, they loaded him with honours and declared him their king.


 ~Bethan Lewis~    

*The Muses were the goddesses of art and poetry and music, and inspired all musicians, artists, mathematicians etc.    

Real History Home Page        Home