Besides being a monumental fixture in Giza, the Sphinx serves as a mythical creature and legend, cementing itself into the culture of Egypt, Greece, and Asia. Read on to see why ancient architects erected its statue, why it plays such an important role in Greek mythology, and why it bears an uncanny resemblance to the purushamrigain Hinduism.
The Egyptian Sphinx we know and love
The Sphinx of Egyptian legend was a powerful, yet kind, being. With the body of a lion, it symbolized courage and strength. It was comforting, and like the lion, it represented a guardian and divine creature.
The Great Sphinx of Giza is believed to have been built by Pharaoh Khafre, as many think it is his face that’s mimicked in the structure. This has been contested with other guesses, such as pharaoh Khufu (Khafre’s father), or the pharaoh Amenemhat II who ruled in the millennium after Khafre. But with each suggestion, it’s clear that everyone agrees someone powerful and important erected this massive monument.
The Sphinx Makes an appearance in Oedipus
The sphinx in the Greek story of Oedipus is a much more frightful creature. In this portrayal, the Sphinx is a lover of games and an eater of men. It sits outside the city of Thebes, asking each passing traveler a fateful riddle.
If the passerby answers correctly, he gets to go on his merry way. But if not, he’s eaten by the sphinx! Oedipus gives the right response to his riddle, causing the sphinx to kill itself in disappointment. Talk about a sore loser!
Asia’s spin on the Sphinx
The protective purushamriga, in Hindu mythology, is much more like its benevolent brother in Egypt. It is seen at the entrances of temples and is believed to protect and guard the sacred space within.
In Thailand, it is referred to as Thep Norasri or Upsorn Srihas. Unlike the others, it stands upright, having the lower body of a lion, but the head and entire upper torso of a human. In Myanmar, it is called Manuthiha and can be seen on Buddhist stupas or on the bells of pagodas. Wonder where this mythical creature will show up next!