Sphinx, in ancient Egypt, the stone figure of a lion in a resting posture, the upper part of the body being that of a human, usually male rather than female. In Egypt sphinxes appear to have been set up along avenues that formed the approaches to temples.
The most famous of all Egyptian sphinxes is the Great Sphinx at Giza, near the pyramids. It guards the entrance to the Nile Valley. With the exception of the paws, it was carved from one block of stone and measures about 20 m (about 66 ft) high and about 73 m (about 240 ft) long. The statue, which probably dates from around 2500 bc, was intended to represent the Egyptian god Horus. In some Egyptian sphinxes the upper part of the body is that of a ram, and the creature is known as a Criosphinx. If a sphinx has the upper body of a falcon, it is known as a Hieracosphinx.
Both the legend and the figure of the Sphinx were probably introduced into Greece from Egypt, but the nature of the Sphinx became modified in Greek mythology and art. In Greek mythology, the Sphinx was a monster with the head and breasts of a woman, the body of a lion, and the wings of a bird. Lying crouched on a rock, she accosted all who were about to enter the city of Thebes by asking them a riddle, “What is it that has four feet in the morning, two at noon, and three at night?” If they could not solve the riddle, she killed them. When the hero Oedipus solved the riddle by answering, “Man, who crawls on four limbs as a baby, walks upright on two as an adult, and walks with the aid of a stick in old age,” the Sphinx killed herself. For ridding them of this terrible monster, the Thebans made Oedipus their king.