Sphinx, a mythical creature, part human and part animal, common in the art and mythology of several early civilizations. The most famous early representation is the Sphinx (sometimes called the Great Sphinx) at Giza, Egypt. Most scholars believe the monument was built during the fourth dynasty by Pharaoh Khafre in the 26th century B.C. A few scholars believe it is thousands of years older.
The Sphinx is part of Giza's pyramid complex, where Egypt's largest pyramids are found. The Sphinx has a man's head and the body of a crouching lion. The head is thought to be a portrait of Khafre. The head and body of the Sphinx are carved out of a limestone formation; the paws are made of blocks of stone. The body is about 240 feet (73 m) long and 66 feet (20 m) high and the face is about 13 1/2 feet (4 m) wide.
Originally the Sphinx probably represented the power of the Egyptian ruler and of Egypt. Later, however, it became the center of a religious cult and many monuments and shrines were built in the area around it. The shifting sands of the desert have partially buried the Sphinx several times.
The most famous legendary sphinx is the Greek monster that terrorized Thebes. It had the body of a lion, wings of an eagle, tail of a serpent, and head and bust of a woman. The sphinx guarded the gates of Thebes, asking this riddle of every passerby: “What creature with one voice walks on four legs in the morning, on two at noon, and on three in the evening?” The sphinx killed everyone who could not answer the riddle. When Oedipus came to Thebes, he correctly answered: “Man, who crawls on all fours as a baby, walks upright in his prime, and uses a cane in his old age.” Whereupon the sphinx killed itself and Thebes was freed.