|“||Why then, my dear, if you won't pass, you fail. And since we can't allow any children to be held back, you'll be EATEN!||”|
The Sphinx is a monster with the head of a woman and the body of a lion. She is known as "The Master of Riddles”.
The Sphinx is said to have guarded the entrance to the Greek city of Thebes and the only way to be granted passage is to answer a riddle given by the Sphinx. The exact riddle asked by the Sphinx was not specified by early tellers of the stories, and was not standardized as the one given below until late in Greek history.
It was said in late lore that the gods Hera and/or Ares sent the Sphinx from her Ethiopian homeland (the Greeks always remembered the foreign origin of the Sphinx) to Thebes in Greece where she asks all passers-by the most famous riddle in history: "Which creature in the morning goes on four legs, at midday on two, and in the evening upon three, and the more legs it has, the weaker it be?" She strangled and devoured anyone unable to answer. However, Oedipus solved the riddle by answering: Man — who crawls on all fours as a baby, then walks on two feet as an adult, and then walks with a cane in old age. By some accounts (but much more rarely), there was a second riddle: "There are two sisters: one gives birth to the other and she, in turn, gives birth to the first." The answer is "night (Nyx) and day (Hemera)" .
Bested at last, the tale continues on where the Sphinx then threw herself from her high rock and died. An alternative version tells that she devoured herself. Thus Oedipus can be recognized as a "liminal", or threshold figure, helping affect the transition between the old religious practices, represented by the death of the Sphinx, and the rise of the new, Olympian gods.
Percy Jackson, Annabeth Chase, Tyson, and Grover Underwood run into the Sphinx while navigating the Labyrinth. She asks the group to play Answer That Riddle, a game show type trap where if they lose they will be eaten. Rather than the riddles however, the Sphinx asks a series of random trivia questions that at first confuses Annabeth as she wants to know what happened to the riddle about man. The Sphinx says that everyone knew the answer so she changed the questions. Annabeth gets frustrated because the questions are so easy, she feels they're an insult to her intelligence and refuses to answer the Sphinx's 'riddles'. The Sphinx then attacks them, but is trapped by Grover's woodland magic that was charming pencils to attack her and Tyson throws her correcting machine at the sphinx. What happens to her afterward is unknown, though it is very likely that she would have been suffocated by the plants. The last the group heard of her she was wailing about all the test papers she would have to correct by hand as her grading machine had been destroyed.
If she survived the plants, the Sphinx was most likely killed when the Labyrinth was collapsed by Daedalus' death.
- In Egyptian mythology, the Sphinx was commonly seen as a protector of the pharaohs and Egypt and not as the flesh-eating monster described by the Greeks.
- Sometimes her father is believed to be Orthrus.
- The Roman form of the Sphinx is the Sphinge.