Transformational Narrative: Riddle of the Sphinx
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RIDDLE OF THE SPHINX

The Sphinx is said to have guarded the entrance to the Greek city of Thebes, asking a riddle to travellers to allow them passage. The exact riddle asked by the Sphinx was not specified by early tellers of the myth, and was not standardized as the one given below until late in Greek history.[16]

It was said in late lore that Hera or Ares sent the Sphinx from her Aethiopian homeland (the Greeks always remembered the foreign origin of the Sphinx) to Thebes in Greece where she asked all passersby the most famous riddle in history: "Which creature has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed?" She strangled and devoured anyone who could not answer. 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 uses a walking stick in old age".[9] By some accounts[17] (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. Who are the two sisters?" The answer is "day and night" (both words—ἡμέρα and νύξ, respectively—are feminine in Ancient Greek). This second riddle is also found in a Gascon version of the myth and could be very ancient.[18] Bested at last, the Sphinx then threw herself from her high rock and died;[19]
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The Sphinx is said to have guarded the entrance to the Greek city of Thebes, asking a riddle to travellers to allow them passage. The exact riddle asked by the Sphinx was not specified by early tellers of the myth, and was not standardized as the one given below until late in Greek history.[16]

It was said in late lore that Hera or Ares sent the Sphinx from her Aethiopian homeland (the Greeks always remembered the foreign origin of the Sphinx) to Thebes in Greece where she asked all passersby the most famous riddle in history: "Which creature has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed?" She strangled and devoured anyone who could not answer. 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 uses a walking stick in old age".[9] By some accounts[17] (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. Who are the two sisters?" The answer is "day and night" (both words—ἡμέρα and νύξ, respectively—are feminine in Ancient Greek). This second riddle is also found in a Gascon version of the myth and could be very ancient.[18] Bested at last, the Sphinx then threw herself from her high rock and died;[19]
In the story of Oedipus, the goddess Hera sent the Sphinx to plague the people of the ancient city of Thebes. This was punishment for an ancient crime, possibly the failure to atone for the crimes of a former king of Thebes. The Sphinx sat perched on a mountain cliff nearby the ancient city. The creature guarded Thebes with a riddle that she had learned from the Muses. Each time a traveler failed to solve her riddle, she devoured them, effectively preventing anyone from leaving or entering the city.

The riddle? “What being has four legs, then two, and then three?” Some accounts write it, “What has four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening?” After many people guessed incorrectly and were killed, the king of Thebes announced that he would give the kingdom to anyone who could solve the riddle. The road past Mount Phicion, where the Sphinx awaited her victims, was strewn with the bones of people who had failed to find the right answer. Eventually, Oedipus, fleeing Corinth, solved the riddle. He answered, “Man, who crawls on all fours as a baby, then walks on two legs, and finally needs a cane in old age.” Upon hearing the correct answer, the Sphinx jumped from the cliff to her death. The plague of Thebes was lifted.
The Sphinx used to sit outside Thebes and pose the same riddle to anyone who passed by. The riddle was as follows:

"What walks on four legs at dawn, two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening?"

Would the traveler fail to solve the riddle, he was cursed to death.

No one was ever able to answer the question correctly... until one day Oedipus appeared. Oedipus was promised the hand of the princess if he correctly interpreted the riddle.

Being famous for his wisdom, Oedipus found the solution to the riddle with ease and answered:

"The man, who crawls on four legs as a baby, then walks on two legs as an adult, and in old age walks with a stick as a third leg..."

The Sphinx was so frustrated by this answer that it immediately committed suicide and threw itself off a high cliff.
Quite a few versions of the riddle are available, but most of these probably represent some distortion of the form in which it was familiar to Sophocles' audience. The version which is most familiar today runs something like this, available on the web at History For Kids: "What goes on four feet in the morning, two feet at noon, and three feet in the evening?" (H&P give essentially the same version, p. 693, but with "legs" in place of "feet".)

Ancient Greek sources, such as Apollodorus and Athenaeus, on the other hand, give a different emphasis to the riddle.
Apollodorus' version is the more widely available. It runs as follows:

"What is that which has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed?"

Also important is Athenaeus' somewhat fuller version, available at a Sophocles website, as follows:

"A thing there is whose voice is one;
Whose feet are four and two and three.
So mutable a thing is none
That moves in earth or sky or sea.
When on most feet this thing doth go,
Its strength is weakest and its pace most slow."

Besides this relatively comprehensive version, there is also evidence for a shorter version, consisting of just one dactylic hexameter line, as follows:

"A thing there is whose voice is one;
Whose feet are four and two."
The Sphinx’s Riddle from Oedipus Rex:

‘What is it that has one voice, and is four-footed and two-footed and three-footed?”

and the lesser know second riddle from some later versions:

“There are two sisters: one gives birth to the other and she, in turn, gives birth to the first. Who are the two sisters?” 

The Sphinx’s Riddle from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

‘First think of the person who lives in disguise,
Who deals in secrets and tells naught but lies.
Next, tell me what’s always the last thing to mend,
The middle of middle and end of the end?
And finally give me the sound often heard
During the search for a hard-to-find word.
Now string them together, and answer me this,
Which creature would you be unwilling to kiss?’

The Sphinx’s Riddle from the 2016 film Gods of Egypt

“I never was, am always to be. No one ever saw me, nor ever will, and yet, I am the confidence of all who live and breathe. What am I?”
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