(Image: Housen, licensed under CC BY 3.0/Cropped)
Sphinxes existed in the mythology of Egypt, the Middle East, and Greece. Although the most well-known sphinx is undoubtedly the great sandstone statue in Egypt, depicted with the body of a lion and head of a pharaoh (Androsphinx), some variants exist, such as one with the head of a ram (Criosphinx) or a falcon (Hieracosphinx). These sphinxes were almost always male, and each had a different meaning in society, symbolizing the many aspects of the pharaohs and gods. Middle Eastern sphinxes had many similarities to those of Egypt, but they were mainly female and often had wings. Finally, the Greek sphinx was a mystical creature with the head and shoulders of a woman, the body of a lion, eagle wings, and a snake tail. It terrorized the people of Thebes until it was finally outwitted at riddles by Oedipus, and then fell off a cliff and died (Rose 244).
Across cultures, the sphinx is a symbol of great power and wisdom, and as a hybrid of multiple animals, it can represent what those animals do, such as a hawk head symbolizing knowledge, hawk-headed Horus being the Egyptian god of scholarship (Rose 244; “Horus”).