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Oedipus and the Sphinx on a red-figure vase - the Riddle of the Sphinx

The Riddle of the Sphinx: Oedipus, wearing a traveler’s hat, and the Sphinx asking her riddle

The Sphinx’s riddle:

So the riddle the Sphinx asked Oedipus is: What goes on four feet in the morning, two feet at noon, and three feet in the evening?

Oedipus’ answer to the riddle of the Sphinx:

And the answer is: a man.

A man is a baby in the morning of his life and he crawls on four feet.

A man is an adult in the noon – the middle part – of his life and he walks on two feet.

But when a man is old, in the evening of his life, he walks with a cane, on three feet.

An older man leaning on a cane, and a younger one on his own two feet

An older man leaning on a cane, and a younger one on his own two feet

(This would be true of women, too, but the Greeks, being Greeks, told it about men only).

It’s an important riddle to Ancient Greek men, because they thought of men as the center of the universe, the measure of all things. So the answer is the most important possible thing: a man.

Did you find out what you wanted to know about the riddle of the Sphinx? Let us know in the comments!

More about Oedipus
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Bibliography and further reading about Oedipus and Sophocles:

Greek Theatre, by Stewart Ross (1999). Easy reading.

Greek and Roman Theater, by Don Nardo. For teenagers.

Ancient Greeks: Creating the Classical Tradition (Oxford Profiles) by Rosalie F. Baker and Charles F. Baker (reprinted 1997). Short biographies of many famous Greeks including Sophocles.

D’aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths by Edgar and Ingri D’Aulaire. Includes the story of Oedipus.

Greek Tragedy: A Literary Study, by H. D. F. Kitto (reprinted 2002). A classic discussion of the meaning of Greek tragic plays, by a specialist.

Oedipus at Colonus
More about Sophocles
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