Sunday, August 26, 2018

Leonard D Greco Jr writes

Oedipus & the Sphinx, or Self Portrait of the Artist as an Inquisitive Flea

1 comment:

  1. Sophokles closed his 5th-century BC play "Oedipus the King" with the following lines: "You that live in my ancestral Thebes, behold this Oedipus, - him who knew the famous riddles and was a man most masterful; not a citizen who did not look with envy on his lot - see him now and see the breakers of misfortune swallow him! Look upon that last day always. Count no mortal happy till he has passed the final limit of his life secure from pain." (tr. David Grene). The most significant of these riddles was the one posed by Phix, the Sphinx, (from the Greek verb "sphingo," to squeeze). A creature with a lion's body and a human head, sometimes also depicted with the wings of a bird, she was a daughter of the 2-headed dog Orthros and his mother, the flesh-eating 1/2 woman-1/2 snake Echidna. Sent by Hera or Ares to guard the entrance to Thebes, she would ask all passersby a riddle, and if they failed to answer it she strangled and devoured them. Sophocles never specified the riddle, but the most common version is, "What goes on four feet in the morning, two feet at noon, and three feet in the evening?" or, according to Apollodorus, "What is that which has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed?" Athanaeus had a longer version ("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.") A simpler version consists of a single dactylic hexameter line, "A thing there is whose voice is one, whose feet are four and two." The seer Teiresias would later realize that several answers were possible, but Oedipus submitted "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." By some accounts, there was a 2nd 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?" (Day and night, which were both feminine nouns in Greek.) Oedipus' success caused the monster to leap to her death or to devour herself.


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