Reference > Brewer’s Dictionary > Sphinx (The Egyptian).

E. Cobham Brewer 1810–1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
Sphinx (The Egyptian).
Half a woman and half a lion, said to symbolise the “rising of the Nile while the sun is in Leo and Virgo.” This “saying” must be taken for what it is worth.   1
   Sphinx. Lord Bacon’s ingenious resolution of this fable is a fair specimen of what some persons call “spiritualising” incidents and parables. He says that the whole represents “science,” which is regarded by the ignorant as “a monster.” As the figure of the sphinx is heterogeneous, so the subjects of science “are very various.” The female face “denotes volubility of speech;” her wings show that “knowledge like light is rapidly diffused;” her hooked talons remind us of “the arguments of science which enter the mind and lay hold of it.” She is placed on a crag overlooking the city, for “all science is placed on an eminence which is hard to climb.” If the riddles of the sphinx brought disaster, so the riddles of science “perplex and harass the mind.”   2
   You are a perfect sphinx—You speak in riddles. You are nothing better than a sphinx—You speak so obscurely that I cannot understand you. The sphinx was a sea-monster that proposed a riddle to the Thebans, and murdered all who could not guess it. Œdipus solved it, and the sphinx put herself to death. The riddle was this—   3
“What goes on four feet, on two feet, and three,
But the more feet it goes on the weaker it be?”



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