THE SPHINX was a female monster with the body of a lion, the head and breast of a woman, eagle's wings and, according to some, a serpent's tail.
She was sent by the gods to plague the town of Thebes as punishment for some ancient crime, preying on its youths and devouring all who failed to solve her riddle. The regent of Thebes, King Kreon (Creon), offered the throne to the one who would destroy her. Oidipous (Oedipus) took up the challenge, and when he solved the Sphinx's riddle, she cast herself off the mountainside in despair.
Sphinxes were very popular in ancient art. They were employed as sculptural gave stelae upon the tombs of men who died in youth. In archaic vase paintings they often appear amongst a procession of animals and fabulous creatures such as lions and bird-bodied sirens.