Oedipus and the Riddle of the Sphinx
(Dragons and Other Fabulous Beasts by Richard Blythe
illustrated by Fiona French & Joanna Troughton)
When Creon ruled in Thebes, a huge winged monster made its den in a cave near the city. It was taller than a man with a lion's golden body and a human head. Men called it a Sphinx. Its face was sad and beautiful, but the creature killed.
The Thebans dared not leave the city walls. Country families stayed in their houses. Trade and the fields were neglected, and the frightened people went hungry. If a wanderer approached, the Sphinx would come from its cave, spread its rustling wings to bar the way, and ask in a sad low voice;
'Shall I kill you traveler, or shall you go free? What goes on four legs, on two, and at last on three?'
But no one could answer such a riddle. When they failed, the Sphinx would seize them and dash them down, to die on the rocks below the road. Most of the people of Thebes spent their time trying to find an answer to the Sphinx's question. Others said the monster was sent by the gods to punish them, and that it was useless to try to answer a riddle sent by the gods themselves. The city was full of rumor and fear, and no work was done.
And then a young man came to the city. His name was Oedipus. He went to Creon, saying he could rid the city of the Sphinx because the gods had told him the answer to the riddle in a dream.
'Tell me the answer,' commanded Creon, 'and I shall give you rich gifts.'
'No,' replied Oedipus. 'I must face the monster myself and destroy it.'
'If you do that,' said Creon, 'you shall be made king of Thebes.'
So Oedipus went from the city and climbed to the Sphinx's cave. The creature came, tail lashing, and Oedipus stood in the great shadow of its wide wings. 'What goes on four legs, on two, and at last on three?' Answer that riddle and Thebes shall be free.'
And Oedipus gave his answer. 'Man!' he said. As a baby he crawls on all fours, as a youth he walks erect, in old age he leans on a stick.'
'It is so,' sighed the Sphinx. The great wings folded, the sad face smiled at Oedipus, and then, with a mournful cry, the Sphinx leaped from the road, to die on the rocks below.
A significant tale indeed!- tee hee ; ) ~ Fae