Choose your MONSTER! Are you fond of charming, ever-young vampires? Do you have a yen for rough & ready werewolves? Have you fantasized cobbling together a perfect monster — like Dr. Frankenstein? Or do you picture yourself leading a battalion of zombies?
There are all sorts of Monsters that appeal to all sorts of tastes. Although I’m usually inclined to write about vampires — and I recently wrote my first werewolf short story — I’ve been playing around with an idea that strays into the territory of mythological beasts — another brand of monsters entirely.
Maybe it’s simply the fabulous “zoo” of mythological creatures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art? But I’ve been wondering about the Sphinx, the Dragon, and the Chimera — three beasts that cross cultural boundaries and turn up in different mythologies.
The Sphinx appears in Egypt, Asia and all over the ancient world. In classical Greek mythology the Sphinx is most famous for her riddle.
“What goes on four legs at dawn, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening?”
Oedipus, yes THAT Oedipus, was the clever man who finally solved the riddle. He said the answer was “man” — a creature that crawls on four legs as a baby, walks on two in the middle of life and uses a cane to walk in old age, making him three-legged.
In most versions of the myth, the Sphinx is so distraught when he gives the right answer that she immediately kills herself.
The appearance of the Sphinx varies from place to place — wings appear in Asia, sometimes she has human hair and sometimes a lion’s mane, in Greece (with the notable exception of very early on) the Sphinx is always female and her wisdom is deep and mysterious.
I’ve always wanted to visit the gigantic one in Giza, Egypt. I hope I get there one day. In the meantime, I’ve satisfied my yen for a Sphinx by spotting the elegant ladies with lion’s bodies in Italian and French art in later centuries and in the myriad of variations in ancient Greece and Egypt. I don’t know why, or when, a beautiful Sphinx became the perfect accent for a large city park or outside a palace, but that’s how it played out and you can find them in major museums and gardens around the world.
This brings me to the Sphinx as a character. In her human persona would she be an enigmatic psychotherapist answering questions with questions? She could be a scholar, perhaps a philosophy professor? But, given the way people seem to love brilliant, oddball detectives — what do you think of a Sphinx/Woman solving a mystery?
More on Chimera and Dragons another time…