(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.
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.”
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. (Edipus solved it, and the sphinx put herself
to death. The riddle was this -
What goes on four feet, on two feet, and three,
But the more feet it goes on the weaker it be?
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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