What Is the Riddle of the Sphinx?

The ancient people of Egypt, Greece, and the Near East all had legends about imaginary creatures with human heads and animal-like bodies. These people built statues of these creatures, called sphinxes, to guard their temples and tombs.

The sphinx in Greek mythology had the head of a woman and the body of a lion. She is said to have lived on a high rock outside the ancient city of Thebes and stopped all travelers passing by to ask them this riddle:

What goes on four feet in the morning, on two feet at noon, and on three feet in the evening?

Anyone who couldn’t solve the riddle was eaten by the sphinx. For many years, thousands of travelers were said to have suffered this fate.

Finally, a young man named Oedipus put an end to the sphinx’s evil doings by giving the correct answer. This so enraged the sphinx that she jumped from the mountainside to her death.

The answer to the sphinx’s riddle is man. In the morning (his babyhood) he goes on four feet (he crawls); at noon (his adulthood) he goes on two feet (he walks); and in the evening (his old age) he uses a cane (his third foot)!