The Most Famous Riddle in History: A Creature That Eats Those Who Don’t Know

Have you seen the sphinx statue in Egypt? A statue with a human head but a lion-shaped body. Frankly, the fact that it has a lion’s body is not surprising. In almost all the depictions of gods in Egyptian Mythology, the god is “cat-headed“. Since the lion is the most highly-placed member of the feline family, this statue was considered sacred. It is claimed that the statue was made between 2723-2563 BC. Wait a minute, we came to read an article about the riddle. Where did the Sphinx statue come from?

The Sphinx Or Should We Call The “Father of Horror”?


The name Sphinx comes from a mythical creature that finds its place in both Ancient Egyptian and Ancient Greek mythology. All it brings is destruction and bad luck. It’s not even the last thing anyone would want to encounter. This creature is so infamous that it is called A-bu al-Hôl in Arab geography: Father of Horror.

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We can think of the Sphinx as a watchman. A watchman who stops people passing by, by saying, “Hey fellow, where to? You can go later. Come here first.”. Of course, it doesn’t kill the person it stops right away. It’s not such a cruel creature. It’s a cat after all. One of its favorite things is to play games and the question it asks is considered the most famous riddle in history. You have only one chance to answer correctly. As soon as you answer it wrong, it kills and eats you there. Let’s move on to that famous riddle!

The Most Famous Riddle in History

“What creature walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three in the evening and is weak when its feet are the most, contrary to the laws of nature?”


Answering this question correctly is really a matter of life and death. If you didn’t answer correctly, don’t worry. All but one of the people who came before the Sphinx had answered this riddle incorrectly. Or let’s say they were animal lovers who didn’t want the Sphinx to starve. Until Oedipus appeared on the stage of history. Oedipus, who will be known for his sharp wit and bad luck, appears before the creature. Gives the correct answer and explains:

“That creature is human. Because when a person is a baby, he crawls on all fours, using his hands as feet, as an adult he walks on two legs, but when he gets old, he also uses a cane to walk, that is, he becomes three-legged.”

Upon this answer, the Sphinx’s world turns upside down. This creature, which drools as soon as a human passes by, would not know what to do when someone answers his riddle correctly. Realizing that he has been defeated and that his most trusted riddle has been solved, the Sphinx jumps off a high cliff and dies. Although some sources say that he committed suicide in this way, in some stories it is also said that he devoured himself with greed. The results are the same in both versions, the Sphinx no longer exists.

Perhaps the Unluckiest Person Ever: Oedipus

Oedipus’ misfortune is actually quite a long story. Since his name is mentioned in this story, let’s talk about him briefly in this article. Oedipus’ father does not want his son at all. When he is still a child, he tortures him by hanging him from the ceiling by his ankles. This is where the name Oedipus comes from, meaning swollen feet. Then he wants the boy to die and throws him into the forest to his death. A shepherd takes pity on this child and gives it to a childless king and queen.

He lives there happily for a long time, but naturally, he wants to learn about his real parents. Then he goes to Delphi the all-knowing oracle. This oracle looks at Oedipus with disgust and kicks him out of his room. Oedipus, who insists on learning what happened, is shocked by what he hears. The oracle tells him that he will marry his birth mother and kill his father with his own hands.

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He packs his bag and sets off to a farther place just to prevent these prophecies from coming true. But his efforts turn futile. The oracle is infallible. Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother, albeit completely unknowingly. In fact, the “Oedipus Complex”, which can be summarized as “the child’s feelings and thoughts about owning the opposite-sex parent and ruling out the parent of the same sex,” explained by Sigmund Freud in his psychoanalytic theory, takes its name from this unfortunate hero. Since this article is about the riddle, let’s leave the story here for now. In another article, we will examine both Oedipus’s story and Freud’s theory.

Talking Cats May Not Be a Good Omen!


If you have noticed, we started seeing videos of cats talking on social media. They’re almost starting to say names now. Fortunately, we already know the answer we will give if one day they are able to ask riddles…

References and Further Reading

Oedipus. (accessed Feb 23, 2022).

Sfenks. (accessed Feb 23, 2022).

Images not cited are used through Canva Pro with a royalty payment.

The proofreading has been done by Doğa Ünelli and Mete Esencan.

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Mete Esencan

Hello everyone! I'm Mete Esencan. I am a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry at METU. I was planning to establish a platform by combining the research knowledge I gained during my basic science education and the management experience I gained in the METU Chemistry Society, which I was in charge of for three years. For this purpose, in February of 2021, I took the first step and established the OkButWhy, a platform where we can write articles as if to chat about science, art and philosophy. I wish everyone a pleasant reading!

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