The Sphinx name comes to us from the fabled monster of Thebes, which had a woman’s head on the winged body of a lioness.
This creature would stop passers-by and propound to them the riddle, “What is it that in the morning travels on four feet, during the day on two feet, and in the evening on three feet?”
All who could not give the answer were strangled and devoured.
Finally, the Greek hero Oedipus gave the solution: “Man, who as a child creeps on all fours, in adulthood travels erect, and in old age needs the aid of a stick.”
Whereupon the monster destroyed herself.
The tale was first recorded by the Greek poet Hesiod (circa eighth century B.C.), and the name itself is the Latin transliteration of the Greek sphigx, “the strangler,” from the verb sphiggein, “to bind tightly, to strangle.”