The sphinx has always been one of my favorite mythical creatures. I don’t know when I was first drawn to the sphinx, but my fascination was cemented when I first saw Mirrormask. If you haven’t see it, I highly recommend it—it is a great coming-of-age story with wonderful characters, a beautiful soundtrack, and a unique style. There was something about its CGI creepy rainbow-winged sphinxes that made me fall in love and wish to create a sphinx character myself.
Now working on an original novel that takes place in an alternative timeline where mythical creatures roam Earth, I took the opportunity to finally use sphinxes for something other then doodles in my sketchbook.
When designing the sphinxes for my novel, I wanted them to be unique to their origins but at the same time still appear similar to each other and unique to my own design. For this, I decided to make them based on large cats that were native to the areas of origin and also retain elements of their original design.
The name sphinx comes from the Greek word sphingein, meaning “to bind” or “to squeeze.” However, there has been some debate by historian Susan Wise Bauer. who claims that ‘sphinx’ is the Greek corruption of the Egyptian name Shesepankh, which meant “living image.”
Sphinxes in Egypt are depicted as having the body of a lion and head of a human male. This is typically the image that comes to mind when discussing sphinxes—more specifically the Great Sphinx of Giza. According to most theories, the Great Sphinx was commissioned by King Khafre in the 4th Dynasty. The only mythology I’m able to find on the Egyptian Sphinx is a story in which Tuthmosis IV fell asleep in the shadow of the Great Sphinx and had a dream where it spoke to him and promised he would become king if he cleaned the sand off of the statue.
In my novel, Egyptian Sphinxes are based on the Barbary lion that once roamed North Africa but is now considered extinct. It was considered one of the largest lions and the males were described as having long, dark manes. The design of the body remains true to the Egyptian Sphinx, having the body of a lion and the face of a human. Males are slightly larger then females and will have a mane.
In Greece mythology, sphinxes were depicted as having the body of a lion, head of a human female, and wings of an eagle. The most common story revolving around the Greek Sphinx is that of Oedipus. While traveling to Thebes, he learned that a sphinx had been terrorizing it and killed anyone who could not answer her riddle: “What walks on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening?” Oedipus manages to answer correctly—“Man”—and the sphinx throws herself off a mountainside to her death.
Greek Sphinxes are based on leopards and will have more of a human torso and forearms. They are also winged, based on either a Tawny Eagle or Greater Spotted Eagle. The human parts of the Greek Sphinx have freckles, varying between individuals, to continue the pattern of leopard spots on skin.
During my research, I learned that an Asian Sphinx had been found in the art of South and Southeast Asia. It was actually what inspired the design of the the Greek Sphinx, and appeared about a hundred years before it. Unlike Egyptian and Greek Sphinxes, whose traditions were lost because of the culture fading away, the Asian Sphinx is still considered “alive” today.
Since I hadn’t known of Asian Sphinxes before this I’m not completely sure how to incorporate them. I did have an idea to have minor sphinxes—smaller then Egyptian and Greek sphinxes—that would serve as pets for the nobility in my story. So perhaps the pets could be a domesticated version of the Asian Sphinx…?
Until I work out the details surrounding the Asian Sphinxes—what is everyone’s favorite small wild cat? Mine is the serval. :3