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The Three Ages of Man According to the Sphinx

  1. Infancy
  2. Adulthood
  3. Old Age

The Sphinx in Greek Mythology was a creature with a lion's body and a human head.  She asked a riddle of all who passed her and killed those who couldn't answer it correctly.  There are many versions of this riddle, most follow a pattern of equating time of day with one of the ages of man represented by the number of "legs" on which man walks.  One version is, “Which creature walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening?” The Sphinx's riddle was finally solved by Oedipus, who answered "Man."

"Hera had recently sent the Sphinx to punish Thebes for Laius's abduction of the boy Chrysippus from Pisa and, settling on Mount Phicium, close to the city, she now asked every Theban wayfarer a riddle taught her by the Three [sic] Muses: 'What being, with only one voice, has sometimes two feet, sometimes three, sometimes four, and is weakest when it has the most?' Those who could not solve the riddle she throttled and devoured on the spot...

"Oedipus, approaching Thebes fresh from the murder of Laius, guessed the answer. 'Man,' he replied, 'because he crawls on all fours as an infant, stands firmly on his two feet in his youth, and leans upon a staff in his old age.'  The mortified Sphinx leaped from Mount Phicium and dashed herself to pieces in the valley below. At this the grateful Thebans acclaimed Oedipus king..."—Robert Graves. The Greek Myths: Complete Edition. (London: Penguin Books, 1955, 1960, 1992), p. 372.

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Related on eAlmanac
The Five Ages of Man of Greek Mythology
The Seven Ages of Man According to Shakespeare

Beyond eAlmanac
Wikipedia article on the Riddle of the Sphinx

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The Greek Myths: Complete Edition (Paperback) by Robert Graves

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