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The Sphinx: An Egyptian Theological Symbol in Plutarch and Clement of Alexandria

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Chapter Summary

The sphinx appears in the Oedipus story, in the realm of death and the underworld, and in decorative and apotropaic functions. The Oedipus story dominates both the ancient literary tradition and current studies of the sphinx. The sphinx's role as guardian of temples as well as tombs passed from Egypt to the Aegean at an early date according to Jean Hani possibly as early as the Bronze Age. The sphinx's riddle appeared comparable in some respects to puzzling theological doctrines and to mysterious religious rituals. In spite of the attractive "theological" interpretations offered by Plutarch and Clement, sphinxes in actual Roman temple settings are rare except in Alexandria or in connection with the Alexandrian gods. As in the Alexandrian Serapeum, the sphinxes from temple sites elsewhere in the Roman world seem to be reused Egyptian carvings of much earlier times; they are wingless, male, and recline.

Keywords: Bronze Age; Clement of Alexandria; Egyptian carvings; Oedipus story; Plutarch; Roman temple; sphinx's riddle



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