British Museum

The origins of the sphinx lie in Egypt, where the creature was depicted as a winged lion with a male head. The Greeks made their sphinxes female, the most famous being the Theban sphinx; she devours visitors to the city who cannot answer her riddle. The story of the Theban monster began to appear in Greek art around the sixth century B.C. In the red-figure cup shown here, from the late fifth century B.C., Oedipus kills the sphinx after solving her riddle—an ending to the story not found in Greek literature.