In ancient Greek tradition, what riddles did have the Sphinx in her "repertoire", besides the famous:

Which creature goes on four feet in the morning, two feet at noon, and three feet in the evening?

Wikipedia also mentions this one:

There are two sisters: one gives birth to the other and she, in turn, gives birth to the first. Who are the two sisters?

Of course, with one "killer" riddle, the Sphinx would have had enough but, quoting Wikipedia again (emphasis mine):

Michael Maier in his book, the Atalanta Fugiens (1617) writes the following remark about the Sphinx's riddle:

Sphinx is indeed reported to have had many Riddles, but this offered to Oedipus was the chief, "What is that which in the morning goeth upon four feet; upon two feet in the afternoon; and in the Evening upon three?"

I'm curious if tradition or ancient authors assign her any other riddles besides those two quoted above.

  • 1
    In case you missed my answer, I wanted to let you know that it absolutely could be "riddles" instead of "riddle".
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 21:56

2 Answers 2


Ps.-Apollodorus implies that there is only one riddle, which she learned from the Muses. From Theoi:

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 52 - 55 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :

"While he [Kreon (Creon)] was king, quite a scourge held Thebes in suppression, for Hera sent upon them the Sphinx, whose parents were Ekhidna (Echidna) and Typhon. She had a woman's face, the breast, feet, and tail of a lion, and bird wings. She had learned a riddle form the Mousai (Muses), and now sat on Mount Phikion (Phicium) where she kept challenging the Thebans with it. The riddle was: what is it that has one voice, and is four-footed and two-footed and three-footed?

Check the link for more sources, too. Only Statius has "riddles" instead of "riddle," but as Oedipus only solved one, it's probably a poetic plural intended (i.e. plural in form to fit the meter of the poem, but singular in meaning).


C.M. Weimer is correct, however the ambiguity seems to be related to the declension of the word "ambages" used by Statius to connote a riddle.


"ambages" can be either singular or plural in the nominative form.

Thus, both translations, "riddle" and "riddles" is valid, although, as Weimer notes, Statius seems to be at odds with most other authors in this regard.

Further supporting this view is that the answer in the Oedipus example constitutes a dramatic irony: the the question Oedipus unwittingly seeks an answer to is "himself" (i.e. a "human being"). This "joke" is further reinforced by the inscription at the entrance to Apollo's oracle at Delphi: "Know Thyself".

Thus, this single riddle could be said to be sufficient because, in a certain philosophical sense, self knowledge is the most fundamental, and critical, form of knowledge. Thus, it could be said to be the only truly important knowledge, and thus, the only riddle that needs to be asked.


The Latin text of Statius' Thebiad can be found here. Unfortunately, Perseus has no English linked, but I found a serviceable translation here. In this English translation, the author translated riddle in the singular.

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