The Sphinx’s Riddle


The Sphinx, according to Greek mythology, was considered to be a woman with a lioness’ body, eagle’s wing, and a serpent’s tale. She was known to be a mystical creature who brought about terror and destruction. The Sphinx is a popular character who was also used by J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth of the seven-book series. (Excerpt from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.)

In Oedipus the King, the Sphinx was known to terrorize the people of Thebes. She was sent by the god Hera as punishment for the unresolved crimes of King Laius. The Sphinx sat between the city of Thebes and its people, refusing to let anyone in or out unless they successfully answered her riddle. Those who failed to were either eaten of flung off a cliff.

Similarly, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the Sphinx was used to guard treasures and was known to become violent when anything threatened the treasure. In the Third Task of the Triwizard Tournament (a large contest held between three wizarding schools), the Sphinx guards Harry’s closest route to the Triwizard Cup, which Harry must get to before the other contestants to win the tournament.

Both in Oedipus and The Goblet of Fire, the Sphinx represents terror, violence, and eventually, the protagonists’ confrontation with their destiny.

Oedipus left Corinth, his hometown after he received a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. As he’s passing by Thebes, he comes across the Sphinx and her riddle.“What is it that has a voice and walks on four legs in the morning, on two at noon, and on three in the evening?” “A man”, Oedipus answers. With the riddle being solved the Sphinx plunges off the cliff, and Oedipus is welcomed into Thebes as a hero, is married to its queen, and becomes the new king. Unknown to him, however, is that the moment he solves the Sphinx’s riddle, he falls into the trap of the gods, and comes face to face with the fate he’s been running from. Not much later, the city of Thebes faces a plague, also a form of punishment for an unresolved crime; the murder of King Lauis. Oedipus’ pursuit of truth leads him to realize that it was he who murdered King Lauis, his father (when he was traveling from Corinth to Thebes) and that he had married his own mother, the Queen.

In the Goblet of Fire, after Harry solves the Sphinx’s riddle and crosses by her, he too, like Oedipus, has to confront fate. He faces a duel with Voldemort (the main antagonist). In the first three books of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter thrice avoids a dangerous, fatal duel with Voldemort, the darkest wizard the entire magical world has seen. However, once Harry gets past the Sphinx and gets to the Triwizard Cup, he falls into Voldemort’s trap, and upon contact with the cup (a portkey, which is an enchanted object that can transport someone to a specific location), faces the fate he and everyone that loved him was trying to save him from. Harry finds himself fighting Voldemort in a duel.

In both stories, after defeating the Sphinx, the protagonists find themselves facing the fate they originally are running from. The Sphinx in both stories represents fear, violence, and an arrival to the true fate. 


4 thoughts on “The Sphinx’s Riddle

  1. This is really cool! It’s a shame they cut that part out from the movie because I never even knew that happened! It would have added so much more to the movie and given Harry more substance, in my opinion. I really enjoyed your comparison and how you said they both had to face what they were running from in the end, that shows great understanding and thought put into what you read.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really like how you compared Sphinx in Harry Potter and in Oedipus. As we can see Sphinx is shown as a violent character in both stories which makes story about him. He’s known from riddles which is very mysterious, but interesting at the same time. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The Sphinx also forces the respective protagonists to think deeply on their own without the help of others they may be accustomed to (for example, Harry often depends on Hermione to solve problems like this for him), foreshadowing the independence they will need in order to face the upcoming problems. The Sphinx introduces the protagonist’s ability to take action alone. Oedipus solves the riddle and from that point on he faces challenge after challenge. Like you said, the Sphinx represents “eventually, the protagonists’ confrontation with their destiny.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is a very interesting point you make. The Sphinx leaves the protagonists no choice but to make their own choices and decisions. In a way, the Sphinx contributes not only to the protagonists character as a whole (as they both have to face what is of their destiny), but also their personal growth, where Harry Potter has to solve a problem of his on his own, and Oedipus has to lead an entire city as king.


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