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The Riddle of the 'sp(h)ij-': The Greek Sphinx and her Indic and Indo-European Background

"The name of the Sphinx, the Greek female monster who had fun killing passers-by who could her riddle, has long been an etymological conundrum. On the basis of literary, linguistic, and anthropological evidence from, above all, Greece and India, this paper comes to a novel understanding of the Sphinx’ origin, concluding that her oldest moniker, (S)Phí:k-, is related to a newly uncovered Greek noun phíkis ‘buttocks’ and to a Sanskrit word for the same body part, sphij-, a hitherto misunderstood form of which appears, in turn, in a riddle in the oldest Indic text, the Rigveda. This derivation situates the Greek creature squarely in the cross-culturally typically aggressive and sexually charged genre of riddling

Author(s):  Katz, Joshua
Format:  Article
Publisher:  Department of Classics, Princeton University
Publication City:  Princeton
Date:  2005
Source:  Princeton/Stanford Working Papers in Classics