The Riddle of the 'sp(h)ij-': The Greek Sphinx and Her Indic and Indo-European Background
30 Pages Posted: 1 Jul 2009
Date Written: 2005
The name of the Sphinx, the Greek female monster who had fun killing passers-by who could not answer 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)F∞k-, is related to a newly uncovered Greek noun f€ki° '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.
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