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Intaglio with Oedipus and the Sphinx Set in a Ring
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Intaglio with Oedipus and the Sphinx Set in a Ring

Description Conservation Exhibitions Provenance Credit
Description The Sphinx (meaning "strangler") was a savage creature with the head of a woman, the body of a lion, and the wings of a bird, sent by Hera to plague the city of Thebes. Oedipus encountered her at the entrance to the city, where she allowed none to enter or leave until they had correctly answered her question: "What has one name and is four-footed, two-footed, and three-footed?" Oedipus was the first to be able to answer her riddle correctly with his cunning response of "man," who as an infant crawls, in the prime of life walks on two feet, and in old age carries a cane. The episode, likely part of a long oral tradition, is mentioned in Sophocles' "Oedipus the King" (ll. 469 ff.). In this gem, the winged sphinx with a lion's body and a large female head is seated on a high rock on the right. Oedipus faces the monster and raises his left hand to his mouth to address the Sphinx; he holds a sword in his right. He is nude except for sandals and a cloak tied around his neck.
Date Description Narrative
  • Heroes: Mortals and Myths in Ancient Greece. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore; Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville; San Diego Museum Of Art, San Diego; Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation (USA), New York. 2009-2011.
Provenance Henry Walters, Baltimore, 1913 [mode of acquisition unknown]; Walters Art Museum, 1931, by bequest.
Credit Acquired by Henry Walters, 1913

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4th-3rd century BCE (Hellenistic)
green and white agate, set in modern gold ring
(Precious Stones & Gems)
Accession Number
Ring H: 1/2 x W: 7/16 x D: 9/16 in. (1.3 x 1.1 x 1.43 cm); Bezel H: 1/2 x W: 3/8 in. (1.2 x 1 cm)
Location Within Museum
Not On View


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