Geek Sphinx from Thebes

Research article Written by London Swaminathan

Uploaded in London on  – 1 JANUARY 2020

Post No.7408

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pictures are taken from various sources; thanks.


Another interesting thing about the hymn is that it has the Greek Sphinx Riddle. Sangam Tamil literature verses and post Sangam Tamil Tirukkural reflects the views in the hymn. Bhagavad Gita also shared the same thoughts. Let me compare the riddle first.

Gigantic 187 feet tall Egyptian Sphinx is a famous edifice with a long history. It has been dated a monument from 2600 BCE. It has the face of a man and the body of a lion. Greeks had a different Sphinx with a feminine face and wings. We have such figures from 500 BCE.

In the Greek conception, sphinx is the monstrous daughter of Typhon and Echidna. The sphinx demanded human sacrifice from the Thebans every time her riddle concerning the three ages of man was unanswered. when Oedipus answered, she committed suicide. It was adopted as an emblem of wisdom.

Her riddle was ‘which animal  went on four, then two and finally three legs’; the answer being humanity- crawling baby, adult and old man with a stick. Oedipus gave the right reply.

Rig veda 10-117-8 says

“He with one foot surpasses Two foot; and Two foot leaves Three foot behind. Four foot comes at the call of

Two foot watching his herds and serving him where five met together.”

Probably the Greeks copied it like they copied the Sarama dog story in Hermes episode.

The explanation given by the Vedic commentators is

One foot – Sun (Aja Ekapada is another word for Sun)

Two Feet – human being;

Three foot – old person with a walking stick (staff);

Four feet – Dog and other animals.

Five foot – Many people who watch all these things.


Before this stanza, there are other stanzas illustrating very high thoughts. This is from the 10th Mandala of the Rig Veda.

Rig Veda 10-117-1

The gods have not ordained hunger to be our death; even to the well-fed man comes death in varied shape.

Here the poet Bitsu Angiras says that don’t condemn the begging people that they have to suffer like this because of their past sins. That is not right. Death is not only for the poor. Even well-fed rich men die.



The man with food in store, who when the needy comes in miserable case begging for food

Hardens his hear against him – though in the past he had made use of him- he surely finds  no one with sympathy.

Tamil poet Tiruvalluar says,

Wealth in the hands of a liberal person is like a useful tree bearing fruits in the middle of a town square – Kural 216

The man who is in the habit of sharing his food with others will never be afflicted with the dire disease called hunger – 227


10-117- 3

The man who is truly generous gives to the beggar  who approaches him. He puts himself at the service of the man and makes him a friend for times to come.



That man is not a friend who does not give of his own nourishment to his friend. Let the friend turn away from him. Let him find another man who gives freely.

Here also we can compare a couplet from Tirukkural-

Genuine friendship hastens to redress distress like the hand that picks up the garment quickly that slips –788


10-117- 5

Let the rich satisfy the poor and bend his eyes upon a longer path way.

Riches come now to one, now to another  like the wheels of the rolling chariot.

This simile of wheel is used by several ancient poets. Naladiyar , another moral book, also uses this wheel simile for ever moving wealth.

Longer pathway means that the rich also can face ups and downs in future and so he must look into it.



The foolish man wins food without labour; I speak the truth; it will bring ruin to him. He cultivates neither a friend nor a patron. All guilt is who he eats alone without sharing.

Lord Krishna illustrates this point in harsher terms. He says that who he eats aloe is a thief; he eats nothing but sin.

The good people who eat what is left from sacrifice are released from all sins but those wicked people who prepare food for their own sake – verily they eat sin – Bhagavad Gita 3-13

He who enjoys the god given gifts without giving to them/gods in return is verily a thief – 3-12

Tiruvalluvar also says,

Enjoying one’s food, sharing it with others, and sustaining other lives is held out as the highest virtue by learned sages – Kural 322

Here Valluvar echoes the Vedic sages.



A man gets food by ploughing the field; the legs that walk puts the road behind them. The priest who speaks is better than the one who does not speak. The friend who gives surpasses the one who does not.

Griffith comments on it,

Active exertion is necessary for success.

The speaking brahman priest – the priest who duly discharges his task of recitation for which he is engaged.



Already given in the Greek Riddle comparison (see above)



The two hands though same, do not do the same thing.

Two cows from the same mother do not give the same amount of milk

The strength and valour of the twins are not the same.

Two kinsmen do not give with the same generosity.

Griffith explains,

All men should be liberal; but we must not expect all to be equally generous.

Here we see the ways of the world beautifully explained.

The similes of twins, ploughing field give a pen picture of the agricultural society.


Last but not the least, we may compare this with the 2000 year old Tamil Sangam Poems.

A Pandya king by name Ilamperu Valuthi says that Tamils share everything that is eatable, even if its Amrta from the world of Indra. He adds that they would do anything that brings fame and name for one and never do anything wrong even if they are given the entire world.- See Puranaanuru verse-182

In another verse a philanthropist was praised as a ‘Doctor who cures the disease of Hunger’ by a Chola king – See Puram. Verse 173.

The thought of sharing and giving  is praised from the Rig Vedic days till today, from the Himalayas to Kanyakumari.


Sphinx in Egypt
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