There are three types of sphinx.
- The androsphinx, the typical lion with a human face/head
- The criosphinx, a ram-headed lion.
- The hierocosphonx has the body of a lion and the head of a hawk.
Rarely was the Egyptian sphinx portrayed as a female. When it was, it symbolized Isis and/or the reigning queen. In Egypt the intellectual faculties ennobled the bestial traits present in the physical makeup of this creature.
But, in early Greek mythology, the bestial nature warped the mind and spirit of this being and it was portrayed as an unhappy monster, a symbol of the 'terrible mother'; the monster of death bringing extreme bad luck and the perversion of the intellect, womanhood, and power.
The Greek sphinx had the bust and head of a lady, the wings of an eagle, the body and legs of a lioness, and the tail of a snake or dragon. Sometimes it was portrayed with the body of a bull and the legs of a lion. Like many other fabulous beasts, the Greek sphinx was thought to live in the Ethiopian mountains.
The Assyrian sphinx looked quite different from the Egyptian one. It had a human head, wings, and the parts of a bull and a lion. Sometimes it had five legs instead of the usual four.
The Roman sphinx was a simple solar symbol.
Nomadic Arabs, coming across the Great Sphinx in the Egyptian desert, referred to it as the "Father of Terrors."
The Sphinx is a legendary creature made up of both human and animal parts. This figure originated in Egypt and then spread, with many modifications, throughout the ancient world. Its name comes from the Greek "sphingo" which means "to strangle."
The Egyptian androsphinx guarded pyramids, tombs, and sacred highways.
The Phoenicians and Syrians linked the sphinx to the guardian spirit lamassu and made it a symbol of rulership and the guardian of temples and palaces.
The Egyptian androsphinx is a symbol of abundance, power, wisdom, mysteries, riddles, truth, unity, and secrets. Sometimes a pair of sphinx was pictured with the tree of Life as a symbol of fertility and conception. As a solar symbol, the sphinx is often associated with the sun god Ra; Horus in the Horizon; and Harmakhis, the Lord of the Two Horizons, who represents the rising and setting sun, rebirth, and resurrection. Androsphinx usually bear the face of the pharaoh who ordered their construction and symbolize the divine power and wisdom he used to rule and protect his people.
Since its form combines human and animal parts into one body, the sphinx usually symbolizes the union of mind and body or intellectual, spiritual, and physical strengths with varying results. It is also, when composed of four animals including a human, a symbol of the four elements - earth, wind, fire, and water. The Druids counted a many-breasted sphinx among their fertility and maternal symbols.
As the Lord of the Two Horizons, the androsphinx's dual nature came to reflect the dual nature of Christ who was both human and divine. Like many other solar symbols, the androsphinx was placed in or near early Christian graves as a representation of the divine Light of the World.
Sphinx composed of a man's head and chest, eagle's wings, a bull's hindquarters, and a lions' forequarters became symbols of the Biblical tetramorph and the four living creatures of Revelation. [Ezek 1:5-14; Rev. 4:6-8] These in turn represent the cherubim; the four Evangelists and their Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the four kings of the created world - the lion (king of the jungle), the eagle (king of the air), the bull (king of the farm), and man (king of creation); and, according to St. Jerome, Christ's Incarnation (the man), His Passion (the bull), His Resurrection (the Lion), and His Ascension (the eagle).