In Greek mythology, the sphinx combined the head of a woman, body of a lion and wings of an eagle. Sphinxes often featured on grave markers as guardians of the tomb. The famous sphinx from Thebes was said to wreak terrible vengeance on anyone who failed to solve the riddle she set them. Oedipus solved the puzzle ‘what animal walks on four legs, then two, then three?’ The answer is man, who crawls as a baby, walks upright in his prime, and leans on a staff in old age. This marble sphinx was probably a support for a table. It was found at Monte Cagnolo, outside Lanuvium, near Rome.

You can see this sculpture in our exhibition Defining beauty: the body in ancient Greek art (26 March – 5 July 2015).

You can also find out more about the exhibition in the catalogue by Ian Jenkins

Marble sphinx, probably a support for a table. From Monte Cagnolo, outside Lanuvium, near Rome. Roman, about AD 120–140.