Lady and Question and King

When Oedipus met the sphinx and she asked him “What is it that stands on four feet in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening” he answer “man!” and the sphinx threw herself to her death. Later as a king he encountered many, many riddles, from “How do we avoid war with Sparta?” (Answer: pay a large bribe) to “How do we keep our prosperity in the event of a drought that kills our grape vines” (Answer: also plant the drought-resistant olive) until finally he encountered the riddle “Who is the cause of the plague?” and learned the answer was “Oedipus!” and he blinded himself. As he wandered in search of redemption (or at the very least some clarity) he noticed that riddles were divided into two kinds — riddles whose answer was in some sense the person asking the riddle — man! Oedipus! — and riddles whose answer was not — plant olives! Pay a bribe!” As he wandered he started to think that his question was “Is the riddle of my life about me or is it not about me.” Feeling his way through the darkness he touched the warm animal haunch and felt the feathery wings and the woman’s lips, smelled the mixture of bird and beast and girl. “Sphinx?” asked the ex-king “I thought you died.” “It is easy for a winged creature to fake its death by falling.” said the sphinx. “Sphinx, our fates have been intwined this many years — please help me to untie mine from yours, so I may find peace.” “Ask and I will tell” she said. “What am I and what is my question?” asked Oedipus “Is it one of those questions to which I myself am the answer, or is it the other kind, the kind to which my essence is irrelevant. Am I the answer or not?” The Sphinx smiled and smiling kissed his eyes.  “That is your question, Oedipus? You truly are a riddle.”


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