'The Sphinx' by Edgar Allen Poe

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DURING the dread reign of the Cholera in New York, I had accepted the invitation of a relative to spend a fortnight with him in the retirement of his cottage ornee on the banks of the Hudson. We had here around us all the ordinary means of summer amusement; and what with rambling in the woods, sketching, boating, fishing, bathing, music, and books, we should have passed the time pleasantly enough, but for the fearful intelligence which reached us every morning from the populous city. Not a day elapsed which did not bring us news of the decease of some acquaintance. Then as the fatality increased, we learned to expect daily the loss of some friend. At length we trembled at the approach of every messenger. The very air from the South seemed to us redolent with death. That palsying thought, indeed, took entire posession of my soul. I could neither speak, think, nor dream of any thing else. My host was of a less excitable temperament, and, although greatly depressed in spirits, exerted himself to sustain my own. His richly philosophical intellect was not at any time affected by unrealities. To the substances of terror he was sufficiently alive, but of its shadows he had no apprehension.
His endeavors to arouse me from the condition of abnormal gloom into which I had fallen, were frustrated, in great measure, by certain volumes which I had found in his library. These were of a character to force into germination whatever seeds of hereditary superstition lay latent in my bosom. I had been reading these books without his knowledge, and thus he was often at a loss to account for the forcible impressions which had been made upon my fancy.
A favorite topic with me was the popular belief in omens- a belief which, at this one epoch of my life, I was almost seriously disposed to defend. On this subject we had long and animated discussions- he maintaining the utter groundlessness of faith in such matters,- I contending that a popular sentiment arising with absolute spontaneity- that is to say, without apparent traces of suggestion- had in itself the unmistakable elements of truth, and was entitled to as much respect as that intuition which is the idiosyncrasy of the individual man of genius.
The fact is, that soon after my arrival at the cottage there had occurred to myself an incident so entirely inexplicable, and which had in it so much of the portentous character, that I might well have been excused for regarding it as an omen. It appalled, and at the same time so confounded and bewildered me, that many days elapsed before I could make up my mind to communicate the circumstances to my friend.
Near the close of exceedingly warm day, I was sitting, book in hand, at an open window, commanding, through a long vista of the river banks, a view of a distant hill, the face of which nearest my position had been denuded by what is termed a land-slide, of the principal portion of its trees. My thoughts had been long wandering from the volume before me to the gloom and desolation of the neighboring city. Uplifting my eyes from the page, they fell upon the naked face of the bill, and upon an object- upon some living monster of hideous conformation, which very rapidly made its way from the summit to the bottom, disappearing finally in the dense forest below. As this creature first came in sight, I doubted my own sanity- or at least the evidence of my own eyes; and many minutes passed before I succeeded in convincing myself that I was neither mad nor in a dream. Yet when I described the monster (which I distinctly saw, and calmly surveyed through the whole period of its progress), my readers, I fear, will feel more difficulty in being convinced of these points than even I did myself.
Estimating the size of the creature by comparison with the diameter of the large trees near which it passed- the few giants of the forest which had escaped the fury of the land-slide- I concluded it to be far larger than any ship of the line in existence. I say ship of the line, because the shape of the monster suggested the idea- the hull of one of our seventy-four might convey a very tolerable conception of the general outline. The mouth of the animal was situated at the extremity of a proboscis some sixty or seventy feet in length, and about as thick as the body of an ordinary elephant. Near the root of this trunk was an immense quantity of black shaggy hair- more than could have been supplied by the coats of a score of buffaloes; and projecting from this hair downwardly and laterally, sprang two gleaming tusks not unlike those of the wild boar, but of infinitely greater dimensions. Extending forward, parallel with the proboscis, and on each side of it, was a gigantic staff, thirty or forty feet in length, formed seemingly of pure crystal and in shape a perfect prism,- it reflected in the most gorgeous manner the rays of the declining sun. The trunk was fashioned like a wedge with the apex to the earth. From it there were outspread two pairs of wings- each wing nearly one hundred yards in length- one pair being placed above the other, and all thickly covered with metal scales; each scale apparently some ten or twelve feet in diameter. I observed that the upper and lower tiers of wings were connected by a strong chain. But the chief peculiarity of this horrible thing was the representation of a Death's Head, which covered nearly the whole surface of its breast, and which was as accurately traced in glaring white, upon the dark ground of the body, as if it had been there carefully designed by an artist. While I regarded the terrific animal, and more especially the appearance on its breast, with a feeling or horror and awe- with a sentiment of forthcoming evil, which I found it impossible to quell by any effort of the reason, I perceived the huge jaws at the extremity of the proboscis suddenly expand themselves, and from them there proceeded a sound so loud and so expressive of wo, that it struck upon my nerves like a knell and as the monster disappeared at the foot of the hill, I fell at once, fainting, to the floor.
Upon recovering, my first impulse, of course, was to inform my friend of what I had seen and heard- and I can scarcely explain what feeling of repugnance it was which, in the end, operated to prevent me.
At length, one evening, some three or four days after the occurrence, we were sitting together in the room in which I had seen the apparition- I occupying the same seat at the same window, and he lounging on a sofa near at hand. The association of the place and time impelled me to give him an account of the phenomenon. He heard me to the end- at first laughed heartily- and then lapsed into an excessively grave demeanor, as if my insanity was a thing beyond suspicion. At this instant I again had a distinct view of the monster- to which, with a shout of absolute terror, I now directed his attention. He looked eagerly- but maintained that he saw nothing- although I designated minutely the course of the creature, as it made its way down the naked face of the hill.
I was now immeasurably alarmed, for I considered the vision either as an omen of my death, or, worse, as the fore-runner of an attack of mania. I threw myself passionately back in my chair, and for some moments buried my face in my hands. When I uncovered my eyes, the apparition was no longer apparent.
My host, however, had in some degree resumed the calmness of his demeanor, and questioned me very rigorously in respect to the conformation of the visionary creature. When I had fully satisfied him on this head, he sighed deeply, as if relieved of some intolerable burden, and went on to talk, with what I thought a cruel calmness, of various points of speculative philosophy, which had heretofore formed subject of discussion between us. I remember his insisting very especially (among other things) upon the idea that the principle source of error in all human investigations lay in the liability of the understanding to under-rate or to over-value the importance of an object, through mere mis-admeasurement of its propinquity. "To estimate properly, for example," he said, "the influence to be exercised on mankind at large by the thorough diffusion of Democracy, the distance of the epoch at which such diffusion may possibly be accomplished should not fail to form an item in the estimate. Yet can you tell me one writer on the subject of government who has ever thought this particular branch of the subject worthy of discussion at all?"
He here paused for a moment, stepped to a book-case, and brought forth one of the ordinary synopses of Natural History. Requesting me then to exchange seats with him, that he might the better distinguish the fine print of the volume, he took my armchair at the window, and, opening the book, resumed his discourse very much in the same tone as before.
"But for your exceeding minuteness," he said, "in describing the monster, I might never have had it in my power to demonstrate to you what it was. In the first place, let me read to you a schoolboy account of the genus Sphinx, of the family Crepuscularia of the order Lepidoptera, of the class of Insecta- or insects. The account runs thus:
"'Four membranous wings covered with little colored scales of metallic appearance; mouth forming a rolled proboscis, produced by an elongation of the jaws, upon the sides of which are found the rudiments of mandibles and downy palpi; the inferior wings retained to the superior by a stiff hair; antennae in the form of an elongated club, prismatic; abdomen pointed, The Death's- headed Sphinx has occasioned much terror among the vulgar, at times, by the melancholy kind of cry which it utters, and the insignia of death which it wears upon its corslet.'"
He here closed the book and leaned forward in the chair, placing himself accurately in the position which I had occupied at the moment of beholding "the monster."
"Ah, here it is," he presently exclaimed- "it is reascending the face of the hill, and a very remarkable looking creature I admit it to be. Still, it is by no means so large or so distant as you imagined it,- for the fact is that, as it wriggles its way up this thread, which some spider has wrought along the window-sash, I find it to be about the sixteenth of an inch in its extreme length, and also about the sixteenth of an inch distant from the pupil of my eye."

Editor 1 Interpretation

Literary Criticism and Interpretation of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Sphinx"

Edgar Allan Poe is known as one of the most prolific writers in American literature, and "The Sphinx" is one of his most notable works. The short story has captivated readers for decades because of its unique horror elements and psychological suspense. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will analyze the themes, characters, and literary techniques used in "The Sphinx."


"The Sphinx" was first published in 1846, as part of Poe's collection "Tales." The story follows a young man named Augustus Bedloe, who is thrown into a nightmare when he encounters a sphinx-like creature on his way home from a party. The creature, known as the Sphinx, is a mysterious and alluring enigma that leads Bedloe down a path of madness and self-destruction.


"The Sphinx" delves into several themes, including obsession, madness, and the duality of human nature. The story explores the idea that humans are capable of both good and evil, and that these two forces are constantly at war within us.

One of the most prominent themes in the story is obsession. Bedloe is consumed by his desire to solve the riddle of the Sphinx, and this obsession leads him down a dangerous path. The Sphinx represents an alluring mystery that Bedloe cannot resist, and his obsession with her ultimately leads to his downfall.

Another theme in the story is madness. Bedloe's obsession with the Sphinx drives him to the brink of insanity, and his mental state deteriorates throughout the story. The Sphinx represents a sort of psychological trap that Bedloe cannot escape from, and her hold on him becomes increasingly dangerous.


The two main characters in "The Sphinx" are Augustus Bedloe and the Sphinx herself. Bedloe is a young, wealthy man who becomes obsessed with the Sphinx after encountering her on his way home from a party. He is intelligent and curious, but his obsession with the Sphinx leads him down a path of madness and self-destruction.

The Sphinx, on the other hand, is a mysterious and alluring creature. She is described as having the body of a lion and the wings of an eagle, with a human face and the voice of a siren. She represents an enigma that Bedloe cannot resist, and her hold on him becomes increasingly dangerous throughout the story.

Literary Techniques

Poe employs several literary techniques in "The Sphinx" to create a sense of horror and psychological suspense. One of the most notable techniques is his use of imagery. The Sphinx is described in vivid detail, with her lion-like body, eagle wings, and human face. This imagery creates a sense of unease and mystery, as the reader tries to puzzle out the Sphinx's true nature.

Poe also uses repetition and foreshadowing to create suspense in the story. The Sphinx's riddle is repeated several times throughout the story, creating a sense of tension as Bedloe tries to solve it. Additionally, there are several instances of foreshadowing in the story, such as when Bedloe sees the Sphinx's eyes glowing in the darkness. These elements build the suspense and keep the reader engaged throughout the story.


"The Sphinx" is a story that delves into the dark side of human nature, exploring themes of obsession, madness, and duality. The Sphinx represents an alluring mystery that Bedloe cannot resist, and her hold on him becomes increasingly dangerous throughout the story. The story ultimately ends with Bedloe's death, suggesting that obsession and madness can lead to self-destruction.

One possible interpretation of "The Sphinx" is that it is a commentary on the dangers of intellectual curiosity. Bedloe's obsession with the Sphinx begins as a purely intellectual pursuit, but it quickly spirals out of control, leading him to sacrifice his own life in pursuit of the Sphinx's riddle.

Another interpretation is that the story is a reflection of Poe's own struggles with mental illness. Poe was known to suffer from depression and alcoholism, and "The Sphinx" may be a reflection of his own experiences with madness and obsession.


In conclusion, "The Sphinx" is a haunting and thought-provoking story that explores the dark side of human nature. The themes of obsession, madness, and duality are all woven together to create a story that is both suspenseful and deeply unsettling. Through his use of imagery, repetition, and foreshadowing, Poe creates a sense of horror that lingers long after the story has ended.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Sphinx: A Masterpiece of Mystery and Intrigue by Edgar Allen Poe

Edgar Allen Poe is one of the most celebrated writers of all time, and his works have been studied and analyzed for centuries. One of his most famous works is the classic prose, The Sphinx. This masterpiece of mystery and intrigue is a fascinating tale that has captivated readers for generations. In this article, we will take a detailed look at The Sphinx, analyzing its themes, characters, and plot, and exploring the deeper meanings behind this enigmatic work.

The Sphinx is a short story that was first published in 1846. It tells the story of a man who is traveling through the desert when he comes across a strange and mysterious creature known as the Sphinx. The Sphinx is a creature with the body of a lion and the head of a woman, and it is said to possess great wisdom and knowledge. The man is intrigued by the Sphinx and decides to approach it, hoping to learn its secrets.

As the man approaches the Sphinx, he is met with a series of riddles that he must solve in order to gain the Sphinx's knowledge. The riddles are complex and difficult, and the man struggles to solve them. However, he is determined to gain the Sphinx's knowledge, and he persists in his efforts.

As the man continues to solve the riddles, he begins to realize that the Sphinx is not just a creature of myth and legend, but a real and powerful force in the world. He learns that the Sphinx possesses knowledge that is beyond human understanding, and that it has the power to change the course of history.

The Sphinx is a complex and multi-layered work that explores a number of themes and ideas. One of the most prominent themes in the story is the idea of knowledge and wisdom. The Sphinx is portrayed as a creature that possesses great knowledge and wisdom, and the man is driven to seek out this knowledge for himself. This theme is explored in depth throughout the story, as the man struggles to solve the Sphinx's riddles and gain its knowledge.

Another important theme in The Sphinx is the idea of power and control. The Sphinx is portrayed as a powerful and mysterious creature that has the ability to change the course of history. The man is drawn to the Sphinx because he believes that it can give him power and control over his own life. This theme is explored in depth throughout the story, as the man struggles to gain the Sphinx's knowledge and use it to his own advantage.

The characters in The Sphinx are also complex and multi-dimensional. The man is portrayed as a determined and ambitious individual who is willing to do whatever it takes to gain the Sphinx's knowledge. He is driven by a desire for power and control, and he is willing to risk everything to achieve his goals.

The Sphinx, on the other hand, is portrayed as a mysterious and enigmatic creature that is shrouded in secrecy and intrigue. It is never fully explained where the Sphinx came from or what its true purpose is, and this adds to the sense of mystery and intrigue that surrounds the character.

The plot of The Sphinx is also complex and multi-layered. The story is structured around a series of riddles that the man must solve in order to gain the Sphinx's knowledge. Each riddle is more difficult than the last, and the man must use all of his intelligence and wit to solve them.

As the man continues to solve the riddles, he begins to realize that the Sphinx is not just a creature of myth and legend, but a real and powerful force in the world. He learns that the Sphinx possesses knowledge that is beyond human understanding, and that it has the power to change the course of history.

In conclusion, The Sphinx is a masterpiece of mystery and intrigue that has captivated readers for generations. It explores a number of complex themes and ideas, including the nature of knowledge and wisdom, the quest for power and control, and the mysteries of the unknown. The characters are complex and multi-dimensional, and the plot is structured around a series of riddles that add to the sense of mystery and intrigue that surrounds the story. Overall, The Sphinx is a fascinating and enigmatic work that continues to inspire and intrigue readers to this day.

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