Ingres, 'Oedipus and the Sphinx', about 1826
‘Come to Sphinx, my Oedie!’ she croons.
The man moves his face close to hers; leans towards the coming interrogation; inclines his sculpted features. He’s impatient. He’s been here before, thinks he knows it all.
Now Sphinx drops the last words of her riddle into his ear, her voice no more than the rasp of a key in its lock. And as the words seep in, the tick under his left eye starts up again, imperceptible, but he sees her see it.
‘Give it up boy!’ She shrieks, and if she could, she’d throw back her head to scorn him. ‘You didn’t think it would still be the same did you, my riddle, after all these lifetimes?’ Her tongue is the hiss of a snake in the darkness; it meets her front teeth, her lower lip curls in victory.
They both know he doesn’t know the answer.