Bit of a Riddle: Mount Holyoke Class Colors and Emblems
designs through the ages, from top to bottomt 1927, 1935,
1963, 1975, 1991, 2003.
Curious why the class
of 2003 seems particularly fond of yellow? Wondering why many
of its members are taken with a certain mythological monster?
It's all part of a Mount Holyoke tradition that goes back
nearly one hundred years, when College classes began affiliating
themselves with particular animal emblems. The riddle is why.
No one seems to know.
The class of 1905 selected a lion, a fitting choice for a College
that boasts brave and strong Lyon athletic teams, but a pick made
with no more (recorded) explanation than the adoption of the unicorn,
tiger, or dragon as symbols by the classes of 1906, 1907, and
1908 respectively. In 1909, according to The First One Hundred
1972 by Mary Higley Mills '21, the griffin, Pegasus,
sphinx (the symbol of the class of 2003), and the lion became
new MHC standards, along with the colors green, red, yellow (this
year's class color), and blue. These creatures have represented
MHC's classes on a four-year rotation ever since, the mystery
of their origins as symbols only adding to their appeal.
So What about the Sphinx?
Stories about the sphinx vary somewhat depending on the source,
but are best known through the plays of Sophocles and in the writings
of Apollodorus. According to ancient Greek mythology, the sphinx
was the child of monsters Typhon (known for its one hundred venomous
heads) and Echidna (a combination of nymph and giant serpent).
After an oracle was given that said that Oedipus, the son of King
Laius of Thebes and Queen Jacosta, would kill his father and lie
with his mother, the prince was sent away and raised without knowledge
of his birthright.
Oedipus ended up killing a stranger after meeting him on a road
and arguing with him. That man was actually his father. Soon after,
the sphinx, who in some versions of the story is sent by Hera
or Hades, made its appearance in Thebes. Sitting on a high rock
(or, in some versions of the tale, on Mount Phicium), it offered
to anyone who passed by a riddle given to it by the Muses.
The riddle has been translated to mean, roughly, "What animal
has one voice, but goes on four legs in the morning, two legs
at noon, and upon three legs in the evening?" The sphinx
strangled (sphinx derives from the Greek word sphingo, to strangle,
or sphingein, to bind tight) anyone who couldn't solve the
riddle. Finally, Thebes offered the reward of kingship and Jacosta
as wife to anyone who could solve the riddle and rid the city
of the monster. Oedipus offered this answer to the riddle, "Man,
who in childhood creeps on hands and knees, in manhood walks erect,
and in old age with the aid of a staff."
Upset that its riddle had been solved, the sphinx killed itself.
Thebes made Oedipus king, and Jacosta became his wife. When Oedipus
discovered that he had indeed killed his father and married his
mother, he gouged out his eyes and roamed the countryside until
his death. The phrase, "riddle of the sphinx" most
often refers to the Greek sphinx, although it is often used to
describe the Egyptian sphinx and to connote mystery.
While the members of the class of 2003 have certainly solved many
puzzles and enigmas during their tenure at MHC, the seniors might
feel more of a bond with Egyptian and Arabic sphinxes, typically
represented as guardians who are wise, noble, and strong, than
with these creatures' bloodthirsty Greek cousin. This certainly
seems true for Mount Holyoke artist Kara Bergeron '03, who
has continued the tradition of a student depicting her class's
emblem. Her simple linear linear sphinx seems proud and strong,
with no hint of evil intent. Bergeron will graduate with a double
major in English and economics. The treasurer of her class's
board and a member of the College's basketball team during
all four of her years at MHC, "Bergeron enjoys designing
things," and noted that she "likes the idea of a class
color to give each class individuality, while offering a connection
to previous classes." Bergeron plans
a career in law.