Few monuments of antiquity arouse as much fascination and awe as the massive limestone figure that reclines on the sands of the Giza Plateau. When Pharaoh Khafra (Chephren) ordered its construction during Egypt's 4th Dynasty, he sought an everlasting memorial to his divine reign. Among history's contenders for eternity, Khafra (Chephren) succeeded better than most. Sixty-six feet high (20 meters) and 240 feet (73 meters) long, the Great Sphinx has endured for 4,600 years as an icon of Egyptian civilization. The Great Sphinx of Giza, commonly referred to as the Sphinx of Giza or just the Sphinx, is a limestone statue of a reclining sphinx (a mythical creature with a lion's body and a human head) that stands on the Giza Plateau on the west bank of the Nile in Giza, Egypt. The face of the Sphinx is generally believed to represent the face of the Pharaoh Khafra (Chephron). The Great Sphinx is one of the world's largest and oldest statues but basic facts about it are still subject to debate, such as when it was built, by whom, and for what purpose. These questions have resulted in the popular idea of the “Riddle of the Sphinx”, alluding to the original Greek legend of the Riddle of the Sphinx.
First, let us note the obvious, the nose on the face is missing. Examination of the Sphinx's face shows that long rods or chisels were hammered into the nose, one down from the bridge and one beneath the nostril, then used to pry the nose off towards the south. The Arab historian al-Maqrīzī, writing in the 15th century, attributes the loss of the nose to iconoclasm by Muhammad Sa'im al-Dahr, a Sufi Muslim from the khanqah of Sa'id al-Su'ada, in 1378 CE, upon finding the local peasants making offerings to the Sphinx in the hope of increasing their harvest. Enraged, he destroyed the nose, and was later hanged for vandalism. Al-Maqrīzī describes the Sphinx as the “talisman of the Nile” on which the locals believed the flood cycle depended. There is also a story that the nose was broken off by a cannonball fired by Napoleon's soldiers, that still lives on today. Other variants indict British troops, the Mamluks, and others. Sketches of the Sphinx by the Dane Frederic Louis Norden, made in 1738 and published in 1757, show the Sphinx missing its nose. This predates Napoleon's birth in 1769.
In addition to the lost nose, a ceremonial pharaonic beard is thought to have been attached, although this may have been added in later periods after the original construction. Egyptologist Vassil Dobrev has suggested that had the beard been an original part of the Sphinx, it would have damaged the chin of the statue upon falling. The lack of visible damage supports his theory that the beard was a later addition. The British Museum has this small fragment – about one-thirtieth in total, of the Great Sphinx's beard. It was presented by Giovanni Battista Caviglia, who excavated at Giza in 1817. This was done according to a directive of Mohammed Ali Pasha, who was at that time virtually the ruler of Egypt. Caviglia found a number of fragments of the beard and the tip of the uraeus between the paws of the Sphinx, and left other parts of the beard in the sand. When the Sphinx was cleared in 1925-26 some other fragments were removed to the Cairo Museum.
The commonly used name Sphinx was given to it in classical antiquity, about 2000 years after the commonly accepted date of its construction, by reference to a Greek mythological beast with a lion's body, a woman's head and the wings of an eagle (although, like most Egyptian sphinxes, the Great Sphinx has a man's head and no wings). The English word sphinx comes from the ancient Greek Σφίγξ (transliterated: sphinx), apparently from the verb σφίγγω (transliterated: sphingo / English: to squeeze), after the Greek sphinx who strangled anyone who failed to answer her riddle. The Sphinx is said to have guarded the entrance to the Greek city of Thebes, and to have asked a riddle of travellers to allow them passage. The most famous riddle in history was: “Which creature has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed?” She strangled and devoured anyone who answered incorrectly. Oedipus solved the riddle by answering: Man, who crawls on all fours as a baby, then walks on two feet as an adult, and then uses a walking stick in old age.
The lamassu is a celestial being from ancient Mesopotamian religion bearing a human head, bull's body, sometimes with the horns and the ears of a bull, and wings. It appears frequently in Mesopotamian art. The lamassu and shedu were household protective spirits of the common Babylonian people, becoming associated later as royal protectors, were placed as sentinels at the entrances. The Akkadians associated the god Papsukkal with lamassu and the god Išum with shedu. In art, lamassu were depicted as hybrids, either winged bulls or lions with the head of a human male. The motif of a winged animal with a human head is common to the Near East, first recorded in Ebla around 3000 BCE. The first distinct lamassu motif appeared in Assyria during the reign of Tiglath-Pileser (ruled 745–727 BCE) as a symbol of power.
Dimensions of the Sphinx
Cut from the bedrock, the original shape of the Sphinx has been restored over the millenniums with layers of limestone blocks. It measures 238 feet (73 m) long from paw to tail, 66.3 ft (20.21 m) high from the base to top of the head, and 62.6 feet (19 m) wide at its rear haunches. It is the oldest known monumental sculpture, and is commonly believed to have been built by ancient Egyptians of the Old Kingdom during the reign of the Pharaoh Khafra (2558–2532 BCE).
It surprises me to learn that David Koch is both the Executive Vice President of Koch Industries and stalwart supporter of the Giza Plateau Mapping Project since 1986. When the Swiss architect-Egyptologist, Herbert Ricke, carried out a detailed study of the Sphinx Temple between 1967 and 1970, he suggested that it was created along with the Sphinx and the Khafre Valley Temple as part of the same quarry and construction process. In 1980 Thomas Aigner, a geologist from the University of Tubingen, reinforced this hypothesis with a study of the geological layers in the Sphinx and each of the 173 core blocks in the Sphinx Temple. It is a striking fact that from the hundreds of Old Kingdom tombs at Giza, egyptologists cannot recognize any titles of priests or priestesses that clearly belong to the Sphinx Temple. The absence of any clergy must be the result of the temple never having been activated. Although someone stripped the Sphinx Temple of its granite casing and alabaster flooring in antiquity, anyone visiting the temple today can see traces of how far along the builders were in their project. The ten deep sockets cut into the floor in front of the massive court pillars were once fitted with colossal statues that graced the open court. There are also sockets for 24 pillars of the colonnade, each a granite shaft, and for two pillars in front of a central sanctuary on both the east and west. The whole composition is thought to reflect the rising and setting sun, and the 24 hours of the day and night. If the original builders left the Sphinx Temple unfinished, the immediate area to the east must have been a rather untidy construction yard, littered with masonry waste, ramp material, and temporary ficilities for ongoing delivery of granite and alabaster. Indeed, recent clearing in front of the Sphinx Temple, encountered just such stony debris.
Though there have been conflicting evidence and viewpoints over the years, the view held by modern Egyptology at large remains that the Great Sphinx was built in approximately 2500 BC for the pharaoh Khafra (Chephron), the builder of the Second Pyramid at Giza. All three of Giza’s pyramids had mortuary temples connecting to valley temples through a causeway. However, in the case of Khafre’s (Chephron's) pyramid, his valley temple also has an enigmatic monument nearby known as the Sphinx, with an uncompleted temple dedicated to it. Since the causeway from the Pyramid of Khafra (Chephron) leads to the Sphinx, it is reasonable, but not actual proof, to assume Khafra (Chephron) constructed it.
Conserving the Sphinx
Efforts at conserving and restoring the Sphinx go back at least as far as 3,400 years. Evidence for Thutmosis IV's (1401–1391 or 1397–1388 BC), the son of Amenhotep II, campaign of conservation is preserved in the so-called “Dream Stele” he erected between the two paws of the Sphinx in about 1400 BCE, during the New Kingdom. According to the story he inscribed in the Stella, prince Thutmosis went hunting in the Valley of Gazelles southeast of the Sphinx. The Sphinx spoke to him in a dream and asked the prince to free him from the sand. The Sphinx (Hor-em-Akht) offered in return the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. From this story we know that the Sphinx was buried up to its neck in sand by 1400 BC. The implication of the Thutmosis stela is that he freed the monument from the sand and thereby became pharaoh. Indeed, Thutmose IV's commitment to the Sphinx would explain the revival of cultic practice focusing on the Sphinx during that king's reign. Later, Ramesses II the Great (1279–1213 BCE) may have undertaken a second excavation.
Dream Stele of Thutmosis IV
It is not known by what name the creators called their statue, as the Great Sphinx does not appear in any known inscription of the Old Kingdom, and there are no inscriptions anywhere describing its construction or its original purpose. In the New Kingdom, the Sphinx was called Hor-em-akhet (English: Horus of the Horizon; Hellenized: Harmachis), and the pharaoh Thutmose IV(1401–1391 or 1397–1388 BC) specifically referred to it as such in his Dream Stele seen today between the paws of the Sphinx. The Egyptologist Thomas Young (1773-1829), finding the Khaf hieroglyphs in a damaged cartouche used to surround a royal name in the Dream Stele, inserted the glyph ra to complete Khafra's name. When the Stele was re-excavated in 1925, the lines of text referring to Khaf flaked off and were destroyed.
Ancient sources attest that the Sphinx was in the Roman period again freed from the sand. For example, the people of Busiris, a village located at the foot of the Khufu pyramid, left a stela in honor of Nero and the Governor, Claudius Babillus. We know also that the Sphinx in the Roman period was a popular gathering place. The Roman restorations consisted of a layer of protective stones applied to the paws and two sides of the Sphinx. In addition the floor of the Sphinx sanctuary was paved during the Roman period. Many centuries ensued before the next phase of conservation was undertaken, this time by Emile Baraize (1925-1936). He spent eleven years clearing sand from the site. Baraize's clearing operations revealed that the old kingdom stones returned to their original positions by Thutmosis were again falling down. The records show that a crack located at top center divided the Sphinx into two parts. The head was in bad condition. A large passage, the size of which is indicated by the workmen standing in it, was open on the north ridge. Baraize restored the head with cement, for at the time it was deemed necessary for the protection of the head. Baraize closed the northern passage with masonry, restored the crack on the top of the Sphinx with cement and replaced the Old Kingdom stones.
Age of the Great Sphinx
A much greater age for the Sphinx has been suggested by R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz, based upon geological considerations. Schwaller de Lubicz observed, and recent geologists (such as Robert Schoch, Professor of Geology at Boston University) have confirmed, that the extreme erosion on the body of the Sphinx could not be the result of wind and sand, as has been universally assumed, but rather was the result of water. In 1857, Auguste Mariette, founder of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, unearthed the much later Inventory Stela (estimated Dynasty XXVI, 678–525 BCE), which tells how Khufu came upon the Sphinx, already buried in sand. The stela presents a list of 22 divine statues owned by a Temple of Isis, and goes on to claim that the temple existed since before the time of Khufu (2580 BCE). It would not surprise me to think that an ancient predynastic cemetery had a ferocious guard just as the Lamassu of Sumeria and Assyria guarded doorways. The lion has long been a symbol associated with the sun in ancient Near Eastern civilizations. Images depicting the Egyptian king in the form of a lion smiting his enemies date as far back as the Early Dynastic Period.
Passages and Hall of Records
There are three passages into or under the Sphinx, two of them of obscure origin. The one of known passages is a short dead-end shaft behind the head drilled in the nineteenth century. No other tunnels or chambers in or under the Sphinx are known to exist. A number of small holes in the Sphinx body may relate to scaffolding at the time of carving. The Hall of Records is a (mythical) ancient library rumored to be deposited at the time of King Imhotep at Giza in Egypt. One suggestion has been that it is under one of the paws of the Great Sphinx of Giza, which is in the Giza pyramid complex. It has been said by dozens of academic researchers and historical commentators, such was Manetho and Plutarch, to house the knowledge of the Pre- Dynastic Founders and latter Egyptians on papyrus and allegedly several inscribed golden metal plate scrolls with a partial history of the lost civilisation of Atlantis, much as the Great Library of Alexandria housed Grecian knowledge. To date no “Hall of Records” chamber has been found.
Ruti (Aker) and the Twin Lions Duaj and Sefer
Nobody knows its original name. The Sphinx is the human-headed lion in ancient Greek mythology, the term likely came into use some 2,000 years after the statue was built. There are hundreds of tombs at Giza with hieroglyphic inscriptions dating back some 4,500 years, but not one mentions the statue. “The Egyptians didn't write history,” says James Allen, an Egyptologist at Brown University, “so we have no solid evidence for what its builders thought the Sphinx was….Certainly something divine, presumably the image of a king, but beyond that is anyone's guess.” Likewise, the statue's symbolism is unclear, though inscriptions from the era refer to Ruti (Aker), a double lion god that sat at the entrance to the underworld and guarded the horizon where the sun rose and set. From Middle Kingdom onwards Aker appears as a pair of twin lions, one named Duaj (meaning “yesterday”) and the other Sefer (meaning “tomorrow”). Aker was thus often titled “He who's looking forward and behind”. When depicted as a lion pair, a hieroglyphic sign for “horizon” (two merged mountains) and a sun disc was put between the lions; the lions were sitting back-on-back. The falcon headed God Horus took over the powers of Ruti (Aker) in the New Kingdom as “Horus of the Horizon”. I hope you enjoyed the post, please leave a comment.
International Symposium on the Sphinx: http://www.getty.edu/conservation/publications_resources/newsletters/7_2/sphinx.html
Facts About the Great Sphinx: https://sacredsites.com/africa/egypt/great_sphinx_facts.html
Pyramids of Giza: http://album.alexfung.info/album/med99/gizans.htm
Mapping the Sphinx: http://www.aeraweb.org/sphinx-project/mapping-the-sphinx/
History of the Restoration of the Sphinx: http://guardians.net/hawass/sphinx2.htm
Recumbent Bull with Man's Head: http://www.louvre.fr/en/routes/sumerian-city-states
Giza Unfinished Business: http://www.aeraweb.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/aeragram5_2_2002.pdf
Known Sphinx Passages: http://www.catchpenny.org/passages.html