History Embalmed

The Great Sphinx

Among the marvels of Egypt perhaps the Great Sphinx of Giza is second to none. The mysterious colossus with the head of a man and the body of a lion is not at all uncommon in Egyptian architectural adornment, but the Great Sphinx placed before the Second Pyramid (the Pyramid of Khafre) fills the observer with wonder and awe by its gigantic and monumental proportions.

Location of the Great Sphinx of Giza
The location of the Great Sphinx of Giza is on the Giza Plateau, bordering the Sahara Desert, on the west bank of the Nile River, near modern-day Cairo.

Mysterious passages pierce the great Sphinx and connect it with the Second Pyramid  built by the Pharaoh Khafre, which is three hundred feet west of it.

Origins of the Name
The Great Sphinx is known to the Arabs as Abul-hol meaning the father of terror. The Greek word "sphinx" may have derived from the Egyptian shesep-ankh, which translates to 'living image'. The name "Sphinx" was given to the statue in antiquity based on the legendary Greek creature with the body of a lion and the head of a woman.

There are three types of the Egyptian sphinx:

  • Androsphinx - The Androsphinx has the body of a lion and a head of a man
  • Criosphinx - The Criosphinx has the body of a lion and a head of a ram
  • Hieracosphinx - The Hieracosphinx has the body of a lion and a head of a hawk

Facts about the Great Sphinx of Giza
The known facts and information provide an accurate description of the Great Sphinx of Giza. Information and Facts are as follows:

  • Definition: A sphinx is a mythical beast of ancient Egypt with the head of a man and the body of a lion, often symbolizing the pharaoh as an incarnation of the sun god Ra
  • The sheer size of the Sphinx is colossal standing taller than a six-story building
  • It is one of the largest single-stone statues in the world and carved out of limestone bedrock
  • The Great Sphinx of Giza was considered by the ancients to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World
  • The Sphinx is oriented due east facing the rising sun
  • For centuries the sands buried the great ancient monument to the chin. The entirety of the Sphinx was finally dug out in 1925
  • The paws and breast were restored by the Ptolemy's and the Caesars
  • The Great Sphinx of Giza is 57 metres (260 feet) long, 6 m (20 ft) wide, and has a height of 20 m (65 ft)
  • The paws are 50 feet long (15m)
  • The head is 30 (10m) feet long and 14 feet (4m) wide
  • The one-meter-wide nose on the face is missing
  • A beard, symbol of the Pharaohs, used to hang from itís chin, but it has long since fallen away
  • It has a tail which wraps around the right hind paw. The paw has been restored in recent years
  • There is a chapel located between the out-stretched feet of the sphinx which was uncovered in 1816
  • A small temple is located behind the great monument which is formed of great blocks of red Syene granite
  • The Great Sphinx of Giza is made from megaliths. A megalith is a large stone which has been used to construct a structure or monument either alone or with other stones without the use of mortar or cement. The megaliths used to build the Great monument of Giza are estimated to weigh 200 tons apiece, the smallest weighing 50 tons and built from megaliths fashioned from a single stone of rock
  • The body of the monument has been subjected to considerable water damage
  • The Egyptian government has refused permission for the the chambers beneath the Sphinx to be excavated and explored

The Head of the Great Sphinx of Giza
The lower part of the head-dress has fallen, and the diminished neck looks too slender to sustain the enormous weight of the head. The nose and beard have been broken off by fanatics, and the red hue which formerly enlivened the features is almost wholly effaced. A nemes adorns the head of the sphinx. The nemes was the striped headcloth worn by the pharaoh, as seen on the gold mask of Tutankhamun, which was tight across the forehead. The nemes has lappets falling forward over each shoulder displaying the uraeus and the vulture on the brow. The uraeus was a rearing cobra emblem associated with the "eye" of the sun and meant to protect the pharaoh by spitting fire at his enemies.

When was theGreat Sphinx of Giza built?
When was the Great Sphinx of Giza built? Good question, but no one has the exact answer! The Great Sphinx of Giza is carved of rock, so it cannot be dated by the radio carbon technique. The only other method of dating the Sphinx would be by using old Egyptian texts that refer to its existence and construction. The problem is that there are no such texts, therefore, no definite facts are known. The great monument was definitely in existence in the time of Khufu (Cheops). Pharaoh Thutmose IV had a granite stele known as the Dream stele placed between the paws (A stele was a stone slab, decorated with text which served as a monument. But the sphinx probably dates back to the generations before the Pharaoh Menes who established the 1st Egyptian dynasty in the Early Dynastic Period. These people were called in the priestly chronicles "the Servants of Horus" and were the early people who settled in Egypt and who were Aryans during the Predynastic Period 5550 BC - 3050 BC.  However other scholars believe that the Great Sphinx of Giza was built during the period of the Old Kingdom of Egypt during the 3rd millennium BC. The Old Kingdom is often referred to as "the Age of the Pyramids" when the Great pyramids of Giza were built, in close proximity to the Great Sphinx. The time period of the Old Kingdom covers 2686 BC - 2181 BC. So there is no definitive answer to when the Great Sphinx was built and who built the sphinx - it is no wonder that people often refer to the Mystery or Riddle of of the Sphinx.

Mystery surrounding the Head of the Great Sphinx of Giza
The mystery surrounding the head of the Great Sphinx of Giza relates to the disproportional size of the monument. Many believe that the original head was that of the lion.

The Great Sphinx of Giza - Water Damage
The outer walls of the body of the Sphinx has been subjected to considerable water damage despite being located on borders the Sahara Desert. The mystery of the Sphinx deepens. How could this have happened? The impressions on the eroded stone of the sphinx are vertical, not horizontal as they would be if the erosion occurred because of sand and wind (like the sand and wind erosion on the pyramids around the Sphinx). However, we do know that the Sahara Desert was once covered with grass  and turned to dessert between 10,000 and 5,000 B.C. during a long period of torrential rainfall. Does this give credence to the theories that the sphinx is much older than scholars once believed?

The Mystery and Riddle of the Sphinx
The eyes gaze out afar with a look of intense and profound thoughtfulness and the mouth still wears a smile. What secrets is the Sphinx hiding? We do not know. The Egyptian government has refused permission for the the chambers beneath the Sphinx to be excavated and explored. So the mystery, sometimes referred to the riddle of the Sphinx continues:

  • No inscriptions have yet been discovered on, or in, the Sphinx to indicate who built it
  • The true origin remains a mystery
  • The true purpose remains a mystery
  • The Great Sphinx of Giza has been subject to water damage although its location borders the Sahara Desert

So deep is the riddle and the mystery that the word sphinx is now used to describe an inscrutable person who keeps his thoughts and intentions secret.

The Riddle of the Sphinx
There is some confusion regarding the legend of the Riddle of the Sphinx. The Riddle of the Sphinx refers to the legendary Greek creature with the body of a lion and the head of a woman. The myth surrounding the Greek Riddle of the Sphinx is therefore attributed to Greek mythology. In this story the Sphinx of Thebes asked a riddle of all travellers who passed by. If the traveller failed to solve the riddle, then the Sphynx of Thebes would kill them. The riddle of the Thebes Sphinx is:

"What goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening?"

The answer to the riddle is:

"A man. He crawls on all fours as a baby, walks on two legs as an adult, and walks with a cane in old age."

The riddle refers to morning, noon, and night which are metaphors for the times in a man's life. The riddle was solved by Oedipus, whereupon the sphinx slew herself.

The Great Sphinx
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