Egypt: The Great Sphinx

The Great Sphinx is emblematic of Egyptian civilization. The sphinx was already considered ancient by Egyptians during their 3,000 year history. They believed that the Pharaoh Khafre had the statue built to protect his temple. It dates back to the Old Kingdom, likely around 2500 BCE. It sits northeast of Khafres valley temple, in an ancient quarry, among the many pyramids of the Giza Plateau. The Great Sphinx, facing due East, is believed to be symbolizing the sun god, thus the pharaoh.

It was most likely carved as a warning to grave robbers, depicting a half lion and half man with the wings of an eagle. It is unknown if the statue was planned, or just an afterthought once the large temple was constructed. The small temple between the paws was added 1,000 years later under the New Kingdom.

The name of the Great Sphinx comes from Greek mythology about a demon sent from Ethiopia be Hera or Ares to Thebes. The word “sphinx” means strangler, and this was depicted by woman in Greece. She served as a destructive again for the gods, asking the riddle, “What walks on four legs in the morning, two during the day and three at twilight?" The mythical Oedipus solved this riddle during his divine test, causing the sphinx to kill herself. This interesting story did not exist until the third century BCE.

Unlike the later Greek and Indian counterparts, the Giza Sphinx is shown in repose with a headdress and royal cobra. It is possible that the sphinx wore the double crown of the newly united Egypt.  It is over 200 feet in length and 65 feet tall, as well as one of the first sphinxes ever created. This statue was copied all over Egypt, sometimes with a different animal for the head, symbolizing a different god.

The statue is carved from a large knoll of limestone, and is large enough to take in several strata of limestone, each with different characteristics. The body is soft, with the feet are hard and brittle, that face is also very hard so it can withstand the elements. Because of the softness of the body, it has badly eroded. With chunks of limestone falling off due to the harsh desert climate.

The Great Sphinx is only here today, most likely, because it was buried in sand for the last 4,500 years, with only the very top of the statue sticking out. It is believed the statue was buried up t its neck for the last  4, 500 years. The statue was nut cleared of sand to the paws until 1936, with the clearing of sand beginning in 1858. In 1936 the fissure that ran across the body was filled with cement. As a result of the uncovering, the harsh elements and the Cairo smog has caused the deterioration of the Sphinx to accelerate, even with attempts to stop it.

The idea of conserving the sphinx is a recent development. Colonial looters removed the beard the sphix once had, and this now resides in the British and Cairo museums. The nose of the Great Sphinx, that we see as a jagged stump, may have been broken off by a group of Napoleon’s soldiers, who found it  a good subject for target practice, others believe these pieces have been missing since 1600 AD.