The Riddle of the Great
Sphinx's face is thought to have been modeled after Pharaoh
Your fearful form is the work of the deathless
gods. To spare the flat and fertile lands they placed you in your
depression. A rocky island from which they banished the sand.
They placed you as a neighbor to the pyramids...Who vigilantly
watches the blessed Osiris... -Inscription from the
second century A.D.
After 25 centuries the history of the great Sphinx
at Giza was so forgotten that many believed it had been placed
in its position, as guardian of the pyramids, by the Gods. Indeed,
the Sphinx is such an impressive work one, even today, might easily
believe it must have been created by supernatural means. The statue,
with a man's head and a lion's body, stands 66 feet (20m) high
and 240 feet (73m) long. The head measures 19 feet (18m) from
forehead to chin. Each paw extends 56 feet forward of the body.
The face is over 6 yards wide.
The lion was a powerful symbol in ancient Egypt
as it represented strength and courage. The great cat was also
considered the supreme guardian and tamed lions sometimes accompanied
kings into battle. Not just as a mascot, but as the physical presence
of a god meant to protect troops. The Sphinx was the combination
of two symbols, a lion god, and the king pharaoh/god, into one
icon. In fact, the Great Sphinx at Giza probably bears the face
of the ruling pharaoh at the time of construction: Khafra (Also
known as Chephren).
The name "Sphinx" is probably not the
orgianal name of this statue (which is thought to be the oldest
monumental sculpture in the world). The term "Sphinx"
comes from Arabic and means The Terrifying One, or quite
literally, the Father of Dread.
Great Sphinx's head is 19 feet high. (CC
BY-SA 3.0 Ad Meskens)
The symbol wasn't limited to Egypt, but was also
found in ancient Phoenician, Syrian, and Greek societies. In Greek
legend, the Sphinx devoured all travelers who could not answer
the riddle it posed: "What is the creature that walks on four
legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three in the evening?"
The hero Oedipus gave the answer, "Man," causing the Sphinx's
The Great Sphinx at Giza started as a natural outcropping
of rock. The ancient Egyptians carved the giant statue into the
limestone around 2500 B.C.. To make it even taller than the height
of the outcrop they chipped out a depression around the base of
the statue. The paws were constructed from stone blocks. The entire
statue was painted in ancient times: red for the face and body,
yellow with blue stripes on the headress. Finally, a temple was
built in front of the statue as a place visitors could offer gifts
to the "living image" of the creature the Egyptians sometimes
referred to as "Horus-in-the-Horizon."
As time passed the statue was given less attention
and, after a few centuries, desert sands covered the Great Sphinx
up to its neck. Legends claim that visitors would press their
ear to the statue's lips seeking wisdom. Around 1400 B.C. a Egyptian
prince, on a hunt, came to rest in the shadow of the Sphinx. While
napping he heard the Sphinx tell him it would make him ruler of
Egypt ahead of his older brothers if he promised to clear the
sand away. On waking the prince vowed to keep the bargain. Sure
enough, as the story goes, he ascended the throne as Pharaoh Thutmose
IV and quickly had the statue uncovered.
Sphinx: Older Than We Think?
science has held that the Sphinx was carved out of an outcropping
during the reign of King Khafre around 2500 B.C.. In 1979,
though, an amateur archaeologist named John Anthony West
wrote a book entitled Serpent in the Sky. In the
book West suggested that the Sphinx was far older than the
pyramids and its severe erosion was the result of rain,
not blowing sand. Therefore, concluded West, the Sphinx
must have been built thousand of years earlier when the
land was much wetter.
gave West's theory much attention until West brought in
a trained geologist from Boston University named Robert
Schoch. Schoch examined the Sphinx and thinks some of the
fissures in the rock were indeed created by running water
or rain. His conclusion is that the front and side of the
Sphinx dated from 5000 to 7000 BC and was remodeled during
Khafre's era to give the likeness of the pharaoh. Other
Egyptologists argue that the original estimate is still
right and that the fissures found by Schoch were the result
of wet sand being blown up from the Nile river, not rain.
Historians beleive that Thutmose IV concocted the
dream to cover up murder. Thutmose had his brother killed so that
he could gain the crown. While the Egyptian people might not have
been able to forgive Thutmose the slaying for personal gain, they
could overlook it if it seemed like it was the will of the gods.
By the 19th century, when European archaeologists
started taking a close look at Egyptian monuments, the statue
was again covered up to it's neck in sand. Efforts to uncover
and repair the statue were undertaken early in the 20th century.
Preservation work continues even today.
There have been rumors of passageways and secret
chambers surrounding the Sphinx and during recent restoration
work several tunnels have been re-discovered. One, near the rear
of the statue extends down into it for about nine yards. Another,
behind the head, is a short dead-end shaft. The third, located
mid-way between the tail and the paws, was apparently opened during
restoration work in the 1920's, then resealed. It is unknown whether
these tunnels were constructed by the original Egyptian designers,
or were cut into the statue at a later date. Many scientists speculate
they are the result of ancient treasure hunting efforts.
Several attempts have been made to use non-invasive
exploration techniques to ascertain if there are other hidden
chambers or tunnels about the Sphinx. These include electromagnetic
sounding, seismic refraction, seismic reflection, refraction tomography,
electrical resistivity and acoustical survey tests.
Studies made by Florida State University, Waseda
University (Japan), and Boston University, have found "anomalies"
around the Sphinx. These could be interpreted as chambers or passageways,
but they could also be such natural features as faults or changes
in the density of the rock. Egyptian archaeologists, charged with
preserving the statue, are concerned about the danger of digging
or drilling into the natural rock near the Sphinx to find out
if cavities really exist.
Despite close study much about the Great Sphinx
remains unknown. There are no known inscriptions about it in the
Old Kingdom, and there are no inscriptions anywhere describing
its construction or its original purpose. In fact, we do not even
know what the buiders of the Sphinx actually called their creation.
So the riddle of the Sphinx remains, even today.
times in history the desert wind has blown sand around
the Sphinx sometimes covering it up to its neck.
Copyright Lee Krystek 1997-2016.
All Rights Reserved.