THE SECRETS OF THE SPHINX
Want to know who broke the nose of the great Sphinx of the Giza plateau? To understand the role of the Egyptian sphinxes in the protection of the pyramids, the last homes of the pharaohs?
As enthusiasts of ancient Egypt, we are here to help you!
Half man, half lion, the great Sphinx of Giza, built in the effigy of the pharaoh Khafre, is legendary for his function as guardian of the Pyramids of Giza. The Sphinx is a monument all the more intriguing as many theories exist on the reason for the mutilation of his missing nose.
In this article, you will discover:
- What the Sphinx represents as a fantastic being...
- Theories on the disappearance of the nose of the sphinx
- The other sphinxes existing in other mythologies
1) The Great Sphinx of Giza
A Sphinx is a mythological creature with the body of a lion and the head of a pharaoh or Egyptian god. The Egyptians built statues of sphinxes to guard important areas such as the tombs of kings and temples of gods. The sphinx was a perfect being because it had both the body of a powerful animal that gave it great strength and the head of a remarkable figure that gave it a lively spirit.
The most famous sphinx is the Great Sphinx of Giza. It is one of the largest and oldest statues in the world. Archaeologists believe that it was sculpted around 2500 B.C. and that its head was that of the pharaoh Khafre, the son of the pharaoh Khufu (famous for his pyramid, the largest in the world).
The Great Sphinx faces the sunrise and guards the tombs of the pyramids at Giza. The Sphinx is not a simple assembly of stone blocks, unlike the pyramids it was carved in the rock at the site of Giza.
The Great Sphinx is gigantic: it is 74 meters long, 6 meters wide and 20 meters. Its nose was 1.50 meters long before its mysterious disappearance.
The Sphinx of Giza
2) What did the Sphinx originally look like?
Over the past 4500 years, time and erosion have caused terrible havoc on the Great Sphinx ⏳.
The original Sphinx would have looked very different from its pale remains today. It had a long braided beard and a nose. It was also painted in bright colors. Archaeologists believe that the face and body were painted red, the beard was blue and much of the headdress was gold with blue stripes.
The sphinx of Hatshepsut, more modest because measuring only 3.5 meters long but still weighing 6700 kilos. This sphinx allows us to see what the Sphinx of Giza looked like before its disfiguration.
3) What happened to his nose?
No one knows exactly how the Sphinx's nose was broken:
[Theory 1] - During Napoleon's Egyptian campaign, it is said that his men accidentally fired a cannonball at the Sphinx during the "Battle of the Pyramids". However, this theory is invalidated by photos of the Sphinx having already lost its nose before Napoleon's arrival in Egypt.
[Theory 2] - Other stories tell that Turkish soldiers shot at the nose of the Sphinx during marksmanship training.
[Theory 3] - The most plausible theory is that the nose was chiselled by someone who saw the Sphinx as a representation of an evil being that had no place in Egypt.
4) The other sphinxes
A. The Greek Sphinx
In Greek tradition, the sphinx has the head of a beautiful woman, the body of a lion and the wings of an eagle.
It has entered into legend as being intelligent, treacherous and ruthless. Those who cannot find the answer to her diabolical enigma suffer a fate typical of mythological stories: they are killed and eaten by the voracious and cruel monster that is sphinx.
Oedipus, the hero of the Greek tragedy that bears his name, is confronted with the terrible creature and his enigma:
"What being, endowed with only one voice, has first four legs in the morning, then two legs at noon, and three legs at night?"
Oedipus will answer "the man":
- Walking on all fours at birth (in the morning = baby)
- Walking on two legs as soon as he learns to walk (noon = adult)
- Walking on three legs when he gets older and needs a cane (in the evening = old man)
This exact answer will provoke the suicide of the Sphinx, unable to bear that his genius be beaten, who threw himself from the top of a cliff.
"Oedipus and the Sphinx" by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, 1808
B. The eagle-headed sphinx: the griffon
The griffin is a legendary creature whose:
- The body, tail and hind legs are those of a lion known as "the king of animals".
- The head, wings and front legs are those of an eagle known as "the king of birds".
As a combination of these two animals considered kings of land and air in the Middle Ages, the griffin was considered the creature above all others. Since ancient times, griffins were known to guard treasures and possessions inestimables.
In Greek and Roman texts, griffins were associated with the gold deposits of Central Asia. Indeed, as the historian Pliny the Elder wrote, "Griffins were said to lay eggs in nests on the ground and these nests contained gold nuggets necessary for the growth of their young".
If you are interested in this kind of mythical creatures, we recommend that you take a look at the blog "Sanctuary of the Dragon" where you can learn all about some of the most illustrious of creatures: dragons. We take you directly to our favorite article of this blog: the one presenting the difference between dragons and vouivres.
Dn the medieval Christian religion, its wings reminiscent of angels sent by God, the griffin has become a Christian symbol of power and divine secrets 🔮.
C. [BONUS] Cats of the " sphynx " cat breed
Much less terrifying than their three homophones, the sphynx cat (sometimes spelled sphinx) is a cat that has surprisingly no hair as a result of natural genetic evolution.
Also known as the "naked cat", the sphynx is much more affectionate than the other types on chats 🐱.
Because of its coat (which we will describe as non-existent) the sphynx tends to seek warm environments. In addition, its lack of coat means that it needs more calories to survive, which means that it eats twice the food of a normal cat. It loves people and other animals deeply, even dogs (which can sometimes be of great consequence 😿).
Three sphynxes having unfortunately neither body of lions nor head of pharaoh.