Want to know who broke the nose of the Sphinx? 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 answers these questions on the Great Sphinx of the Giza plateau!
Half-pharaoh, 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 secrets of the Sphinx are intriguing due to the many theories that exist about why his missing nose was mutilated.
In this article, you will discover:
- Why a sphinx is a being half-pharaoh and half-lion
- The 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. A sphinx was considered 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 Great Sphinx of Giza is the most famous of its kind. Sculpted around 2500 BC, this sphinx is one of the largest and oldest statues of the antique world. Historians estimate that its head represented that of the pharaoh Khafre, the son of the pharaoh Khufu (two pharaohs respectively creators of the second largest Egyptian pyramid and the largest Egyptian pyramid).
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. Indeed, unlike the pyramids (constituted of imported blocks), 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?
During the last four millennia, time and erosion have done terrible damage to the Great Sphinx.
Very different from its pale remains, at its creation, the Sphinx of Giza had a long false beard of pharaoh and a well-defined nose. As all Egyptian walls of monuments at their creation, the Sphinx was once ornamented with bright colors. Indeed, Egyptologists today think that its head and body were painted yellow and red, its beard of pharaoh was blue, and its crown of pharaoh was decorated of gold and blue stripes (made of solid gold and of lapis lazuli).
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) The secrets of the Sphinx
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 paintings 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 chiseled by someone who saw the Sphinx as a representation of an evil being that had no place in Egypt.
4) The non-Egyptian 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 Greek mythological stories: they were killed and eaten by the voracious and cruel monster that is the Greek Sphinx.
Oedipus, the hero of the Greek tragedy that bears his name, is confronted with the terrible creature and her 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 her genius be beaten, who threw herself from the top of a cliff.
"Oedipus and the Sphinx" by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, 1808
B) The gryphons
The gryphon (or sometimes 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 gryphon was considered the creature above all others. Since antiquity, these creatures were reputed to guard priceless treasures of forgotten realms.
In Greek and Roman mythology, gryphons were related to the gold deposits of the Asian region. Indeed, as written by the ancient chronicler Pliny the Elder, "it is rumored that gryphons lay their eggs in nests at very high altitude. And, in these nests are stored a lot of gold nuggets needed for the healthy growth of their offspring".
In the medieval Christian religion, its wings (reminiscent of angels sent by God) has become the Christian symbol of the "divine secrets".
C) The "sphynx"
Much less terrifying than their three homophones, the "sphynx cat" (sometimes spelled "sphynx") 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 non-existent coat, 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.