The mythical creature Sphinx had a human head, a lion’s body and sometimes wings depending on the culture that portrayed it. The creature, originally an Egyptianinvention, had the head of a male either human or animal.
However, the ancient Greek Culture depicted the creature as having a woman’s head. Sphinx is present in the sculpture and art of many civilizations such as the Mycenaean, Persian, Assyrian, and Phoenician.
History of Sphinx In Brief
Though the date on which the Sphinx appeared is not very exactly known, some scholars are of the view that its origin can be traced back to the times of Cheops reign during ca 2500 BCE. However, the oldest ever known Sphinx was found in Gobekli Tepe, Turkey, and has been dated back to 9500 BC. The story behind Cheops reign is that in the eighteenth dynasty, prince Tuthmosis IV who went for a hunting expedition fell asleep in the Sphinx’s shadow. In his dreams, the Sphinx promised that if he removed the sands collected around the statue’s feet, he would later become the king. A number of statues were built during Chephren’s reign and mostly placed outside tombs, temples and funerary monuments as guards.
The creature that the Egyptians first created wore a head-dress (nemes) very similar to that the Pharaohs wore. Examples of Sphinxes with human face surrounded by the mane of a lion, specifically from Nubia, exist. Sometimes, the head was that of a ram.
The best example is the greatest Sphinx monument in the world, the Giza, which guards Khafre’s pyramid. Its head is same as that of the Pharaoh. The Sphinx is a prominent creature in Egyptian mythology than in any other mythology and this shows that it had a very great influence on their culture.
The Sphinx came to be known in Asia because of the Egyptian influence, but it did not come to Mesopotamia until 1500 B.C. The Sphinx made its appearance in the world of the Greeks in 1600 BCE, but after 1200 BCE, the depiction of the Sphinxes disappeared for a period of 400 years. However, they once again appeared by the end of the eighth century.
The ancient Greeks considered the Sphinx to be a troublesome creature and there is a famous myth involving the Sphinx and Oedipus, the Theban prince. A Sphinx terrorized the Thebes territory in Greece. As explained by Hesiod in his Theogeny, the creature took birth from the Chimaera, the fire-breathing monster that had three heads and a body that is part lion, snake, goat and dragon.
The creature was the sister of the lion Nemean and Kerberos’s half-sister. Kerberos was the dog with three heads that guarded Hades.
The Sphinx brought in famine and drought and declared that she would leave Thebes only if the Thebans solver her riddle. The Sphinx killed and devoured all those who failed to answer the riddle correctly. When the son of King Kreon, Haimon, was killed by the Sphinx, he offered his daughter and the kingdom to anyone who provided the correct answer for the riddle. The story goes that Oedipus answered correctly and the Sphinx leapt from the Acropolis of Thebes and killed herself. The pictures of Oedipus and the Sphinx were commonly depicted in works of art that dated back to the 6th century BC.
During Renaissance, the Sphinx went through a major revival in decorative art in Europe. The image of the Sphinx that resembled the ancient Egyptian concept was later exported into many cultures. However, the interpretations were quite different due issues related to description translations.
Some Additional Facts About Sphinx
The Great Sphinx in Egypt is the world’s largest single-sculpted statue as well as the best known Sphinx. It is oriented to the eastern direction, facing the rising sun. The Sphinx, carved out of limestone bedrock, is 57 meters long, 6 meters wide and 20 meters high. The word Sphinx was derived from sphingein (meaning ‘to squeeze’ or to ‘bind’) by Greek grammarians. The etymology of the word is not legend-related and is uncertain. Hesiod, the earliest Greek author to mention the creature, called it Phix. The Greek term, by itself, is considered as a corruption of the Egyptian term Shesep-ankh.
The royal statues of the Fourth Dynasty were given this name. In the New Kingdom, the name was specifically associated with the Great Sphinx. There is a small temple between the paws of the Sphinx, resembling the sun temples that the Fifth Dynasty kings built later. It was prince Tuthmosis IV who first attempted to dig out the Sphinx around 1400 BC because of the dream that he could win the crown if he unburied the Sphinx. He just managed to dig out the front paws. Tuthmosis IV placed a granite stela between the paws, referred to as Dream Stela, to commemorate his effort. In 1817, under Captain Caviglia’s supervision the Sphinx’s chest was uncovered completely. However, the entire Sphinx was dug out finally in 1925.The Sphinx carries no inscriptions to indicate as to who built it. The Sphinx’s true origin as well as the purpose continues to remain a mystery.
Scientific Point Of View
In his book ‘Secrets of the Sphinx’, author Andrew Raymond refers to the division of the 25800-year earth’s cycle into 12 ages by scientists instead of 12 months and the Great Sphinx marking the cycle’s new year. This cycle of the earth along with the four seasons is referred to as the Great Year, Platonic year. The four minor sphinxes in Egypt; the constellations Taurus, Aquarius, Leo and Scorpio; Ezekiel’s four beast heads; and Revelation’s four cherubim mark the seasons of the great year.
Lehner, Egyptologist and an authority on Sphinx, conducted research for 37 years at Giza. His archaeological sleuthing of the Giza plateau, pyramids, quarries, temples, and the tombs, confirmed the speculation that parts of the complex, including the Sphinx, made up a machine that was designed to harness the sun’s power to sustain the divine and earthly order. In the late 1990s, Lehner also discovered a lost city, as big as ten football fields, which dated back to Khafre’s reign. At the heart of the city, there were eight mud barracks in four clusters that housed around two thousand workers.