Sphinx : The Guardian of the Pyramids
At a glance
The first sphinxes were made by the Egyptians and were usually equipped with a nemes, which is a head-dress. Some examples of these are sphinxes that have human faces but are surrounded by lions’ mane, and in the New Kingdom, the head was often represented by a ram. The exact time that the first sphinx was created is not known. The most famous one is the Great Sphinx of Giza, which dates back to the reign of Cheops around 2,500 BCE.
In the Eighteenth Dynasty, during a hunting expedition, the Egyptian pharaoh Thutmose IV fell asleep in the shadow of the great Sphinx. He woke up and declared that the statue had spoken to him and that he was going to become the king if he could clear the sand around its feet. During the reign of Chephren, the number of sphinxes became more widespread. They were usually placed near a tomb, a mortuary temple, or a funerary monument.
In Egyptian mythology, the sphinx can sometimes be depicted with a woman’s face. One of the most famous examples of this is the statue of Queen Hetepheres II of Egypt, which dates back to around 2700 to 2,500 BC. The sphinx was also adorned with a royal headdress, which was worn by the pharaohs.
The sphinx is different from other Egyptian deities in that it has both a human head and an animal body, which is unusual since most of the other major deities have animal heads and human bodies. One possible explanation is that it’s the statue’s depiction of Leo, which is the constellation of the lion. Many pharaohs had their heads carved atop the guardian statues for their tombs to show their close relationship with the powerful solar deity Sekhmet, a lioness.
What the Egyptians called the sphinx was never recorded and the word in use today or sphinx is a derivative of what the Greeks called their version of this hybrid creature.
Powers and Abilities
The sphinx was built to protect the royal family. It was usually placed near royal burial sites and temple entrances. The statue was associated with Ra, who was the sun god and the Godly father of the pharaoh. Ra’s power was a key component of the pharaoh’s reign. The sphinx was also used to defend against the literal forces of darkness and evil.
The tradition of making and displaying sphinxes continued in various Kingdoms. According to the Egyptians, the statue was meant to represent their solar deity or Sun God. Historical records show that in the New Kingdom, the sphinx was also a representation of Horemakhet or the Horus of the Horizon.
Modern Day Influence
The Great Sphinx at the Pyramids of Giza is one of the most popular tourist spots in the world and have also spurred many investigations as to the various inconsistencies that researchers and archaeologists have pointed out over the years. This includes the disproportionate head of the sphinx with respect to the rest of the body. However, apart from the Great Sphinx at Giza, Egypt is home to many other versions of the sphinx making it a symbol of the ancient times.
This symbolism has spread across Europe and Asia and is one of the most popular hybrid characters in the world with multiple mythologies and cultures laying claim to it. In modern times, people tend to confuse stories of the Greek Sphinx with the Egyptian version leading to incorrect renditions of the history of the creature.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does the Egyptian Sphinx symbolise?
The Great Sphinx at Giza, near Cairo, is probably the most famous sculpture in the world. With a lion’s body and a human head, it represents Ra-Horakhty, a form of the powerful sun god, and is the incarnation of royal power and the protector of the temple doors.
What is the role of the sphinx?
In ancient Egypt, the sphinx was a spiritual guardian and most often depicted as a male with a pharaoh headdress—as is the Great Sphinx—and figures of the creatures were often included in tomb and temple complexes.
Who damaged the Sphinx?
In 1378 CE, Egyptian peasants made offerings to the Great Sphinx in the hope of controlling the flood cycle, which would result in a successful harvest. Outraged by this, Sa’im al-Dahr destroyed the nose and was later executed for vandalism.
Is the Sphinx older than the pyramids?
Redating of the Sphinx would make it by far the oldest monument in Egypt, millennia older than the pyramids that overlook it.
Who built the Great Sphinx of Giza?
The Sphinx at Giza was built by Khufu’s son, Khafre and its face was carved in his likeness.