Exploring the Great Sphinx

January 31, 2020 11:47 am

Photo: Jeffrey Ross Burzacott

We all remember the Sphinx and several other levels involving the Sphinx in Tomb Raider 4. TR4  is on my list of favourites simply because of my background in Egyptology and how much Egypt is in this game. It was a wonderful romp for our Lara through Egypt’s ancient history and the many archaeological inspirations featured throughout the game.

Through the recent review, I decided to expound on the Sphinx including its origin that is under much debate throughout the archaeological community. I will explore its connection with Thutmose IV and the dream stela. It is a mystery and some of the world’s foremost ancient historians Herodotus for one never mentioned the Sphinx once as far as historians know.

The name “Sphinx” pertains to a mythological being that has a lion’s body and a human head. They are not exclusively Egyptian, but Greek and Asian as well. In fact, the word is a Greek word and it was rooted in the word sphingein which means to bend or squeeze. 

However, the name used for the mythical sphinx that we know from history is not related to the meaning of the Greek etymology. The Greeks referred to the statue as Phix.

Additionally, the Sphinx from Egyptian history does not appear to share the same gender attached to Grecian winged sphinx. Their female Sphinx presented a riddle to the people legend tells. “What is it that has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed?” if anyone answered incorrectly the savage flying beast would devour them. It wasn’t until Oedipus answered correctly that the sphinx killed herself. Never has a test been so terrifying!

A wooden sphinxStriding winged sphinx, wood with paint, from Thebes, Egypt, c. 1352–36 BCE; in the Brooklyn Museum, New York. 8.9 × 9.4 cm.Photograph by Katie Chao. Brooklyn Museum, New York, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 56.100

The Egyptian, Asian and Grecian Sphinx

The Sphinx appeared in Asia through Egyptian influence and they changed it by making it female and so did the Greeks. It is not clear what the Asians thought about the sphinx and what meaning it conformed. Additionally, Asia and Greece added wings.

The Greek sphinx came into play in their culture about 1600 BC. Their version sported a hat, wings and the earliest findings of this legendary creature were discovered in the shaft graves of Mycenae from the Helladic age.

Though they offer much speculation into the role they played in each ancient culture lets get into the main colossus statue of the Sphinx in Giza, Egypt. The most popular of them all.

The Great Sphinx of Giza

 The Sphinx is carved out of one massive limestone that measures about 66 feet tall and 240 feet long. This earned the Sphinx the distinction of one of the largest monolithic statues in the world. Interesting enough, throughout all of the hieroglyphs in Giza that date about 4500 years, there is not one account of the statue.

Because of this fact that there is no actual evidence of what the Sphinx meant to the Egyptians. To farther define “evidence” here is what James Allen says about the Sphinx:

“The Egyptians didn’t write history,” says James Allen, an Egyptologist at Brown University, “so we have no solid evidence for what its builders thought the Sphinx was…Certainly, something divine, presumably the image of a king, but beyond that is anyone’s guess.”

However, there are theories about its meaning. One being a guardian that sat at the gates of the underworld where the sun rose and set. It is also thought to have been in the likeness of Khafre who’s pyramid resides behind the mighty statue.

Defining The Khafre Theory

Who built the great sphinx? That is a question that many archaeologists debate about to this day. There is one popular idea shared by the foremost archaeologist in the world regarding the Sphinx Mark Lehner and a few of his colleagues that the Sphinx is in the likeness of Khafre. There are strong reasons for this belief.

We know from the hieroglyphic texts that Khafre’s father, Khufu, had the great pyramid built and that was and is a monumental feat. It looms high over Giza at 481- feet – tall. It resides ¼ mile from where the great sphinx sits now. Khafre later built his pyramid a ¼ mile from the great sphinx as well. Though Lehner felt the connection between Khafre, his father and the monolithic statue and a huge connection in the Giza complex which included the sphinx were all connected and had a common denominator with the sun. However, some skeptics still remain.

Additionally, if you read the following quoted text and click the link attached, you can learn more about why these archaeologists have strong reasons to believe that Khafre is possibly the author of the Sphinx.

“Equally intriguing, Lehner discovered that when one stands near the Sphinx during the summer solstice, the sun appears to set midway between the silhouettes of the pyramids of Khafre and Khufu. The scene resembles the hieroglyph akhet, which can be translated as “horizon” but also symbolized the cycle of life and rebirth. “Even if coincidental, it is hard to imagine the Egyptians not seeing this ideogram,” Lehner wrote in the Archive of Oriental Research. “If somehow intentional, it ranks as an example of architectural illusionism on a grand, maybe the grandest, scale.”

However, let’s not stop there. Another archaeologist, years before, from France, named Auguste Mariette, who worked for the Egyptian department of the Louvre, found a statue of remarkable craftsmanship in the likeness of Khafre. This statue was among the ruins of what is known today as the Valley Temple and this temple and its causeway are adjacent to the Sphinx and Khafre’s pyramid.

Throughout the area, another temple was discovered that was connected to the sphinx. This temple is now known as the Sphinx Temple and is directly connected to Khafre’s pyramid as was the other one. There is a pattern here that connects the Sphinx to the pharaoh, and that is what Lehner saw in the entire lay of the land. It was also clear to his colleagues.

However, other archaeologists still argued about the likeness of the Sphinx and who built it. That did not stop Lehner from pushing on. He acquired a geologist from Germany named Aigner who analysed the limestone from the Sphinx and compared it to the blocks from the quarry that were used to build the wall of the Sphinx temple. These blocks were quarried from the ditch surrounding the statue at the same time the sphinx was being carved. They could decipher this information from the fossil fingerprints found in the limestone from the statue and the temple.

Therefore, it is highly likely that Khafre is not only the likeness of the sphinx, but he had it built as well. There are also those who believe it is in the likeness of Khufu. The debate goes on. Though there are those skeptics, there is a substantial amount of scholars who uphold Lehner’s and his colleagues’ opinions. Additionally, there is a lot of evidence that directly connects Khafre to the sphinx. I hope they unearth something that the archaeological community can unanimously agree in the near future.

The Dream Stela

Taken from one of the videos in this article.

Let’s go 700-years ahead in history from Khafre’s time (Old Kingdom) to the New Kingdom. Perhaps one of the most fascinating discoveries about the Sphinx is the Dream Stela. Located between the paws of the statue for more than 3400 years.  It is so named because of its connection with Thutmose IV. It is a hieroglyphic display of a vivid dream he had. Rather this dream was true only Thutmose would know. The story goes;

When Thutmose was a young prince he would love to come to the Giza plateau and play at target practice, chariot racing among many other endeavours of a young boy in the ancient world. It was on a day such as that he was tired and very hot from the desert sun. He decided to take a nap in the shade of the sphinx.

While sleeping the sphinx appeared in his dream and told him if he removed the sand from it to free the grasp of the desert he would be king. Even though he was not next in line. Needless to say, he went about removing the sand from the great sphinx, and he later became king Thutmose IV. However, it is not known what happened to his brother. Thutmose IV is also the one who gave the Sphinx a type of resurgence in the ancient world by forming a Sphinx cult of worship. 1550-1070 B.C.

His dream lives on, due to him arranging for the stela to be erected between the paws of the great statue with his dream story carved into it.

Watch these informative videos about the Dream Stela

I hope you enjoyed the read. I will be back with another update.

Explore the World!



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