Guardian of the Horizon
By Andrew Bayuk
The Sphinx of Giza [Her-em-Akhet] is a symbol that has represented the essence of Egypt for thousands of years. Even with all of the pictures that we see of the Sphinx, nothing can really prepare you for the time that you finally see the Sphinx with your own eyes. Here’s a look at the Sphinx that will give you a hint of what you can expect to see if you visit Egypt.
Carved from the bedrock of the Giza plateau, the Sphinx is truly a mysterious marvel from the days of ancient Egypt. The body of a lion with the head of a king or god, the sphinx has come to symbolize strength and wisdom.
From the north side the profile of the Sphinx reveals the proportion of the body to the head. It would appear as though the head is small in proportion to the body. Because of the changing desert terrain, the body of the Sphinx has been buried several times over the past several thousand years. Most recently in 1905, the sand has been cleared away to expose the magnitude and beauty of the entirety of the Sphinx.
The paws themselves are 50 feet long (15m) while the entire length is 150 feet (45m). The head is 30 (10m) feet long and 14 feet (4m) wide. Because certain layers of the stone are softer than others, there is a high degree of erosion that has claimed the original detail of the carved figure.
The most popular and current theory of the builder of the Sphinx holds that it was commissioned by the 4th Dynasty King, Khafre (2558-2532 BCE). Khafre was one of the sons of Khufu (AKA Cheops). The Sphinx lines up with the Pyramid of Khafre at the foot of its causeway. As one rounds the northeast corner to the front of the Sphinx, the alignment of the two structures becomes more apparent.
Although the head of the Sphinx is badly battered in some places, traces of the original paint can still be seen near one ear. Originally it is believed that the Sphinx was painted and was quite colorful. Since then, the nose and beard have been broken away. The nose was the unfortunate victim of target practice by the Turks in the Turkish period.
It is often erroneously assumed that the nose was shot off by Napoleon’s men, but 18th century drawings reveal that the nose was missing long before Napoleon’s arrival.
Interestingly, to some, the features of the face of the Sphinx bear a far more striking resemblance to an older brother of Khafre, the Pharaoh Djedefre (AKA Radjedef). Djedefre’s short lived reign occurred just prior to the reign of Khafre. Unlike Khafre, Khafre’s father and later Khafre’s brother Menkaure, Djedefre did not construct his pyramid on the Giza plateau. Instead Djedefre built his pyramid at Abu Roash where it now lies badly damaged. Some believe that Khafre usurped the throne of Djedefre and then built his pyramid and Sphinx at Giza.
A German Egyptologist has even suggested that the Sphinx was built by the father of Khafre, King Khufu, who was also the builder of the Great Pyramid.
YOU DECIDE who you think more resembles the Sphinx?
Here are some other pictures of the face of the Sphinx:
The back right paw and tail
Recently, the Sphinx has undergone a major restoration effort, done solely by Egyptians. Here is how the back right paw appears after this fine work. The top of the paw was purposely left unfinished, which demonstrates the difference between the original rock and the quality of the restoration. Also notice the tail of the Sphinx which wraps around this right side.
The left or North side of the Sphinx was restored last, and here is how the left paw appears now. Notice how carved bricks were use to perform the restoration. These were hand cut and carefully fitted into place by modern day Egyptian craftsmen and rock cutters.
In between the paws of the Sphinx is a stela, now called the “Dream Stela”, which is inscribed with a story. The 18th Dynasty story tells of the time that Thutmosis IV fell asleep under the Sphinx which was covered to the neck in sand. Thutmosis had a dream that the Sphinx spoke to him and promised that if he would free the Sphinx from the sand, Thutmosis would be destined to become king of Egypt.
Prior to the 1905 clearing of the Sphinx, the Sphinx has been buried by the desert sand and cleared several other times throughout history.
During the 18th Dynasty, Thutmosis IV probably did clear the Sphinx at that time. But it is more likely that the story about the dream was created for political purposes, an ancient propaganda story to help prove the legitimacy of the king. This type of story could support the validity of a kingship, asserting and assuring the power of the pharaoh as designated by the gods, or in this case, the Sphinx itself.