The Great Sphinx of Giza : Beautiful Riddles

August 13, 2018
Standing on the west bank of the Nile, atop the Giza plateau, the Great Sphinx of Giza forms the perfect silhouette against the Egyptian landscape. The giant limestone Sphinx is not merely a majestic remnant of the Old Kingdom, as questions pertaining to its origin, construction and purpose still continue to baffle us. Stretching as long as 240 ft from paw to tail, with a height of 66.31 ft from the base to the head, the Great Sphinx is like a time machine to the past, as countless mysteries are attached to it. Considered to be amongst the oldest known monumental sculptures of Egypt, here are some facts about the Great Sphinx.

Name and fame: The Great Sphinx of Giza, or 'The Terrifying One' as its Arabic translation suggests, does not appear in any known inscription of the Old Kingdom. This intensifies the debate as to its time of construction. The inscription on the 'dream stele' from Pharaoh Thutmose lV's era came much later. What's interesting is that, Thutmose was probably one of the first people to excavate the site. 

Construction of the Sphinx, and the missing link: While the exact details of its construction is wrapped up in mystery, modern Egyptology suggests that it might have been built around 2,500 BC, and that is the commonly accepted date, although there are no dearth of sceptics. Khafre is thought to have initiated the construction, and naturally the Great Sphinx is now told to be built during his reign, but the surprising and rather disappointing thing is that the link was missing. As the Egyptologist Salim Hassan once remarked how "not one single contemporary inscription" connected the two. Then how was the missing link between Khafre and the Sphinx established? It was all thanks to a diorite statue of Khafre, which was found buried amongst the ruins discovered in the Valley Temple, that shed some light on the mysterious Sphinx. Also Pharaoh Thutmose's tablet and its inscription came in handy.

The absent nose: The Sphinx lacks its nose, and it was confirmed after close inspection as according to historians long rods or chisels were probably used to remove the nose. But the reasons for the same are not known, and all we have are wild theories about how Napoleon Bonaparte's soldiers were responsible for it. But sketches by Dane Frederic Louis Norden, which were published in 1757, shows the Sphinx without a nose, and that was before the birth of Napoleon, so this theory is false. Another was propounded by the scholar al-Maqrizi, who said that the Sufi Muslim Sa'im al-Dahr chopped off the nose in a fit of rage, when he saw local peasants offering their prayers for a good harvest. Well, the theories are interesting, but we will never really know where and how the controversial nose disappeared.

Purpose, and the odd Sphinx: If you think that only the nose was missing from the Sphinx, you are wrong. The purpose of its construction is also a mystery. Some are of the view that it might have been built for Solar worship in the Early Dynastic Period, as the lion is associated with the sun. While the New Kingdom associates it with god Hor-em-akhet (or Horus-at-the-horizon), to portray a 'sleeping image' (Shesep-ankh) of the God Atum. There's yet another aspect which separates the Sphinx from its Greek portrayal. Originally, a Sphinx was said to be one with a lion's body, and the head of a woman. But, the Egyptian Sphinx's head resembled those that of the pharaoh's (Khafre, in this case), giving it a royal twist!

First excavation: The Sphinx, though it is a centre of attraction now, probably went through a rough phase, as it was abandoned at some point of time in the past, and it lay there, buried underneath the sands of time. The first documented ancient excavation was undertaken by the Pharaoh Thutmose IV in 1400 BC, when his team dug out the front paws. This explains the granite slab with the important inscription, which was placed between them. There were further attempts by Ramesses II, and much later by Mark Lehner, but the first in modern period was made by the Italian Giovanni Battista Caviglia back in AD 1817, and it was when the they dug deeper to reveal the chest. It seems as if the sculpture itself took its own time to reveal itself, much like its mysterious past,  which unfortunately is still a puzzle.

The Sphinx according to the Greek was a terrifying figure, who used to kill anyone incapable of answering its riddles. We are lucky to be chasing after the Egyptian sculpture instead, with many unanswered questions tagging along in a bid to decipher this ancient riddle, and still be alive!

Post Written by - Lopamudra

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