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The Great Sphinx - 3


Great Sphinx in Situ


The Sphinx lying in its enclosure, mobbed by the tourists of today. There are three passages into or under the Sphinx, two of them of obscure origin. The one of known cause is a short dead-end shaft behind the head drilled in the nineteenth century. No other tunnels or chambers in or under the Sphinx are known to exist. A number of small holes in the Sphinx body may relate to scaffolding at the time of carving.


The Great Sphinx is huge. The length of the body is more than 74 m; its height from the floor of the enclosure to the top of the head some 20 m. The extreme width of the face reaches over 4 m, the mouth being 2 m wide; the nose would have been more than 1.5 m long, while the ears are well over 1 m high. The later Egyptians were accustomed to build big (but never again so big as the Giza pyramids) and to carve large statues, but even the giant New Kingdom statues of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel, sculpted thirteen hundred years later than the Sphinx, do not exceed the Old Kingdom monument, at 20 m high with faces about 3 m wide, and they have no long body behind them.


The wrecked statue of Ramesses II that inspired Shelley's poem about Ozymandias was evidently about 18 m high. Similarly, the huge seated statues of Amenophis III called the 'Colossi of Memnon' are no taller than the Sphinx and, again, not so bulky - though they were entirely made out of single blocks and transported to their location. The statue of Zeus at Olympia, made by Phidias in the mid-fifth century BC, was neither quite so tall nor made out of
one piece of material; the Colossus of Rhodes was reputedly half as tall again as the Sphinx, but put together out of bronze castings.

Mount Rushmore makes the closest comparison with the Sphinx carving in modern times, with its faces at 18 m in height, which took six-and-a-half years to create even with the aid of dynamite and pneumatic drills. The Statue of Liberty tops everything at 92 m, but is made out of copper sheets hammered together, over a framework of steel.

When viewed close-up, the head and body of the Sphinx look relatively well proportioned, !out seen from further away and side-on the head looks small in relation to the long body (itself proportionally much longer than is seen in later sphinxes). In its undamaged state, the body is likely to have appeared still larger all round in relation to the head, which has not been so reduced by erosion. There could be a number of explanations for this discrepancy in our
eyes.

This was, as far as we can tell, the first of the Egyptian sphinxes: the rules of proportion commonly employed on later and smaller examples may not yet have been formulated at the time of the carving of the Great Sphinx of Giza. In any case, the sphinx pattern was always a flexible formula, to an unusual degree in the context of Egyptian artistic conservatism. Then again, the Sphinx may have been sculpted to look its best when seen from fairly close by and more or less from the front. It is possible that there was simply insufficient good rock to make the head, where fine detail was required, any bigger; after that the fissure at the rear may have dictated a longer body, rather than one much too short.

There remains the possibility that the head has been remodeled at some time and thereby reduced in size, but on sure stylistic grounds alone this is not likely to have been done after Old Kingdom times in ancient Egypt. The Sphinx sits in an enclosure formed by the removal of limestone from around its body. This enclosure is deepest immediately around the body, with a shelf at the rear of the monument where it was left unfinished and a shallower extension to the north where important archaeological finds have been made. Without the excavation around it, the Sphinx would at best have no carved body below the level of the uppermost part of its hack: it would look as it did when the sands buried it almost up to its neck in the nineteenth century, except that it would be the rock surface of the Giza Plateau out of which it would grow.

The good, hard limestone that lay around the Sphinx's head was probably all quarried for blocks to build the pyramids; it was perhaps the removal of this limestone, leaving at some stage a suggestive lump of remaining rock (together with the discovery of poor rock beneath), that put it into someone's mind to create the Sphinx. The limestone removed to shape the body of the beast was evidently employed to build the two temples to the east of the Sphinx, on a
terrace lower than the floor of the Sphinx enclosure - one almost directly in front of the paws, the other to the south of the first one.

The core blocks of these two temples are of the same generally poorer quality and more easily eroded limestone as the body of the Sphinx. Thus these temples can be regarded as contemporary with the carving of the monument.


Of these two temples the southerly one was excavated by Egyptologists before the one in front of the Sphinx and so was regarded for a time as the temple of the Sphinx - the discovery of the other one, long buried under the ever-drifting sands, established that the Sphinx's own temple was this one straight in front of the eastward-facing monument. The two temples are similar in size and both face east in a north-south alignment; each has a pair of north and south entrances in their eastern facades. They are both built with core blocks quarried on site, around the body of the Sphinx: some of these core blocks of the Sphinx temple are three times larger than the core blocks of the Great Pyramid. Both temples were faced, inside and out, with finely dressed granite from Aswan in the far south of Egypt, and floored with alabaster.

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