The Great Sphinx
In a depression to the south of Chephren's pyramid sits a creature with a human head and a lion's body. The name 'sphinx' which means 'strangler' was first given by the Greeks to a fabulous creature which had the head of a woman and the body of a lion and the wings of a bird. The sphinx appears to have started in Egypt in the form of a sun god. The Egyptian sphinx is usually a head of a king wearing his headdress and the body of a lion . There are, however, sphinxes with ram heads that are associated with the god Amun.
The Great Sphinx is to the northeast of Chephren's Valley Temple. Where it sits was once a quarry. Chephren's workers shaped the stone into the lion and gave it their king's face over 4,500 years ago. The sphinx faces the rising sun with a temple to the front which resembles the sun temples which were built later by the kings of the 5th Dynasty. The figure was buried for most of its life in the sand. King Thutmose IV (1425 - 1417 BC) placed a stela between the front paws of the figure. It describes when Thutmose, while still a prince, had gone hunting and fell asleep in the shade of the sphinx. During a dream, the sphinx spoke to Thutmose and told him to clear away the sand because it was choking the sphinx. The sphinx told him that if he did this, he would be rewarded with a kingship. Thutmose carried out this request and the sphinx held up his end of the deal.
The sphinx is built of soft sandstone and would have disappeared long ago had it not been buried for so long. The body is 200 feet (60m) in length and 65 feet (20m) tall. The face of the sphinx is 13 feet (4m) wide and its eyes are 6 feet (2m) high. Part of the uraeus (sacred cobra), the nose and the ritual beard are now missing. . The beard from the sphinx is displayed in the British Museum. The statue is crumbling today because of the wind, humidity and the smog from Cairo. Attempts to restore it have often caused more harm than good. No one can be certain who the figure is to personify. It is possible that it is Chephren. If that is so, it would then be the oldest known royal portrait in such large scale. Some say that it was built after the pyramid of Chephren was complete. It may have been set as a sort of scarecrow to guard his tomb. Still others say it is the face of his guardian deity, rather than Chephren himself. The image of the sphinx is a depiction of royal power. Only a pharaoh or an animal could be shown this way, with the animal representing a protective deity.
In the 1980's, a carefully planned restoration of the Sphinx was in progress. Over 6 years, more than 2,000 limestone blocks were added to the body of the sphinx and chemicals were injected. This treatment did not work. It just flaked away along with parts of the original rock. Later, various mortars and many workers who were not trained in restoration worked for six months to repair it. In 1988 the left shoulder crumbled and blocks fell off. Present attempts at restoration are under the control of the Supreme Council of Antiquities' archaeologists. They are concentrating on draining away subsoil seepage which is damaging the rock. They are also repairing the damaged shoulder with smaller blocks and staying with the original size.
Last Updated: October 24th, 2011
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