Abou El Houl I Picture

The Sphinx!

A Sphinx is a zoomorphic mythological figure, which is depicted as a recumbent lion with a human head. It has its origins in sculpted figures of Old Kingdom Egypt, to which the ancient Greeks applied their own name for a female monster, the "strangler", an archaic figure of Greek mythology. Similar creatures appear throughout South and South-East Asia, and the sphinx enjoyed a major revival in European decorative art from the Renaissance onwards.


In Ancient Egyptian mythology, a Sphinx is a zoomorphic figure, usually depicted as a recumbent lioness or lion with a human head, but occasionally with the head of a falcon, hawk, or ram. The figure had its origin in the Old Kingdom and is associated with the solar deity Sekhmet, who also was the fierce war deity and protector of the pharaohs. She remained as a strong figure in Egyptian religion throughout its history, even during the Amarna period. The sphinx were often described as Sekhmet's children. The use of heads of other animals atop the lioness body followed the titularly deities of the city or region where they were built or which were prominent in the Egyptian pantheon at the time.

Generally the roles of sphinxes were as temple guardians and they were placed in association with architectural structures such as royal tombs or religious temples. Later, the sphinx image, or something very similar to the original Egyptian concept, was imported into many other cultures, albeit often interpreted quite differently due to translations of descriptions of the originals and the evolution of the concept in relation to other cultural traditions.

Perhaps the first sphinx was one depicting Hetepheres II, of the fourth dynasty that lasted from 2723 to 2563 BC. The largest and most famous is the Great Sphinx of Giza, sited at the Giza Plateau on the west bank of the Nile River and facing due east, is also from the same dynasty. Although the date of its construction is uncertain, the head of the Great Sphinx now is believed to be that of the pharaoh Khafra.

What names their builders gave to these statues is not known. Probably having been erected a thousand years later, in 1400 BCE, by Thutmose IV the inscription on a stele at the Great Sphinx site lists the names of three aspects of the local sun deity of that period, Khepera - Re - Atum. The inclusion of these figures in tomb and temple complexes quickly became traditional and many pharaohs had their heads carved atop the guardian statues for their tombs to show their close relationship with the powerful deity, Sekhmet.

Other famous Egyptian sphinxes include one bearing the head of the pharaoh Hatshepsut, with her likeness carved in granite, which is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the alabaster sphinx of Memphis, currently located within the open-air museum at that site. The theme was expanded to great avenues of guardian sphinxes lining the avenues to tombs and temples as well as serving as details atop the posts of flights of stairs to very grand complexes. Nine hundred with rams' heads, representing Amon, were built in Thebes, where his cult was strongest.
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