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Art / The Sphinx

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A colossal statue in the form of a lion with a human head wearing an ancient Egyptian headdress (and which may or may not have originally been a normal lion head), The Sphinx is one of the best-known manmade structures in the real world. It is so closely associated with Egypt that it serves as an instant visual clue of the setting, even more so than The Pyramids (since pyramids also exist in other parts of the world). The Sphinx is located next to the Great Pyramid of Giza, the largest one in the world.

It was built in approximately 2500 BC, in Egypt, specifically during the time of the Old Kingdom during the rule of the Fourth Dynasty.

This Sphinx has nothing to do with the riddling one from the Greek Myth of Oedipus. Rather, the Greeks called the statue (which is more than 4,000 years old) the Sphinx due to its resemblance to that monster. However, the Sphinx is considered "riddling" because, even today, we don't know who made it or why; even more puzzling, there are no surviving records from that time that explain these things. Naturally, that has led to lots of crazy theories about it.

It is famously without a nose. Popular History attributes this to Napoléon Bonaparte's cannons accidentally shooting it off during the brief French occupation of Egypt (1798—1801), but it is known to have been missing since long before that, and was most likely hacked off by a 14th-century Muslim religious fanatic (who was hanged for vandalism by the Sultan in response).

In fiction, often the target of Monumental Damage or even Monumental Theft. Or just getting off its duff and stomping on people.

To know how it's perceived in popular culture, please go to the analysis tab. Only list here examples concerning the Sphinx itself.


  • Ambiguous Gender: One of its many riddles. Is the head a man's or a woman's? Looks kind of manly, but it's missing the intricately coiffed beard that ancient Egyptian men sported. Bits of an alleged beard have been found, but given the lack of damage to the chin, it's likely that it was added on later and then fell off.
  • Beast with a Human Face: It draws from Egyptian Mythology, so it's a rather cartoonish lion body with the face of an Egyptian human of Ambiguous Gender. It wears pharaoh regalia on its head, too.
  • Bigger Is Better: There are other sphinxes but this is The Great Sphinx. It is the largest monolith statue in the world.
  • Dream Sequence: The Dream Stela of Thutmosis IV placed between the sphinx's paws tells a story about the young Thutmosis IV resting in the sphinx's shadow (protected from the midday sun). He fell asleep and dreamt that the god Hor-em-akhet-Atum-Khepri was his father. The god promised the kingdoms of upper and lower Egypt to Thutmosis IV if he cleared away the sand that had been building up around the Sphinx. Thutmosis IV got the sand removed, the sphinx restored and the Dream Stela stone placed between the paws. This is generally regarded as propaganda put forth by Thutmosis IV to explain why he instead of his older brother became pharaoh. While no evidence exists one way or the other whether he usurped his brother, either way, it's logical that he would've wanted to nip any perception of illegitimacy in the bud by claiming to be divinely chosen.
  • Entertainingly Wrong: Illustrations from the 16th and 17th centuries were drawn under the belief that the Sphinx's crown was hair.
  • Hat of Authority: The Sphinx wears a Nemes, a headdress worn by the pharaohs.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: It's a sphinx from Egyptian Mythology. A lion's body and a human head adorned with a regal Nemes.
  • Monumental Damage:
    • The statue is missing its nose, believed to have been an act of religious vandalism long ago. A popular myth says that it was blown off by cannon fire during Napoleon's Egypt campaign, but the damage predates that by centuries.
    • It has also suffered the kind of wear and tear you can expect from a stone monument sitting exposed to the elements for more than 4,000 years, though much of it has been repaired as of the 20th century.
    • There are also theories (based on the head being disproportionately small compared to the lion's body) that it originally had a different face before a later pharaoh had it re-carved into his own head.
  • The Noseless: It wasn't originally like this but, due to Monumental Damage, it fell off and nowadays that makes one of its most iconic features.
  • Older Than Dirt: And anciently older: built around 2500 BCE, or 1,700 years before the development of the Greek alphabet.
  • Portal Statue Pairs: Egyptians liked to flank the openings to palaces or temples with two (or sometimes four or more) giant statues of either gods or Pharaohs. That's why some historians believe there may have also been a second sphinx at Giza.
  • Protagonist Title
  • Time Abyss: While not particularly old by geological standards, the Sphinx is older than most existing civilizations, and possibly even predates its equally famous Egyptian siblings, the Great Pyramids. Even by the youngest estimates, the Sphinx is so old that it would've already been considered ancient and mysterious during the lifetime of Tutankhamun.
  • Tiny-Headed Behemoth: One theory about The Sphinx is that it originally had a well-proportioned head, but the face eroded away, so a new, smaller head was carved out of the existing one. Specifically, that head was most likely a lion head. If put in a computer simulation and turning time backwards, the Sphinx would have looked into the constellation "Lion" — 8000 years ago.

Alternative Title(s): Great Sphinx Of Giza