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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.

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 in reality the nose 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.



  • 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.
  • Ancient Astronauts: Hey, if they made the pyramids...
    • A 1971 Incredible Hulk story had the Sphinx being left behind by aliens as a weapon.
  • Ancient Egypt: Was built in approximately 2500 BC, in Egypt, specifically the time of the Old Kingdom during the rule of the Fourth Dynasty.
  • 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 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.
  • Dungeon Crawling: Another popular feature in fiction: that it contains secret chambers to find, with long lost secrets inside. Usually this occurs via the heroes opening up a passage between it's paws that has somehow gone unopened and unnoticed by four millennia worth of archeologists, sightseers and locals.
  • Entertainingly Wrong: Illustrations from the 16th and 17th centuries were drawn under the belief that the Sphinx's crown was hair.
  • Living Statue: In some stories. Often shown speaking in cartoons (in riddles, of course.)
    • In an issue of DC's Adventure Comics from the early '80s, the heroes of Dial H for Hero battled it—but it (conveniently) turned out to be an imitation and not the real statue, so they destroyed it.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: It's a sphinx. A lion's body and a human head.
  • 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.
  • Nice Hat: The Sphinx wears a Nemes, a headdress worn by the pharaohs.
  • The Noseless: Again, due to Monumental Damage.
  • Older Than Dirt: And anciently older: built around 2500 BCE, or 1,700 years before the development of the Greek alphabet.
  • 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.