The sphinx existed in Egyptian mythology long before its representation in stone beside the Great Pyramid of Cheops. With a human (often female) head, the body of a bull, the feet of a lion and the wings of an eagle, the sphinx combines the four creatures that symbolize the four elements. The sphinx had access to all wisdom, and symbolized the riddle of human existence.

( back to hybrid creatures...)

About that nose...

Among many of the mysterious aspects of the Great Sphinx (to specify, since there are a number of sphinxes throughout Egypt) is its conspicuously missing nose. One might wonder if its popularity would be what it is today if not for its interesting and obvious "deformity."

And, of course, EVERYONE knows how it happened, right?

They certainly think they do.

There's a great many versions of who and even whys. The thread of military destruction is common and useful when proving certain "points" about the military and its mindset (as well as propaganda to make the other country's army look bad). Some Afrocentrists even claim it was done for racist reasons because the Sphinx had black features:
White folk try to rewrite history and write us out. White supremacy caused Napoleon to blow the nose off of the Sphinx because it reminded you too much of the Black man's majesty.
Louis Farrakhan addressing the Million Man March
Another person who knows.

Some background about the monument
The Great Sphinx was carved from soft limestone (this will be important later). Some think it began as an outcrop that vaguely resembled the finished product, inspiring the creators to make it. The length is 60 m (200 feet) and the height 20 m (65 feet). Its face is 4 m (13 feet) wide with 2 m (6 feet) high eyes. In addition to the nose, the ritual beard (on display, in fragments, at the British Museum) is missing and part of the uraeus—the sacred cobra headpiece—is gone.

In general, the whole thing is crumbling due to wind, humidity, and smog (from Cairo). There have been numerous attempts to reconstruct or preserve it and some have even made things worse. It has been covered by sand many times over its lifespan, the first record going back to 1400 BC. There have been at least four "clearings" since 1800.

The checklist can be pared down rather quickly, actually. It's well known (there are pictures and photographs, plus firsthand accounts) that the nose was definitely absent prior to the 20th century (goodbye Nazis and probably the British, too).

In fact, the British can be summarily dismissed from the picture. No contemporary account prior to Napoleon's arrival describes it with a nose. Since that wipes out the 1798 version, the 19th century one falls as well.

There was a picture drawn by a British traveler who visited the site in 1737 that showed the Sphinx with nose intact. It is likely that he "added" the nose and it was already missing. This wouldn't be the first time: in 1579, a Johannes Helferich drew a copy with nose and with very feminine features (a rather poor cartoonish drawing, the most notable female feature being breasts). On the other hand, King Christian VI (Denmark) sent an expedition to the Nile area in 1755. Among the members of the expedition was an artist who drew detailed pictures of many things—including a noseless Sphinx. It is very doubtful that someone would draw a noseless Sphinx when it really had one. That dates it at 1755, at least. It had to have been lost earlier.

Now, as to the Arab possibilities. Both are mentioned in contemporary accounts saying that violence was done to the Sphinx. This might be true, though it's difficult to determine the veracity of the accounts. In particular, the story of the Islamic cleric Sa'im al-dahr. While it does mention damage to the nose, it also mentions damage to the ears, something that clearly isn't the case.

Another explanation
Egyptain monuments are ancient and have stood the test and ravages of time for thousands of years. Part of the reason, aside from climate, is that many of them are built of sturdy material: granite. As noted above, not so in the case of the Sphinx. It's not quite clear just how much damage the monument has sustained over time. But it is crumbling. It is the subject of restoration work. And was in the past.

It's rather difficult to see how such a large unsupported appendage (soft limestone, remember) would not have suffered a great deal of weathering over the years, up to and including, the distinct possibility of its having fallen off in bits and pieces or larger chunks or simply worn away. In fact, some archaeologists believe that the reason it is in as good a shape as it is today, is that it has been periodically covered by sand, protecting it from the weathering elements.

This would suggest that even if one or both of the Arab accounts is true, the extent of the damage cannot be determined since time and weather had already been at work for a few thousand years. And continue to this day.

(Sources: http://home.xnet~warinner/sphinx.html,,,

For more than 4,500 years the Sphinx has guarded Khafra’s pyramid at Giza. Carved from a huge outcrop of limestone, it is the largest free standing sculpture to survive from ancient times. It has the body of a lion and the head of a king. The drifting sands have buried it up to the neck for most of its history. Attempts were made to clear it as early as 1400 B.C by Thutmose IV. When he was a prince Thutmose fell asleep under the sphinx’s head after a tiring hunt in the desert. In the prince's dream, the sphinx promised to make him king if he freed it from the suffocating sand. After he had dug the sphinx out the prince recorded his dream on a stone tablet between his huge paws.

In 1818 an Italian sea captain, Giovanni Caviglia, tried to find a way into the sphinx. He cleared the sand of its chest and uncovered a chapel. This was one of many modern attempts to free the sphinx from the desert sands. It was finally dug out in 1925. Many conservationists are worried about the effects of pollution on its crumbling body. Some even suggest that it may be safer buried in the sand again.

Statues of lions often guard the entrances to Egyptian temples. The sphinx was probably meant to protect the pyramid complex of Khafra in the same way. There is no evidence that it was worshiped in its own right when the pyramids were built. In later times the sphinx was identified with Horemakhet or Horus in the horizon, a form of the sun god.

Almost everything that is known about pyramids has been learned in the last two centuries. A great breakthrough was made in 1822 when the French scholar Jean-Francois Champollion began to decipher hieroglyphics, the Egyptian picture-writing. By then the Egyptian language and civilization had been dead for nearly 2,000 years. The desert sands have swallowed up the smaller pyramids, and the names of the great kings and queens had been lost and forgotten. Modern archaeologists sift through these ruins, searching for tiny clues that will help them to piece together the puzzles of the past. However, the answer to some questions may never be answered.

In 1864, Piazzi Smyth claimed that the pyramids were built to God’s measurements. Nowadays experts agree that the pyramid was a symbolic vehicle for sending the dead king’s spirit to heaven. But a question often asked, was the king supposed to join the sun god Re, or become and indestructible star? The pyramid texts mention both. For instance, Spell 882 says, “Oh King, thou art this great star, the companion of Orion”. It is possible that step pyramids were part of a star cult while true pyramids were associated with the sun. The “ventilation shafts” of the Great Pyramid may have been aligned with major stars like the Pole Star and Orion. But some experts think their use was purely practical.

Name given to several breeds of pedigree cat, related to the siamese and oriental families; their primary feature is that they are hairless. Although there are records of earlier hairless cats, the strains at the moment are mainly descended from spontaneously occurring (mutant, if you prefer) litters of hairless cats born in Toronto in the 1960s (Canadian Sphinx) and Russia in the 1980s (Don and St Petersburg sphinxes); the breeding progams involve crossbreeding with orientals, siamese and European shorthairs.

Sphinxes have a reputation as affectionate and lively pets and do not suffer from fleas or cause a reaction amongst most cat allergy sufferers, but require more care than a normal cat and can suffer from both the cold and sunburn; their somewhat bizarre appearance is considered ugly in some quarters, and there are some animal rights arguments against the deliberate breeding of an animal breed which is only viable in symbiosis with humans.

Apparently spelt sphynx in the USA, because they have, like, more logical spelling and stuff there, and might otherwise get confused with colossal noseless statues.

There has been some serious evidence that has come to light in recent years that the great Sphinx at Giza is actually much, much older than anyone ever imagined. Orthodox Egyptology would have us believe that the Sphinx was created in the Old Kingdom, ca. 2500 BC by the Pharaoh Chephren/Khafre, whom they would also have us believe created the Second Pyramid at Giza. Egypt was almost as dry and arid then as it is today. It was actually so dry that the ancient Egyptian language actually didn't even have a word for rain. However, independent Egyptologist John Anthony West and geologist Robert Schoch of Boston University have persuasively shown that the erosion patterns visible on the body of the Sphinx could only have been produced by rainwater. There are rolling and undulating patterns all over the body of the Sphinx that are characteristic of erosion by heavy rains and the resulting rainwater runoff. Erm... But the last time it significantly rained in Egypt was about 8000 years ago, so the Sphinx must have conservatively been made sometime between 7000 BC and 5000 BC before arid conditions began to set in that have continued to the present day. This is the latest date that Schoch gives for the creation of the Sphinx. There were, however, heavy if sporadic rains in the days of the Old Kingdom (4000 BC to 2000 BC), but Schoch judged the erosional profile of the Sphinx to have been created by a very long period of regular and heavy rainfall since the carving of the monument, and so did not consider this to be the primary factor for explaining the observed profile. These findings were later endorsed by the American Geological Society, and most geologists do not dispute Schoch's conclusions. West, however, goes even further and asserts that the Sphinx is even older than that, pushing its date to the turbulent period around 10,000 BC, just after the end of the Pleistocene ice age, when heavy and torrential rains covered much of North Africa, because he considers the Sphinx to be an equinoctial marker, a monument created to commemorate the precession of the equinoxes. Carved in the shape of a lion, it would seem to mark the age of Leo, which last happened between 10,970 BC to 8810 BC. He also argues for this far earlier date to counter Hawass and Lehner's arguments below.

Further evidence comes from the Valley Temple about a hundred meters from the Sphinx at the banks of the Nile. This very strange temple has been cut out of huge cyclopean limestone blocks, each weighing an average of 200 tons, limestone blocks that Schoch showed also came from the Sphinx enclosure. These titanic limestone blocks making up the temple are also eroded with a similar erosional pattern, and they were covered with younger granite facing stones that seem to have been carved to fit with the erosional pattern. It seems that the Sphinx enclosure was artificially excavated, and the limestone removed was used to make the Valley Temple. By Khafre's time, this temple was already so old and badly eroded that he or some other Old Kingdom Pharaoh decided to restore it by covering the eroded stones with granite facing blocks.

Of course, the timeframe all of this geological evidence implies is anathema for orthodox Egyptologists such as Dr. Zahi Hawass (the present Egyptian director of the Giza sites) and Dr. Mark Lehner of the University of Chicago, who debated with West and Schoch on this topic at great length, as it disrupts their whole theory of Egyptian history. It implies that there was a high civilization 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, when there were supposed to be no civilizations at all. They responded by making ad hominem attacks on West that he didn't have a Ph.D (as if erosional patterns would lie to people without doctorates), and by asking "where is the rest of the civilization" that created the Sphinx at such an early date could be. This is another reason why West prefers incredibly early date he suggests; the geography of Egypt was very different then, and the many thousands of years would have buried deeply or ruined most of this hypothetical lost civilization's traces. If Schoch's later dates are correct, West believes that some evidence of that civilization would probably have been found by now, along with the ancient predynastic artifacts that have been found. Nevertheless, the argument misses the point and is fallacious: lack of evidence to the contrary does not constitute proof. To this date, no one has come up with a convincing refutation of West and Schoch's conclusions.

Sphinx (?), n. [L., from Gr. sfi`gx, usually derived from sfi`ggein to bind tight or together, as if the Throttler.]

1. (a)

In Egyptian art, an image of granite or porphyry, having a human head, or the head of a ram or of a hawk, upon the wingless body of a lion.

<-- ETY sic.? something missing? -->

The awful ruins of the days of old . . . Or jasper tomb, or mutilated sphinx. Shelley.


On Greek art and mythology, a she-monster, usually represented as having the winged body of a lion, and the face and breast of a young woman

. The most famous Grecian sphinx, that of Thebes in B&oe;otia, is said to have proposed a riddle to the Thebans, and killed those who were unable to guess it. The enigma was solved by sphinx."



Hence: A person of enigmatical character and purposes, especially in politics and diplomacy.

3. Zool.

Any one of numerous species of large moths of the family Sphingidae; -- called also hawk moth.

⇒ The larva is a stout naked caterpillar which, when at rest, often assumes a position suggesting the Egyptian sphinx, whence the name.

4. Zool.

The Guinea, or sphinx, baboon (Cynocephalus sphinx).

Sphinx baboon Zool., a large West African baboon (Cynocephalus sphinx), often kept in menageries. -- Sphinx moth. Zool. Same as Sphinx, 3.


© Webster 1913.

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