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 The Meaning of The Great Sphinx

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PostSubject: The Meaning of The Great Sphinx   Sun Jan 03, 2010 1:59 pm



Whatever
else it might be, the Great
Sphinx
is certainly not the keeper of long lost
knowledge, or ancient technologies, as has been popularly
reported over the years. There are surely no hidden chambers
holding the secrets of Atlantis between its paws, or
elsewhere. What the Great Sphinx is in reality is grand
enough. It is a monumental symbol of ancient Egyptian
kingship, probably related to solar worship.
There was a trend toward colossal stone architecture in Egypt
by the middle of the 4th
Dynasty
, as Khafre
took the reigns of kingship. This tendency had been going on
for more than a century, when Khafre came to power, but he
took the trend even further. He began by using limestone core
blocks weighing hundreds of tons in his temples, but his
craftsmen also created more than two hundred statues, that we
know of, made from hard stone. Twenty-two of these were at
least three times life size, but the largest statue of all is
thought to be the Great
Sphinx
at Giza
near Cairo. It would
remain unique for both its size, and for the fact that it was
hewn directly from the living rock.
Much controversy has surrounded the Great
Sphinx
, including whether or not it was actually carved as
late as the 4th
Dynasty
, not surprisingly considering that it appears
suddenly and without much precedent. Though it remained a
classic image of kingship
throughout Egypt's ancient history, there was no continuum of
development of its form prior to the Great Sphinx's appearance
on the Giza
Plateau. Rather, the complete form appears all at one at
Giza, even though a detached Djedefre
head in the Louvre Museum suggests that the form had been
executed in stone a few years earlier. This is certainly not
the manner in which pyramids were developed in Egypt, through
much trial and error.
The fact that this earliest super-colossal image of the
king was a mixed form, both animal and human, is significant.
In mixed forms, it is the head that conveys the essential
identity, and with the nemes scarf about the Great
Sphinx
's head, it must be the representation of a king.
But as Henry Fischer relates the head's attachment to the
lion's body, it is "a suggestion of shape-shifting, of
metamorphosis, that is appropriate to the king who is,
uniquely, the link between mankind and the gods, and stands
constantly on the threshold of these two worlds".
However, we should also look to some of the oldest images
of ancient Egypt, as well as elsewhere. The lion was a solar
symbol in more than one ancient Near Eastern culture. It is
also a common archetype of royalty. Even as early as the Predynastic
period
, we find carved on luxury objects probably of royal
origin, scenes depicting fantastic animals mingling with wild,
real world animals. These may be found on ceremonial slate
palettes, ivory plaques and ivory knife handles, particularly
found at Hierakonpolis
or from nearby Naqada
in Upper Egypt. Most of these early depictions were of
winged, falcon headed griffins, leopards with long, winding
necks and other accompanying animals that are usually
considered to be inspired indirectly from models found in
Mesopotamia. However, some two dimensional images on
slate palettes of the Early
Dynasty period
, some three to four hundred years prior to
the carving of the Great
Sphinx
, depict the king as a wild lion or griffin,
destroying his enemies.


A magic wand from ancient Egypt, with a double headed Sphinx
In the earliest of Egyptian times, men saw and knew the
power of beasts, and seem to have envied them. There is a
sense that humans, at the dawn of civilization, were subject
to, and seemingly inferior to, the world's more feral
inhabitants. However, as man's intellect grew, together with
his ability to control, or at least defend himself from wild
beasts, so too did his confidence. Many scholars believe that
mixed images such as the Sphinx symbolize mankind's domination
over wild beasts, and over chaos itself. Such images as the Great
Sphinx
may very well represent animal power tamed by human
intelligence and thus transformed into divine calm.
Traditionally, mixed, or composite images were almost always
seen as divine. One way or the other, what could be more
dangerous and powerful, or more self assured than the king of
the jungle with the mind of a human king?
More specifically to the Great
Sphinx
, however, Alan Gardiner suggested that the Egyptian
phrase, shesep ankh Atum, meaning "Living Image of Atum",
which was associated with sphinxes in later times, signified
the pharaoh in the form of the primeval sun and creator god.
The word Shesep ankh used for statue, perhaps of a particular
kind, is known from the Old
Kingdom
. Fischer suggested that it derives from shesep,
which means "to receive". Fischer goes on to say
that such a statue is "one who receives offerings and
other ministrations".
Carved from the living stone, the Great
Sphinx
of Giza
is an apt symbol for the god Atum, or the king in the guise,
especially in Atum's
aspect of a chthonic creator god. James Allen has pointed out
that Atum's name means "completed one", and that,
according to the ancient Egyptians, the entire physical world
came forth from Atum as the "primeval mass". There
is, in fact, an obscure notion in the Pyramid
Texts
, Coffin
Texts
and the Book
of the Dead
that has the lion emerging from the primeval
mass within the primeval waters before all other animals,
including mankind. Karol Mysliwiec pointed out an association
between the birth of Atum and the lion; that Atum appeared on
earth as a lion. According to The Treasures of the Pyramids,
edited by Dr. Zahi
Hawass
:
<blockquote>
"The idea is expressed in the association between
Atum and Ruti, the double lion god who is somewhat like a
cell that has doubled its elements and begun to divide,
before the actual split has occurred. The double lion also
alludes to Shu and Tefnut, the first differentiation of
Atum's being. But Ruti says 'I am the double lion, older
than Atum,' so appearing even before the actual birth of the
next primordial generation"

</blockquote>
Nevertheless, it is not certain that the 4th
Dynasty
Egyptians saw in the Sphinx an image of Atum.
However, even if the Great
Sphinx
was an image of the king, according to the Pyramid
Texts
, kingship descended from Atum, through Shu,
Geb and
Osiris
to Horus,
and therefore, the reigning king of Egypt. While the pyramid
structure was almost certainly associated with Atum in his
capacity of the primeval mound and the sacred benben tone of Heliopolis,
the Great Sphinx could also be associated with Atum as the
primeval king in lion form, emerging form the formless mass of
creation,
with its royal head rising just above the earthy pit.
The sphinx temple also suggests that the complex was
related to the solar cycle, which would not only include Atum
as it sets, but also the sun in its other phases, including
the rising sun, Khepri
and the sun at its zenith, Re.
Various elements in the Old
Sphinx temple
appear to be solar related, such as the 24
columns, thought to represent the 24 hours of the day and
night, that support its roof.
It seems that the Sphinx may relate to an advancement of
the royal sun cult during the 4th
Dynasty
. Djedefre,
who ruled briefly around the time of Khafre
and Khufu,
was the first pharaoh to adapt the title, "Son of
Re". As Horus,
the presenter of offerings, the Sphinx might represent a
sublimation of kingly power to a higher deity. At the same
time, it would not be hard for the Sphinx to represent both
the king as Horus, and also be identified with the sun
god.
We must also finally look at the Great
Sphinx
as a guardian of the necropolis at Giza
from evil. Situated at the very entrance to the sacred
cemetery, the Sphinx must have been a warning to dangerous
forces.

See Also:

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