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Guardian of the Horizon, The Sphinx of Giza
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Sphinx

The Great Sphinx at Giza in Egypt is the oldest monumental stone sculpture in the world, and still the largest. At 74m long by 20m high, not even Mt Rushmore (at a mere 18m) can compete. The mouth, with its enigmatic smile, caused by erosion and ancient vandalism rather than design, is 2 metres across. It was carved from the living rock - one of several limestone knolls in the area. The body, heavily eroded, is a soft yellowish limestone; the head is of a much harder grey limestone. It faces due east, directly at the sunrise at the solstice. The neck is particularly badly weathered, because it was vulnerable for the very long period when only the head was visible above the sand. Herodotus, who has much to say about the pyramids does not mention the Sphinx at all - maybe it was completely buried in the 5th century BC. The head and face (which once had a beard, fragments of which are in the British Museum) are typical of Dynasty IV, with its headdress(heavily restored in the 1920s), uraeus (cobra on the forehead), and red paint (which Pliny the Elder recorded in the 1st century AD as having religious significance), traces of which are still visible. Note that is is very definitely male, and has no wings.
When we discuss OT (Oedipus Tyrannus, also known as Oedipus Rex), we often focus on the contemporary political crisis in Athens, the plague that has beset the people, the loss of religious focus that some fear has brought the wrath of the gods upon them - all the ways that we think the play might have affected the contemporary audience.

Sphinx

... The sphinx, like many of the other fantastic hybrid creatures, stands as a pre-eminent threat to Greek society and human culture. As a liminal (threshhold) creature, neither one thing nor the other (as a centaur is neither horse nor man, an Amazon neither woman nor warrior, a Siren neither woman nor bird), it threatens our conception of what belongs and what doesn't, of what can be understood and what cannot, of what can be controlled and what cannot. http://lilt.ilstu.edu/drjclassics/texts/Oedipus/sphinx.shtm The Great Sphinx was a carving with, as far as is known, no precedent. Later sphinxes tended to come in pairs, and were usually guardians of ways to significant places. Surely the first sphinx had this role:what could be more important than guarding the way to the three pyramids? On a stele between the paws (1000 years later than the sphinx itself) is an inscription which names him as "Kheperi - Re - Atum". These are the three names given by the Egyptians to the sun: in the morning, at noon, and in the evening. (It's not surpising that a country so exposed to the sun should have three gods for his three very different aspects.)

Many Egyptian divinities had animal attributes - the Greeks found this amusing and primitive. But for the Egyptians the animal represented something eternal and unchanging. Animals always look the same from generation to generation, and seem to repeat the simple routines of their lives for eternity. [I'm reminded of this looking at the famous Egyptian painting of geese from the tomb of Ne-fer-maat at Medum. Dating from 2600 BC, they are even older than the sphinx: there are white-fronted, bean and rare red-breasted geese exactly as I've seen them in Norfolk, exactly as illustrated in any modern bird book.]

So the lion is the divine, immortal part (standing for the god Atum, the primal solar god of Heliopolis, the creator). The lion is commonly associated in Egypt with places of entry and exit - even such humble items as doorbolts and water-spouts, a motif which also spread to Greece. Atum's animal is the lion, but he, like the sphinx, has a human face always. But the Great Sphinx's face is not his, it is the face of Khafre, the mortal king (or maybe of Menkaure, his successor).

The sphinx also had an element of Horus, the falcon-headed god of the kings: as is clear from contemporary heads of Khafre, Horus perched behind the king's head, spreading his wings protectively. This of course has eroded completely from the existing sphinx - but may explain how the idea of a winged sphinx arose, from a misunderstanding of the presence of Horus. Pliny says the locals regarded it as a tomb of their king Harmais, which would seem to confirm the Horus connection. The type of beard shows that the sphinx was also a god in his own right. He is the god Atum with the individual head of his creator Khafre.

The derivation of the name "sphinx" is unknown (it is not Greek, or Indo-European at all, although it first appears in Greek in the 5th century BC), and we don't know what the Egyptians called him. But a widely accepted theory is that he was called shesepankh, which means "living image". The Greek word would then be derived from an attempt at pronouncing this! (see below). The sphinx would be the living image of the (eternal) god, and the (mortal) king simultaneously.

Oedipus05
Sphinx was a guardian (who could destroy, presumably, as well as protect). But Egyptian sphinxes were benevolent, while the Theban ate people!

Could the three-fold god Kheperi-Re-Atum somehow be connected with the later riddle? Both refer to morning , noon, and evening - but Lowell Edmunds 3 has collected large numbers of the same riddle from all over the world - it has been descibed as the sort of riddle "that might have come from a Christmas cracker" 4. It would seem that if you wanted a riddle, this was the brand leader!

Sphinxes of all shapes and sizes continued to be produced. Little sphinxes were buried with people, helpful guardians and guides to the next world. Some sprouted wings, and the first female sphinx appeared about 1900 BC. There is a most beautiful one representing Queen Hatshepsut (around 1500 BC). In c.1400 Tuthmosis IV restored the Great Sphinx , and added the stele referred to above, and also built a new temple for him. A little earlier Amenophis III - making overseas contacts - "exported" the idea of the sphinx to Mesopotamia (where they always have wings, and inspired the Cherubim), and to the Greek World. The sphinx, along with the similar griffin - also of Egyptian origin - is found at Cnossos, and in Cyprus already they are winged, and sitting upon their haunches with front legs vertical like a cat, wings curving upwards.

http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/%7Eloxias/sphinx.htm

PS

... The sphinx has an additional threatening feature in that it is its intellect that is so overwhelming. It is a typical motif of Greek myths that mythic heroes fight such creatures, which represent metaphoric threats against human culture and Greek society in particular. It is no coincidence that monumental sculpture describing victories over such creatures is found on the temples of archaic and classical Greece (e.g., Lapiths v Centaurs on the Parthenon, the Temple of Zeus at Olympia; the Greeks v the Amazons on the Parthenon and others; Theseus v Minotaur on the Hephaesteum...). All are the victory of man's culture over nature gone wild.
plays.txt
Riddle of the Sphinx GAME

NB

The Greek Sphinx was a demon of death and destruction and bad luck. She was the offspring of Typhon and Echidna. It was a female creature, sometimes depicted as a winged lion with a feminine head, and sometimes as a female with the breast, paws and claws of a lion, a snake tail and bird wings. She sat on a high rock near Thebes and posed a riddle to all who passed. The riddle was: "What animal is that which in the morning goes on four feet, at noon on two, and in the evening upon three?" Those who could not solve the riddle were strangled by her. Finally Oedipus came along and he was the only who could answer that it was "Man, who in childhood creeps on hands and knees, in manhood walks erect, and in old age with the aid of a staff." The Sphinx was so mortified at the solving of her riddle that she cast herself down from the rock and perished. The Sphinx Wilde, Oscar * Published: 1894

In a dim corner of my room for longer than my fancy thinks
A beautiful and silent Sphinx has watched me through the shifting gloom.

Inviolate and immobile she does not rise she does not stir
For silver moons are naught to her and naught to her the suns that reel.

Red follows grey across the air the waves of moonlight ebb and flow
But with the dawn she does not go and in the night-time she is there.

Dawn follows dawn and nights grow old and all the while this curious cat
Lies couching on the Chinese mat with eyes of satin rimmed with gold.

Upon the mat she lies and leers and on the tawny throat of her
Flutters the soft and silky fur or ripples to her pointed ears.

Come forth my lovely seneschal ! so somnolent, so statuesque !
Come forth you exquisite grotesque ! half woman and half animal !

Come forth my lovely languorous Sphinx ! and put your head upon my knee !
And let me stroke your throat and see your body spotted like the lynx !

And let me touch those curving claws of yellow ivory and grasp
The tail that like a monstrous asp coils round your heavy velvet paws !

A thousand weary centuries are thine while I have hardly seen
Some twenty summers cast their green for Autumn's gaudy liveries.

But you can read the hieroglyphs on the great sandstone obelisks,
And you have talked with basilisks, and you have looked on hippogriffs.

O tell me, were you standing by when Isis to Osiris knelt ?
And did you watch the Egyptian melt her union for Antony

And drink the jewel-drunken wine and bend her head in mimic awe
To see the huge proconsul draw the salted tunny from the brine ?

And did you mark the Cyprian kiss white Adon on his catafalque ?
And did you follow Amenalk, the god of Heliopolis ?

And did you talk with Thoth, and did you hear the moon-horned Io weep ?
And know the painted kings who sleep beneath the wedge-shaped pyramid ?

... [

Next: scenes
False Sphinx ! False Sphinx ! By reedy Styx old Charon, leaning on his oar,
Waits for my coin. Go thou before, and leave me to my crucifix,

Whose pallid burden, sick with pain, watches the world with wearied eyes,
And weeps for every soul that dies, and weeps for every soul in vain.

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See who's visiting this page. geoAlaska * Make THEATRE/FILM w/ANATOLY your homepage -- click here! Get Site Info ... The word is Greek but its origin may be Egyptian, from the expression shesep-ankh, "living image".
OedipusX
2005 & Then
... Badly eroded, it has undergone numerous restorations over the millennia, beginning with one conducted about 1400 B.C. by the pharaoh Tuthmosis IV, who dreamt that the Sphinx asked him to clear the sand around it in return for the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. The Sphinx has recently undergone a major modern restoration.

In ancient Egypt, where the idea originated, the head was usually a portrait of the reigning pharaoh. It also represented the sky-god Horus. The Egyptians always pictured their kings as calm and stately, with wide-open, staring eyes. The lion's body — symbolizing courage — is crouched with its front feet outstretched.

glossary of greek myphology
From Egypt the idea of the sphinx spread to the Syrians and Phoenicians and finally to the Greeks. These peoples gave the creature the head and bust of a woman. They added an eagle's wings to represent majesty and a long serpent's tail to indicate wiliness. In later Greek literature the sphinx was no monster, but a beautiful, wise, and mysterious woman.
POV * pure war * popculture v. art * tech * Post-AmeriKa * HIM
Giza Sphinx = Cherubim * "Cairo"= City of Mars * Cities of Angels on Mars
[ dance? ] After the burial of Laius, performed by King Damasistratus of Plataea (a city between Attica and Boeotia), Jocasta's brother Creon became regent in Thebes. It is during his rule that a new and heavy calamity befell Thebes: the Sphinx appeared in Boeotia, laying waste the Theban fields and declaring that it would not depart unless someone interpreted the riddle that she proposed, and that, in the meantime, she would destroy whoever failed to give the correct answer. This beast — offspring of either Typhon or Orthus by Echidna — had the face of a woman, the breast, feet and tail of a lion, and the wings of a bird. She had learned her riddle from the MUSES, and sitting on Mount Phicium, propounded it to any Theban willing to solve it:
"What is that which has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed?" [Apollodorus 3.5.7]

In order to face the threat, Creon 2 made a proclamation throughout Hellas, promising that he would give the kingdom of Thebes along with his sister Jocasta in marriage to the person solving the riddle of the Sphinx. It was not difficult to find candidates; for when it comes to acquiring power, property, and women, there are always many disposed to go through no matter which risks and atrocities. Accordingly, many came and many were destroyed by the Sphinx, who gobbled them up one after the other.

After many men had perished, Oedipus heard the proclamation and came to Thebes, declaring that he had solved the riddle. So he went up, and meeting the Sphinx, he asserted that the riddle referred to man because as a little child he is four-footed, going on his arms and legs, as an adult he is two-footed, and as an old man he gets a third limb in a staff. This Oedipus knew only too well, who had his own feet mutilated, and already used a staff; but on hearing the solution, the Sphinx kept her promise and destroyed herself by throwing herself down from the citadel.

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