A ”’sphinx”’ (Ancient Greek: Σφίγξ / Sphinx, sometimes Φίξ /Phix) is a mythological figure which is depicted as a recumbent lion with a human head. It has its origins in sculpted figures of Old Kingdom Egypt, to which the ancient Greeks applied their own name for the male monster, the “strangler”, an archaic figure of Greek mythology. Similar creatures appear throughout South and South-East Asia. In European decorative art, the sphinx enjoyed a major revival from the Renaissance Later, the sphinx image, something very similar to the original Egyptian concept, was exported into many other cultures, albeit often interpreted quite differently due to translations of descriptions of the originals and the evolution of the concept in relation to other cultural traditions.
Generally the role of sphinxes was as temple guardians; they were placed in association with architectural structures such as royal tombs or religious temples. The oldest known sphinx was found in Gobekli Tepe, Turkey and was dated to 9,500 B.C. Perhaps the first sphinx in Egypt was one depicting Hetepheres II, of the fourth dynasty that lasted from 2723 to 2563 BC. The largest and most famous is the Great Sphinx of Giza, sited at the Giza Plateau on the west bank of the Nile River and facing due east, is also from the same dynasty . Although the date of its construction is uncertain, the head of the Great Sphinx now is believed to be that of the pharaoh Khafra.
What names their builders gave to these statues is not known. At the Great Sphinx site, the inscription on a stele erected a thousand years later, by Thutmose IV in 1400 BCE, lists the names of three aspects of the local sun deity of that period, Khepera – Rê – Atum. The inclusion of these figures in tomb and temple complexes quickly became traditional and many pharaohs had their heads carved atop the guardian statues for their tombs to show their close relationship with the powerful deity, Sekhmet.
Other famous Egyptian sphinxes include one bearing the head of the pharaoh Hatshepsut, with her likeness carved in granite, which is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the alabaster sphinx of Memphis, currently located within the open-air museum at that site. The theme was expanded to form great avenues of guardian sphinxes lining the approaches to tombs and temples as well as serving as details atop the posts of flights of stairs to very grand complexes. Nine hundred with rams’ heads, representing Amon, were built in Thebes, where his cult was strongest.
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