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The face of the Sphinx: does it represent Khafra?

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Published in 
 · 11 Oct 2023

In almost all ancient civilizations, the deity was represented with non-anthropomorphic forms such as animals, plants or rocks.

Even the Egyptian civilization made use of animal or mixed forms in addition to human forms, but those forms were not "the deity" they represented "various forms of the deity".

This idea is not mine entirely, in fact Sergio Donadoni, the respected dean of Italian Egyptology wrote:

"Besides, it has been noted how the names of Egyptian gods are often connected with the names of the animals that represent them; Anubis is connected with a word for "puppy", Khnum with one for "ram", Horo with one for "hawk", and so on.

But in each case it seems that one is rather in the presence of an adjective than a noun. Thus, not Anubis = "dog", but "canine", that is, "shaped, with nature of a dog".

It is probable that here is the point: the animalistic representation is only a metaphor, so to speak, by which an appellation is indicated that is meant to make certain qualities of the god clear."(1)

Sphinxes, as the Greeks called them, are among those forms of symbolic representation of divinity, and not all of them have a human head on a crouching animal body, such as the large lion statue placed in front of the pyramids at Giza; in fact, there are also sphinxes with ram or scythe heads.

Figure 1: the sphinx, as it appears today.
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Figure 1: the sphinx, as it appears today.

For example, we have the god Up Uaut (Anubis), the canine crouching on a crate in the tomb of Pashed at Deir el Medina, or the row of ram-headed sphinxes crouching on the sides of the driveway to the first pylon of the temple at Karnak.

In the collective imagination, the one in Giza is "The Sphinx"; it has its gaze facing exactly the point on the horizon where the sun rises during the equinoxes, that is, the geographical east.

The Sphinx of Giza, in addition to being the largest, is also the most famous and can well be said to represent the "Egyptian mysteries", while the pyramids behind it represent an astonishing technological capability, used with enormous organizational capacity and supported by determination beyond imagination.

"Who represents the face of the Sphinx?" is one of the recurring questions among those who approach Egyptology, attracted by its mysteries as well as by the great fascination that that ancient civilization has emanated throughout time. It is worth mentioning that the one in Giza is not the only sphinx with a human head on a lion's body; as proof of this we can recall, among others, the sphinx representing Pharaoh Queen Hatcepsut and the one dedicated to Amenemhat III.

It seems that that particular combination, between crouching animal body and human head, was reserved for deities and Pharaohs, by virtue of their divine destinies.

For official Egyptology, the Sphinx was made, along with its temple, by Egyptian "tentmakers" to complete the sacred area of the Second Pyramid, attributed to His Majesty Khafra (Chephren), fourth king of the Fourth Dynasty.

For Egyptologist Marc Lehner, who speaks for modern academic Egyptology, there is no doubt, the Sphinx's head represents His Majesty Khafra, and to prove it, he had a computer reconstruction of Khafra's face prepared to compare with that of the Sphinx, concluding that the two faces represent the same person.

A century earlier, in about 1860, Auguste Mariette, director of the Office of Egyptian Antiquities, while having excavation work done to clear the Temple in the Valley of the Second Pyramid from sand, found a splendid black diorite statue, which can now be seen in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, on the base of which is the cartouche of King Khafra, just as on the Sphinx Stele.

Gaston Masperò reporting the conviction of Auguste Mariette wrote:

"... the presence of the King's name on the Sphinx stele, only recalls a restoration work... the Sphinx was covered with sand at the time of King Khufu and his predecessors."

At the same time, near the Great Pyramid, in a small temple in which Isis is remembered as "the Lady of the Pyramid", the Inventory Stele was found. The stele says, among other things, that the Sphinx and a pyramid, were already ancient at the time of Khufu (Cheops).

Clearly, if the Inventory Stele is telling the truth, the face of the Sphinx cannot represent His Majesty Khafra.

For Robert Temple (2), the Sphinx does not represent a lion, the forms of its body resemble a canid and it could be the God Anubis, "the one who opens the way," "the keeper of secrets".

Those who, like R. Temple, questions the age of the Sphinx, points out the disproportion between the body and the head of the great lion statue, and since the Egyptians were well acquainted with the correct proportions between the body parts of men and animals, it becomes evident that that disproportion may be the consequence of a re-shape.

R. Temple argues that the Giza necropolis would have been dedicated to Isis, as stated on the Inventory stele, and Up-Uaut (Anubis), in his canine form, would be its worthy guardian.

J. Antony West, convinced that the Sphinx was much earlier than the era of King Khafra, involved a sketch expert, Loris Domingo (3), chief sketch artist of the N.Y. Police Department. For Domingo, the face of the Sphinx is different from the face of King Khafra's black statue, as he shows in his studies also published in J.A. West's book.

In the Figures we can see the comparison between the profiles of the head of the statue of Khafra and that of the head of the Sphinx (Figure 2).

Figure 2: profiles of the head of the statue of Khafra (left) and that of the head of the Sphinx (ri
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Figure 2: profiles of the head of the statue of Khafra (left) and that of the head of the Sphinx (right)

On the profiles of the two heads, shown schematically (Figure 3), a vertical line tangent to the chin has been shown, then a horizontal line (a - b) passing through the point of contact between vertical line and chin.

Drawing straight lines from point "a" to the forehead (line 2) and from point "a" to the "tail of the eye" (line 3), we see that in the profile of the statue of Khafra (Fig. 3), angles of 3° and 15° are formed with respect to the vertical line, while in the profile of the face of the Sphinx, the same angles are 14° and 17°, respectively.

Figure 3: Profile of the two heads.
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Figure 3: Profile of the two heads.

In essence, the first profile is that of an Indo-European, the second is that of a man of the Negroid type, characterized by strong prognathism.

Thus, either in spite of everything one accepts the official version, or one accredits the idea that, millennia after its construction, the great statue was so eroded that it required restorations to the body and the reshaping of the head, with the downsizing that characterizes it to this day.

The Sphinx's head was complemented by the symbols of royalty such as the uraeus, the upright cobra head, the ritual postern beard and the nemes, while on the flat top of the head, there is a hole that probably served to anchor a crown.

To give a credible answer to the question "What does the Sphinx represent?", it can be said that that head represents a "symbolic" face, the face of every King son of Ra Atum, who, just as every King was a Horus predestined to rule in life, while every deceased King was an Osiris, destined to become a star in the heavenly Duat, a God worthy of being represented in a sphinx.

In support of the symbolism applied to Egyptian statuary, two significant cases can be cited, King Pepi II who remained on the throne until he was over one hundred years old and King Ramses II who remained on the throne until he was ninety years old. In both cases, all the statues depicting them represent vigorous men of about 30 years of age.

So in both cases these are not statues in which the likeness of the king has been reproduced, but symbolic representations of His Majesty.

This reasoned hypothesis represents a possible truth, more likely than those passed off as certainties by modern orthodox Egyptology.

To conclude, it is worth mentioning that one of the names of the Sphinx was "HR-M-HT," (Horus of the horizon) (4), while in no Egyptian writings it is given the name of His Majesty Khafra.


  1. Sergio Donadoni - Egyptian religious texts
  2. R.Temple - The Mystery of Sirius
  3. J.A: West - The Celestial Serpent
  4. Franco Cimmino - The story of the pyramids

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