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Differences between Greek and Egyptian sphinxes

If you have traveled a lot or like to visit museums related to the ancient world, many sphinxes have probably passed through your eyes. But did you know that they are not all the same? In this post we will tell you the differences between a Greek sphinx and an Egyptian sphinxso that you can distinguish them from now on and understand them better during your trip.

Avenue of the Sphinxes of Luxor
Avenue of the Sphinxes of Luxor

These are the Greek and Egyptian sphinxes

The Greek and Egyptian sphinxes have one thing in common: they are creatures that combine animal and human traits. However, they are not exactly the same, and their meaning was not the same either.

The Egyptian sphinx has a more ancient origin, as this civilization was earlier. Its body is that of a lion, often lying down, and its head was usually that of a pharaoh, with its corresponding nemes or funeral headdress. Their presence was something positive and desired, as it was believed that they came to life at night and protected the place where they were located.

The Greek sphinx, on the other hand, is composed of a lion’s body (usually more slender, to the point that some authors speak of a ‘dog’s body’), with wings and a woman’s bust. In addition, it is also possible to see them with dragon tails. Its usual position is not exactly lying down, but more upright. In the beginning, its nature was not benign, far from it, for it portended bad luck and death.

So it was, at least, until one of these sphinxes was sent to raze the fields of Thebes. The only thing that could curb his voracity was the solution of a riddle: “Which creature walks on all fours in the morning, on two legs at noon and on three legs in the afternoon?”. Fortunately, there was someone capable of solving it: that was Oedipus, who answered “the man”. After that, the sphinx committed suicide and Oedipus became king of Thebes.

The sphinx of Pompey's Column in Alexandria, probably from the 4th century AD and from the Serapeum.
The sphinx of Pompey’s Column in Alexandria, probably from the 4th century AD and from the Serapeum.

The sphinxes in Egypt

Now that you know what the difference is between the Greek and Egyptian sphinxesYou will have no trouble recognizing them on your trip to Egypt… although it is actually very easy: practically all the ones you will see in public spaces are Egyptian in character, even though the country was also under Greek rule and influence for a long period during the Ptolemaic era.

You will find them practically everywhere, although there are undoubtedly some that will impress you more than others. In particular:

  • The Great Sphinx of Giza, located in the great complex of the Pyramids of Giza. They believe that it could represent the pharaoh Kephren.
  • The Avenue of the Sphinxes of Luxor, recently restored, connecting the two sacred precincts of Ancient Thebes (not to be confused with the Greek city): the Temple of Luxor and the Temples of Karnak.
  • The sphinx of Pompey’s Column in Alexandria, probably from the 4th century AD and from the Serapeum.

Which of the two types do you like more: the Greek or the Egyptian Greek or Egyptian sphinx? If you book your trip with us, we can take you to see any monument where these mythological figures have a very important presence. And you will visit them with expert guides who will allow you to better understand every detail.

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