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The Sphinx

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Published on Dec 17, 2010

Sphinx of Ramesses II in front of the Main Entrance of the Penn Museum, covered with snow. The Sphinx was moved into the building in 1916, and the Lower Egyptian Gallery was built around the sphinx in 1926.

The following is and excerpt from the Penn Museum's Highlights of the Galleries Audio Tour.

In front of King Merenptah's palace is a 13-ton red granite sphinx, the largest in the United States and believed to be the third largest in the world. It weighs about the same as 8 average-sized cars!

This Sphinx, like the palace elements around it, comes from the site of Memphis. Unlike the palace, the sphinx was excavated by the Egyptian Exploration Fund, under the direction of the famous archaeologist, Sir William M. Flinders Petrie.

The sphinx, a lion with a human head, represents the Egyptian king as protector of his people and conqueror of the enemies of Egypt and it also has associations with the sun god. Unlike the sphinx in Greek mythology, who was female and had negative qualities, the sphinx in Egypt was usually male and had a protective connotations. This Sphinx was originally located near the temple of Ptah at Memphis.

Our sphinx is carved of red granite from a quarry at Aswan near Egypt's southern border. In an incredible feat of ancient engineering and transport, this single massive block of stone was shipped along the Nile from Aswan to the Ptah Temple at Memphis, 600 miles north.

For much of its post-pharaonic history, this statue was buried up to its shoulders at the site of Memphis; only its head was exposed to windblown sand, eroding its nemes or headdress, as well as the facial features and the royal false beard. The inscriptions on the chest and around the base give the names of Ramses II, who ruled in the thirteenth century BCE. Ancient Egyptian kings usually had a total of five different names. The last two names, referred to as the nomen and praenomen, were placed inside cartouches, magical rings which served to protected the name of the king. Ramses II's son and successor, Merenptah, added his own cartouches to the shoulders of the sphinx after his father's death.

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