Featured The Riddle of the Sphinx

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by David Atherton, Feb 19, 2021.

  1. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    See the link I posted above to ancientcoinage.org for some of the history of the unburying of the Sohinx. The first time it happened was apparently in 1400 BCE. From the Pliny passage I quoted, it certainly seems that the Sphinx was completely visible in the 1st Century AD.
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  3. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    You know, I have read various books and several articles that place the making of the Sphinx ca. 3,500 BCE, and some postulating that it was made in 35,000 BCE (MUCH to the chagrin of @David Atherton ) LOL :)

    I think he was the last of the dinosaurs, and was BORN around 350,000 BCE in the Mediterranean Basin before it filled up with water (well, there were 5 lakes in there before it filled.) The sphinx wandered up to the Giza Plateau, fell asleep, and eventually petrified into the stone monolith we see today. The Comic Book cover shows him getting ready to sleep.

    Well, there you have it folks. I got that story placed on the internet, so it MUST be true! And, there were NO aliens involved! Right, @David Atherton ? :D

    Middle Kingdom 2065-1650 BCE
    ex Gustave Mustaki collection
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    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    @Alegandron, I'm needing All of that --enough to want to regoogle your (um, presumably Classical vs. Koine ...in the immediate context, who needs any of this?) Greek motto.
    On your example, the convergence of the motifs with the general chronological /dynastic range is just That Good.
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  5. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter


    When Alexander III, The Great, whom died in Babylon, June 323BCE, was asked on his deathbed to whom his Empire should go... “To the strongest.”
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  6. David Atherton

    David Atherton Flavian Fanatic Supporter

    Oh, don't get me started! Lol
  7. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Well there we have it folks! My Sphinx Theory fake news has now moved to FACT, as endorsed by David.

    We will be publishing in the near future! We plan to write a Best Seller, and will be selling the Movie Rights.

    Time to retire Godzilla and King Kong... The Real Sphinx is HERE!


    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Many thanks for that. It took me too much of the evening to even figure our that Google Translate included 'Greek.' ...And then it didn't really work. Googie (sic) for you. --Well, me anyway.
    ...In other words (...to paraphrase the various, necessary layers of transliteration and translation), he was saying, 'To the victor goes the remaining, smoking tatters of the spoils.'
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    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Too bad some appropriately '70's pop/heavy metal band never did a song about The Sphinx. ...Just starting with the soundtrack for the trailer.
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  10. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    It's not a full song, but this obscure Birmingham folk quartet opens one of their albums with an atmospheric instrumental entitled Sphinx.

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  11. J. J.

    J. J. New Member

    In fact, the Giza Sphinx had a beard – it is excavated and on display in the museum. And also, some sphinx coins show a beard, some don’t.

    What do you want me to say? That the Giza Sphinx isn’t the greatest and best known sphinx ever sculptured? Of course, it is! But why did you assume, with absolutely no hesitation, that the coin depicts any monolith?

    Sphinx was such a popular creature in Egyptian mythology that it appeared everywhere: in sculptures, images, hieroglyphs and... coins! Do you think that every time the ancient Egyptians saw the image of a sphinx, they were like: ”Oh, such a nice Giza Sphinx!” It’s like you saw a picture of Jesus and said: ”Look, this guy looks like the statue in Rio de Janeiro!” And when the Egyptians were reading, did they see a letter (sphinx-shaped hieroglyph) or the Giza Sphinx?

    If, according to your opinion, the Romans minted sphinx coins to commemorate the Egyptian building skills, why didn’t they mint coins depicting the Pyramids – considered one of the 7 wonders of the world (Strabo, Geographica)?

    In my opinion, the sphinx coin doesn’t necessarily have to represent the monument – but the symbol itself. The Romans did what they were doing everywhere else – expanding the Roman culture by mixing local symbols and deities with symbols of the Roman authority.

    Does a new member have to deserve a permission to ask kind and relevant questions? If yes, feel free to execute me on that hill because I wouldn't like to be a part of such club. I own the sphinx coin myself. And it is not less valuable for me when I detach that catchy architectural story from it. I would say - the coin is even more interesting if we can argue about its history.
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2021
  12. J. J.

    J. J. New Member

    I would have been an illiterate slave in ancient Egypt ;-) There’s no such thing as ”sphinx-shaped hieroglyph”. The letter I meant is the image of a reclining lion. I am sorry for my mistake. On the other hand, it shows how deceptive our perception can be, and puckishly summarises what our discussion is about: the different points of view ;-)
  13. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    I think what we have here is a failure to communicate, to paraphrase Strother Martin. Of course a new member doesn't need permission to make their first post a "kind and relevant" question. The problem is that whatever your intentions, in my opinion it came across as far from "kind" for you to immediately follow your initial congratulatory sentence to @David Atherton by asking him "why are you so sure that it depicts the Great Sphinx of Giza?" In other words, challenging him and putting the burden of proof on him, and then repeatedly interrogating him on why he didn't accompany his description with caveats. Not the kindest or gentlest way to raise the subject, whether or not someone is a newcomer! But especially when people don't know you, putting someone on the defensive like that comes across as unjustifiably belligerent.

    By the way, in response to your most recent question, I didn't assume anything. I'm merely acting as pro bono counsel here!

    I didn't know that the Sphinx's beard has been separately excavated. Can you cite anything to show that it was still attached to the monument's head in Roman times? If it was, then I guess that rules out the two Alexandrian sphinxes! (Which, by the way, sit on high pedestals, not on the ground/base line.)

    I suspect that it may be pointless to continue this discussion about what's the most reasonable way to interpret the representation on the coin (in terms of contemporaneous intentions and reactions), because I don't think either of us is about to change their mind. But I would suggest that in the future, perhaps you might try to avoid analogies like the ones you've made to support your arguments. Because the new one isn't any more persuasive than the other one. The general fame of Jesus (and the ubiquity of visual representations of Jesus) long pre-existed the statue in Rio de Janeiro. On the other hand, the Great Sphinx (even if one accepts that it's an Old Kingdom monument contemporary with the Pyramids of Giza, and isn't really 10,000 or 35,000 or 35 million years old!) was the ur-Sphinx, and its fame (along with its existence) long preceded its representations in amulets, scarabs, hieroglyphs, and smaller sculptures.

    See the 1994 book by Carol Andrews (a British Museum curator), entitled "Amulets of Ancient Egypt," stating at p. 78 that "Perhaps the most famous monument to have survived from ancient Egypt is the great sphinx which crouches beside the Valley Temple of the second pyramid at Giza. . . . The earliest firmly dated recumbent sphinx amulet comes from a First Intermediate Period burial at Mostagedda. . . formed from a sheet-gold cylinder with a flattened extension at the front representing the forepaws. The solid-cast head with roughly incised features and wearing a short wig has been soldered on." At pp. 78-79, there's a continued discussion of a variety of Sphinx amulet types. As time went on, different types like the female sphinx, the "Nubian"-style sphinx worn by young women in connection with birth (with a cat body instead of a lion), the sphinx with a jackal's head (hieracosphinx) or ram's head (criosphinx), etc. -- not to mention the Greek-style sphinx introduced later on -- became more common.

    The point is that the Great Sphinx preceded all of them, and it simply isn't logical to think that in the mind of the Romans and Greeks who controlled the Alexandrian mint, a crouching man-headed sphinx would have been intended to represent any specific sphinx other than the ur-Sphinx -- whose fame had obviously reached Rome; viz. Pliny the Elder. (Although it seems that you've now changed tacks a bit, and are arguing instead that the representation could have been of the idea or symbol of the sphinx rather than any specific statue.) Of course anything is possible, but caveats aren't always necessary in presenting the most obvious and reasonable interpretation. That's what @David Atherton presented. You, on the other hand, haven't even been willing to concede that an intention to represent the Great Sphinx is more likely than not. Instead, you wanted him to say only that "perhaps" that was the intention. Injecting a degree of doubt that seems wholly unjustifiable.

    The burden was yours to show why another interpretation does make equal or greater sense, and I don't think you've met it. It simply isn't true that this type of Sphinx "appeared everywhere: in sculptures, images, hieroglyphs and... coins!" (emphasis supplied): as I've pointed out, it very much didn't appear everywhere on coins. See the http://ancientcoinage.org/the-great-sphinx.html link I posted above, showing "crouching man-headed Sphinx" coin-types issued by only three other emperors besides Domitian: Trajan, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius. Emmett also lists a crouching sphinx issued in the name of Faustina II, but I haven't seen a photo of it. To me, the fact that such numismatic representations were so rare and special in Roman Egypt makes it more, not less, likely that they were intended to portray the Great Sphinx -- famous in the Roman world -- and not some lesser, imitative sphinx statue or symbol.

    It's hard to imagine what else I could say on the subject, so I'm not likely to post about it again. Although I must admit that I have a weakness for always wanting the last word. I practiced law for almost 40 years and it's ingrained in me.
  14. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    '...Obscure Birmingham folk quartet....' Very good. :<}
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  15. J. J.

    J. J. New Member

    I never said that I claim that the coin depicts the statue. I said that David Atherton’s description of the Giza Sphinx matches the Alexandrian Sphinx. So, if your opinion is based on the physical features of the sculpture, and we have at least 2 which look the same, which one do we choose?

    I said clearly what my opinion was: it might be just a symbol depicted on the coin, it might be the actual monument. But it’s not me who claims the definitive version (with no doubts) and providing no ultimate evidence. So yes, the burden of proof is not on my shoulders.

    The way you described chronology of the Sphinx, makes it look like there was the Giza Sphinx erected, and every subsequent image of a sphinx was just a copy of that sculpture. No, sphinxes were images of the creature called sphinx, not the mini versions of the sculpture called the Giza Sphinx. Do you think that the Giza Sphinx created the myth about sphinx or is it the myth that inspired the pharaoh to erect the monument?

    I could look for that info, but it wouldn't be a game-changer in our discussion because the sphinx coins show a beard sometimes, regardless (although most of the coins show the sphinx beardless). Anyways, I don't consider minor engraver's alterations as a strong evidence. If we wanted to prove anything taking that fact into consideration, then you would be ruling out the two Alexandrian sphinxes, and I would be saying that it is impossible that the same statute was depicted in two different versions - before and after shave ;-)

    It was actually not so special at all for the Roman standards (90 years time-span). The sphinx also appears in Lucius Verus' coinage, and on Alexandrian coins of Hadrian (the latter is the winged version of a sphinx, completely ignoring the greatness of our esteemed Great Sphinx). And also, what rarity has to do with the likelihood? For every rare issue depicting monuments, I can show you common and popular issue.
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2021
  16. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus Supporter

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  17. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Can you provide any authorities supporting your position that representations of the "sphinx" as symbolizing royal power (pharaoh's head, crouching lion's body) preceded the construction of the Great Sphinx in the Old Kingdom? I'd be curious.

    Which one do we choose between two statues of crouching sphinxes, one 50 times as big as the other and possessing at least that multiple of fame, especially among the Greek and Roman administrators of Egypt? Do I really have to say it? Of course it's your burden to provide a rationale for why any Greek or Roman at the Alexandria mint would have decided to depict that type of sphinx, but, apparently, was no more likely to have intended to portray the Great Sphinx than any other.

    You've said nothing to refute the rarity of Roman Alexandrian coinage of this type. I correctly stated that there are only a handful of examples of Alexandrian coin-types with crouching man-headed Sphinxes resembling the Great Sphinx. On the other hand, as I indicated, there are quite a few Roman Alexandrian -- and Roman, and Greek -- coins depicting winged sphinxes, usually with female heads. In other words, Greek-style sphinxes. Nobody claims that those are intended to portray the Great Sphinx. But thanks for the addition of Hadrian and Lucius Verus to the short list of issuers of coins with crouching man-headed sphinxes. RPC lists 50 Hadrian Alexandrian types depicting a sphinx; only four of them are of that type. And there appears to be one Lucius Verus coin of that type, namely RPC IV 14605 (temporary). So my point still holds. If there were 100 coin-types portraying this particular kind of sphinx, perhaps some of them may not have been intended to depict the Great Sphinx. Less than 10? I don't think so.

    Is it still your position that your original post to @David Atherton was "kind," rather than belligerent?

    I've said enough. We're not going to agree. As @David Atherton said, we rarely deal with certainties of identification in ancient coinage absent a legend specifically identifying a portrayal. I think he was justified in considering his identification of the image on this coin to be more certain than most.
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  18. David Atherton

    David Atherton Flavian Fanatic Supporter

    Additionally, the monumental nature of the contemporaneous Alexandrian coinage is also strong evidence that what we are looking at on the op coin is the Great Sphinx and not some minor sphinx from Alexandria.

    Or are we going to argue over whether it's the Pharos of Alexandria depicted on the coins or some minor lighthouse further down the coast?
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  19. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    ...Wish I was up to the epistemological challenge of defending the validity, under these sorts of conditions, of 'compelling circumstantial evidence.' Except that no form of historically-based research has ever gotten very far without it.
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  20. Ryan McVay

    Ryan McVay Supporter! Supporter

    Here's a short video on sphinx from The Met.
  21. J. J.

    J. J. New Member

    Why do you completely ignore the symbolic aspect of the image stamped on the coin? Of course, you can prefer literality, but then I wonder which monument you would attribute to this: https://rpc.ashmus.ox.ac.uk/coins/3/4395

    It's obvious that it is the Pharos. You know that, I know that, and they know that (they call it specifically the Pharos, not a lighthouse): https://rpc.ashmus.ox.ac.uk/coins/3/5673

    But it seems that they are not so sure in terms of the coins depicting a sphinx: https://rpc.ashmus.ox.ac.uk/coins/2/2645 You wouldn't find the Great Sphinx in the RPC volumes.
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2021
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