Saturday, August 07, 2010

The missing nose of the Sphinx

Heritage Key (Prad Patel)

See below for an exerpt from Prad Patel's article (full story on the above link) but I just thought I would mention that in her paper "Ancient Egypt in America" (In Meskell's "Archaeology Under Fire" 1998) Ann Macy Roth says that there is clear textual evidence that the nose of the Sphinx was damaged in 1378 AD "by a religious Muslim who feared that it was the object of improper worship." She cites Haarmann 1980 "(Regional Sentiment in Medieval Islamic Egypt" - Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 43, p.55-66). Photo courtesy of Jon Bodsworth.

The Great Sphinx of Giza is one of the world's largest and oldest monuments, and isn't without its mystery. Theories fly around regularly about whether there are secret tunnels or hidden halls under the Sphinx, which Dr Zahi Hawass, currently starring in the 'Chasing Mummies' series, insists is not the case in this Heritage Key video (Watch the Video). But my question is much more simple - Whatever happened to the nose of the Great Sphinx?

In a previous Heritage Key article, "Riddle of the Sphinx", Robert Cook wrote about the legend that Napoleon's troops used the Sphinx's nose as target practice during the French invasion of Egypt in 1798. But did they really have such a disregard for thousands of years of history that they purposefully destroyed the nose of the Great Sphinx?

It's a bit of a confusing mystery, mainly because of the poetic license employed by some of those who knew how to draw back in the 18th century. It wasn't so much a case of there being a nose or not, but that the artists felt the Sphinx would be much more attractive and exotic to those viewing the works back in Europe if the monument didn't have a ruined nose. After all, there's not a demand for cats with missing noses in Battersea animal shelter.


AK said...

It is actually generally accepted by all scholars
that the tale that Napoleon's soldiers were
to blame is a myth. There is really no doubt
Read any book on the Sphinx
(e.g., Dr. Selim Hassan, The
Sphinx: Its History in Light of Recent Excavations
Cairo, 1949); Paul Jordan, Riddles of the Sphinx (NY, 1998), etc.).
The certainty is provided by medieval sources.
The Arabic writer Al-Baghdadi (ca 1232) suggests that the nose was still there, but the Arabic writer al-Maqrizi (ca 1440) already reports the lost nose; he states that a Sufi zealot had disfigured the Sphinx for religious reasons (cp. Andie's note).
Also European visitors like Pierre Belon (ca 1546) report on the defacement as already having occured.
The myth is notably pushed by Afrocentrics who try to claim that the French acted out of racism (i.e., wanted to disguise that the Sphinx would have had a broad negroid nose...). Sad.

Gordon Napier said...

Or according to an article of faith among paranoid Afrocentrists, the nose of this and other Egyptian statues was knocked off (in this case allegedly by Napoleon) because it revealed the negroid appearence of the Ancients...

Andie said...

It was in the context of discussing Afrocentric attitudes that Roth made the comment, and provided the evidence for the fact that the removal of the Sphinx's nose had nothing to do with the negroid appearance but had a lot to do with its more generally human appearance.

Mark said...

I was listening to Bob Brier's lecture on this recently and he said there were a number of drawings before Napoleon's invasion which showed the nose missing. He also pointed out that Napoleon had a reverent attitude towards antiquities, which is why he brought so many scholars to document and study what they found in Egypt. Brier belives the nose eroded over time.

Thanks much for the wonderful blog!

Kate Orman said...

Darn those Nose Worshippers!