Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Great Sphinx of Phildelphia

Fig. 1 - front view of the UPENN sphinx
     One of the highlights of a trip to the Penn Museum in Philadelphia is a visit to the underground level of the Egyptian collection. Here they have columns from a palace go Merneptah as well as a sphinx from the reign of Rameses II (to which Merneptah added his name). All of these objects were originally found at the site of the temple of Ptah at Memphis, Egypt's ancient capital which was slightly south of modern day Cairo.

     Josef and Jennifer Wegner recently detailed the story of this huge statue in their book The Sphinx that Travelled to Philadelphia: the Story of the Colossal Sphinx in the Penn Museum. The sphinx, which weighs about 15 tons, arrived in Philadelphia in 1913 and has been a popular city treasure ever since. One of the stories told in this book is how the dock workers refused to unload the sphinx from the ship that brought it to the United States until the 1913 World Series (which was being played in Philadelphia that year) was over.

The face is heavily weathered (Fig. 1), although the body of the Sphinx is well preserved (Fig. 2). The statue is, as all Egyptian sphinxes are, a lion with the head of a human. The head of the statue wears a "nemes" head dress and is adorned with the false beard of the king.

     Today the sphinx is displayed in a very atmospheric setting. The room is dimly lit with spotlights used to highlight the sphinx and palace columns.

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