I was in Birmingham last weekend. Here I am posing with one of the two Guardian Sphinxes of the City. I have been acquainted with a number of Sphinxes in my time – the others being the bronze Sphinxes either side of Cleopatra’s Needle on Thames Embankment in Middlesex – London’s Capital County and the original Great Sphinx in Giza, Egypt.
So what exactly is a Sphinx? According to ancient Greek legend, this creature has the head of a human, the haunches of a lion and sometimes the wings of a bird. It is said to be treacherous and merciless. Those who cannot answer the riddle of the Sphinx are killed and eaten by this terrifying creature. In Greek mythology, it was prophesized by The Oracle that Oedipus – who was born to King Laius and Queen Jocasta would end up killing his father and marrying his mother. The prophecy resulted in his parents abandoning him on a mountain. Oedipus was raised by King Polybus and Queen Merope. When Oedipus learned of the prophecy believed he was fated to murder Polybus and marry Merope, so left for Thebes. On arriving in Thebes, Oedipus found the city at the mercy of an evil Sphinx. Oedipus was able to answer the Sphinx’s riddle correctly, defeating it and ascending to the throne of the dead King and marrying the King’s widow who unbeknown to him was his mother Jocasta.
The 2 Birmingham Guardian Sphinxes are a fairly recent addition to the City Centre dating from 1993 and can be found outside the Town Hall and Council Offices in Victoria Square. The sculptures – made from the same Darley Dale stone as the Council House – are 3 m (10 ft) high, 2.5 m (8 ft) wide and 5 m (16 ft) long. The sculptures are not identical and take features from a variety of animals. They have been ridiculed by some for having faces like characters in the children’s television series Thomas and Friends.
The two bronze Sphinxes at the base of Cleopatra’s Needle on Thames Embankment, Middlesex -London’s Capital County are Victorian and were designed by the Architect George John Vulliamy. On the second image below you can still indentations at the base of the Sphinxes caused by a bomb dropped on London during a German air raid at mid-night on 4th September 1917.
The Great Sphinx in Egypt is one of the world’s largest and oldest statues that is believed to have been carved from limestone in approximately 2500BC for the pharaoh Khafra, the builder of the Second Pyramid at Giza. Cut from the bedrock, the original shape of the Sphinx has been restored with layers of blocks. It measures 238 feet (73 m) long from paw to tail, 66.3 ft (20.21 m) high from the base to the top of the head and 62.6 feet (19 m) wide at its rear haunches. The statue faces from West to East. The face of the Sphinx is believed to be that of the pharaoh Khafra. In ancient Egypt the Sphinx had a more charitable reputation that of the Greek Sphinx but was thought of as having a temper – being known by local Bedouin tribes as ‘father of terror’. It addition to the loss of it’s nose, the Egyptian Sphinx was thought by some to have originally have had a ceremonial beard and have been covered in a vivid paint.
I wonder how many more Sphinxes I can find on my future travels. I would be interested to know if anyone knows of any others in the UK, Middlesex or worldwide.