A new study from Cornell University concluded that liberals and conservatives don’t read the same books, even when it comes to the very few subjects they have in common. The study did not, apparently, look at people who did not identify with an ideological extreme. As the Guardian reports, liberals tend to read books about science to learn about science, while conservatives read books that use science to support conservative ideology.
“You could say that liberals were a bit more interested in science for its own sake. Conservatives seem somewhat more interested in science where there is a conservative political alignment,” lead author Michael Macy told the Guardian.
I can’t say I’m entirely surprised. Books, like every other medium, are now aggressively marketed to increasingly narrow niche audiences, so it is no surprise that the audience for the books is consequently niche. The authors assume that readers select books based on ideology, but they don’t seem to have considered the role publishers play in encouraging this behavior by reinforcing ideology through commissioning ideologically driven titles and marketing them to narrow population segments.
Anyway, today I’d like to talk a bit about the Sphinx and the constellation Leo.
Yesterday, I mentioned that George Sandys originated the claim that the Sphinx represented the constellation Leo, a claim that Graham Hancock and Robert Bauval made famous by suggesting that the statue wasn’t just carved in honor of the constellation but to mark the period when it housed the sun on the spring equinox, around 10,500 BCE. When the seventeenth century traveler made the claim, he had a very different reason for doing so, and one that is quite strange but more than a little charming. The following comes from book 2 of his Journey, an account of his 1610 expedition to the Middle East. He first describes the pyramids, dismissing claims that they were granaries built by Jewish slaves, and he correctly identifies them as the tombs of the pharaohs. He continues:
Not farre off from these the Colossus doth stand, unto the mouth consisting of the naturall rocke, as if for such a purpose advanced by Nature, the rest of huge flat stones laid thereon, wrought altogether into the forme of an Æthiopian woman, and adored heretofore by the Countrey people as a rurall Diety. Under this, they say, lieth buried the body of Amasis. Of shape, lesse monstrous then is Plinies report: who affirmeth, the head to be an hundred and two feet in compasse, when the whole is but sixtie foot high, the face is something disfigured by Time, or indignation of the Moores, detesting Images. The fore-said Author (together with others) doe call it a Sphynx. The upper part of a Sphynx resembled a Maide, and the lower a Lion; whereby the Egyptians defigured the increase of the River, (and consequently of their riches) then rising when the Sunne is in Leo and Virgo. This but from the shoulders upward surmounteth the ground, though Pliny give it a belly, which I know not how to reconcile unto the truth, unlesse the sand doe cover the remainder. By a Sphynx the Egyptians in their Hieroglyphickes presented an Harlot, having an amiable and alluring face; but withall the tyrannie, and rapacitie of a Lion: exercised over the poore heart-broken, and voluntarily perishing Lover.
Sandys was right that the Sphinx was treated as a deity by some groups, particularly the old Sabaeans, but also that the countryfolk considered the statue the Father of Terror and possessed of the power to control the sand and desert. Sandys also correctly notes that Sphinx’s facial disfigurement came at the hands of Arabs, who smashed the nose in an attempt to combat idol-worship, at least according to the story that Al-Maqrizi told two centuries earlier (Al-Khitat 1.41).
The claim that the Sphinx was the tomb of Amasis II, the last great pharaoh before the Hyksos, is a claim that traces back to Pliny (36.17), though it is unusual to have it presented here as a living tradition after Amasis’s name had fallen from common memory. I wonder if this isn’t a conflation by Sandys of Pliny’s claim with the story, then current in Egypt, that the Sphinx was the tomb of Atrib, the personification of the city of Athribis, an important Ptolemaic, Roman, and Byzantine center in Egypt (Al-Maqrizi 1.41). Maspero suggested that Atrib usurped a designation originally belonging to Thoth, the Greek Hermes, who was, in some Arab traditions, the builder of the Giza necropolis. I’m not sure that anyone has ever confirmed whether this was true since very little work has been done on medieval Arab pseudo-history.
The claim that the Sphinx was associated with the constellations of Leo and Virgo is a strange one, but it seems to be amplified from a tradition recorded by the late Roman poet Ausonius, whose poems were weirdly influential in the medieval period. He had said that a sphinx was a mixture of three animals: “…volucris, Leo, virgo, triformis Sphinx…” (“…bird, Lion, maiden, the three-form Sphinx…”) (Riddle of the Number Three, 40-41). While he was describing the mythic Sphinx of Greco-Roman lore, European travelers saw the Egyptian statue as female and brought with them the associations of the Latin words Leo and Virgo. (The statue lacks wings and therefore was not associated with birds.) From such claims, the constellation association emerged several times before Hancock and Bauval got hold of it. Consider, for example, 1911’s The New Avatar and the Destiny of the Soul by mystical Theosophist and Freemason Jirah Dewey Buck, which gives Hancock’s claims in precis almost a century early. Here he claims to be quoting a certain John Kilduff, whom Buck identified as an astrologer:
This Sphinx apparently represents the constellations Leo (the Lion) and Virgo (the Virgin). It has a lion's body, and a woman's head and breast. When the Sphinx was built, it seems the spring equinox occupied a point between these two constellations, and as the spring, or Easter, festivals of the ancients were held on or about March 21st of our calendar, this Sphinx was the representation of Leo and Virgo, the point in which the Sun crossed the equator, or equinoctial line.
That’s Graham Hancock’s whole argument! There is truly nothing new under the sun. Hancock only simplified the argument by dispensing with the need to pretend that the Sphinx’s head represents a separate constellation, thus letting him float the date deeper into the “Age of Leo” and 10,500 BCE.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter, The Skeptical Xenoarchaeologist, for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.