A message etched into an ancient sphinx has proven to be, well, sphinx-like. The “mysterious” inscription has long been an enigma, puzzling scholars for over a century.
Deciphering the Ancient Inscription
But now, it’s finally been deciphered, revealing a brief, but “unusual” poem, according to a study published Dec. 30 in the journal Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry.
A Bronze Sphinx from Dacia
Dating to the third century, the bronze sphinx statue originated from Dacia, a Roman province that largely corresponds to modern-day Romania.
Unveiling the Enigmatic Poem
Taking the form of a winged lion, “the sphinx was perceived by the original creators and users of the artifact as a representation of a mythical deity that they honored and worshiped,” Peter Revesz, the study author and professor at the University of Nebraska, told McClatchy News.
Theft and Rediscovery
After being discovered in the 19th century, the statue was stolen from a European count sometime around 1848, Revesz said.
A Unique Poetic Revelation
The Mirrored Inscription
For decades, scholars examined the drawing, attempting to decode the inscription. However, they were unsuccessful, perhaps because — in an “unusual” break from ancient norms — it reads from right to left.
The Decoded Poem
A Proto-Hungarian Poem
“The characters may seem mysterious at first,” Revesz said, but “once the mirroring is noticed, the characters become easily recognizable as Greek alphabet letters, a few of them being in a more archaic form.”
Command to Venerate
Translated into English, it reads: “Lo, behold, worship: here is the holy lion,” which can be perceived as a command to venerate the sphinx.
Unique Insights into Roman Religion
The Sphinx Cult
The decoded poem is noteworthy because “the sphinx cult was not part of the mainstream ancient Roman mythology which features the Roman gods and goddesses that many people today are familiar with,” Revesz said.
“By using these poetic features, the scribe chose a specific text that was also carefully and artfully constructed,” Revesz said.