Heading out towards the Valley of the Kings in Egypt are two imposing statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III that reach about 18m (60ft) high. These statues have sat on the Theban necropolis for nearly 3,500 years, the mortuary temple they once guarded long since crumbled and destroyed by the flooding Nile. So how did two statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III begin to be commonly known as the Colossi of Memnon, named for the Ethiopian King and Trojan war hero from Greek Mythology who was slain by Achilles?
In about 27 BCE an earthquake shook the region of Thebes causing the northern Colossi to crack and partially collapse. After its collapse, a strange phenomenon occurred, and the Colossi began to “sing” at dawn. As the stories of the singing statue grew it gathered fame as an oracle and bestower of fortune and many visited in the hope of hearing it.
Here are two colossi, which are near one another and are each made of a single stone; one of them is preserved, but the upper parts of the other, from the seat up, fell when an earthquake took place, so it is said. It is believed that once each day a noise, as of a slight blow, emanates from the part of the latter that remains on the throne and its base; and I too, when I was present at the places with Aelius Gallus and his crowd of associates, both friends and soldiers, heard the noise at about the first hour – The Geography of Strabo
It is important to remember that at the time of the earthquake, Egypt had already been through around 300 years of Greek occupation, so the mythology and stories of the Greeks had permeated into Egyptian life and culture. When the statue suddenly began to sing at dawn, many assumed it was because a ghost or spirit had taken up residence. Its connection with King Memnon occurred from his parentage, his mother being Eos, goddess of the dawn, and mother of the wind. The singing of the statue at dawn (often described as a blowing sound) was said to signify Memnon greeting his mother each morning as she rose to start the day.
While the Colossi still stand, they have become silent once more. Legend has it that around 199 the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus traveled to the Colossi, and it failed to sing for him. Afterwards, in an attempt to win favor, he sent a team to restore the statue, and after it’s partial restoration it never sang again.