Photo by David Finn from Egyptian Sculpture: Cairo and Luxor, by Edna Russman, copyright 1989. By permission of the University of Texas Press.

This detail of a limestone sphinx depicts Egypt’s female pharaoh Hatshepsut (c. 1473–1458 B.C.). Housed in the Cairo Museum, the statue highlights one of the mysteries of Hatshepsut’s reign: the ambivalence regarding her sex. At the bottom of the statue, beneath Hatshepsut’s long, kingly beard, is an inscription: “Maatkare [another name for Hatshepsut], beloved of Amun, may he be given life forever.” Indeed, most of Hatshepsut’s depictions present her in male guise. However, a nearly identical sphinx from the Metropolitan Museum declares: “Maatkare, beloved of Amun, may she be given life forever.” According to Gay Robins (“The Enigma of Hatshepsut”), Hatshepsut’s gender discrepancies were a matter of political necessity.