THERE HE SQUATS in the Nilotic sand, his face ravaged by the acne of time, his nose broken in an old religious dispute, his once solid but graceful body rent by cuts and fissures, his beard fallen, a chunk out of his left hind leg -- altogether a bedraggled remnant of his once lovely youthful self. We know how he feels. If only he could talk it out. And now we learn that the sphinx, survivor of all the afflictions that age will bring -- 4,500 years in his case -- has come down with a terminal scourge that his archeologist-doctors in their wisdom call cancer. All that -- and he doesn't even smoke. There ought to be a law; perhaps a constitutional amendment.

A reliable sun block might have helped, and doubtless the good doctors now tending him will draw that lesson for us. Perhaps a parasol or at least a sun bonnet, both now regrettably out of fashion. A little Chapstick on the lips and a good body oil could have prevented this accursed dryness. All too late, too late. The sphinx has been consigned to intensive care while the doctors wring their hands and argue among themselves.

Look at his paws -- a mess of patches. The doctors bungled that one; their cures were worse than the disease, and merely caused it to spread. And now they want to wrap that ravaged body in a bag, turn on the vacuum pumps and sweat the illness out. It's enough to make a sphinx bury himself in the sand, which, in fact, he did for the better part of his life, cozy and comfortable at that, only his face peering out. Perhaps that accounts for the smile.

We do not doubt that extraordinary measures ought to be taken. A sphinx doesn't emerge from the desert every day. They say he was born a sick child, but a sick child is no less loved for being sick. Besides, he was in fair health until they dug him out. But the Egyptian archeologist, Saleh Ahmed Saleh, says there is only so much the Egyptians, or anyone, can do to retard the final disintegration. Just so.

Speaking for ourselves, we say, yes, patch him up. Preserve him, as Mr. Saleh says, for the next generation. Speaking for the sphinx, we say oi veh. We know he'd say it if he could.