In ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology, the phoenix is a mythical bird and associated with the Egyptian sun-god Re and the Greek Phoibos (Apollo).
There are many, many descriptions of this legendary bird. Al-Jili considers the phoenix a prime example of unseen things (such as God), which can only be understood through their names and attributes. Some describe the phoenix as an eagle-sized bird; half eagle and half pheasant. Others say it is heron-like or a conglomeration of the most beautiful parts of all the birds in the world. Its name comes from the Greek word for "purple" because the phoenix is associated with fire and the sun. It has been described as golden or multi-colored. Some say it never eats. Others say it eats only dew. Most believe there is only one of its kind and it lives alone in Arabia or Ethiopia. All agree it is a bird of great beauty.
It is associated with the Egyptian Benu, the Garuda of the Hindus, and the Chinese Feng-huang.
The phoenix symbolizes immortality, resurrection, and life after death. In that aspect it was often placed on sarcophagi.
In most countries, it was believed that only one phoenix lived at a time. It was born from itself without following the natural laws of reproduction.
The Phoenix enjoys immortality, which had to be renewed with fire every 500 or 1461 years (depending on the source). When the end of its life cycle drew near, the phoenix would gather aromatic herbs, woods, and spices from around the world with which to build its own funeral pyre or nest. Sitting in the nest, and having turned to face the rays of the sun, beating its wings, it deliberately fans the flames for itself and is consumed in the fire. Once the old body was consumed, the phoenix would be reborn from a worm, its marrow, or an egg found among the ashes and would embark on another 500 years of life. The bird was also said to regenerate when hurt or wounded by a foe, thus being almost immortal and invincible.
Identified as a heron with its long straight back and head adorned at the back with two erect feathers, the Bennu was later named Phoenix by the Greeks. The Bennu lived on the ben-ben stone or obelisk within the sanctuary of Heliopolis and was worshipped alongside Ra and Osiris. Bennu was also considered a manifestation of Osiris, said to spring from his heart as a living symbol of the god. The Bennu symbolizes rebirth as it rises from the ashes, just as the new sun rises from the old.
Every 500 years, the Bennu flew to the Sun Temple in Heliopolis where the priests were waiting to assist it. The bird then built a large funeral pyre of spices, climbed on top, and allowed the sun's rays to consume it. From the ashes, a worm was born which grew into an adult Bennu by the end of the day.
In Jewish legend, the phoenix's name is Milcham. According to tradition, after Eve ate the forbidden fruit, she became jealous of the immortality and purity of the other creatures in the garden. Eventually, she persuaded all the animals except the phoenix to share in her fallen state by eating from the forbidden tree. God rewarded the phoenix by setting him up in a walled city where he could live in great peace for 1000 years. At the end of every 1000-year period, the bird is consumed by fire and reborn from an egg found in its ashes. One variation of this Jewish legend states that at the end of each 1000-year period, the phoenix's body becomes small and featherless like a baby's and then he grows up all over again. In any case, the Angel of Death may never touch him.
The Greeks adapted the word bennu (and also took over its further Egyptian meaning of date palm tree), and identified it with their own word phoenix, meaning the colour purple-red or crimson (cf. Phoenicia). They and the Romans subsequently pictured the bird more like a peacock or an eagle.
Greek mythology places the phoenix in Arabia, where it lives close to a cool well. Every morning at dawn it bathes in the water and sings a beautiful song. So beautiful is the song that the sun god would stop his chariot to listen. There only exists one phoenix at a time. When the phoenix feel sits death approaching (every 500 or 1461 years) it builds a nest, sets it on fire, and is consumed by the flames. A new phoenix springs forth from the pyre. It then embalms the ashes of its predecessor in an egg of myrrh and flies with it to the City of the Sun. There the egg is deposited on the altar of the sun god.
Ovid tells the story of the Phoenix as follows: "Most beings spring from other individuals; but there is a certain kind which reproduces itself. The Assyrians call it the Phoenix. It does not live on fruit or flowers, but on frankincense and odoriferous gums. When it has lived five hundred years, it builds itself a nest in the branches of an oak, or on the top of a palm tree. In this it collects cinnamon, and spikenard, and myrrh, and of these 'materials builds a pile on which it deposits itself, and dying, breathes out its last breath amidst odours. From the body of the parent bird, a young Phoenix issues forth, destined to live as long a life as its predecessor. When this has grown up and gained sufficient strength, it lifts its nest from the tree (its own cradle and its parent's sepulchre), and carries it to the city of Heliopolis in Egypt, and deposits it in the temple of the Sun."
In Russian folklore, the phoenix appears as the Zhar-Ptitsa (Жар-Птица), or firebird, subject of the famous 1910 ballet score by Igor Stravinsky.
In the legends of native North Americans, the thunderbird is a powerful spirit in the form of a bird. Lightning flashes from its beak, and the beating of its wings is creates the thunder. It is often portrayed with an extra head on its abdomen. Lesser bird spirits, frequently in the form of eagles or falcons, often accompanies the majestic thunderbird. The thunderbird petroglyph symbol has been found across Canada and the United States. Evidence of similar figures has been found throughout Africa, Asia, and Europe.
There is a bird that lays no eggs and has no young. It was here when the world began and is still living today, in a hidden, faraway desert spot. It is the phoenix, the bird of fire.
One day in the beginning times, the sun looked down and saw a large bird with shimmering feathers. They were red and gold--bright and dazzling like the sun itself. The sun called out, "Glorious Phoenix, you shall be my bird and live forever!"
Live forever! The Phoenix was overjoyed to hear these words. It lifted its head and sang, "Sun glorious sun, I shall sing my songs for you alone!"
But the Phoenix was not happy for long. Poor bird. Its feathers were far too beautiful. Men, women, and children were always casing it and trying to trap it. They wanted to have some of those beautiful, shiny feathers for themselves.
"I cannot live here," thought the phoenix. and it flew off toward the east, where the sun rises in the morning.
The Phoenix flew for a long time, and then came to a far away, hidden desert where no humans lived. And there the phoenix remained in peace, flying freely and singing its songs of praise to the sun above.
Almost five hundred years passed. The Phoenix was still alive, but it had grown old. It was often tired, and it had lost much of its strength. It couldn't soar so high in the sky, nor fly as fast or as far as it was young.
"I don't want to live like this," thought the Phoenix. "I want to be young and strong."
So the Phoenix lifted it's head and sang, "Sun, glorious sun, make me young and strong again!" but the sun didn't answer. Day after day the Phoenix sang. When the sun still didn't answer, the Phoenix decided to return to the place where it had lived in the beginning and ask the sun one more time.
It flew across the desert, over hills, green valleys, and high mountains. The journey was long, and because the Phoenix was old and weak, it had to rest along the way. Now, the Phoenix has a keen sense of smell and is particularly fond of herbs and spices. So each time it landed, it collected pieces of cinnamon bark and all kinds of fragrant leaves. It tucked some in among its feathers and carried the rest in its claws.
When at last the bird came to the place that had once been its home, it landed on a tall palm tree growing high on a mountainside. Right at the top of the tree, the Phoenix built a nest with the cinnamon bark and lined it with the fragrant leaves. Then the Phoenix flew off and collected some sharp-scented gum called myrrh, which it had seen oozing out of a nearby tree. The Phoenix made an egg from the myrrh and carried the egg back to the nest.
Now everything was ready. The Phoenix sat down in its nest, lifted its head, and sang, "Sun, glorius sun, make me young and strong again!"
This time the sun heard the song. Swiftly it chased the clouds from the sky and stilled the winds and shone down on the mountainside with all its power.
The animals, the snakes, the lizards, and every other bird hid from the sun's fierce rays -- in caves and holes, under shady rocks and trees. Only the Phoenix sat upon its nest and let the suns rays beat down upon it beautiful, shiny feathers.
Suddenly there was a flash of light, flames leaped out of the nest, and the Phoenix became a big round blaze of fire.
After a while the flames died down. The tree was not burnt, nor was the nest. But the Phoenix was gone. In the nest was a heap of silvery-gray ash.
The ash began to tremble and slowly heave itself upward. From under the ash there rose up a young Phoenix. It was small and looked sort of crumpled, but it stretched its neck and lifted its wings and flapped them. Moment by moment it grew, until it was the same size as the old Phoenix. It looked around, found the egg made of myrrh, and hollowed it out. Then it placed the ashes inside and finally closed up the egg. The young Phoenix lifted its head and sang, "Sun, glorious sun, I shall sing my songs for you alone! Forever and ever!"
When the song ended, the wind began to blow, the clouds came scudding across the sky, and the other living creatures crept out of their hiding places.
Then the Phoenix, with the egg in its claws, flew up and away. At the same time, a cloud of birds of all shapes and sizes rose up from the earth and flew behind the Phoenix, singing together, "You are the greatest of birds! You are our king!"
The birds flew with the Phoenix to the temple of the sun that the Egyptians had built at Heliopolis, city of the sun. Then the Phoenix placed the egg with the ashes inside on the sun's altar.
"Now," said the Phoenix, "I must fly on alone." And while the other birds watched, it flew off toward the faraway desert.
The Phoenix lives there still. But every five hundred years, when it begins to feel weak and old, it flies west to the same mountain. There it builds a fragrant nest on top of a palm tree, and there the sun once again burns it to ashes. But each time, the Phoenix rises up from those ashes, fresh and new and young again.
Wherever it is found, the phoenix is associated with resurrection, immortality, triumph over adversity, and that which rises out of the ashes. Thus it became a favorite symbol of Christ. on early Christian tombstones. In chapters 25-26 of his letter to the Corinthians, St. Clement, Bishop of Rome, upheld the legendary phoenix as an evidence of Christ's ability to accomplish the resurrection of the faithful. He quotes Job as saying, "Thou shalt raise up this flesh of mine, which has suffered all these things."
Often, as an emblem of Christ, it was found with the palm tree (another symbol of resurrection) or carrying a palm branch (a symbol of triumph over death), or carrying an olive branch (a symbol of God's peace offered to humans).
The Phoenix is symbolic of rebirth, hope, purity, chastity, marriage, faith, constancy, summer, eternity, immortality, and light. It is an image of the cosmic fire some believe the world began and will end in. The Taoists called it the "cinnabar bird." Romans placed the phoenix on coins and medals as an emblem of their desire for the Roman Empire to last forever.
Theories and analysis
Theories about origin and existence
One inspiration that has been suggested for the Egyptian phoenix is a specific bird species of East Africa. This bird nests on salt flats that are too hot for its egg (biology)|eggs or chicks to survive; it builds a mound several inches tall and large enough to support its egg, which it lays in that marginally cooler location. The convection currents around these mounds resembles the turbulence of a flame.
Another suggested inspiration for the mythical phoenix bird, and various other mythical birds that are closely associated with the sun, is the total eclipse of the sun. During some total solar eclipses the sun's corona displays a distinctly bird-like form that almost certainly inspired the winged sun disk symbols of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.
Art / Fiction
The phoenix is carved or depicted on the inside of many Egyptian ancient buildings.
The phoenix myth is referred to in Shakespeare's play The Tempest',
Also, in Timon of Athens, a senator metaphorically calls Timon of Philius "a naked gull, which flashes now a phoenix."
The early Christian Apostolic Father 1 Clement references the Phoenix.
In certain works of Renaissance literature, the phoenix is said to have been eaten as the rarest of dishes – for only one was alive at any one time. Jonson, in Volpone (1605), III, vii. 204-5 writes: 'could we get the phœnix, though nature lost her kind, shee were our dish.' Another mention of the phoenix as a culinary delicacy occurs in John Webster's The White Devil (1612):
"Those noblemen, / Which were invited to your prodigal feasts, / Wherein the phoenix scarce could scrape your throats, / Laugh at your misery, as fore-deeming you / An idle meteor which drawn forth the earth / Would be lost in the air." [Act I, scene i, 23-25]
Some literary critics believe the conclusion of Andrew Marvell's 1681 poem "To His Coy Mistress" may allude to the Phoenix, given its references to birds and fire.
Sylvia Townsend Warner's 1940 short story "The Phoenix" satirized the exploitation of nature using a phoenix maltreated in a carnival sideshow, revealing the modern preference for violence and sensationalism over beauty and dignity.
The majesty of Eudora Welty's classic 1941 short story "A Worn Path" employs the phoenix as the name of the major and virtually sole character of a sparsely written yet rich story of regeneration and the South.
Edith Nesbit's famous children's novel, The Phoenix and the Carpet is based on this legendary creature and its quirky friendship with a family of children.
The 1957 Children's literature|children's novel David and the Phoenix features the Phoenix as a main character.
Phuong, the name of a female character in Graham Greene's _The Quiet American_ who seeks a marriage to a Westerner, means "Phoenix."
The phoenix was also famed for being a symbol of the rise and fall of society, Montag and Faber in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. The pattern of an over complacent and abusive society's destruction yielding a fresh new start was compared to the Phoenix's mythological pattern of consumption by flame, then resurrection out of ashes.
Image:Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.jpg|thumb|200px|right|British edition of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
More recently, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels feature a phoenix, named Fawkes (after Guy Fawkes). He is Dumbledore's pet. Dumbledore's Patronus is a phoenix. The life span of this bird is unknown, though it is less than 500 years. In Harry Potter's world, phoenixes can carry enormous weights, their tears have extraordinary healing powers and their song is said to strike fear into the hearts of the unpure and courage into those who are pure of heart. The wizards' wands in this world all have a magical element (i.e. a phoenix feather, a unicorn hair, dragon heartstring) at their core (surrounded by wood). Both Harry's and Lord Voldemort|Lord Voldemort's wands contain a feather from Dumbledore's pet phoenix, Fawkes, hence why they locked in Priori Incantatem when the two characters attempted to engage in a magical battle.
In Neil Gaiman's short story 'Firebird', a party of Epicureans finally answer the question of what happens when a Phoenix is roasted and eaten; you burst into flames, and 'the years burn off you'. This can kill those who are unexperienced, but those who have swallowed fire and practised with glow-worms can achieve an immensely satisfying eternal youth.
Sylvia Plath also alludes to the phoenix in the end of her famous poem "Lady Lazarus." The speaker of this poem describes her unsuccessful attempts at committing suicide not as failures, but as successful resurrections, like those described in the tales of the biblical character Lazarus and the Phoenix. By the end of the poem, the speaker has transformed into a firebird, effectively marking her rebirth, which some critics liken to a demonic transformation. The poem ends: "Out of the ash / I rise with my red hair / And I eat men like air."
In Alan Gibbons 'Legendeer' series the main character is called phoenix and is a rebirth of his great uncle Andreas and his destiny as the Legendeer. Pheonix then completes his great uncle's destiny travelling through 3 worlds of ancients myths ; Ancient Greece; Vampyrs; Norse myths. He then appears to die but it is reavelled he chose a new life/birth patrolling these myth worlds and keeping them safe.
In Terry Pratchett's novel Carpe Jugulum, the search for the phoenix forms an important, if confusing and seemingly useless, side plot.
In Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 there are brief but numerous references to the Phoenix. The bigest reference is on page 165, "There was a silly damn bird called a phoenix back before Christ, every few hundred years he built a pyre and burnt himself up. He must of been first cousin to Man. But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we're[humans] doing the same thing, over and over, but we've got one damn thing the phoenix never had. We know the damn silling thing we just did. We know all the damn silly things we've done for a thousand years and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, someday we'll stop making the goddamn funeral pyres and jumping in the middle of them. We pick up a few more people that remember each generation."
The British band Queen's logo has a picture of a Phoenix on the top part. The logo was designed by their singer, Freddie Mercury.
Rock group 30 Seconds to Mars's official logo is the phoenix.
La Fenice ("The Phoenix") is a famous Opera house in Venice, Italy.
The alternative rock band Live (band) makes reference in the song "Dolphin's Cry" saying "this phoenix rises up from the ground, and all these wars are over". The Phoenix is used in this context to help symbolize the cycles of love and sexual union being reborn over and over again.
Numerous musicians have recorded songs called that referene the Phoenix in the title:
Film and TV
In the film, "Santa Sangre". the main character is named Fenix.
In the daytime soap opera Dark Shadows, the character of Laura Murdoch Collins returns to Collinsport, Maine after a ten-year absence to gain custody of her son from her estranged husband, Roger. It is revealed that Laura is an "immortal phoenix" in human form and is nearly at the end of her 100-year lifespan, as she is granted in this storyline. To make a successful completion of the reincarnation process, she must bring another person - her son - into the fire with her. The character of Laura the phoenix is reincarnated a few times into the plotlines of the show, with later episodes showing her to be a worshipper of the god Ra, which may explain the lack of survivors of those she brings into the fire with her, reframing her victims as a divine sacrifice for favor and power rather than as companions for eternity.
In the Star Trek universe, Phoenix is the name given to the first man-made spacecraft to travel faster than light. It is named Phoenix because in the Star Trek timeline, the Earth was still recovering from the ravages of World War Three, and represents a reborn and bright future for humanity.
In the movie, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, based on the book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, a phoenix bursts into flame and flies low over the grass in front of the White Witch's lines, to make a wall of flame to guard Peter's retreat to safer ground.
In the Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game, one of the more popular cards is called Sacred Phoenix of Nephthys, and has what is fundamentally a phoenix-like "rebirth" power-whenever it is destroyed by some sort of card effect, it is revived from the Graveyard (discard pile). It is worth noting that Nephthys is an Egyptian goddess, drawing on the Egyptian symbolism and theme of the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise. It is one of the rare 2-Tribute monsters restricted to one per deck, and veterans consider it (alongside the other restricted Tribute) to be one of the few 2-Tribute monsters worth playing competitively.
Also in Yu-Gi-Oh!, the Egyptian God card, The Winged Dragon of Ra, has the power to transform into a Phoenix. In its Phoenix form, Ra can destroy all enemy monsters at the cost of 1000 Life Points. However, this power can only be used if Ra is first revived from the Graveyard.
In the anime series Beyblade, characters battle using a form of spinning top, many of which contain "bit-beasts" which are based on animals including mythological creatures. One such bit-beast is named Dranzer and is based on the Phoenix.
In the Harry Potter series of books and movies, Albus Dumbledore has a phoenix called Fawkes as a pet.
In the Super Sentai and Power Rangers franchises, there have been many mecha and Zords based off of the phoenix.
In the X-Men series, the character Jean Grey, who was thought to have perished, eventually resurfaces as the new character Phoenix. In the film series, the second movie ends with Jean Grey's apparent death, followed by the third film resurrecting her as Phoenix. Note that in the end of the second movie, a bird-like shadow is seen underwater when Jean Grey supposedly dies, giving any X-Men fans a sign of what's to come.
In the anime version of the game "Monster Rancher" a boy named Genki gets sucked into his favorite game, so he and some new friends go in search for the Phoenix, the only creature that is powerful enough to stop the evil Moo from taking complete control of their world.
In Fantasia 2000, a Phoenix-like fire bird comes alive to the music of The Firebird Suite by Igor Stravinsky.
In the japanese anime series Saint Seiya, one of the Bronze Saints is under the armor of the Phoenix, and named Ikki of Phoenix.
In the game Perfect Dark, one of the Mian weapons is called the Phoenix. It emits a high energy laser or may be changed into a highly destructive explosive shell.
In the canon of comic author Osamu Tezuka the phoenix is often featured as both a literal and symbolic character. Most prominently in the 12 volume series Phoenix Hi no Tori in which the phoenix is an all knowing cosmic force which connects the string of cultural, physical, and spiritual deaths, rebirths, reincarnations and transmigrations throughout the series.
The X-Men comics' most famous and successful story arc featured the fabled Phoenix Force merging with the dying X-Men mutant Jean Grey in order to pilot a shuttle down from space. Through Jean's empathic abilities and highly-tuned senses the sentient Phoenix experienced incredible sensations and emotions never before felt, this caused it to became corrupt and refuse to leave Jean's body. This heralded the Dark Phoenix saga which saw the X-men battling the nearly limitless power of the Phoenix force. It led to Jean Grey sacrificing herself to save the world from destruction. Although not truly a Phoenix, Jean Grey symbolized the essence of a Phoenix when she rose from the ashes, or the dead, later on in the comics. The Phoenix Force later merged with Jean Grey's daughter (from an alternate future), Rachel Summers, who also died and later came back to life.
In the classic anime franchise, Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, the most spectacular power the superhero has is the ability to temporarily transform their aircraft, The God Phoenix in a massive phoenix like bird of flame to escape danger.