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The phoenix Ancient Greek: Φοῖνιξ, phoínix, Arabic:العنقاء) is a myth sacred firebird which originated in the ancient mythologies mentioned in the Phoenicianmarker Mythology (Sanchuniathon) and the Egyptian and later the Greek Mythology.

Appearance and Abilities

A phoenix is a mythical bird with a colorful plumage and a tail of gold and scarlet (or purple, blue, and green according to some legends). It has a 500 to 1,000 year life-cycle, near the end of which it builds itself a nest of twigs that then ignites; both nest and bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix or phoenix egg arises, reborn anew to live again. The new phoenix is destined to live as long as its old self. In some stories, the new phoenix embalms the ashes of its old self in an egg made of myrrh and deposits it in the Egyptian city of Heliopolismarker (sun city in Greek). It is said that the bird's tears contain healing abilities of pureness, and their cry is that of a beautiful song.


The simurgh or simorgh (Phoenix) originates in Persian mythology (Parthian Empire 247 B.C.). It has enjoyed a variety of incarnations ranging from being fully birdlike to having the head of a dog and suckling its young.Typically, it is considered benevolent, but some tales suggest that man is not always safe around the simurgh. Further, many tales share many elements with those of the phoenix.

Flavius Philostratus (c. AD 170), who wrote the biography Life of Apollonius of Tyana, refers to the phoenix as a bird living in Indiamarker, but sometimes migrating to Egypt every five hundred years. His account is clearly inspired by Garuda, the bird of the Hindu god Vishnu. He considered the bird as an emanation of sunlight, being in appearance and size much like an eagle. His contemporary Lactantius is probably the author who wrote the longest poem on the famous bird. Although descriptions (and life-span) vary, the Egyptian phoenix (Bennu bird) became popular in early Catholic art, literature and Catholic symbolism, as a symbol of Christ representing his resurrection, immortality, and life-after-death. One of the Early Catholic Church Fathers, Clement, related the following regarding the Phoenix in chapter 25 of The First Epistle of Clement:

Let us consider that wonderful sign [of the resurrection] which takes place in Eastern lands, that is, in Arabia and the countries round about. There is a certain bird which is called a phoenix. This is the only one of its kind, and lives five hundred years. And when the time of its dissolution draws near that it must die, it builds itself a nest of frankincense, and myrrh, and other spices, into which, when the time is fulfilled, it enters and dies. But as the flesh decays a certain kind of worm is produced, which, being nourished by the juices of the dead bird, brings forth feathers. Then, when it has acquired strength, it takes up that nest in which are the bones of its parent, and bearing these it passes from the land of Arabia into Egypt, to the city called Heliopolis. And, in open day, flying in the sight of all men, it places them on the altar of the sun, and having done this, hastens back to its former abode. The priests then inspect the registers of the dates, and find that it has returned exactly as the five hundredth year was completed.
Michael W. Holmes points out that early Christian writers justified their use of this myth because the word appears in Psalm 92:12 [LXX Psalm 91:13], but in that passage it actually refers to a palm tree, not a mythological bird. However, it was the flourishing of Christian Hebraist interpretations of Job 29:18 that brought the Joban phoenix to life for Christian readers of the seventeenth century. At the heart of these interpretations is the proliferation of richly complementary meanings that turn upon three translations of the word chol (חול) — as phoenix, palm tree, or sand — in Job 29:18.

In a critical edition of I Clement, Lake noted that "the same story, with variations, is found in Herodotus (ii. 73), Pliny (Nat. Hist. x.2), etc."

Originally, the phoenix was identified by the Egyptians as a stork or heron-like bird called a benu, known from the Book of the Dead and other Egyptian texts as one of the sacred symbols of worship at Heliopolis, closely associated with the rising sun and the Egyptian sun-god Ra.

The Greeks identified it with their own word phoenix φοίνιξ, meaning the color purple-red or crimson (cf. Phoeniciamarker). They and the Romans subsequently pictured the bird more like a peacock or an eagle. According to the Greeks the phoenix lived in Phoenicia next to a well. At dawn, it bathed in the water of the well, and the Greek sun-god Helios stopped his chariot (the sun) in order to listen to its song. Featured in the painting Heracles Strangles Snakes (House of the Vettii, Pompeii Italy) as Zeus, the king of the gods.

One inspiration that has been suggested for the Egyptian phoenix is the flamingo of East Africa . This bright pink or white bird nests on salt flats that are too hot for its 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. In zoology, flamingos are part of the family Phoenicopteridae, from the generic name Phoenicopterus or "phoenix-winged."

"Phoenix" is also the English-language name given to the most important bird in Chinese mythology, the fenghuang, with its own set of characteristics and symbolic meanings.

Related usage

In Persian mythology, Simurgh, (Persian: سيمرغ, Middle Persian: senmurv) was a winged, bird-like creature that was very large and extremely ancient. The Simurgh appears in many Iranian literary classics such as Farid ud-Din Attar's Conference of the Birds as instructor and birds leader, and in Ferdowsi's epic Shahnameh (The Book of Kings); Simurgh raised up and cherished Zaal or Zal, father of Rostam.

The phoenix is the central figure in Lebanesemarker ancient and modern cultures, as Lebanese are descendants of the Phoenicians and often claim themselves sons of the Phoenix. Lebanon, and Beirut particularly, is often depicted symbolically as a phoenix bird having been destroyed and rebuilt 7 times during its long history.

In Chinamarker, Fenghuang ("鳳凰") is a mythical bird superficially similar to the phoenix. It is the second most-respected legendary creature (second to the dragon), largely used to represent the empress and females. The phoenix is the leader of birds.

In Japanmarker, the phoenix is called hō-ō(kanji:"鳳凰") or , literally "Immortal Bird".

In Russianmarker folklore, the phoenix appears as the Zhar-Ptitsa (Жар-Птица), or firebird, subject of the famous 1910 ballet score by Igor Stravinsky.The phoenix was featured in the flags of Alexander Ypsilantis and of many other captains during the Greek Revolution, symbolizing Greece's rebirth, and was chosen by John Capodistria (1828-1832). In addition, the first modern Greek currency bore the name of phoenix. Despite being replaced by a royal Coat of Arms, it remained a popular symbol, and was used again in the 1930s by the Second Hellenic Republic. However, its use by the military junta of 1967-1974 made it extremely unpopular, and it has almost disappeared from use after 1974, with the notable exception of the Greek Order of the Phoenix.

The constellation Phoenix, was introduced in the late 16th century by sailors organized by Petrus Plancius, probably one of Keyser or de Houtman and displayed on a globe from 1597 created by Hondius.

See also

  • A Phoenix dubbed "Cedrus" was chosen to be the mascot of the 6th Francophone games held in Lebanonmarker.
  • The Phoenix has been in a numerous times the main motive for collectors’ coins and medals, one of the most recent one is the famous Belgian 10 euro silver coin 60 years of peace. The obverse depicts the Phoenix as a representation of a new Europe, post 1945.
  • Főnix Hallmarker, an arena in Debrecenmarker, Hungarymarker, which was named after the Phoenix.
  • Fenghuang, commonly referred to as the Chinese phoenix.
  • Firebird , an equivalent of phoenix in Russian mythology.
  • Bennu, an Egyptian correspondence to the phoenix.
  • Angha, a Huma, Simurgh, Persian phoenixes.
  • Adarna, a Philippine version of the phoenix
  • Avalerion, an Indian magic bird that drowns itself once it has laid its eggs.
  • Turul, Turkish version of the phoenix.
  • Zümrüd-ü Anka, an Arabic version of the phoenix.
  • Garuda, mythical bird of ancient India.
  • Phoenix in popular culture


  1. (Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations, page 59.)
  2. EMLS 11.2 (September, 2005): 5.1-15] Milton's Joban Phoenix in Samson Agonistes
  3. Lake, Kirsopp. The Apostolic Fathers, vol. I. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1912, p. 53
  • Umberto Capotummino" L'Occhio della Fenice", Palermo, Sekhem, 2005. ISNN 88-902054-0-7
  • R. Van den Broek, The Myth of the Phoenix - According to Classical and Early Christian Traditions, E.J.Brill, Leiden, 1972.
  • Silvia Fabrizio-Costa (ed.), La Fenice : mito e segno (simposio dell’università di Caen), Peter Lang, Bern, 2001. ISBN 3-906767-89-2
  • Françoise Lecocq, « Les sources égyptiennes du mythe du phénix », L’Egypte à Rome (simposio dell’università di Caen), éd. F. Lecocq, Cahiers de la Maison de la Recherche en Sciences Humaines, n° 41, Caen, 2005. ISSN 1250-6419, reed. 2008 (p. 211-266).
  • Francesco Zambon, Alessandro Grossato, Il mito della fenice in Oriente e in Occidente, Venezia, Marsilio Editori, 2004. ISBN 88-317-8614-8
  • Françoise Lecocq, « L’iconographie du phénix à Rome », Images de l’animal dans l’Antiquité. Des figures de l’animal au bestiaire figuré, to be published at Presses universitaires de Caen; preprint on line: Université de Caen Basse-Normandie, p. 73-106.
  • Françoise Lecocq, « L’œuf du phénix. Myrrhe, encens et cannelle dans le mythe du phénix », L’animal et le savoir, de l’Antiquité à la Renaissance, to be published at Presses univ. de Caen ; preprint on line : Université de Caen Basse-Normandie, p. 107-130.

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