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Q: mythology ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: mythology
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: arkin-ga
List Price: $2.00
Posted: 26 Dec 2003 18:28 PST
Expires: 25 Jan 2004 18:28 PST
Question ID: 290520
Does rain or storms or summertime have anything to do with the legend
of the phoenix bird?
Subject: Re: mythology
Answered By: hlabadie-ga on 03 Jan 2004 10:18 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Strictly speaking, the mythical Phoenix has nothing to do with rain,
storms, or summertime. Despite the copious usage of the myth for
nearly 2800 years, practically everything written about it can be
traced to one brief passage written in Greek circa 450 B.C.

The oldest surviving text to mention the Phoenix is a fragmentary
reference, preserved in a citation by Plutarch, of The Precepts of
Chiron by the Greek poet Hesiod (ca. 8th Century B.C.), nothing more
than a rough calculation of longevity.

Hesiod, the Homeric Hymns and Homerica

"A chattering crow lives out nine generations of aged men, but a
stag's life is four times a crow's, and a raven's life makes three
stags old, while the phoenix outlives nine ravens, but we, the
rich-haired Nymphs, daughters of Zeus the aegis-holder, outlive ten

The next surviving reference, and the one of most importance, is in
the Histories of the Greek author Herodotus (ca. 480-425 B.C.), and
provides the essential source for virtually all subsequent literature
on the subject.


"There is also another sacred bird called the phoenix, which I did not
myself see except in painting, for in truth he comes to the Egyptians
very rarely, at intervals, as the people of Heliopolis say, of five
hundred years. They say that he comes regularly when his father dies;
and if he be like the painting, he is of this size and nature, that is
to say, some of his feathers are of gold color and others red, and in
outline and size he is as nearly as possible like an eagle. This bird,
they say (but I cannot believe the story), contrives as follows.

Setting forth from Arabia he conveys his father, they say, to the
temple of the Sun plastered up in myrrh, and buries him in the temple
of the Sun. He conveys him thus. He forms first an egg of myrrh as
large as he is able to carry, and then he makes trial of carrying it,
and when he has made trial sufficiently, then he hollows out the egg
and places his father within it and plasters over with other myrrh
that part of the egg where he hollowed it out to put his father in,
and when his father is laid in it, it proves (they say) to be of the
same weight as it was; and after he has plastered it up, he conveys
the whole to Egypt to the temple of the Sun. Thus they say that this
bird does."

Successive authors in Antiquity took this story and added
circumstantially to it, adapting it to their own times. The Roman poet
Ovid (43 B.C.- A.D 17) gave an account of the Phoenix in his

P. Ovidius Naso, Metamorphoses (ed. Brookes More)
Book 15

"Now these I named derive their origin
from other living forms. There is one bird
which reproduces and renews itself:
the Assyrians gave this bird his name--the Phoenix.
He does not live either on grain or herbs,
but only on small drops of frankincense
and juices of amomum. When this bird
completes a full five centuries of life
straightway with talons and with shining beak
he builds a nest among palm branches, where
they join to form the palm tree's waving top.

"As soon as he has strewn in this new nest
the cassia bark and ears of sweet spikenard,
and some bruised cinnamon with yellow myrrh,
he lies down on it and refuses life
among those dreamful odors.--And they say
that from the body of the dying bird
is reproduced a little Phoenix which
is destined to live just as many years.

"When time has given to him sufficient strength
and he is able to sustain the weight,
he lifts the nest up from the lofty tree
and dutifully carries from that place
his cradle and the parent's sepulchre.
As soon as he has reached through yielding air
the city of Hyperion, he will lay
the burden just before the sacred doors
within the temple of Hyperion."

Pliny the Elder (d. A.D. 79) mentions in his Natural History the
supposed appearance of the Phoenix with respect to various Roman


"THE BIRDS of Aethyopia and India, are for the most part of diverse
colours, and such as a man is hardly able to decipher and describe.
But the Phoenix of Arabia passes all others. Howbeit, I cannot tell
what to make of him: and first of all, whether it be a tale or no,
that there is never but one of them in the whole world, and the same
not commonly seen. By report he is as big as an eagle: for colour, as
yellow & bright as gold; (namely, all about the necke;) the rest of
the bodie a deep red purple: the taile azure blew, intermingled with
feathers among, of rose cornation colour: and the head bravely adorned
with a crest and pennache finely wrought; having a tuft and plume
thereupon, right faire and goodly to be seene. Manilius, the noble
Romane Senatour, right excellently well seene in the best kind of
learning and litterature, and yet never taught by any, was the first
man of the long Robe [togatorum, literally, of the toga wearers, i.e.
Romans], who wrote of this bird at large, & most exquisitely. Hee
reporteth, that never man was knowne to see him feeding: that in
Arabia hee is held a sacred bird, dedicated unto the Sunne: that hee
liveth 660 yeares [modern texts have 540 years]: and when hee groweth
old, and begins to decay, he builds himselfe a nest with the twigs and
branches of the Canell or Cinamon, and Frankincense trees: and when he
hath filled it with all sort of sweet Aromaticall spices, yeeldeth up
his life thereupon. He saith moreover, that of his bones & marrow
there breedeth at first as it were a little worme: which afterwards
prooveth to bee a pretie bird. And the first thing that this yong new
Phoenix doth, is to performe the obsequies of the former Phoenix late
deceased: to translate and carie away his whole nest into the citie of
the Sunne neere Panchaia, and to bestow it full devoutly there upon
the altar. The same Manilius affirmeth, that the revolution of the
great yeare so much spoken of, agreeth just with the life of this
bird: in which yeare the starres returne againe to their first points,
and give signification of times and seasons, as at the beginning: and
withall, that this yeare should begin at high noone, that very day
when the Sunne entreth the signe Aries.  And by his saying, the yeare
of that revolution was by him shewed, when P. Licinius and M.
Cornelius were Consuls [97 B.C.]. Cornelius Valerianus writeth, That
whiles Q. Plautius and Sex. Papinius were Consuls [A.D. 36], the
Phoenix flew into Aegypt. Brought he was hither also to Rome in the
time that Claudius Caesar was Censor [Emperor Claudius], to wit, in
the eight hundred yeare from the foundation of Rome [A.D. 47. Rome was
said traditionally to have been founded in April, 753 B.C.]: and
shewed openly to bee seene in a full hall and generall assembly of the
people, as appeareth upon the publicke records: howbeit, no man ever
made any doubt, but he was a counterfeit Phoenix, and no better."

Later Roman authors followed Pliny's authority. Tacitus, the Silver
Age historian (ca. A.D. 100), relates that the Phoenix appeared during
the principate of Tiberius:

The Annals
By Tacitus

"During the consulship of Paulus Fabius and Lucius Vitellius [A.D. 34,
differing from Pliny by two years.], the bird called the phoenix,
after a long succession of ages, appeared in Egypt and furnished the
most learned men of that country and of Greece with abundant matter
for the discussion of the marvellous phenomenon. It is my wish to make
known all on which they agree with several things, questionable enough
indeed, but not too absurd to be noticed.

That it is a creature sacred to the sun, differing from all other
birds in its beak and in the tints of its plumage, is held unanimously
by those who have described its nature. As to the number of years it
lives, there are various accounts. The general tradition says five
hundred years. Some maintain that it is seen at intervals of fourteen
hundred and sixty-one years, and that the former birds flew into the
city called Heliopolis successively in the reigns of Sesostris,
Amasis, and Ptolemy, the third king of the Macedonian dynasty, with a
multitude of companion birds marvelling at the novelty of the
appearance. But all antiquity is of course obscure. From Ptolemy to
Tiberius was a period of less than five hundred years. Consequently
some have supposed that this was a spurious phoenix, not from the
regions of Arabia, and with none of the instincts which ancient
tradition has attributed to the bird. For when the number of years is
completed and death is near, the phoenix, it is said, builds a nest in
the land of its birth and infuses into it a germ of life from which an
offspring arises, whose first care, when fledged, is to bury its
father. This is not rashly done, but taking up a load of myrrh and
having tried its strength by a long flight, as soon as it is equal to
the burden and to the journey, it carries its father's body, bears it
to the altar of the Sun, and leaves it to the flames. All this is full
of doubt and legendary exaggeration. Still, there is no question that
the bird is occasionally seen in Egypt."

Later Roman and Christian authors echoed the same basic story. In the
Late Middle Ages, the immensely popular Travels of Sir John Mandeville
(14th Century) contained a passage telling of the Phoenix, which is
largely an intact version of the Classical story, but with a Christian
interpretation affixed.

The Travels of Sir John Mandeville

"In Egypt is the city of Heliopolis, that is to say, the city of the
Sun. In that city there is a temple, made round after the shape of the
Temple of Jerusalem. The priests of that temple have all their
writings, under the date of the fowl that is clept phoenix; and there
is none but one in all the world. And he cometh to burn himself upon
the altar of that temple at the end of five hundred year; for so long
he liveth. And at the five hundred years' end, the priests array their
altar honestly, and put thereupon spices and sulphur vif and other
things that will burn lightly; and then the bird phoenix cometh and
burneth himself to ashes. And the first day next after, men find in
the ashes a worm; and the second day next after, men find a bird quick
and perfect; and the third day next after, he flieth his way. And so
there is no more birds of that kind in all the world, but it alone,
and truly that is a great miracle of God. And men may well liken that
bird unto God, because that there ne is no God but one; and also, that
our Lord arose from death to life the third day. This bird men see
often- time fly in those countries; and he is not mickle more than an
eagle. And he hath a crest of feathers upon his head more great than
the peacock hath; and is neck his yellow after colour of an oriel that
is a stone well shining, and his beak is coloured blue as ind; and his
wings be of purple colour, and his tail is barred overthwart with
green and yellow and red. And he is a full fair bird to look upon,
against the sun, for he shineth full gloriously and nobly."

The myth of the Phoenix recurs throughout the next centuries,
appearing in a Shakespearean poem, for instance, coupled with a turtle
dove, and in the Pseudodoxia Epidemica (Vulgar Errors) of Sir Thomas
Browne, a 17th Century physician. Browne gave a valuable and succinct
history of the story as it was known down to his time.

Of the Phoenix.

Taken altogether, there is no evidence to connect the myth of the
Phoenix as it has been transmitted since its first appearance in Greek
literature to the present with any of the phenomena of the Question.

However, if one were to accept the identification of the Phoenix with
the benu of Egypt, supposing that Herodotus saw a painting of the blue
heron, then in the most tangential sense, one might say that the
ultimate source of the story is connected to the flooding of the Nile,
and thus to the seasonal rains in the African interior that feed the
source of the Nile. This is, of course, speculation.


"In Egyptian mythology, the bird benu (or purple heron) played an
important role. During the flood of the Nile, this beautiful, bluish
bird rests on high places and resembles the sun floating over the
waters. Therefore this bird, sometimes called 'the ascending one', was
associated with the sun god Ra, whose ba (soul) it was thought to be.
The benu was especially venerated in the town that is usually called
Heliopolis ('city of the Sun')."

W. W. How, J. Wells, A Commentary on Herodotus
Commentary on Herodotus, Histories. book 2, chapter 73:section 1

"LXXIII. The account of the phoenix is one of the passages which
Porphyry says was stolen by H. from Hecataeus. The phoenix is usually
said to correspond to the bennu of Egyptian theology. It was
represented on the monuments as a heron? and was the symbol of the
rising sun, and also of the resurrection. It was especially reverenced
at Heliopolis. Round this symbolic bird grew up a great mass of myth
(cf. e.g. Plin. N. H.x.2; Tac. Ann. vi. 28). H. reproduces one
specimen of this, but expressly says that he does not believe it. The
later and more familiar form of the story is that the phoenix came to
Heliopolis and burned itself on the altar, and that from the ashes the
new phoenix arose; it was this myth which was used by the Fathers to
illustrate the Resurrection."

Roman Consuls



arkin-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Thanks for answer,it was very informative.

Subject: Re: mythology
From: pinkfreud-ga on 26 Dec 2003 19:50 PST
A Native American variant of the phoenix legend, the thunderbird, has
a connection with rain and storms.

"The phoenix and thunderbird are both mighty myths symbolized by the
form of a bird. The phoenix originates from ancient Egypt, and is such
a strong symbol, that it exists as a symbol representing long life in
today?s modern world. Only one of these mighty birds was believed to
be able to exist at one time, with a life span of hundreds of years,
and went hand in hand with the worship of the sun. As a great bird
that ascended from the sun, and would return the same way, they were
believed to bring with them eternal life. The thunderbird grew as a
myth out of the Native American culture. A Great Spirit in bird form
believed to bring many of lives necessities to those on earth,
including water, by being a carrier of storms, bringing forth rain,
lightening, and thunder." 

"Ancient cultures developed myths and legends to explain things about
the world that they did not understand. The Egyptian myth of the
phoenix is an example of one of those myths. The story was about a
creature named Bennu, which was the Egyptian name for the phoenix or
thunderbird and was thought by those ancient people to control the
rise and fall of the Nile River.

Another legend concerning the thunderbird is found in Greek mythology.
A magical bird was thought to live 500 to 1,000 years before throwing
itself into a fire, only to rise and live again for another 1,000
years. The phoenix is mentioned throughout history as a supreme bird.

In India and Russia, the mystical creature was called a firebird. The
bird is depicted as having an eagle's beak, scarlet wings and a golden
body. Tubbs school colors are red and gold.

In China the bird is depicted as a creature that only comes around in
a time of peace or a time of war, much similar to their idea of yin
and yang. The Oriental birds can also represent agricultural
prosperity, but because of their relationship as opposites, the
thunderbird can also symbolize to them a time of drought and hardship.

Even South America has it's own story behind the legend of the
thunderbird. The tribes there including the Aztecs, Mayans and Toltecs
called the bird a Quetzal who was the companion of Quetzalcotal. This
association implies a relationship to the solar cycle, blessings and

The most important myth of the the thunderbird comes from North
America. The Native Americans believe the thunderbird is a very
powerful spirit who has control over the weather, especially thunder
and lightning."
Subject: Re: mythology
From: hlabadie-ga on 08 Jan 2004 20:16 PST
Thanks for the rating.


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