The phoenix is a mythical bird, sacred in ancient Egypt. Said to live for 500 or for 1461 years, the phoenix was a solitary male bird with beautiful gold and red plumage. At the end of its life-cycle the phoenix built itself a nest of fragrant wood which it then ignited; both nest and bird burned fiercely and were reduced to ashes, from which a new phoenix would arise. The new phoenix would embalm the ashes in an egg made of myrrh and deposit it in Heliopolis ("the city of the sun" in Greek).
The phoenix also appears in the mythologies of other cultures; although descriptions (and life-span) varied, the phoenix became popular in early Christian art and literature as a symbol of the resurrection, of immortality, and of life-after-death.
The phoenix had associations with the sun and with sun-gods such as Egyptian Ra and the Greek Apollo.
The Greeks claimed the phoenix lived in Arabia next to a well. At dawn, it bathed in the water of the well and the sun-god stopped his chariot (the sun) in order to listen.
In Shakespeare's play The Tempest, this myth is famously referred to:
- that in Arabia
- There is one tree, the phoenix' throne; one phoenix
- At this hour reigning there.
The Egyptians described it as being similar to a heron
, but the Greeks and Romans
likened it to a peacock
or to an eagle
- See also: Benu (Egyptian mythology), Garuda (Malay Hinduism), Chinese Phoenix.
The word "Phoenix
" sometimes appears spelled "Phoinix
". It is etymologically similar to the word firebird.