Phoenix - Greek Mythology
The Phoenix in Greek mythology is an example of the staying power of symbols of that time through today. Here is an overview.
Phoenix – Greek Mythology
In Greek mythology, there are many different figures that play important roles. At the top of the mythical creatures spoken of in Greek writings are the gods and goddesses, who live on Mount Olympus and oversee many aspects of everyday life. Then there are the creatures, beasts and mortals mixed with mythical creatures that fill out the rest of the roles in the myths. One of these creatures is the phoenix, Greek mythology's most famous bird.
The phoenix is a mythical (and mystical) firebird that is seen in many cultures, not just Greek society. The originating culture that started the myth of the phoenix is the ancient Egyptian culture – and all other myths regarding the phoenix seem to have sprung from this one. The phoenix is a sacred creature, a firebird that is said to live for 500 (or 1461) years, depending on the specific cultural myth. It is colored crimson and gold, and is much larger than other birds. At the end of its life span, the phoenix, Greek mythology's bird of regeneration, is said to build a nest of cinnamon sticks, and light them on fire; consequently, both the nest and the bird burn to ashes.
A new baby phoenix rises from these ashes, and embalms and stores the ashes of the old phoenix in an egg of myrrh. This egg is then deposited in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis (Greek for the “city of the sun”). The phoenix can also regenerate parts of its body when wounded, further continuing the properties of regeneration and rebirth. The Egyptians closely associated the phoenix with fire and the sun, and he was often seen with the sun god Ra.
The Greeks adopted the phoenix from the Egyptians, first using their term for the bird, bennu, and then adapting their word for the color crimson (and the name of a city) Phoenicia, into the name phoenix for the bird. They associated the bird with their sun-god, Apollo, and said that the bird resided in Arabia next to a well, where it bathed and sang. The Romans also continued the tradition of the phoenix – they changed the image of the bird to look more like a peacock or eagle.
While the Greeks were not the first culture to have the phoenix featured in their myths, they were also not the last. The Romans, later Greeks and even Russians all revered this bird. Hypothesized to represent either a true bird that lived on hot salt flats (said to be to hot to survive on) or the total eclipse of the sun, the phoenix is a major part of many myths and legends.