Proserpina's WunderBlog

The Fabulous Phoenix

By: Proserpina, 5:16 PM GMT on April 25, 2012

The Fabulous Phoenix

"The phoenix hope, can wing her way through the desert skies, and still defying fortune's spite; revive from ashes and rise." Mighel de Cervantes.


Have you ever seen the legendary and colorful bird called the Phoenix? Has anyone ever seen the Phoenix? Have you ever wondered why there are so many places named Phoenix? Have you seen River Phoenix in a film? Seen an opera at La Fenice in Venice? Have you ever listened to Stravinsky’s ‘The Firebird’? Or driven the Firebird made by Pontiac? How about a Thunderbird? Do you live in Atlanta, GA where the city flag has the symbol of the Phoenix? Or maybe you live in Phoenix, AZ! Yes, the concept of the Phoenix is ever-present in our lives.

The Phoenix has been a mythological symbol for thousands and thousands of years encompassing many varied cultures. Despite the many different times and cultures the Phoenix is consistently characterized as a bird with extremely beautiful and colorful plumage. The colors of the plumage are vivid red, yellow, orange, and gold. The same colors used to describe fire. The bird’s characteristic that most unites the various cultures is the ability to resurrect from its own ashes.

In general the phoenix lives from five hundred to a thousand years, the bird dies in a self created fire, burns until it becomes ashes, and finally a new phoenix rises from the ashes. Life then is regenerated from death in a cyclical process and immortality is assured.

The name Phoenix is derived from the Greek word Phoinix which literally means ‘purple-red’. The Greeks referred to the Canaanite region as Phoenicia because its people were known for their trade of purple-red dye made from the Murex snail. (Some think that the poet Homer gave the name Phoenicia to the region.) The same Greek word was the origin of the red hued mythical bird’s name.

Some of the cultures that include the Phoenix as part of their mythologies are the Arabians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Chinese, Japanese, Indians, American Indians, and possibly the Phoenicians.

The Phoenix in ancient mythology:

In the fifth century BC, the ancient Greek historian Herodotus gave an account of the phoenix. In part he says:

‘….its feathers are partly gold but mostly red, and that in appearance and size it is most like an eagle. There is a particular feat they say the phoenix performs; I do not believe it myself, but they say that the bird sets out from its homeland in Arabia on a journey to the sanctuary of the sun, bringing its father sealed in myrrh, and buries its father there.’

In his Metamorphosis, the Roman poet Ovid wrote:

‘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 odors. 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.’

Flavius Philostratus (c. AD 170) refers to the phoenix as a bird living in India, sometimes migrating to Egypt every 500 years. His account is inspired by Garuda, the bird of the Hindu god Vishnu.

Bennu, phoenix egyptian Egyptian Bennu

The earliest representation of the phoenix is the ancient Egyptian bird the Bennu. The name means ‘to rise brilliantly’ or ‘to shine’. The Bennu bird burst forth from the heart of Osiris. At the end of his life cycle, and after having gone through the fire ritual, the new phoenix flew to the Egyptian city of Heliopolis to bury the ashes of his ‘father’. It is possible that the Bennu was actually a large heron which now is extinct.

The Greeks adapted the word bennu and identified it with their word phoenix. They believed that the phoenix lived in Arabia next to a well. At dawn, it bathed in the water of the well, and the Greek sun-god Apollo stopped his chariot in order to listen to its song.

The Persians had the Huma, also known as the ‘bird of paradise’. Its mythical process is similar to the Egyptian phoenix. The Huma is considered to be a compassionate bird and it is said to bring good luck. Of course you have to touch it first!

The Chinese phoenix is called Feng-huang. It symbolizes completeness, incorporating elements of music, colors, nature, the joining of yin and yang. It is a symbol of peace, and represents fire, the sun, justice, obedience, loyalty, honesty, high moral values. The Feng-huang is immortal and does not need to die and be reborn.

The Japanese phoenix is called the Hou-Ou or Ho-Oo, Ho being the male and Oo being the female. It was introduced to Japan in the mid 6th century AD. It resembles the Chinese phoenix. The Ho-Oo appears only in peaceful times, a rare bird indeed. It has been adopted as a symbol of the royal family, and it represents the sun, justice, fidelity, and obedience.

The Russians have the Zhar-Ptitsa, the firebird. This is the subject of the 1910 ballet score by Igor Stravinsky.

Indian Thunderbird American Indian Thunderbird

The American Indians have their Thunderbird. The quote below pretty much describes the Indian view of the equivalent of the phoenix. (My apologies but I have no idea where I got the quote nor who the author is.):

“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. The majestic thunderbird is
often accompanied by lesser bird spirits, frequently in the form of eagles or falcons.
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.”

The Phoenix in Religion

In Jewish legend, the name is Milcham or Chol. According to tradition, after Eve ate the forbidden fruit, she persuaded all of the animals in the garden to join her. There was one exception, the phoenix refused to eat of the forbidden fruit. As a reward, God set up the phoenix in a walled city where he would live for a thousand years. Every thousand years the bird would be consumed by fire and then reborn from an egg found in the ashes. The Angel of Death would never touch him.

Because the Phoenix is associated with rebirth (resurrection) and immortality, the Phoenix became a symbol placed on tombstones by the early Christians.

St. Clement, the Bishop of Rome, made a reference to the Phoenix in ‘The First Epistle to the Corinthians’. In Chapter 25-26 he quotes Job as saying:

"Thou shalt raise up this flesh of mine, which has suffered all these things."

St. Clement uses the legendary phoenix as an evidence for Christ’s ability to accomplish the resurrection of the faithful.

Also Christian literature of the Medieval and Renaissance eras frequently used the symbolism of the Phoenix.


The Phoenix in Literature, music, popular culture, etc.


1.Shakespeare frequently mentions the bird in his plays, also wrote the poem ‘The Phoenix and the Turtle. Below is a verse from the poem:

Phoenix of beautie, beauteous, Bird of any
To thee I do entitle all my labour,
More precious in mine eye by far then many
That feedst all earthly sences with thy savour:
Accept my home-writ praises of thy love,
And kind acceptance of thy Turtle-dove

2.First in the ranks see Joan of Arc advance,
The scourge of England and the boast of France!
Though burnt by wicked Bedford for a witch,
Behold her statue plac'd in glory's niche;
Her fetters burst, and just releas'd from prison,
A virgin phoenix from her ashes risen.
Lord Byron,(1809)

3.Edith Nesbit children’s novel “The Phoenix and the Carpet”.
4.Sylvia Plath alludes to the phoenix at the end of her poem ‘Lady Lazarus’


6.J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” novels feature a phoenix called Fawkes.
7.Karen Hesse’s science fiction novel “Phoenix Rising”


1.In Mozart's opera Cosi Fan Tutte, a faithful woman is said to be as hard to find as the mythological Phoenix

2.Photobucket Firebird Suite by Stravinsky

3.'The Firebird'is a 1910 ballet created by the composer Igor Stravinsky. The ballet is based on Russian folk tales of the magical glowing bird of the same name that is both a blessing and a curse to its captor.
4.Elton John ‘Grey Seal’
5.La Fenice (phoenix in Italian) is a famous opera house in Venice. It burned down in 1836 and then again in 1996, each time it was rebuilt. Sure has lived up to her name.
6.Robbie Williams in his album titled ‘I Have Been Expecting You’ includes a song called ‘Phoenix From The Flames’
7.“Ani DiFranco's song (covered by Alana Davis) "32 Flavors" contains the line "God help you if you are a phoenix and you dare to rise up from the ash; a thousand eyes will smolder with jealousy while you are just flying past"
8.“The longest music video in history, "Runaway" by Kanye West, primarily focuses around a phoenix who has fallen to Earth and after being discriminated against, she bursts into flames to return to her original world. “
9.“Phoenix symbolism is used heavily in the music video for Marry the Night by Lady Gaga, particularly in the final scene.”
10.Recently Roger Zare composed a ‘Clarinet Concerto’ titled “Bennu’s Fire”.

Film and TV:

1.“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. There was also a Federation Starship called the U.S.S. Phoenix.”
2.“In Fantasia 2000, a Phoenix-like fire bird comes alive to the music of The Firebird Suite by Igor Stravinsky. Fiery destruction is followed by glorious renewal.”
3.“In both the 1965 and 2004 versions of "Flight of the Phoenix", a small cargo aircraft carrying some people and cargo crashes in the Sahara Desert after a violent sand storm forces them to land. The aircraft is wrecked but one passenger proposes to rebuild the aircraft with the one remaining engine and eventually the airplane flies again. The aircraft is "reborn" just like the mythical phoenix creature.”

As Mascot and Symbol:

seal of  Atlanta, ga Seal of Atlanta, GA

1.The Phoenix is the symbol on the seal and flag of the City of Atlanta, Georgia. The symbol became official in 1888 because it was ‘reborn’ from the ashes after it was burned down in the American Civil War.
2. “The City of Phoenix, Arizona, USA, uses its namesake creature in the city's flag, and as the city's logo.”
3.“The city of San Francisco, California has a phoenix on its flag, symbolizing the city's rise from the ashes of multiple fires and earthquakes from the mid-19th century through 1906.”
4.“The phoenix figures as a supporter on the coat of arms of Coventry, signifying its rise from the ashes after heavy bombing in World War II.”

University; of Oklahoma U of Oklahoma

5.The Phoenix is the mascot of Elon University, Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, University of Chicago, Swarthmore College, and many other Institutions of Higher Education.

6.The original emblem for the seal of the USA was a phoenix (A better choice than the wild turkey that Ben Franklin wanted!). Eventually it was changed to an Eagle. (Many of the early mythological phoenixes were described as eagles.)

The Phoenix was the name of the pod that was made to rescue 33 men in the 2010 Copiapó mining accident in Chile on Oct. 13, 2010

Some of the information listed above is quoted from: ulture Link


There is a lot more that can be said and written about the concept of the Phoenix and its usage in our culture, but this blog is a bit long and I will have to continue with posts and or with a second blog.

In the meantime, please add your say, photos, videos, graphic, poems, etc. that deal with the idea of the beautiful and immortal Phoenix.

Phoenix rising

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Updated: 10:05 PM GMT on May 30, 2012


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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