The Phoenix | History Today


Phoenix by Hokusai, Japan, c.1835 © Bridgeman Images.
Phoenix by Hokusai, Japan, c.1835 © Bridgeman Pictures.

In the Western tradition the phoenix is born triumphantly from the flaming nest of its predecessor and lives for 500 several years. This dates again to Herodotus’ Histories (c.430 BC), but has historical analogues in the fenghuang of the Chinese imperial court and the Egyptian benu, which was considered to have very first risen from the primordial sea at Generation. 

Even though Herodotus’ eagle-like phoenix bears little physical resemblance to the Egyptian benu, which appears to be like like a crested heron, he tells us that he initial figured out of it though travelling in Egypt, almost certainly from priests at Heliopolis, the ‘City of the Sun’, the place it was worshipped. 

The phoenix appears in the Judaic custom in the Backyard garden of Eden and on Noah’s Ark and was popularised by Roman authors. Pliny the Elder describes the phoenix, ‘as substantial as an eagle, [with] a gleam of gold spherical its neck and all the relaxation of it is purple, [and] the tail blue picked out with rose-coloured feathers … and a feathered crest adorning its head’. This was perhaps the inspiration for the splendidly plumaged phoenix by the Japanese artist Hokusai, pictured below.

The phoenix as a image of rebirth and redemption acquired forex in medieval bestiaries, in which it was usually agent of Christ’s Resurrection. It was a person of the personal emblems of Elizabeth I and many modern day poets connected the virgin queen’s characteristics to those of the mythical chook. Far more just lately, the phoenix has been made use of by nations and metropolitan areas that have been ‘reborn’ out of the ashes – just a thirty day period immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York, a large papier mâché phoenix appeared in a defiantly beneficial procession through the city.


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