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Phoenix

PHOENIX

The unique bird of Eastern legend, brilliant and beautiful, that lived for 500 years (longer in some accounts), and after dying rose again from its own ashes. It appears in Old Sanskrit poetry, Egyptian religious texts, and in Greek and Roman writers from Hesiod onward. Herodotus is the chief source for details. Christians especially used the myth for paradise and resurrection themes.

The compiler of the physiologus (original Greek c. a.d. 200) provided the phoenix story as allegory for Jn 10.18: "I have the power to lay down my life and take it up again," for "the phoenix is the symbol of our Savior who came from heaven with both wings full of fragrant perfume, that is divine words." With time, commentaries acquired length and variety, and its attractive symbolism passed into frequent use in patristic and medieval Latin and vernacular literature.

Paintings, mosaics, sarcophagi, and pottery show the bird rising from its ashes. What had symbolized for Egyptians the sun's daily return and for Romans imperial apotheoses became for Christians a symbol of resurrection, Christ's and their own.

Bibliography: g. tÜrk, w. h. roscher, ed. Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie (Leipzig 1921) 3:345072. a. rusch, Paulys Realenzyklopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, ed. g. wissowa et al. 20.1 (1941) 414423. h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie. ed. f. cabrol, h. leclercq and h. i. marrou (Paris 190753) 14.1:682692. m. c. fitzpatrick, Lactanti de ave phoenice: With Introduction, Text, Translation and Commentary (Philadelphia 1933). m. f. mcdonald, "Phoenix redivivus," Phoenix 14 (Toronto 1960) 187202, with emphasis on its place in Judeo-Christian tradition.

[m. f. mcdonald]

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