The Phoenix

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The phoenix, a fabulous bird connected with the worship of the sun, especially in ancient Egypt and in classical antiquity. The phoenix was said to have resembled an eagle, but was larger and had brilliant scarlet and gold plumage and a melodious cry.

Only one phoenix existed at a time, and was very long-lived – no ancient authority gave it a life span of less than 500 years. As its end approached, the phoenix fashioned a nest of aromatic boughs and spices, set it on fire and was consumed in the flames. From the pyre, miraculously spring a new phoenix. The new bird embalmed his father’s ashes in an egg of myrrh and flew with them from its home in the desert of Arabia to Heliopolis in Egypt, where it deposited them on the alter of the Temple of the Sun.

The Egyptians associated the phoenix with immortality and the symbolism had a widespread appeal in late antiquity. The phoenix was compared to undying Rome and it appeared on the coinage of the late Roman Empire as the Eternal City. It was also widely interpreted as a allegory of resurrection and life after death – ideas which also appealed to emergent Christianity. The newly formed United States of America choose the phoenix as its emblem for similar symbology: undying, immortal and indestructible. The phoenix was later changed to an eagle in about 1860. I heard that was because most people thought the bird was a turkey.

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