|Other names:||Fenis, Fenix, Phénix|
A bird that rises anew from the ashes of its funeral pyre
There are two similar versions of the account of the phoenix. In the first, it is a bird that lives in India. When it reaches the age of five hundred years, it flies to a frankincense tree and fills its wings with spices. In early spring a priest at Heliopolis covers an altar with twigs. The phoenix comes to the city, sees the altar, lights a fire there and is consumed by it. The next day a small, sweet-smelling worm is found in the ashes. On the second day the worm has transformed into a small bird, and on the third has the form of the phoenix again. The bird then returns to its place of origin.
The second version says that the phoenix is a purple or red bird that lives in Arabia. There is only one living phoenix in the world at any time. When it is old, it builds a pyre of wood and spices and climbs on to it. There it faces the sun and the fire ignites; it fans the fire with its wings until it is completely consumed. Some say it is the sun that ignites the fire; others say that the phoenix starts it by striking its beak against a stone, or that stones gathered with spices in the pyre rub together to create a spark. A new phoenix rises from the ash of the old.
Other versions of the story combine parts of the above accounts. The tale of the phoenix is very old and was widely known throughout antiquity, with many variations.
The story of the phoenix is taken as an allegory of the death and resurrection of Christ, who had the power to lay down his life and to take it back again. The Aberdeen Bestiary adds that "The phoenix can also signify the resurrection of the righteous who, gathering the aromatic plants of virtue, prepare for the renewal of their former energy after death. ... Faith in the resurrection to come is no more of a miracle than the resurrection of the phoenix from its ashes. ... See how the nature of birds offers to ordinary people proof of the resurrection; that what the scripture proclaims, the working of nature confirms."