Sources : Phoenix

Herodotus [c. 484 – c. 425 BCE] (Histories, Book 2.73) Another bird also is sacred; it is called the phoenix. I myself have never seen it, but only pictures of it; for the bird comes but seldom into Egypt, once in five hundred years, as the people of Heliopolis say. It is said that the phoenix comes when his father dies. If the picture truly shows his size and appearance, his plumage is partly golden but mostly red. He is most like an eagle in shape and bigness. The Egyptians tell a tale of this bird's devices which I do not believe. He comes, they say, from Arabia bringing his father to the Sun's temple enclosed in myrrh, and there buries him. His manner of bringing is this: first he moulds an egg of myrrh as heavy as he can carry, and when he has proved its weight by lifting it he then hollows out the egg and puts his father in it, covering over with more myrrh the hollow in which the body lies; so the egg being with his father in it of the same weight as before, the phoenix, after enclosing him, carries him to the temple of the Sun in Egypt. Such is the tale of what is done by this bird. - [Godley translation]

Ovid [1st century CE] (The Metamorphoses, Book 15, 391-417): Yet these creatures receive their start in life from others: there is one, a bird, which renews itself, and reproduces from itself. The Assyrians call it the phoenix. It does not live on seeds and herbs, but on drops of incense, and the sap of the cardamom plant. When it has lived for five centuries, it then builds a nest for itself in the topmost branches of a swaying palm tree, using only its beak and talons. As soon as it has lined it with cassia bark, and smooth spikes of nard, cinnamon fragments and yellow myrrh, it settles on top, and ends its life among the perfumes. They say that, from the father’s body, a young phoenix is reborn, destined to live the same number of years. When age has given it strength, and it can carry burdens, it lightens the branches of the tall palm of the heavy nest, and piously carries its own cradle, that was its father’s tomb, and, reaching the city of Hyperion, the sun-god, through the clear air, lays it down in front of the sacred doors of Hyperion’s temple. - [Kline translation]

Lucan [1st century CE] (Pharsalia, book 6, verse 791-805): Then copious poisons from the moon distills / Mixed with all monstrous things which Nature's pangs / Bring to untimely birth ... nor ashes fail / Snatched from an altar where the Phoenix died. - [Ridley, 1919

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 10, 2): They say that Ethiopia and the Indies possess birds extremely variegated in color and indescribable, and that Arabia has one that is famous before all others (though perhaps it is fabulous), the phoenix, the only one in the whole world and hardly ever seen. The story is that it is as large as an eagle, and has a gleam of gold round its neck and all the rest of it is purple, but the tail blue picked out with rose-colored feathers and the throat picked out with tufts, and a feathered crest adorning its head. The first and the most detailed Roman account of it was given by Manilius, the eminent senator famed for his extreme and varied learning acquired without a teacher: he stated that nobody has ever existed that has seen one feeding, that in Arabia it is sacred to the Sun-god, that it lives 540 years, that when it is growing old it constructs a nest with sprigs of wild cinnamon and frankincense, fills it with scents and lies on it till it dies; that subsequently from its bones and marrow is born first a sort of maggot, and this grows into a chicken, and that this begins by paying due funeral rites to the former bird and carrying the whole nest down to the City of the Sun near Panchaia and depositing it upon an altar there. Manilius also states that the period of the Great Year coincides with the life of this bird, and that the same indications of the seasons and stars return again, and that this begins about noon on the day on which the sun enters the sign of the Ram, and that the year of this period had been 215, as reported by him, in the consulship of Publius Licinius and Gnaeus Cornelius. Cornelius Valerianus reports that a phoenix flew down into Egypt in the consulship of Quintus Plautius and Sextus Papinius; it was even brought to Rome in the Censorship of the Emperor Claudius, A.U.C. 800 and displayed in the Comitium. a fact attested by the Records, although nobody would doubt that this phoenix was a fabrication. - [Rackham translation]

Aelianus [170-230 CE] (On the Characteristics of Animals, Book 6, 58): The Phoenix knows how to reckon five hundred years without the aid of arithmetic, for it is a pupil of all-wise Nature, so that it has no need of fingers or anything else to aid it in the understanding of numbers. The purpose of this knowledge and the need for it are matters of common report. But hardly a soul among the Egyptians knows when the five-hundred-year period is completed; only a very few know, and they belong to the priestly order. - [Scholfield translation]

Gaius Julius Solinus [3rd century CE] (De mirabilibus mundi / Polyhistor, Chapter 33.11): Among the same people the phoenix bird is born. It is the size of an eagle, and has plumes projecting from an imposing head into a cone shape. It has tufted cheeks and it neck is a brilliant gold. Its hinder parts are purple, except for the tail, which is of roseate feathers, interspersed with shining sky-blue. [12] It has been proven that the phoenix lives for 540 years. It builds its funeral pyre with cinnamon; it puts it together near Panchaea, and places the heap above the altar in the city of the Sun. [13] Authorities are convinced that its life coincides with the cycle of the Great Year, although many of them say a Great Year lasts not 540 years, but 12,954. - [Arwen Apps translation, 2011]

Saint Ambrose [4th century CE] (Hexameron, Book 5, 23.79): In the regions of Arabia there is reported to be a bird called the phoenix. This bird is said to reach the ripe old ,age of 500 years. When the phoenix realizes that he is coming to the end of his life, he builds himself a casket of incense, myrrh, and other aromatic plants, into which he enters and dies when his time has come. From the moisture proceeding from his flesh he comes to life again. In the course of time this bird puts on 'the oarage of his wings' until he is restored to his primitive form and appearance. - [Savage translation, 1961]

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 7:22): The phoenix is a bird of Arabia, so called because it possesses a scarlet [phoeniceus] color, or because it is singular and unique in the entire world, for the Arabs say phoenix for 'singular'. This bird lives more than five hundred years, and when it sees that it has grown old it constructs a funeral pile for itself of aromatic twigs it has collected, and, turned to the rays of the sun, with a beating of its wings it deliberately kindles a fire for itself, and thus it rises again from its own ashes. - [Barney, Lewis, et. al. translation]

Hugh of Fouilloy~> [ca. 1100-1172 CE] (De avibus, chapter 54): The phoenix of Arabia is a bird so named because it is the color purple (pheniceum); or because in the whole world it is solitary and unique. For the Arabs call a solitary man a phoenix. Living five hundred or more years, while it perceives that it has grown old, it builds for itself a funeral pyre of bunches of small spice twigs, and turned toward the sun's ray, with a flapping of its wings, it deliberately sets itself on fire. And thus it arises anew from its own ashes. Whence Hrabanus says, "The phoenix can signify the resurrection of the righteous who, with bunches of the spices of virtues, prepare for themselves the restoration of their original vigor after death." The phoenix is a bird of Arabia. In fact, Arabia is interpreted as a plain. The plain is this world, Arabia the worldly life, the Arabians lay people. The Arabs call a solitary man a phoenix. Whoever is righteous is solitary, removed entirely from worldly cares. The phoenix is believed to live for five hundred years, as Scripture states. In fact, the reckoning of one hundred years denotes allegorically the boundary of perfection. The reckoning of five hundred years can be assigned to the five senses of the body. For when the sight fails, the first reckoning of one hundred years passes. When the hearing fails, the second passes. But when the three remaining senses, that is, taste, smell, and touch fail, then allegorically the five hundred years are accomplished. When indeed the phoenix approaches death it then prepares various types of spices. The spices are good deeds, the various types are the virtues of the soul. It constructs a pyre of spices and sets itself in the midst of the varieties of spices. These things the righteous man does every time he reminds the multitude of good deeds. Facing the ray of the sun, [the bird] deliberately brings forth a fire with its wings, because by the heat of the Holy Spirit, the righteous man kindles the mind aroused by the wings of contemplation. So, therefore, the phoenix is cremated, but the phoenix is born again from its ashes. [Therefore, when the phoenix dies and] yet is born [again from its ashes], by this example it happens that the truth of future resurrection is believed by everyone to be represented. Faith in a resurrection to come is therefore no greater miracle than is the resurrection of the phoenix from its ashes. See how the nature of the birds makes known to the simple folk the proof of [their] resurrection. And what Scripture foretells, the work of nature confirms. - [Clark translation, 1992]

Thomas of Cantimpré [circa 1200-1272 CE] (Liber de natura rerum, Birds 5.44, 5.45): [Birds 5.44] The phoenix of Arabia, as Solinus, Jacobus, Isidore, and Ambrose say, dwells alone in the world for an age of three hundred and forty years, and is of the size of an eagle, with a head crested like that of a peacock, with a crimson throat, and a band around the neck with a golden glow. It has a tail of a blue color, in which pink feathers are interspersed with a wonderful variety. And when it begins to grow heavy, in the highest parts of the East, in the most beautiful tree, over the most pleasant spring, it builds an altar like a nest of thure and myrrh and cinnamon and precious spices. Then, focusing the hot Sun with the stirring of its wings, it rushes over the pile, and with the heat of the Sun kindled by spices, it is also burnt. Then, after a few days of its burning, a worm is produced from the ashes of the phoenix, and within a short time it puts on a set of wings, and then it is most perfectly reformed into the former bird. In Heliopolis, a city of Egypt, in the month of Adar, that is April, the phoenix arrives loaded on both wings with different spices, and goes to a pile of branches that had been place in sacrifice by the priest of the Lord, and then places on top of the pile the spices that it had carried on its wings, to be burned. On the first day after the day of the burning, the priest comes and finds the burnt wood, which he had placed on the altar, and, examining the ashes, he finds a little worm, fragrant with a sweet smell. And on the second day the worm is found to be formed into a bird. And on the third day it flies away in its original state, whole and perfect, bidding farewell to the priest. Haymo: Therefore it should be noted that this city of Heliopolis, that is, the 'city of the Sun', was built before the arrival of te Savior in the land of Egypt; and in it, in the likeness of the Jerusalem temple, a temple was built in honor of the Most High God by Onya (the son of that Onya who is read in the book of Maccabees) by order of Tholomeus, king of Egypt, according to the prophecy of Isaiah: And there will be an altar to the Lord in the land of Egypt. In this city, says the same Haymo, the blessed Mary, mother of God, fleeing from the presence of Herod, with her son, and Joseph her husband, often visited. [Birds 5.45] The phoenix of Arabia is a bird without equal, living three hundred and forty years. It signifies the holy soul, by which he leads his life simply in faith in the Holy Trinity and in the stability of the four cardinal virtues: prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude. In its size being like the eagle the difficulty of the holy contemplation is signified; in the beauty of its head, the purity of the mind; in the crest the twin affections of salvation in prayer; in the golden neck, hope, which proceeds from charity, tranquility; in the latter part, the purple of Christ in the mortified flesh, the fulfillment of his passion. - [Badke translation/paraphrase]

Bartholomaeus Anglicus [13th century CE] (Liber de proprietatibus rerum, Book12.14): Phoenix is a bird, and there is but one of that kind in all the wide world. Therefore lewd men wonder thereof, and among the Arabs, there this bird is bred, he is called singular—alone. The philosopher speaketh of this bird and saith that phoenix is a bird without make, and liveth three hundred or five hundred years: when the which years are past, and he feeleth his own default and feebleness, he maketh a nest of right sweet-smelling sticks, that are full dry, and in summer when the western wind blows, the sticks and the nest are set on fire with burning heat of the sun, and burn strongly. Then this bird phoenix cometh willfully into the burning nest, and is there burnt to ashes among these burning sticks, and within three days a little worm is gendered of the ashes, and waxeth little and little, and taketh feathers and is shapen and turned to a bird. Ambrose saith the same in the Hexameron: Of the humours or ashes of phoenix ariseth a new bird and waxeth, and in space of time he is clothed with feathers and wings and restored into the kind of a bird, and is the most fairest bird that is, most like to the peacock in feathers, and loveth the wilderness, and gathereth his meat of clean grains and fruits. Alan speaketh of this bird and saith, that when the highest bishop Onyas builded a temple in the city of Heliopolis in Egypt, to the likeness of the temple in Jerusalem, on the first day of Easter, when he had gathered much sweet-smelling wood, and set it on fire upon the altar to offer sacrifice, to all men's sight such a bird came suddenly, and fell into the middle of the fire, and was burnt anon to ashes in the fire of the sacrifice, and the ashes abode there, and were busily kept and saved by the commandments of the priests, and within three days, of these ashes was bred a little worm, that took the shape of a bird at the last, and flew into the wilderness. - [Steele]

Slavic Physiologus [15th - 16th century]: The phoenix is the most beautiful bird of all. He is even more beautiful than the peacock. For the peacock is golden and silvery in appearance, while the phoenix is like royal purple and precious stones. He wears a wreath on his head and boots on his feet like a king. [He lives] near India, by the Sunny town [City of the Sun]. He lies for five hundred years on the cedars of Lebanon with no food, and the Holy Spirit feeds him. And after five hundred years, he scents his wings with fragrance. The priest of the Sunny town calls out and this bird goes to the priest. And they both enter the temple and the priest sits on the altar step with the bird. And all of it turns to ashes. In the morning the priest comes and finds a young bird. And in two days, he finds it as perfect as it was before. And the priest kisses it and [it] returns to its place. - [Stoykova, English translation by Mladenova and Stoykov]