The PhoenixTerlinden

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PS Exeter Book Dozent: Dr. Rainer Holtei Referent: Lars Terlinden Datum: 26.05.2000: 

PS Exeter Book Dozent: Dr. Rainer Holtei Referent: Lars Terlinden Datum: 26.05.2000


General: The “Phoenix bird” exists in various forms and countries all around the world. It is part of myths, legends and fairy tales, always in close connection with gods and leaders, either as their symbol or a god itself. Although it was given different names and used in different times for various purposes, there are some features that are always similar: - red plumage, multicoloured tail, golden neck - majestic in flight - sings the most beautiful song - described as an eagle, pheasant, heron or peacock, but always bigger and more colourful - almost always in connection with the sun, fire, stars, music, sublimeness, eternity, colour, palmtrees - only one phoenix at a time

There are at least six different phoenix birds:: 

There are at least six different phoenix birds: 1. The Egyptian “Benu” (bnw) 3. The Chinese “Si ling”, “Feng” or “Fenghuang” 2. The European “Phoenix” 4. The Arabian “Roc”, “Rukh”, “Anqa” or “Simorgh” 5. The Buddhist “Garuda” 6. The Russian „Firebird“


1. The Egyptian “Benu”: - represents the sun, which dies at night and is reborn in the morning - “Benu” means “the Ascending one” - primordial god, building its nest on the highest willow on a hill in IUNU (city of the sun) - symbol for the deities Kepera, Re, Atum and Osiris - also called “Ba of Re”, the “soul of Re”, because the bird was a symbol for the soul - age and self-burning are not proved in any Egyptian sources


2. The European “Phoenix” in Greece: - from Greek phoinix = palmtree or purple - lives in Arabia for at least 500 years (some sources say 972 or even 1461 years) when it feels its death coming, it flies to Syria, builds a nest of aromatic wood and spices (incl. frankincense and myrrh) on top of a palmtree, sets it on fire and is consumed in the flames - associated with the worship of the sun and the Greek sun-god Phoibos ( Apollo ) the new phoenix grows fast, then it embalms the ashes of its predecessor in an egg of myrrh and brings it to Heliopolis, to deposit it on the altar of the sun-god - from the pyre springs a worm, the ouroboros, which after three days is transformed into a small bird with few feathers - symbol for immortality, eternity, resurrection and life after death


The European „Phoenix“ in the Roman Empire: - continuation of the Greek mythology, though the bird no longer served as a symbol for a deity - the phoenix was compared to undying Rome, it was used on the coinage of the late Roman Empire and served as a symbol of the Eternal City in mosaics - a lot of important writers and philosophers, for instance Ovid (43 B.C.- 18 A.D.), Tacitus (in 34 A.D.), Pliny the Elder („Natural history“; 77 A.D.), Claudianus and Herodotus, referred to the phoenix as a „miraculous bird“


The European „Phoenix“ after the Roman Empire / in Christianity:  early church fathers transferred the phoenix and parts of the legend to Christian symbolism: Phoenix = Christ The symbolic meanings of the herbs and woods are also taken over: Frankincense symbolising intercession Myrrh symbolising the coming of death It may occur a little strange that some characteristic features of the phoenix in ancient legends from the beginning of Christianity onwards appear as characteristics of Christ. Among the most important Christian writers dealing with the phoenix are: Lactantius („de ave phoenice“;ca. 300 A.D.) Gregor of Tours Clemens Alexandrius


3. The Chinese „Si ling, „Feng“ or „Fenghuang“: - described similar to the Egyptian and European Phoenix, though the origin was an owl and there could not possibly have been a connection - symbol of the empress, but also associated with the south, the male „yang“, beauty, elegance, loyalty and honesty - „feng“ means wind, „huang“ means red - legendary predecessor of the Shang-tribe, images of the feng have appeared for over 7000 years - other magical characters that are worshipped: green dragon, white tiger, the turtle and the dark warrior - said to have brought the five tones of traditional music to the Chinese


4. The Arabian “Roc”, “Rukh”, “Anqa” or “Simorgh”: - in Islamic mythology the phoenix was identified as a huge mysterious bird that originally was created by Allah - originally created to help people, but became a plague and was killed - described in various ways: always red and shaped like a heron, but sometimes „gigantic“ or even with two horns - mentioned in various works, from Marco Polo‘s travel diaries to Thousand and One Nights


5. The Buddhist “Garuda” - only phoenix-variation with a human body - usually white face, scarlet wings, golden body - so large that it can blot out the sun - used to be fond of killing, but after a Buddhist prince taught him religious values he became beneficent, defending certain tribes and fighting others


6. The Russian „Firebird“ Exists only in fairy tales: I. A hunter tried to kill the beautiful phoenix, which cried out when it was hit by an arrow. Its cry was so loud that mountains tumbled and oceans arose. This is how the noise of the wind developed and mankind got music. II. The other fairy tale became prominent in Igor Stravinsky‘s opera „L‘Oiseau de feu“.


The phoenix in European literature: Adamus Lonicerus „Kreuterbuch“ (1679) Konrad von Megenburg „Buch der Natur“ Arthur Christopher Benson „The Phoenix“ and... Dryden various poems Milton „Paradise Lost“ (book V) Hans Christian Andersen „The phoenix bird“ (1850) William Shakespeare in „The Tempest“ and others „The Aberdeen Bestiary“

„The Phoenix“ in the Exeter Book: 

„The Phoenix“ in the Exeter Book often called one of a „Cynewulfian“ poem, written between c. 775-825 first part based on „de ave phoenice“ by Lactantius free translation of the 170 lines in Latin into 380 lines in English in the original religious aspects are not mentioned second part is an allegoric interpretation of the first part, comparing mankind with the phoenix (and later christ and the phoenix) sources for this OE text could be the Bible and „Ambrosius‘ Exameron“


...miscellaneous... The phoenix also exists as a: Constellation of stars and a symbol of the Illuminists ...but that‘s a completely different story!

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