“Most beings spring from other individuals; but there is a certain kind which reproduces itself. The Assyrians call it the Phoenix. It does not live on fruit or flowers, but on frankincense and odoriferous gums. When it has lived five hundred years, it builds itself a nest in the branches of an oak, or on the top of a palm tree. In this it collects cinnamon, and spikenard, and myrrh, and of these materials builds a pile on which it deposits itself, and dying, breathes out its last breath amidst odors. From the body of the parent bird, a young Phoenix issues forth, destined to live as long a life as its predecessor. When this has grown up and gained sufficient strength, it lifts its nest from the tree (its own cradle and its parent’s sepulchre), and carries it to the city of Heliopolis in Egypt, and deposits it in the temple of the Sun.” (Ovid)
“Now, I have not actually seen a phoenix, except in a painting, because they are quite infrequent visitors to the country; in fact, I was told in Heliopolis that they appear only at 500-year intervals. They say that it is the death of a phoenix’s father which prompts its visit to Egypt. Anyway, if the painting was reliable, I can tell you something about the phoenix’s size and qualities, namely that its feathers are partly gold but mostly red, and that in appearance and size it is most like an eagle. There is a particular feat they say the phoenix performs; I do not believe it myself, but they say that the bird sets out from its homeland in Arabia on a journey to the sanctuary of the sun, bringing its father sealed in myrrh, and buries its father there.” (Herodotus)
Originally, the phoenix was identified by the Egyptians as a stork or heron-like bird called a benu, known from the Book of the Dead and other Egyptian texts as one of the sacred symbols of worship at Heliopolis, closely associated with the rising sun and the Egyptian sun-god Ra.
According to Roman and Greek legends, the Phoenix is the symbol of immortality and resurrection. It is associated with the Sun god Phoebus (Apollo). Its name “Phoenix” is the Greek word for “red”, which links this magical bird to Fire and to the Sun. It is said to resemble an eagle or a peacock.
At dawn, the Phoenix bathed in the water of the well, and the Greek sun-god Helios stopped his chariot (the Sun) in order to listen to its song. It is said that the Phoenix has a 500 to 1000 year life-cycle, near the end of which it builds itself a nest of twigs that then ignites. Both the nest and the bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes, from which a new, young Phoenix arises, reborn anew to live again.