Cor Hendriks – The Macaws (16): The Phoenix

The phoenix is lucky,
may you be too.
Graffiti from Pompeii
Butterworth & Laurence 2006, p. 341

In The Bird-parliament (see of the 13th century Persian poet Farid-ud-din Attar the hoopoe (hud-hid) tells the other birds that they have a king, called Simurgh, whose capital is behind the Caucasus. ‘Once the Simurgh lifted the veil before its face, so that it shone as the sun and sent out millions of beams. By its grace everyone of these beams became a bird. So we are little sparks of the Simurgh.’ The Simurgh resides on the height of Kuh-i-Kaf behind seven valleys, that are very hard to pass, even for birds: of the millions of birds that set out under the inspired leadership of the hoopoe (it is famous for bringing the Queen of Sheba to Solomon) only thirty arrive at the court of the Simurgh (a wordplay on the meaning of ‘simurgh’) [Attar 1977, 9; 14; 89; comment p. 96 n. 24: Simurgh (one word) means ‘god, divine unit’, si murgh (two words) means ‘thirty birds’. P. 92 n. 2: Simurgh: The famous bird that in the Sufi poetry represents the highest being, and the emblem is of unity in variety].

Scene from The Conference of the Birds in a Persian miniature, the hoopoe, center right, instructs the other birds on the Sufi path (foto Wikipedia)

Scene from The Conference of the Birds in a Persian miniature, the hoopoe, center right, instructs the other birds on the Sufi path (foto Wikipedia)

This journey to the Simurgh brings to mind the journey to the Griffin (KHM 165: ‘Der Vogel Greif’). The King’s daughter can only be cured by an apple and he promises her to the man who can bring her the curing apple. But when Hans has cured her, the king doesn’t want to give his daughter to the peasant’s son and sets him difficult tasks: first a boat that can go faster on land than on water, then to take a hundred hares out to pasture for a whole day without losing one of them, and at last to bring a feather from the Griffin’s tail. From here the tale has the same structure as ATU 461: Three Hairs from the Devil’s Beard (KHM 29: ‘Der Teufel mit den drei goldenen Haaren’). This feather is not only hard to get but also very precious (as are the golden hairs of the Devil). Attar lets the hoopoe give a description of how the Simurgh appeared for the first time on earth: ‘In the first days of the creation it (the Simurgh) went one night in its radiating flight over the land of China. A feather of its wing fell to the Chinese ground. Immediately there arose a great uproar on earth. Everyone was caught with the desire to make an image of that feather, and everyone that saw it, lost his senses. The feather is still to be seen in China’s image-gallery.’ And the hoopoe concludes his speech with a dictum from the KoranSeek for knowledge, even in China’, that relates to this story [Attar 1977, 10, comment p. 92 n. 3: In the Koran the believers are advised to seek for knowledge, even in China – a very exhausting journey, when there were no mechanical ways of transportation]. Of course the first days of creation are hard to reconcile with an earth full of people that go out to seek that feather. But that the bird appeared at the beginning of the world is a tenet in the Old Egyptian religion where it is said of the phoenix: a heron-like ‘Bennu-bird’ flew over the primeval waters of Nun and alighted on a rock or stone perch. The Bennu-bird then opened its beak and emitted a piercing cry which broke the silence of the abyss. This was the legendary bird the Greeks called the φοϊνιξ (Phoenix), and which, they said, was able to renew itself, arising from its own ashes at regular intervals, many years apart [Alford 1998, 192 from R.T. Rundle Clark, The Legend of the Phoenix, 5f]. Herodotus (II:77) asserts that the Phoenix, that he knows only from wall paintings, is in shape and size exactly like the eagle, only partly red, partly golden. According to the inhabitants of Heliopolis the bird appeared rarely, at intervals of 500 years, on the occasion of the death of the parent-bird. Then it made from myrrh an egg as big as it could carry, hollowed it out, put his father inside and closed the hole with myrrh. This egg it brought from Arabia to Heliopolis, and buried in the temple of the Sun. Others indicated that the phoenix came every 500 years from India to Egypt where it builds a funeral pyre from pure cinnamon and aromatic wood, burns itself on it and then arises again from its ashes, or because it develops itself from a worm, or because the nest, that it had had given regenerative power, brought it forth again. To the Egyptians the bird represented a great astronomical period, and it became known in the West as a symbol for eternity, that was used even by the Fathers of the Church [Vollmer, 380. Greek kinnamon is connected with Semitic kinnor]. So the Phoenix is a symbol for the periodical destruction of the world through fire [see or].
Two late Classical poems about the Phoenix are summarized and compared by W. Richter, proving that the text of Claudius Claudianus (ca. 400) is older than the text that is usually considered as the work of Lactantius, a Christian philosopher and theologian (ca. 250-ca. 323).

A phoenix depicted in a book of legendary creatures by FJ Bertuch (1747–1822) (foto Wikipedia)
A phoenix depicted in a book of legendary creatures by F.J .Bertuch, 1747–1822 (foto Wikipedia)

Claudius Claudianus, Phoenix
In the Far East, behind the Indians, lies a wood that is hit by the first rays of the Sun. There lives in solitude the happy bird of the Titan, beyond mankind’s world, beyond their infirmities and their needs. He lives of sunlight and dew, his colours are golden, red and blue. He is not brought forth by animalistic procreation and doesn’t die like other animals, but finds in death immediately new life. After 1000 years the phoenix becomes old and weak. When he notices by the decline of his strength that his life nears its ending, he builds from herbs and leaves from Saba a death-nest. Sitting on the nest he greets the sun and asks him for the ray that has to enflame it. The Sun-god holds in his chariot, speaks to the phoenix and gives his blessing for the down-fall and resurrection. With a ‘Fire-hair’ he enflames as if with an arrow nest and phoenix. While he is burning, the world holds her breath for a moment, for fear of losing that valuable bird. But at once the scattered remains of the burnt bird come to life; from the ashes arises a new, rejuvenated phoenix. He goes immediately with the in plants enveloped corpse of the ‘father’ to Egypt to bury it there. On his flight he is accompanied by an army of all birds. They accept his command and hold peace amongst themselves (like an army of the King of the Parths, who rides powerful and ostentatious at its head). Then the burial in Heliopolis is pictured as well as the temple of the Sun with its hundred pillars, then the deposito funeris, and finally the enchantment of the surrounding: all of Egypt is filled by a balsam-like smell. To close off there is a makarismos, with the central thought: You, phoenix, conquers as only living being death; you know the history of the world; neither the flood of Deucalion nor the world-fire by Phaethon could affect you, and you will live on, even when the earth goes to ruin [W. Richter, ‘Zwei spätantike Gedichte über den Vogel Phoenix’, in: Rheinisch Museum für Philologie, 1993, 63f (Paraphrase). He argues correctly in my opinion that the poem ascribed to Lactantius is not by this famous author but of an anonymous, writing later than Claudianus, and with a Christian perspective. Also in the text of Claudianus the bird is male, in the version of the anonymous female (ID., 87)].

L. Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius, De ave Phoenice
There is a delightful place in the Far East, where there is eternal spring; it is completely flat, except for a mountain that is higher than all the mountains of our world. There is a wood, dedicated to the Sun and eternally green; neither the world-fire of Phaethon nor the flood of Deukalion could do something to it. There is in it no sickness, no aging, no fear, no crime, no avarice, etc., but also no climatic bad things. In its midst there is a streaming source with clear, sweet water, that once a month overflows and wets the garden. The wood itself consists of high trees, with fruit that never falls off. In this wood lives the only one phoenix that every time rises from its death again. He is the satellite of the Sun. Before its rising he dives three times in the water, drinks three times, seats itself on the highest treetop and waits for the first sun-ray. When this hits him, the bird sings with a voice that is more beautiful than the swan’s. When the sun starts on its track, he greets it silently with three times flapping his wings and three times bowing the head. On top of that he announces each hour by his call. When the bird gets old after 1000 years, he leaves his place and goes to Syria – in our world, where Death reigns – and searches for a lonely wood. There he seats himself on a palm-tree (φοϊνιξ) that no harmful animal touches. Nature comes to rest: no wind blows, no cloud is visible, the sky is completely clear. Now the phoenix builds his death-nest from all the aromatic plants of Assyria, Arabia, Africa and India. The bird embalms itself and waits for his death that comes about through combustion (not clear how). From the ashes comes forth some kind of seed, from this seed some kind of inarticulate vermiculus (worm) that pupates into a butterfly and finally becomes a new phoenix. He grows up and takes except for ambrosia and nectar no food. When he has reached full iuventus, he flies back to his homeland. Before that he embalms the corpse of the old phoenix, brings hem to the Sun-city and puts it on the altar of the Sun-god. There it is admired and honoured by the whole world; his appearance and beauty are described. All of Egypt comes together to see him. A marble statue of the phoenix is erected and an inscription added. Also all the birds come together to accompany him. Now he takes off in the air and returns to his homeland. A makarismos: The luckiest bird created by God himself, de se nasci. He knows no sexuality, no desire for breading. His Venus is the death. He is his own father, his own son: identical and not identical at the same time, immortal through the good thing of death: bono (…) mortis [Richter a.c., 64f].

Detail from the 12th-century Aberdeen Bestiary, featuring a phoenix (foto Wikipedia)

Detail from the 12th century Aberdeen Bestiary, featuring a phoenix (foto Wikipedia)

Two other texts where the Phoenix is used in a Christian context are the first letter of Clement (published in The Lost Books), and a Coptic Sermon to Mary.

The First Letter of Clement (XII:1-5)
Let us consider that wonderful type of the Resurrection which is seen in the Eastern countries; that is to say, in Arabia. There is a certain bird called a Phoenix; of this there is never but one at a time: and that lives 500 years. And when the time of its dissolution draws near, that it must die, it makes itself a nest of frankincense, and myrrh, and other spices into which when its time is fulfilled it enters and dies. But its flesh putrifying, breeds a certain worm, which being nourished with the juice of the dead bird brings forth feathers; and when it is grown to a perfect state, it takes up the nest in which the bones of its parents lie, and carries it from Arabia into Egypt, to a city called Heliopolis: And flying in open day in the sight of all men, lays it upon the altar of the sun, and so returns from whence it came. The priests then search into the records of the time; and find that it returned precisely at the end of 500 years [The Lost Books, 1971, 12].

A Coptic Sermon to Mary
At the time now that Abel made a sacrifice, God had more regard for his sacrifice than for [that of] the wicked Cain. There is a bird called Phoenix. This now, when the fire came from heaven and consumed the sacrifice of Abel the righteous, the fire of that sacrifice also now consumed that bird at the same time [and] reduced it to ashes. On the third day a small worm came out of the ashes of the bird. It grew little by little until it was covered with feathers and had again assumed its former shape. Further, every 500 years the phoenix, this great bird, comes flying in the height, and it goes into the temple on the altar where they sacrifice. It goes first to Paradise and takes three twigs from the fragrant trees and lays them on the altar. Then the fire comes from heaven and consumes the fragrant twigs and the body of the bird. After three days however there appears a small worm; then it becomes covered with feathers and assumes its former shape. This bird indicates to us the resurrection of the Lord. Just as the bee eats from the flowers of the field which are wax to it, and from the dew of heaven which is honey to it, so too the phoenix lives on the dew of heaven and the flowers of the trees of Lebanon [Broek 1972, 47. The text continues: ‘At the time now that God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt by the hand of Moses, the phoenix showed itself on the temple of On, the city of the sun. According to the number of its years it was its tenth time since its genesis after the sacrifice of Abel that it made a sacrifice of itself: in this year now the Son of God was born in Bethlehem. And on the day that the priest Zecharia was killed, they installed the priest Simeon in his place. The phoenix burned itself on the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem. On the eight day after the holy Virgin had brought forth our Saviour, she took him with Joseph to the temple in order to make a sacrifice for him as firstborn, [and] he was named Jesus. From that moment now no one has ever seen that bird up to this day. Our fathers have born witness: God shames the idol worshippers on the day of judgment because of this bird, because (…) you have not looked at this same bird (…) which after three days lives and assumes its former shape. This bird now indicates to us the resurrection…’].

Ovid gives in his Metamorphoses as an exception to the rule, that [normal] creatures derive their origin from something other than themselves, the example of the phoenix:
There is one living thing, a bird, which reproduces and regenerates itself, without any outside aid. The Assyrians call it the phoenix. It lives, not on corn and grasses, but on the gum of incense, and the sap of balsam. When it has completed five centuries of life, it straightway builds a nest for itself, working with unsullied beak and claw, in the topmost branches of some swaying palm. Then, when it has laid a foundation of cassis, and smooth spikes of nard, chips of cinnamon bark and yellow myrrh, it places itself on top, and ends its life amid the perfumes. Then, they say, a little phoenix is born anew from the father’s body, fated to live a like number of years. When the nestling is old enough and strong enough to carry the weight, it lifts the heavy nest from the high branches and, like a dutiful son, carries its father’s tomb, its own cradle, through the yielding air, till it reaches the city of the sun, where it lays its burden before the sacred doors, within Hyperion’s temple” [Ovid, Meth., XV:391ff. (trans. Mary M. Innes 1955, 345)].

This bird is also known in Jewish legend and called Milcham. When Adam and Eve had eaten from the forbidden apple and became mortal they gave all the animals from the fruit. Only Milcham refused to eat and was rewarded by God with eternal life. When it has lived 1000 years, its body shrivels up, it loses its feathers, and becomes as small as an egg, from which a new phoenix develops. It is called the Protector of the Earth: it accompanies the sun on its course, spreads its wings and catches the fiery solar beams, otherwise nothing could withstand the burning heat. On its right wing are written the words: ‘I am not a product of the heavens nor of the earth, but of the fiery wings.’ Its food consist of dew and manna. It secretes a worm, that in turn secretes cinnamon. When Henoch went to heaven, he saw the Phoenix and describes at as a flying creature with feet and tail as a lion, a head as a crocodile, and twelve wings as angels. It accompanied the chariot of the sun, and gives heath and dew according to Gods command. When the Angel of Death received his sword, God ordered him to spare no one, but not to reach out his hand toward Milcham. And Milcham was placed in Paradise and the door was closed behind it, so it would be safe for the sword of the Angel of Death [Staal 1925, 9; 34; 24. Cf. ID., 11: the Angel Ben Nets, The Winged One, who with his wings catches the southern wind, otherwise the earth would be consumed by the heath; cf. ID., 22; 36: the bird Ziz].

Madame Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Movement, wrote about the Phoenix that the Hebrews called it Onech (= Henoch, a symbol of secret initiation) and the Turks Kerkes, lived for 1000 years, after which it lights a fire and burns itself, and lives after that, reborn from itself, again for 1000 years, and so on till seven times seven, after which the Day of Judgment arrives. Blavatsky connects the seven times seven with the 49 Manu’s and the seven times seven human time rings. The Phoenix is comparable with the Persian Simorgh and the Arabian roc, and the story of this last bird confirms the opinion, that death and rebirth of the phoenix represent the sequential destruction and recreation of the world (a concept in Indian mythology), that were brought about by the impact of a fiery flood, and also a watery flood. When the Simorgh was asked for its age, it told Caherman that this world was very old, because it was seven times repopulated with creatures other than humans, and seven times depopulated, that the present age will last for 7000 years and that itself had seen twelve of these revolutions and did not know how many more it would see. The Simorgh can be compared with the winged Singh of the Hindu’s and the Sphinx of the Egyptians. Of the first it is said that it will appear at the end of times as a enormous lion-bird, which, according to Blavatsky, was taken over by the rabbi’s in their myth about a enormously big bird that sometimes stands on the earth, sometimes walks in the ocean, while its head carries the sky. They also took over the idea of the seven consecutive renewals of the earth, each lasting 7000 years, so that the total length of the earth time is 49,000 years [Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine (1888, II, 543). The hidden world, behind the mountain range Koh-Kav, where the Fountain of Youth is, can be reached – for those who have patience – by waiting for the Simorgh-anke bird that has promised to unveil that hidden land before its death to everyone, and to make it again easy to reach by a bridge that the dews of the Ocean will build between this land and that (cf. the Rama-bridge)].
Plutarch (de Orac. defectu 2:415c) has conserved from Hesiodus’ Cherōnos Hypothēkai (The precepts of Chiron) the calculation: ‘A chattering crow lives out nine generations of aged men, but a stag ‘s life is four times (as long as) a crow’s, and a raven’s life makes three stags old, while the phoenix outlives nine ravens, but we, the rich-haired Nymphs, daughters of Zeus the aegis-holder, outlive ten phoenixes.’ [Hesiod 1982, 74f nº3. Cf. Santillana 1969, 427: A sidelight falls upon the notions connected with the stag by Horapollo’s statement concerning the Egyptian writing of ‘A long space of time: A Stag’s horns grow out each year. A picture of them means a long space of time.’ Chairemon made it shorter: ‘eniautos: elaphos (year, period: stag)’. […] Chairemon continues his list by offering as number 16: ‘eniautos: phoinix’, i.e., a different span of time, the much-discussed ‘Phoenix-period’ (ca. 500 years).]
This riddle has been linked by Broek to the concept of the yugas.

Gervais of Tilbury (13th cent.) in his book of mirabilia (p. 88) writes about the phoenix:
Not far from Heliopolis lies Mount Adamans, inaccessible because of its great height. There is to be found a bird with the head of an eagle and very big feathers, like the hoopoe. On that mountain is also the bird phoenix, who wears on his head a big tiara as a coif, that looks like the tail of a flaunting peacock. In this bird are hidden as they say the pleasures of the sun. It is said that it stays alive uncountable years by the only Godhead: living from amomum and incense it occupies a nest made from pearls. It is itself reborn in its nest from ashes and it has also the name that it lives forever, as Ovid writes’ [Leeuwen 1999, 134 (amomum = 1. genus of aromatic Indian herbs; 2. balsam made from these herbs)].

Phoenix (foto

Phoenix (foto

In the 14th century Mandeville’s Travels (p. 65)
In Egypt is the city of Heliopolis, that is to say, the city of the Sun. In that city there is a temple, made round after the shape of the Temple of Jerusalem. The priests of that temple have all their writings, under the date of the fowl that is clept phoenix; and there is none but one in all the world. And he cometh to burn himself upon the altar of that temple at the end of five hundred year; for so long he liveth. And at the five hundred years’ end, the priests array their altar honestly, and put thereupon spices and sulphur vif and other things that will burn lightly; and then the bird phoenix cometh and burneth himself to ashes. And the first day next after, men find in the ashes a worm ; and the second day next after, men find a bird quick and perfect ; and the third day next after, he flieth his way. And so there is no more birds of that kind in all the world, but it alone, and truly that is a great miracle of God. And men may well liken that bird unto God, because that there ne is no God but one; and also, that our Lord arose from death to life the third day. This bird men see often-time fly in those countries; and he is not mickle more than an eagle. And he hath a crest of feathers upon his head more great than the peacock hath; and his neck is yellow after colour of an oriel that is a stone well shining ; and his beak is coloured blue as ind; and his wings be of purple colour, and his tail is barred overthwart with green and yellow and red. And he is a full fair bird to look upon, against the sun, for he shineth full gloriously and nobly” [Mandeville 1900, 32f. Cf. Leeuwen 1999, 134f: The priest of the temple, who from his book knows, when the bird comes, arrays the altar and puts there several herbs, sulphur uiuum, branches of the juniper tree and other things that burn lightly. The bird alights on the altar and flutters his wings until the mentioned things ignite, after which he burns himself to ashes. And the next day they find something in the ashes, that resembles a worm. On the second day that worm is changed into a perfectly formed bird. And on the third day he flies away to the place where he normally lives. This bird is the symbol of our Lord Jesus Christ, because there is only one God, who arose on the third day after His death. This bird is often seen hovering in the air when the weather is clear, and people there say that they, when they see him, will have several propitious, happy years, because it is a heavenly bird. He is not bigger than an eagle, he has a crest on his head like a peacock, but much bigger. His neck is yellow, his back is indigo-blue, his wings are red and his tail is barred athwart with green, yellow and red. In the sunlight he looks beautiful because these are the colours that shine the most bright].

In the story of Bulukiya, after his meeting with Janshah, Bulukiya continues his journey till he comes to a great sea. There he anoints his feet with the juice of a magic herb (he has received before) and, walking over the face of the waters, speeds onwards till he comes to an island abounding in trees and springs and fruits, as it were the Garden of Eden. He lands and walks about, till he sees an immense tree, with leaves as big as the sails of a ship. So he goes up to the tree and finds under it a table spread with all manner of meats, whilst on a branch of the branches sits a great bird, whose body is of pearls and leek-green emeralds, its feet of silver, its beak of red carnelian and its plumery of precious metals; and it is engaged in singing the praises of Allah the Most High and blessing Mohammed. Bulukiya asks who he is and the bird says: ‘I am one of the birds of Eden and followed Adam when Allah Almighty cast him out thence. I wandered over the face of the earth till Allah deigned give me this island for a dwelling-place, and I took my abode here. And every Friday from night till morning the Saints and Princes of the faith flock to this place and make pious visitation and eat from this table spread by Allah Almighty; and after they have eaten, the table is taken up again to Heaven; nor doth the food ever waste or corrupt.’ So Bulukiya eats his fill of the meats and praises the Great Creator. And presently, behold, there comes up Al-Khizr (‘The Green’ Prophet, a mysterious personage we saw before with Alexander), who brings him home in the blink of an eye. [Burton V, 384 (n. 2).]

Apollo rides sidesaddle upon the back of a Griffin (foto theoi)

Apollo rides sidesaddle upon the back of a Griffin (foto

That the Griffin (see or and the Phoenix are identical can be construed from the Byzantine Physiologus. According to this text at the moment in the morning when the sun lets its rays fall on the earth, the griffin spreads its wings to catch the rays to prevent the whole earth from burning up. Another griffin goes along to the west, and on its wings are the words: ‘Come, giver of light, give thy light to the world!’ [Broek 1972, 272. In the symbolic interpretation given at the end of this chapter the rays of the sun are explained as God’s wrath, the two griffins being the Archangel Michael and the holy Theotokos Mary, who prevent God from destroying the world. In the Ms, reproduced by A. Moustoxydes, the two griffins were related to the archangels Michael and Gabriel (l.c., n. 1)]. This same tradition concerning the griffin can be found in an astrological manuscript kept in Leningrad. In this text it is said that in the morning the turning vault of heaven brings the sun to the east, in Eden, to the highest portion of the earth, opposite Paradise. Arriving at the same time as the sun is a bird called the griffin, which is 200 ells tall. This bird takes a position opposite the stallions drawing the chariot of the sun and sprays the sun’s rays with water to prevent them from burning up the earth. The griffin becomes burning hot and its feathers fall out, but it restores itself completely by submerging itself in the Nile, an event which repeated each day [Broek 1972, 273 after M.A.F. Sangin, Catalogus codicum astrologum Graecorum., XII, Brussels 1936, 107. In a rather obscure way the cocks are related to the sun bird here too: something presses the cock under its wing so that it knows it is time to crow. Lastly, it is said that God’s throne has 365 gates and that the sun appears through a different one each day].

Dragon & Phoenix (foto

Dragon & Phoenix (foto

In the so called Disputatio Panagiotae cum Azymita (after 1274) an Azymite, a Roman cardinal, asks an orthodox Greek called Constantine about the sun’s course, whereupon Constantine answers that the sun is accompanied during the day by 150,000 angels and during the night by 10,000. When the sun sets they remove his divine garments and carry them to the life-giving Christ. With the sea, which flows from west to east, the sun returns to the place where he rises. Early in the morning Christ gives the crown of the sun back to the angels, which place it on the sun, who then rises. At that moment two birds referred to as griffins appear, one called phoenix and the other chaledris. These birds are nine ells tall and they moisten the sun to prevent the world from being burned up (in another not original version the birds are two heavenly angels which wet their wings in the Ocean and then extinguish the sun). The wings of the birds become charred, leaving only the flesh. After this, they return to the Ocean, immerse themselves, and recover their feathers. These birds formed the model for the cocks, whose nature earned them the same name. This is why the cock is called the prophet among the birds. The blood in its wings is very warm, which disturbs it; it becomes so hot that it awakens and spreads its wings. In this way it knows in advance that the two birds mentioned above are about to spread their wings. It begins to crow, recalling Christ the while. In answer to the Azymite’s question about what the cocks cry in the morning, Constantine answers that one cries ‘Come’, the second ‘Giver of light’, the third ‘Give thy light’, and the fourth ‘To the world’ [Broek 1972, 274f after Vassiliev, 184, in: James, LXV; Krasnoseľcev, 320].

The motif of the immersion is also found in one tradition concerning the rejuvenation of the eagle. In connection with the well-known text of Psalm 102:5: ‘(…) thy youth shall be renewed like an eagle’s’, the Physiologus says that the old eagle, whose wings have become heavy and the sight weak, seeks a clear spring and then flies to the heaven of the sun. There it burns its old feathers and regains its sharp sight, after which it submerges itself three times in the spring; in this way it renews itself and becomes young again [Broek 1972, 279 after Physiologus, 6. For the age and renewal of the eagle he refers to Hubaux and Leroy].

The two birds guiding the sun, can be seen in a long, interpolated text of II Enoch. The four stars on each side of the sun’s chariot each have a thousand stars under them, so that a total of eight thousand stars accompany the sun. Furthermore, they are preceded during the day by 150,000 angels and at night by [ten] thousand, and a hundred angels give the sun its fire. Of the ‘flying spirits’ which, according to the short text, draw the sun’s chariot, it is said in the long text that they have the shape of birds, one resembling the phoenix and the second the chalkedri. These latter ‘birds’ have the body of a lion but the feet, head, and tail of a crocodile and their colour is the purple of the rainbow. Their size is nine hundred measures and they have the wings of angels, twelve each. These creatures draw the sun’s chariot and convey dew and heat to the earth; at the Lord’s command they reverse the course of the chariot which descends and rises in the sky and on earth with the light of its rays. When the sun sets, four hundred angels remove his crown and bring it to the Lord; they turn the sun with his chariot, and he returns, without light, during the seven great hours of the night. At the eighth hour the four hundred angels bring the crown back and place it on the sun again. Then ‘the elements’, which are called phoenix and chalkedri, begin to sing, at which all the birds begin to flutter their wings, praising him who brings the light, and singing: ‘The giver of light arrives and gives the light to his creation’ [Broek 1972, 291 after éd. Vaillant, 91-93. Broek (n. 3) remarks that the interpolator has distorted the original idea that the dew and warmth descend with the rays of the sun (thus in I Enoch 75, 4-5), so that now the birds of the sun do this with the ascent and descent of the chariot of the sun; the interpolation is extremely unsuccessful, because the mention of the rays of the sun has become pointless].

The Chalkedri is according to Van den Broek from Greek χαλκύδραι, ‘bronze hydras’, in which he wants to see a crocodile, referring to Job 40:25-41:26, where it has protective shields on its back, which are according to the Septuagint ‘bronze shields’ [Broek 1972, 294 after Charles, Apocr. and Pseud., II, p. 436; ID., 295f. See].

Van den Broek concludes: the author of the Disputatio could have felt himself supported, in stating that the phoenix and the chalkedri are actually griffins, by the description of these animals in II Enoch itself, because there they fulfil a function that was similarly ascribed to the griffin in the Classical world: the drawing of the chariot of the sun. Philostratus reports that among the Inians the griffin is consecrated to Helios and that in their art the chariot of the sun god is drawn by four griffins [Broek 1972, 304; Philostratus, Vita Apoll., III, 48].

La fenice (foto crescitareiki)

La fenice (photo crescitareiki)

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