ancient egypt: history and culture
Ancient Egyptian bestiary: The Phoenix
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The Phoenix

Phoenix - Bennu bird     The phoenix or benu bird was initially probably a kind of a wagtail rather than a heron. It was the holy bird of Heliopolis where it lived on a ben-ben stone or a holy willow tree. The phoenix was considered to be the ba of Re.
Grant thou to me glory in heaven, and power upon earth, and truth-speaking in the Divine Underworld, and [the power to] sail down the river to Tetu in the form of a living Ba-soul, and [the power to] sail up the river to Abydos in the form of a Benu bird, and [the power to] pass in through and to pass out from, without obstruction, the doors of the lords of the Tuat.

Book of the Dead
Translated by E.A.W.Budge

    The Phoenix was the first creature to appear in the world newly emerged from the chaos:
I am the Phoenix, the great heron, the bird of emergence. First creature to appear on the primordial hill that rose from (the waters of) Nunís chaos. I look back over all that was, I recall each detail.
Jacob Rabinovitz: Isle of Fire, Coffin Text 335a, p.96
    It was also one of the forms Osiris took. The Book of the Dead, writings collected through the centuries, is not always very clear as to the relationships between the various gods and their attributes (cf. Amen).
Who is this?
It is Osiris. Others, however, say that his name is Ra, and that the god who dwelleth in Amentet is the phallus of Ra, wherewith he had union with himself.
I am the Benu bird which is in Anu. I am the keeper of the volume of the book (the Tablet of Destiny) of the things which have been made, and of the things which shall be made.
Book of the Dead
Translated by E.A.W.Budge
    It was the Lord of Jubilees and as such was considered to be very long lived. The rebirth out of fire was a Greek myth.
There is also another sacred bird called the phoenix which I did not myself see except in painting, for in truth he comes to them very rarely, at intervals, as the people of Heliopolis say, of five hundred years; and these say that he comes regularly when his father dies; and if he be like the painting he is of this size and nature, that is to say, some of his feathers are of gold colour and others red, and in outline and size he is as nearly as possible like an eagle. This bird they say (but I cannot believe the story) contrives as follows:-- setting forth from Arabia he conveys his father, they say, to the temple of the Sun (Helios) plastered up in myrrh, and buries him in the temple of the Sun; and he conveys him thus:--he forms first an egg of myrrh as large as he is able to carry, and then he makes trial of carrying it, and when he has made trial sufficiently, then he hollows out the egg and places his father within it and plasters over with other myrrh that part of the egg where he hollowed it out to put his father in, and when his father is laid in it, it proves (they say) to be of the same weight as it was; and after he has plastered it up, he conveys the whole to Egypt to the temple of the Sun. Thus they say that this bird does.
Herodotus, Histories II
Project Gutenberg
    Pliny the Elder doubted that a bird such as the phoenix could exist. He gave the following description:
It is said that there is only one in existence in the whole world, and that that one has not been seen very often. We are told that this bird is of the size of an eagle, and has a brilliant golden plumage around the neck, while the rest of the body is of a purple colour; except the tail, which is azure, with long feathers intermingled of a roseate hue; the throat is adorned with a crest, and the head with a tuft of feathers.
Pliny, Natural History, Book X, chapter 2

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