The Legend Of The Phoenix Explained

Ah, yes, the phoenix! Today, the fiery bird's name is rather unfairly associated with two of the most infamous X-Men movies in existence (Last Stand and Dark Phoenix, natch)but the original beast of legend is considerably more hardcore. As Encyclopedia Britannica lets us know, the mythical firebird dates back to the times of ancient Egypt, where it was said to be on good terms with the sun god, Re. The popular image of the phoenix is the "bird made of fire" you see pictured here, but the Egyptian version of the bird was arguably even flashier. It was supposedly the size of an eagle, with cool gold-and-scarlet feathers and an awesome cry. According to legend, there can only be one phoenix at the time, and the creature is considered to be a symbol of eternal life.

Old-timey Egyptians were far from the only ones to like the concept. Romans liked the phoenix so much that it became a sort of symbol of the "Undying Rome" thing they had going, and its image was even printed on their money. Islamic myths also have a pretty similar bird called the anqa, which is a rather more divisive figure. It used to start out as a huge, perfect, heron-like bird, but became a bit of a terror and had to be killed. 

Fire in the fowl

What is it about the phoenix that makes it such an outstanding myth? The answer is simple: The creature represents immortality, which was a particularly popular subject in the ancient Egyptian and Roman social circles, and probably doesn't hurt its reputation today, either. There's also the fact that the phoenix's life cycle is amazingly metal, and ticks pretty much all the boxes for properly myth-minded folks. 

As legend has it, every phoenix lives for 500 years or more. When it feels that its time is up, it builds a cool nest out of spices and nice-smelling wood. Then, it sets the whole thing in fire and jumps right in. The ensuing firestorm births a brand new phoenix, whose first act is to give its predecessor the sort of funeral its flashy demise deserves. The new phoenix collects the old one's ashes, and flies them in the city of the sun god, Heliopolis, where they rest in all eternity in an egg made of myrrh. Then, it flies off to be awesome until it's time to repeat the cycle. There's also a variation where they cut the middleman and the old phoenix flies to the Heliopolis altar for its fire trick, neatly saving its predecessor a presumably inconvenient round trip.