Adonis & The Phoenix

[An aside to the Boeotian Theoi blog project.]

As I alluded in my previous post, I’ve been noticing a vague connection between Adonis and the Phoenix as recognised in Hellenic myth. As per Herodotus and Ovid, the phoenix is reborn from an encasement in myrrh (Ovid also includes herbs), and myrrh is an important part of the story of Adonis’ birth.

A surviving fragment of Hesiod‘s Ehoiai describes Adonis’ parents as “Phoenix and Alphesiboea”, though this is identified as Phoenix, son of Agenor. Still, it was mis-remembering this fragment that inspired this painting of mine.

As well as the mythological connections of being born from an encasement of myrrh (think about it, it’s a tree resin, and Adonis is typically described as being born literally from myrrh bark, which has to be cut into to gather the resin; myrrh resin was basically His amniotic fluid), Adonis and the phoenix basically both have life-death-rebirth mythologies (though Theoi Project ignores Adonis’ veneration as a deity [yet, oddly, accepts Kybele as being thoroughly Hellenised], even a vague familiarity with the Adonia is enough proof of not only His being regarded as reborn, but also of deification), even if you consider Herodotus’ rather bizarre account of a younger phoenix encasing its deceased father in myrrh, thus becoming the father to the reborn phoenix (as well as its own grandpa — holy shit, the ancient Greeks really did invent everything).

Interestingly, though the phoenix is typically described as being a variegated saffron-to-scarlet colour, there’s an anthropological theory identifying the phoenix with Old World Flamingoes (and this theory is apparently supported by biologists naming the order, family, and genus of all species of flamingo) because the salt flats where flamingoes are fond of nesting can become far too hot for humans, or many (if any) other predators to walk across, and anybody who’s watched the air over an outdoor grill in the summer would know that the extra-hot air sort of “dances”, which could create the illusion of flame. To protect the egg from the heat, flamingoes build nests of mud, which keep the egg cool enough not to cook, but which could also look like perhaps a mound of ash from a distance. The Greater Flamingo, which is native to the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and SW Asia (making it the most widespread flamingo), does have variegated colouring, even if not matching the classical description of the phoenix. In fact, the Hellenistic mosaic above (found in the former ancient suburb of Daphne, in what is now Antakya, Turkey) certainly seems to support the identification with flamingoes and the phoenix.

Though initially an association I formed from a mis-remembering, I’ve grown to further and further associate the phoenix with Adonis, and I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, but simply couldn’t think of an appropriate moment to post it.


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