Achilles Tatius on the Phoenix

(Leukippe and Kleitophon, 3.25)


For a summary of the whole novel, see Leukippe and Kleitophon.


“What bird,” said I, “is being honored so greatly? And what is this coffin which he carries?” “The bird is called ‘Phoenix’; in origin he is from Ethiopia; he is of a peacock’s height but the peacock ranks second to this bird in the beauty of its color. His wings are a mixture of gold and purple. He boasts the sun as his lord and his head bears witnesses to this for a shapely circle crowns his head and a circular crown is the image of the sun. He is dark-blue, like roses, of great beauty, with spreading rays where the feathers spring. In life the Ethiopians enjoy his presence, but in death the Egyptians do. When he dies (but he suffers death only after a long period of time), his son makes a coffin for him and carries him to the Nile. He digs out with his beak a ball of myrrh of the sweetest scent and carves it out in the middle enough to fit the body of the bird. The cavity he dug out becomes the coffin for the corpse. He puts the bird in and fits it into the container and then, sealing up the opening with clay, flies to the Nile, carrying with him his handiwork. A choir of other birds accompanies him as a bodyguard escorts a migrating king and he does not stray from the road to the city of the sun (Heliopolis) for this is the second home of the dead bird. He stands on a high point of mountain peaks and waits for the attendants of the god. An Egyptian priest comes carrying a book from the holy shrine and confirms that the bird fits the image in the book. The bird knows he is being doubted and shows even the hidden parts of his body. Then he displays the corpse and gives a eulogy at the grave. The priests, the children of the Sun, then take the bird and bury him. Therefore, being alive the phoenix is Ethiopian by nurture but becomes Egyptian by burial.”

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