There is a pretty good chance that you have heard of a phoenix before, in fact, it would be quite impressive you had managed to miss any reference of this mythical bird as it is featured in music, movies and literature more than ever. Dating back to the ancient Greeks and ancient Egyptians; authors, scholars and word of mouth have passed the story of the phoenix down through generations upon generations to where we are today. Those detailed drawings have developed into breath-taking CGI, but one thing has not changed, the idea that the phoenix symbolises re-birth.
The idea that a bird could die and then rise from the ashes has captured the imaginations of many from young children right the way through to artists and scholars. The symbolism of re-birth popularised the phoenix through Christianity and ever since, minds from across the globe have re-imagined what the mythical bird stands for which has established it as perhaps one of the most well-known myths out there.
William Shakespeare is a famous example of being fascinated by the beast, often penning the phoenix into his works and even titled one of his plays; “The Phoenix and the Turtle”. The allegorical poem focuses on the death of ideal love through a depiction of a funeral arranged for a phoenix and a turtledove. This then goes on to describe how the love of birds created a perfect unity by using the two birds associated with perfection and devoted love.
Perhaps the best known example in the modern day is JK Rowling’s construction of the phoenix in the Harry Potter series. Anyone familiar to the series will recall Fawkes, the companion of Albus Dumbledore who amongst other notable acts of bravery, ultimately helped Harry to slay the Basilisk in the second instalment, The Chamber of Secrets. Amongst its familiar ability of immortality, Fawkes’ tears also contained healing powers while it also had a knack for teleportation. Pretty impressive compared to other interpretations of the mythical creature.
In contemporary terms, the symbolism of the phoenix has been embraced by a wide range of bands including Queen, Thirty Seconds to Mars and lostprophets. The logo for Queen was even designed by lead singer, Freddie Mercury. Meanwhile, other artists have mentioned the phoenix in their lyrics, perhaps the most prominent being Elton John, whose song “Grey Seal” features the line: “If the phoenix bird can fly then so can I”.
If you are tuned into Eurovision every year, then chances are you will have heard of Conchita Wurst, who won the competition with a song entitled; “Rise Like a Phoenix” back in 2014. At the beginning of the 2015 contest held in Austria, Wurst quite literally rose like a phoenix from the stage when re-performing her winning track to launch the competition.
While the CGI version of Fawkes the phoenix is perhaps the most memorable example in film, this is certainly not the only time that directors have utilised its crimson feathers. C.S. Lewis also used it in The Chronicles of Narnia and it featured in the extended film adaptation when creating a wall of fire during the battle scene at the end of the film, halting the progress of the White Witch’s Army momentarily. Elsewhere, the phoenix has also made appearances in Star Trek and a very long lists of TV shows.
Aside from the arts, the symbolism of re-birth has appeared on various occasions throughout history. For example, Manchester United players featured an image of the phoenix on their shirts during the 1958 FA Cup Final following the Munich Air Crash. There is even an opera house in Venice, Italy named La Fenice (The Phoenix) which has been rebuilt on two occasions in 1836 and 1996 following two fires which burned each incarnation down.