There’s a lot of ancient mythical beasts which seem pretty isolated, unique to a country’s culture, or even to a specific region. Others, like mermaids, dragons, and giants, are intercultural, being known by many. The Phoenix is one of these mythical superstars, and was known by the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, and even by the Chinese.
With many of these mythical beasts there’s usually a grain of truth to be found if you search hard enough, that links the human fantasy to tangible naturalistic happenings, (of which the human spectators at the time probably couldn’t quite fathom), and the Pheonix is no exception. If Superman’s passive alter-ego is Clark Kent, then the Phoenix’s alter-ego is… the flamingo!??
Yes, the flamingo really is secretly the immortal bird of fire: who’d have thunk it. At a first glance you’d have thought it must be something to do with their flamboyant pink colouring, which as you probably know is due to their penchant for red algae and shrimp, but there’s a bit more to it than that.
According to the myth, the phoenix would spontaneously combust on its own accord, but instead of dying in a blaze of glory, it would be reborn as a young version of itself, and so was known as a symbol of rebirth and transformation.
Now, flamingos often decide to nest on salt flats - sometimes even located on volcanic land. These salty places can get extremely hot, and even though adult flamingos can put up with this kind of heat, their eggs can’t, so parent flamingos - who are monogamous like swans I must add - will build mounds with a nest on top to escape the immediate heat. If this was to be observed from afar, the heat haze seemingly surrounding the nests could look like the haze of a fire, and if a chick was to hatch… well, voilà, we have a phoenix!
It was the Egyptians who first breathed life into the myth of the Phoenix - or Bennu, as it was known to them - with early accounts describing the creature as a heron-like bird with crimson feathers, but bizarrely the flamingo shares more genes with the Grebe rather than a heron - as in our own duck-like Great Crested Grebe.
Need some extra Phoenix proof, well, their name's a derivation of 'flamengo', the Portuguese and Spanish word for "flame coloured". Oh, and if you wondered what a flock of flamingos are called, why, they’re aptly known as a ‘flamboyance’ of flamingos - how fantástico!
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In Greek mythology, Halcyone and Ceyx were lovers who incurred the wrath of the god Zeus by mocking him and his wife. Angered, Zeus killed Ceyx.