The Red Book Of Animal Stories - online children's book

Stories of Animals, Fantastic and Mundane, Edited By Andrew Lang

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THE PHOENIX
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world. And he cometh to burn himself upon the altar of the temple at the end of five hundred years, for so long he liveth. At the end of that time the priests dress up their altar, and put upon it spices and sulphur, and other things that burn easily. Then the bird Phoenix cometh and burnetii himself to ashes. And the first day after men find in the ashes a worm, and on the second day they find a bird, alive and perfect, and on the third day the bird flieth away. He hath a crest of feathers upon his head larger than the peacock hath, his neck is yellow and his beak is blue ; his wings are of purple colours, and his tail yellow and red in stripes across. A fair bird he is to look upon when you see him against the sun, for he shineth full gloriously and nobly.'
It is very hard to believe that the man who wrote this had not actually seen this beautiful creature, he seems to know it so well, and perhaps sometimes he really fancied that one day it had dazzled his eyes as it darted by. The Phoenix was a living bird to old travellers and those to whom they told their stories, although they are not quite agreed about its habits, or even about the manner of its death. Sometimes, as we have seen, the Phoenix has a father, sometimes there is onlv one bird. In general it burns itself on a spice-covered altar; but, according to one writer, when its five hundred years of life are over it dashes itself on the ground, and from its blood a new bird is born. At first it is small and helpless, like any other young thing; but soon its wings begin to show, and in a few days they are strong enough to carry the parent to the city of Heliopolis, where, at sun≠rise, it dies. The new Phoenix then flies back home, where it builds a nest of sweet spicesócassia, spikenard and cinnamon ; and the food that it loves is another spice, drops of frankincense.
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