The Age of Fable eBook

Thomas Bulfinch
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 980 pages of information about The Age of Fable.

   “And now I close my work, which not the ire
    Of Jove, nor tooth of time, nor sword, nor fire
    Shall bring to nought.  Come when it will that day
    Which o’er the body, not the mind, has sway,
    And snatch the remnant of my life away,
    My better part above the stars shall soar,
    And my renown endure forevermore. 
    Where’er the Roman arms and arts shall spread
    There by the people shall my book be read;
    And, if aught true in poet’s visions be,
    My name and fame have immortality.”

CHAPTER XXXVI

MODERN MONSTERS—­THE PHOENIX—­BASILISK—­UNICORN—­SALAMANDER

MODERN MONSTERS

There is a set of imaginary beings which seem to have been the successors of the “Gorgons, Hydras, and Chimeras dire” of the old superstitions, and, having no connection with the false gods of Paganism, to have continued to enjoy an existence in the popular belief after Paganism was superseded by Christianity.  They are mentioned perhaps by the classical writers, but their chief popularity and currency seem to have been in more modern times.  We seek our accounts of them not so much in the poetry of the ancients as in the old natural history books and narrations of travellers.  The accounts which we are about to give are taken chiefly from the Penny Cyclopedia.

THE PHOENIX

Ovid tells the story of the Phoenix as follows:  “Most beings spring from other individuals; but there is a certain kind which reproduces itself.  The Assyrians call it the Phoenix.  It does not live on fruit or flowers, but on frankincense and odoriferous gums.  When it has lived five hundred years, it builds itself a nest in the branches of an oak, or on the top of a palm tree.  In this it collects cinnamon, and spikenard, and myrrh, and of these materials builds a pile on which it deposits itself, and dying, breathes out its last breath amidst odors.  From the body of the parent bird, a young Phoenix issues forth, destined to live as long a life as its predecessor.  When this has grown up and gained sufficient strength, it lifts its nest from the tree (its own cradle and its parent’s sepulchre), and carries it to the city of Heliopolis in Egypt, and deposits it in the temple of the Sun.”

Such is the account given by a poet.  Now let us see that of a philosophic historian.  Tacitus says, “In the consulship of Paulus Fabius (A.D. 34) the miraculous bird known to the world by the name of the Phoenix, after disappearing for a series of ages, revisited Egypt.  It was attended in its flight by a group of various birds, all attracted by the novelty, and gazing with wonder at so beautiful an appearance.”  He then gives an account of the bird, not varying materially from the preceding, but adding some details.  “The first care

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The Age of Fable from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.