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Æthiopia and India, more especially, produce1 birds of diversified plumage, and such as quite surpass all description. In the front rank of these is the phœnix,2 that famous bird of Arabia; though I am not quite sure that its existence is not all a fable. It is said that there is only one in existence in the whole world, and that that one has not been seen very often. We are told that this bird is of the size of an eagle,3 and has a brilliant golden plumage around the neck, while the rest of the body is of a purple colour; except the tail, which is azure, with long feathers intermingled of a roseate hue; the throat is adorned with a crest, and the head with a tuft of feathers. The first Roman who described this bird, and who has done so with the greatest exactness, was the senator Manilius, so famous for his learning; which he owed, too, to the instructions of no teacher. He tells us that no person has ever seen this bird eat, that in Arabia it is looked upon as sacred to the sun, that it lives five hundred and forty years,4 that when it becomes old it builds a nest of cassia and sprigs of incense, which it fills with perfumes, and then lays its body down upon them to die; that from its bones and marrow there springs at first a sort of small worm, which in time changes into a little bird: that the first thing that it does is to perform the obsequies of its predecessor, and to carry the nest entire to the city of the Sun near Panchaia,5 and there deposit it upon the altar of that divinity.

The same Manilius states also, that the revolution of the great year 6 is completed with the life of this bird, and that then a new cycle comes round again with the same characteristics as the former one, in the seasons and the appearance of the stars; and he says that this begins about mid-day of the day on which the sun enters the sign of Aries. He also tells us that when he wrote to the above effect, in the consulship7 of P. Licinius and Cneius Cornelius, it was the two hundred and fifteenth year of the said revolution. Cornelius Valerianus says that the phœnix took its flight from Arabia into Egypt in the consulship8 of Q. Plautius and Sextus Papinius. This bird was brought to Rome in the censorship of the Emperor Claudius, being the year from the building of the City, 800, and it was exposed to public view in the Comitium.9 This fact is attested by the public Annals, but there is no one that doubts that it was a fictitious phœnix only.

1 "Ferunt." With regard to this verb, Cuvier remarks, that it is equivocal; and that it is very possible that the writer intends to say, not that India and Æthiopia produce these marvellous birds, but that the people of those countries report or relate marvellous stories touching those birds. It is clear that he does not believe in the existence of the phœnix.

2 Cuvier remarks, that all these relations are neither more nor less than so many absurd fables or pure allegories, but that the description given is exactly that of a bird which does exist, the golden pheasant, namely. The description given is probably taken from the pretended phœnix that Pliny mentions as having been brought to Rome in the reign of Claudius, It is not improbable, he thinks, that this may have been a golden pheasant, brought from the interior of Asia, when the pursuits of commerce had as yet hardly extended so far, and to which those who showed it gave, most probably, the name of the phœnix. Ajasson is of opinion, that under the story of the phœnix an allegory was concealed, and thinks it may not improbably have been employed to pourtray the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. Bailly, Hist. de l'Astronomie, thinks that it bore reference to the great canicular year of the Egyptians.

3 Borrowed from Herodotus, B. ii. c. 73.

4 The MSS. vary considerably as to the number. Some make it 540 years, others 511, others 40, and others 560.

5 Mentioned also, B. vii. c. 57,

6 532 years, according to Hardouin. Bailly says: "The first men who studied the heavens remarked that the revolution of the sun brought back the seasons in the same order. They thought that they observed that certain variations of the temperature depended upon the aspect of the moon, and attached different prognostics to the rising and setting of the stars, persuading themselves that the vicissitudes of things here below had regulated periods, like the movements of the heavenly bodies. From this arose the impression, that the same aspect, the same arrangement of all the stars, that had prevailed at the commencement of the world, would also attend its destruction; and that the period of this long revolution was the predestined duration of the life of nature. Another impression was the idea that the world would only perish at this epoch to be born again, and for the same order of things to recommence with the same series of celestial phenomena. Some fixed this universal renovation at the conjunction of all the planets, others at the return of the stars to the same point of the ecliptic; others, uniting these two kinds of revolutions, marked the term of the du- ration of all things at the moment at which the planets and the stars would return to the same primitive situation with regard to the ecliptic, or in other words, they conceived an immense period, which would include one or more complete revolutions of each of the planets. All these periods were called the 'great year,' or the 'great revolution.'" Histoire de l'Astronomie Ancienne.

7 A.U.C. 657.

8 A.U.C. 789.

9 A public place in the Forum, where the comitia curiata were held, and certain offences tried and punished.

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