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The Phoenix: An Unnatural Biography of a Mythical Beast

Coming Soon

By: Joseph Nigg (Author)

416 pages, 27 b/w photos, 17 b/w illustrations

University of Chicago Press

Hardback | 2016 | #230409 | ISBN-13: 9780226195490
Available for pre-order: Due Nov 2016 Details
NHBS Price: £24.50 $30/€28 approx

About this book

Arising triumphantly from the ashes of its predecessor, the phoenix has been an enduring symbol of resilience and renewal for thousands of years. But how did this mythical bird become so famous that it has played a part in cultures around the world and throughout human history? How much of its story do we actually know? Here to offer a comprehensive biography and engaging (un)natural history of the phoenix is Joseph Nigg, esteemed expert on otherworldly creatures – from dragons to gryphons to sea monsters.

Beginning in ancient Egypt and traveling around the globe and through the centuries, Nigg's vast and sweeping narrative takes readers on a brilliant tour of the cross-cultural lore of this famous, yet little-known, immortal bird. Seeking both the similarities and the differences in the phoenix's many myths and representations, Nigg describes its countless permutations over millennia, including legends of the Chinese "phoenix", which was considered one of the sacred creatures that presided over China's destiny; classical Greece and Rome, where it can be found in the writings of Herodotus and Ovid; nascent and medieval Christianity, in which it came to embody the resurrection; and in Europe during the Renaissance, when it was a popular emblem of royals. Nigg examines the various phoenix traditions, the beliefs and tales associated with them, their symbolic and metaphoric use, the skepticism and speculation they've raised, and their appearance in religion, bestiaries, and even contemporary popular culture, in which the ageless bird of renewal is employed as a mascot and logo, including for our own University of Chicago.

Never beset by hardship or defeated by death, the phoenix is the ultimate icon of hope and rebirth. And in The Phoenix: An Unnatural Biography of a Mythical Beast, it finally has its due – a complete chronicle worthy of such a fantastic and phantasmal creature. This entertaining and informative look at the life and transformation of the phoenix will be the authoritative source for anyone fascinated by folklore and mythology, re-igniting our curiosity about one of myth's greatest beasts.


Introduction: Cultural Transformations of the Phoenix

Prologue: Sacred to the Sun
Chapter 1 Egyptian Beginnings
Chapter 2 Royal Bird of China

Part I. Classical Marvel
Chapter 3 Birth of the Western Phoenix
Chapter 4 Early Roman Sightings
Chapter 5 Later Roman Variations

Part II. Bird of God
Chapter 6 The Judaic Phoenix
Chapter 7 The Early Christian Phoenix
Chapter 8 The Phoenix in Old English
Chapter 9 The Bestiary Phoenix
Chapter 10 Beyond the Bestiaries

Part III. Renaissance Transformations
Chapter 11 Innovations and Renewals
Chapter 12 The Elizabethan Phoenix
Chapter 13 The Emblematic Phoenix
Chapter 14 The Philosopher’s Stone
Chapter 15 Metaphorical Variety

Part IV. Challenged and Discredited
Chapter 16 Rising Doubts
Chapter 17 Battle of the Books
Chapter 18 Fading into Fable

Part V. Modern Rebirth
Chapter 19 Mythical Bird
Chapter 20 Poetic Fire
Chapter 21 Literary Distinction
Chapter 22 From Literal Ashes

Selected Bibliography

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Joseph Nigg's other books include The Book of Fabulous Beasts, How to Raise and Keep a Dragon, and Sea Monsters: A Voyage around the World's Most Beguiling Map, the last also published by the University of Chicago Press. He lives in Denver.

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