Benu (rise and shine) In Egyptian mythology, bird identified by the Greeks with the phoenix. The benu was said to be the oldest living creature. It created itself from fire that burned at the top of the sacred persea tree of Heliopolis. Its cry was the first sound ever heard and represented the point at which time began. It was essentially a sun bird, symbol of both the rising sun and the dead sun god, Osiris, from whose heart, in one account, the bird sprang. The benu not only signified the rebirth of the sun each morning but became a symbol of the resurrection of man.
The Book of the Dead provides a formula for enabling the deceased to take the form of the benu. After Egyptian kings had ruled for 30 years, they asked the benu for renewed strength and vitality. According to the Greek historian Herodotus (book 2), the benu made its appearance once every 500 years. Its plumage was partly golden and partly red, and in size and form it resembled an eagle. It came from Arabia and brought with it the body of its father (which it had enclosed in an egg of myrrh) to bury at the temple of the sun.
Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow– Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante