Phanes is the god of proliferation and new life. He was hatched from the cosmic egg and created the world as it came to be. A dual deity of light and goodness, Phanes is a vague figure in Greek Mythology. His symbols are the egg, the serpent and the zodiac circle.
Names & Others
|Other Names||Ericapaeus, Lord Priapos, Protogonus|
|Ancient Greek||Φάνης (Πρωτογόνος)|
|The God of||Creation, goodness, hope, light, new life, and proliferation|
|Symbols||Egg, serpent, zodiac circle|
Based on the Orphic Tradition, before the beginning of conscience and existence, Chronos (Time) created the cosmic egg, out of which emerged a deity with large golden wings on his back, wearing a helmet on his head and bearing an obscure serpent around his body. His name was Phanes Protogonos (First-Born) and he was the first deity that brought light and shaped the world. Other sources regard him as more of an abstract personification of the universe rather than an actual god, placing Nyx, The Greek primordial Goddess of Night as the first deity that came into being.
Phanes was hatched out of the cosmic or world egg and created the universe. He brought the light and ruled the cosmos with balance. Chronos alone, or in some accounts together with Ananke (Inevitability), was the creator of the cosmic egg. In another source, Nyx places the world egg in the midst of Erebus, the god of darkness and Phanes, who comes forth as a black bird under a black wind, couples with Chaos and fathers the first flying creatures.
Being the first and primary deity in most of the Orphic tales, Phanes was considered the creator of all life. He shaped the universe and brought the light. In accordance with his wife, Nyx, he established daytime while she fashioned nighttime. After this, he was pronounced the king of the (primordial) gods and remained thus for a long time until he passed on his authority to Nyx, who was succeeded by Uranus and so on. Therefore, the Orphic Tradition speaks of a god that is older than the primordial deities of creation.
Yet, Phanes is a mysterious god with unclear origins. While some depict him as a male deity there are others that view him as androgynous (having both masculine and feminine traits). This dualism isn’t considered to be Greek and it shows a strong Asiatic influence. Nonetheless, Phanes was widely worshipped among those who followed the Orphic doctrine. A fact that can be highlighted by the many names and monikers the mystic deity had. Among others he was called Protogonus or Protogenus (meaning ‘first-born’), Lord Priapos, Ericapaeus, two-natured, thrice-born, two-horned and Bacchic lord.
Death and Rebirth
One of his names is Phanes-Dionysus. Dionysus is the god of winemaking, pleasure and ecstasy. He is a benevolent deity, but with a shady background. Dionysus has two sides. The darker one, when he is called Bacchos, shows a god overwhelmed by frenzy, which sometimes ends in a bloodbath. Like Phanes, Bacchos is an incomprehensible deity and while the connection between the two deities is ambiguous, there is an interesting story about Phanes-Dionysus’ death and rebirth.
In short, Zeus gave his throne to an infant Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry, who was attacked, killed and eaten by the Titans. Zeus avenged Dionysus by smiting down the Titans with his thunderbolts. With the help of the goddess Athena, the goddess of wisdom, who had preserved Dionysus’ heart, Zeus resurrected the fallen god and restored him to full power. The Orphic tales suggest that it was Phanes’ dual nature inserted in Dionysus soul that enabled this wonder to take place.
Games with Phanes
Test your knowledge about Phanes and other primordial gods of Ancient Greece with this fun quiz:
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Phanes’ name in ancient Greek means ‘he who brings light’ or ‘he who reveals’. It comes from the verb phe-h-no (φαίνω), which it translates into glow, shine and also appear.
Roles and Responsibilities
Phanes’ primary role was to beget the world and make life. After the creation, he ruled over the cosmos and paved the way for the rest of the gods to come.
In the old texts
Phanes is referred to in the Derveni papyrus, and in many other Orphic writings as well.
Empedocles and Pindar as well mention him in their works.
Damascius calls him the first god’.
Hyginus and Cicero both mention Phanes in their works.
Regarding the dual nature of the deity and his similarities with Asiatic divine entities one may safely assume that Phanes was imported into the Greek Mythos rather than inspired. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Phanes is not a Greek god. The Orphic texts speak of a god closely associated with the Greek primordial deities. Whether he’s a ‘stranger’ or not it’s something that doesn’t really matter. The fact remains that Phanes is the Greek primordial god of procreation and first light.
Phanes created the world – the stars, the planets and all the rest. He has unique abilities forging light and life out of nothing. All the gods and goddesses that followed were taught by him to create marvelous things as well.
Featured Image Credit: Camille Flammarion, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons