Phanes hatched from the world egg & circled by the zodiac, Greco-Roman bas relief C2nd A.D., Modena Museum
PHANES was the Protogenos (primeval god) of procreation in the Orphic cosmogony. He was the primal generator of life, the driving force behind reproduction in the early cosmos. Phanes was hatched from the world egg (the primordial mixture of elements) when it was split into its constituent parts by the ancient gods Khronos (Time) and Ananke (Inevitability). Phanes was the first king of the universe, who passed the royal sceptre on to his daughter Nyx (Night),who in turn handed it down to her son Ouranos (Heaven). From him it was first seized by Kronos (Time), and then by Zeus, the ultimate ruler of the cosmos. Some say Zeus devoured Phanes in order to assume his primal cosmic power and redistribute it amongst a new generation of gods–the Olympians which he sired.
The Orphics equated Phanes with the Elder Eros (Sexual Desire) of Hesiod’s Theogony, who emerged at the beginning of time alongside Khaos (Air) and Gaia (Earth). Phanes also incorporated aspects of other primordial beings described by various ancient writers including Thesis, Phusis, Ophion, Khronos and Ananke. Phanes also appears in myth in the guise of Metis (i.e. Thetis, Thesis, creation), the goddess devoured by Zeus, and Tethys, the nurse of all. However these two divinities in the majority of Greek literature remain far-removed from the concept of creator-gods.
Phanes was portrayed as a beautiful golden-winged hermaphroditic deity wrapped in a serpent’s coils. The poets describe him as an incorporeal being invisible even through the eyes of the gods. His name means “bring to light” or “make appear” from the Greek verbs phanaô and phainô.
[1.1] Hatched from the WORLD-EGG by KHRONOS & ANANKE (Orphic Rhapsodies 66, Orphic Argonautica 12, Orphic Frag 54)
[1.2] POROS & PENIA (Plato calls him Eros) (Plato Symposium 187)
[2.1] HYDROS & GAIA (Orphic Frag 57)
[1.1] NYX (Orphic Argonautica 12, Orphic Fragment 101)
PHANES (Phanês). A mystic divinity in the system of the Orphics, is also called Eros, Ericapaeus, Metis, and Protogonus. He is said to have sprung from the mystic mundane egg, and to have been the father of all gods, and the creator of men. (Proc. in Plat. Crat. p. 36; Orph. Arg. 15; Lactant. Instit. i. 5.)
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
PHANES & THE BIRTH OF THE COSMOS
THE ORPHIC COSMOGONY
Orphica, Theogonies Fragment 54 (from Damascius) (trans. West) (Greek hymns C3rd – C2nd B.C.) :
“Originally there was Hydros (Water), he [Orpheus] says, and Mud, from which Ge (the Earth) solidified: he posits these two as first principles, water and earth . . . The one before the two [Thesis], however, he leaves unexpressed, his very silence being an intimation of its ineffable nature. The third principle after the two was engendered by these–Ge (Earth) and Hydros (Water), that is – and was a Serpent (Drakon) with extra heads growing upon it of a bull and a lion, and a god’s countenance in the middle; it had wings upon its shoulders, and its name was Khronos (Unaging Time) and also Herakles. United with it was Ananke (Inevitability, Compulsion) , being of the same nature, or Adrastea, incorporeal, her arms extended throughout the universe and touching its extremities. I think this stands for the third principle, occuping the place of essence, only he [Orpheus] made it bisexual [as Phanes] to symbolize the universal generative cause. And I assume that the theology of the [Orphic] Rhapsodies discarded the two first principles (together with the one before the two, that was left unspoken) [that is, the Orphics discarded the concepts of Thesis, Khronos and Ananke], and began from this third principle [Phanes] after the two, because this was the first that was expressible and acceptable to human ears. For this is the great Khronos (Unaging Time) that we found in it [the Rhapsodies], the father of Aither and Khaos. Indeed, in this theology too [the Hieronyman], this Khronos (Time), the serpent has offspring, three in number: moist Aither (Light) (I quote), unbounded Khaos (Air), and as a third, misty Erebos (Darkness) . . . Among these, he says, Khronos (Time) generated an egg–this tradition too making it generated by Khronos, and born ‘among’ these because it is from these that the third Intelligible triad is produced [Protogonos-Phanes]. What is this triad, then? The egg; the dyad of the two natures inside it (male and female), and the plurality of the various seeds between; and thirdly an incorporeal god with golden wings on his shoulders, bulls’ heads growing upon his flanks, and on his head a monstrous serpent, presenting the appearance of all kinds of animal forms . . . And the third god of the third triad this theology too celebrates as Protogonos (First-Born) [Phanes], and it calls him Zeus the order of all and of the whole world, wherefore he is also called Pan (All). So much this second genealogy supplies concerning the Intelligible principles.”
Orphica, Theogonies Fragment 57 (from Athenogoras):
“Khronos (Time) . . . [also called] Herakles generated a huge egg, which, being filled full, by the force of its engenderer was broken in two from friction. Its crown became Ouranos (Heaven), and what had sunk downwards, Gaia (Earth). There also came forth an incorporeal god [Protogonos-Phanes].”
[Athenogoras afterwards goes on to describe the birth of the Hekatonkheires, the Kyklopes and the Titanes; the castration of Ouranos, etc.]
Orphic, Theogonies Fragments 101 – 102 (from Proclus) :
“[Phanes] placed his distinguished sceptre [the rulership of the universe] in the hands of goddess Nyx (Night), that she hold royalty . . . [Nyx] holding in her hands the glorious sceptre of Erikepaios [Phanes].”
Orphica, Theogonies Fragment (from the Deveni Papyrus) :
“Zeus, when from his father the prophesied rule and strength in his hands he took and the glorious daimon . . . the god [Phanes] who first sprang forth into the Aither (Light).
Kronos (Time) who did a mighty deed to Ouranos (Sky), son of Nyx (Night), who became king first of all; following him again Kronos, and then Zeus the contriver. Zeus when, from his father the prophecy having heard, strength in his hands he took, and the glorious daimon [Phanes], the reverend one, he swallowed, who first sprang forth into the Aither.
[So Zeus swallowed the body of the god] of the Firstborn king [Phanes], the reverend one. And with him all the immortals became one, the blessed gods and goddesses and rivers and lovely springs and everything else that then existed: he became the only one.”
Orphica, Rhapsodies Fragment 66 :
“Great Khronos (Time) fashioned from (or in) divine Aither a bright white egg [the world egg from which Ouranos, Gaia and Phanes was born].”
Orphica, Rhapsodies Fragment 167 :
“So then, [Zeus] by engulfing Erikepaios the Firstborn [Phanes], he had the body of all things in his belly, and he mixed into his own limbs the god’s power and strength. Because of this, together with him, everything came to be again inside Zeus, the broad air and the lofty splendour of heaven, the undraining sea and earth’s glorious seat, great Okeanos and the lowest Tartara of the earth, rivers and boundless sea and everything else, and all the immortal blessed gods and goddesses, all that had existed and all that was to exist afterwards became one and grew together in the belly of Zeus. After he had hidden them all away, again into the glad light from his holy heart he brought them up, performing mighty acts.”
Orphica, Epicuras Fragment (from Epiphanius) :
“And he [Epicurus] says that the world began in the likeness of an egg, and the Wind [Khronos (Time) and Ananke (Inevitability) entwined?] encircling the egg serpent-fashion like a wreath or a belt then began to constrict nature. As it tried to squeeze all the matter with greater force, it divided the world into the two hemispheres [Ouranos and Gaia, heaven and earth].”
Orphica, Argonautica 12 ff (trans. West) (Greek epic C4th to C6th A.D.) :
“Firstly, ancient Khaos’s (Air’s) stern Ananke (Inevitability), and Khronos (Time), who bred within his boundless coils Aither (Light) and two-sexed, two-faced, glorious Eros [Phanes], ever-born Nyx’s (Night’s) father, whom latter men call Phanes, for he first was manifested.”
Ovid, Metamorphoses 1. 1 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
“Ere land and sea and the all-covering sky were made, in the whole world the countenance of nature was the same, all one, well named Chaos, a raw and undivided mass, naught but a lifeless bulk, with warring seeds of ill-joined elements compressed together. No Titan [Helios the Sun] as yet poured light upon the world, no waxing Phoebe [Selene the Moon] her crescent filled anew, nor in the ambient air yet hung the earth, self-balanced, equipoised, nor Amphitrite’s [the Sea’s] arms embraced the long far margin of the land. Though there were land and sea and air, the land no foot could tread, no creature swim the sea, the air was lightless; nothing kept its form, all objects were at odds, since in one mass cold essence fought with hot, and moist with dry, and hard with soft and light with things of weight. This strife a Deus (God) [probably Phanes], with nature’s blessing, solved; who severed land from sky and sea from land, and from the denser vapours set apart the ethereal sky; and, each from the blind heap resolved and freed, he fastened in its place appropriate in peace and harmony. The fiery weightless force of heaven’s vault flashed up and claimed the topmost citadel; next came the air in lightness and in place; the thicker earth with grosser elements sank burdened by its weight; lowest and last the girdling waters pent the solid globe. So into shape whatever god it was reduced the primal matter and prescribed its several parts. Then first, to make the earth even on every side, he rounded it into a mighty disc, then bade the sea extend and rise under the rushing winds, and gird the shores of the encircled earth. Springs too he made and boundless fens and lakes, and rivers hemmed in winding banks to flow, which, in their diverse journeyings, sometimes the earth absorbs, sometimes they reach the sea and in its broad domain, instead of banks, with new-found freedom beat upon the shores. He bade the plains spread wide, the valleys sink, the craggy mountains rise, the forest trees don their green leaves; and as the vault of heaven has five divisions, two zones on the right, two on the left, and hottest burns the fifth, with that same number Providence divine parcelled in zones the solid earth below. The midmost uninhabitable heat claims for its own; two lie clothed deep in snow; two, in between, were given a temperate clime where warmth and cold combine in harmony. The air hangs high above them, weightier than the empyrean in the same degree as earth than water. There he bade the mists and there the clouds to have their dwelling-place, and thunder that should shake the hearts of men, and lightning flashing through the freezing gales. The Fabricator Mundi (World’s Creator) [Phanes] did not grant the Venti (Winds) full freedom of the sky; who, even so, though each in separate regions rules his blasts, can well nigh tear the world apart, so fierce is brother’s strife . . .
Scarce had he thus all things in finite bounds divided when the Sidera (Stars), in darkness blind long buried, over all the spangled sky began to gleam; and, that no part or place should lack fit forms of life, the firmament he made the home of gods and goddesses and the bright constellations; in the sea he set the shining fish to swim; the land received the beasts, the gusty air the birds. A holier creature, of a loftier mind, fit master of the rest, was lacking still. Then man was made, perhaps from seed divine formed by the great Origo Mundi (World’s Creator) [probably Phanes], so to found a better world, perhaps the new-made earth, so lately parted from the ethereal heavens, kept still some essence of the kindred sky–earth that son of Iapetus [Prometheus] moulded, mixed with water, in likeness of the gods that govern the world.”
ORPHIC HYMN TO PHANES
Orphic Hymn 6 to Protogonus (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
“To Protogonos [i.e. Phanes], Fumigation from Myrrh. O mighty Protogonos (First-Begotten), hear my prayer, twofold, egg-born, and wandering through the air; bull-roarer, glorying in thy golden wings, from whom the race of Gods and mortal springs. Erikapaios, celebrated power, ineffable, occult, all-shining flower. ‘Tis thine from darksome mists to pure the sight, all-spreading splendour, pure and holy light; hence, Phanes, called the glory of the sky, on waving pinions through the world you fly. Priepos, dark-eyed splendour, thee I sing, genial, all-prudent, ever blessed king. With joyful aspect on these rites divine and holy consecration (telete) propitious shine.”
THE PROPHECIES OF PHANES
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 12. 15 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
“[Helios the Sun] raised a finger, and pointed out to his circling daughter [the Hora of Autumn] close to a wall opposite the separated tablets of Harmonia. In these are recorded in one group all the oracles which the prophetic hand of Phanes first born engraved as ordained for the world, and drew with his pencil the house proper for each [the astronomical house or zodiac sign]. And Hyperion [Helios], dispenser of fire, added these words: ‘In the third tablet, you shall know whence the fruitage of wine shall come–where is the Lion and the Virgin: in the fourth, who is the Prince of grapes–that is where Ganymedes draws the delicious nectar, and lifts cup in hand in the picture.’
When the god had spoken, the wineloving maiden turned her eyes about, and ran to the place. Beside the oracular wall she saw the first tablet, old as the infinite past, containing all things in one: upon it was all that Ophion lord paramount had done, all that ancient Kronos accomplished: when he cut off his father’s male plowshare, and sowed the teeming deep with seed on the unsown back of the daughterbegetting sea (Thalassa); how he opened a gaping throat to receive a stony son, when he made a meal of the counterfeit body of a pretended Zeus; how the stone played midwife to the brood of imprisoned children, and shot out the burden of the parturient gullet [the stone was last swallowed and the first disgorged by Kronos].
But when the stormfoot Hora, Phaethon’s [Helios’] handmaid, had seen the fiery shining victory of Zeus at war and the hailstorm snowstorm conflict of Kronos, she looked at the next tabled in its turn. There was shown how the pine was in labour of the human race–how the tree suddenly burst its tree-birth and disgorged a son unbegotten self-completed; how Raincloud Zeus brought the waters up in mountainous seas on high and flooded all cities, how Notos and Boreas, Euros and Libos [Zephyros] in turn lashed Deukalion’s wandering hutch, lifted it castaway on waves in the air and left it harbourless near the moon.
When the priestess of lichtgang passed with nimble foot to the third tabled, the circling maiden stood gazing at the manifold oracles of the world’s fate, in letters of flowing colour engraved with the artist’s vermilion, all that elaborate story which the primeval mind had inscribed; and this was the prophecy that she read in the tablets : `. . . [various prophecies from the wanderings of Io to the tale of Atalanta]’
The Hora passed restless over all these on one tablet, until she came to the place where fiery Helios had indicated the signs of prophecy to the wind-swept maiden. There was drawn the shining Lion, there the starry Virgin was depicted in mimic shape, holding a bunch of grapes, the summergrown flower of fruitage : there the daughter of Khronos (Time) stayed her feet, and this is what she read : `Kissos, the lovely youth, shall creep into a plant, and he shall by the highflying ivy that entwines about the branches. From young Kalamos will spring a reed rising straight and bending to the breeze, a delicate sprout of the fruitful soil, to support the tame vine. Ampelos shall change form into a plant and give his name to the fruit of the vine.
But when the harvest-home maiden had seen all these prophecies, she sought the place where hard by on the neighbouring wall was engraved the figure of Ganymedes pouring the nectar-juice into a golden cup. There was an oracle engraved in four lines of verse. There the grape-loving goddess revelled, for she found this prophecy, kept for Lyaios Ivybearer [Dionysos], `Zeus gave to Phoibos [Apollon] the prophetic laurel, red roses to the rosy Aphrodite, the grayleaf olive to Athena Greyeyes, corn to Demeter, vine to Dionysos.’ That is what the Euian maiden saw on the tablets.”
HERMES DISGUISES HIMSELF AS PHANES
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 9. 136 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
“She [Hera] would have destroyed the son of Zeus [Dionysos still a baby in the care of Ino]; but Hermes caught him up, and carried him to the wooded ridge where Kybele dwelt. Moving fast, Hera ran swift-shoe on quick feet from high heaven; but he was before her, and assumed the eternal shape of first-born Phanes. Hera in respect for the most ancient of the gods, gave him place and bowed before the radiance of the deceiving face, not knowing the borrowed shape for a fraud. So Hermes passed over the mountain tract with quicker step than hers, carrying the horned child folded in his arms, and gave it to Rheia . . . he put off the higher shape of selfborn Phanes and put on his own form again, leaving Bakkhos [Dionysos] to grow a second time in the Mother’s nurture.”