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A 16th-century illustration of Phanes by Francesco de' Rossi
ParentsNone/Orphic Egg or Chronos and Ananke

In Orphic cosmogony Phanes /ˈfˌnz/ (Ancient Greek: Φάνης, romanizedPhánēs, genitive Φάνητος) or Protogonos /prˈtɒɡənəs/ (Ancient Greek: Πρωτογόνος, romanizedPrōtogónos, lit.'Firstborn') is a primeval deity who was born from the cosmic egg at the beginning of creation. He is referred by various names, including Erikepaios "Power" /ˌɛrɪkəˈpəs/ (Ancient Greek: Ἠρικαπαῖος/Ἠρικεπαῖος, romanizedĒrikapaîos/Ērikepaîos) and Metis "Thought".[1]


In Orphic cosmogony, Phanes is often equated with Eros or Mithras and has been depicted as a deity emerging from a cosmic egg entwined with a serpent: the Orphic egg.[2] He had a helmet and had broad, golden wings. The Orphic cosmogony is quite unlike the creation sagas offered by Homer and Hesiod. Scholars have suggested that Orphism is "un-Greek", even "Asiatic", in conception because of its inherent dualism.[3]

Chronos is said to have created the silver egg of the universe out of which burst the first-born deity Phanes, or Phanes-Dionysus.[4] Phanes was a male god; in an original Orphic hymn he is named as "Lord Priapos",[5] although others consider him androgynous.[1]

Phanes was a deity of light and goodness, whose name meant "to bring light" or "to shine";[6][7] a first-born deity, he emerged from the abyss and gave birth to the universe.[7] Nyx (Night) is variously said to be Phanes' daughter[4] or older wife; she is the counterpart of Phanes and is considered by Aristophanes the first deity. According to Aristophanes,[8] in a play where Phanes is called "Eros", Phanes was born from an egg created by Nyx and placed in the boundless lap of Erebus, after which he mates with Chaos and creates the flying creatures.[8]

In Orphic literature, Phanes was believed to have been hatched from the world egg of Chronos and Ananke "Necessity, Fate" or Nyx in the form of a black bird and wind. His older wife Nyx called him Protogenos. As she created nighttime, Phanes created daytime and the method of creation by mingling. He was made the ruler of the deities. This new Orphic tradition states that Phanes passed the sceptre to Nyx; Nyx later gave the sceptre to her son Ouranos; Cronus seized the sceptre from his father Ouranos; and finally, the sceptre held by Cronus was seized by Zeus, who holds it at present. Some Orphic myths suggest that Zeus intends to pass the sceptre to Dionysus.

According to the Athenian scholiast Damascius, Phanes was the first god "expressible and acceptable to human ears" ("πρώτης ητόν τι ἐχούσης καὶ σύμμετρον πρὸς ἀνθρώπων ἀκοάς").[9] Another Orphic hymn states:

You scattered the dark mist that lay before your eyes and, flapping your wings, you whirled about, and throughout this world you brought pure light. For this I call you Phanes, I call you Lord Priapos, I call you sparkling[10] with bright eyes.[11]

The Derveni papyrus refers to Phanes:

Of the First-born king, the reverend one; and upon him all the immortals grew, blessed gods and goddesses and rivers and lovely springs and everything else that had then been born; and he himself became the sole one.[12]

Protogonos is also romanized as Protogenus.[2]

In the Orphic Hymns, Phanes-Protogonus is identified with Dionysus, who is referred to under the names of Protogonus and Eubuleus several times in the collection.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Santamaría Álvarez, Marco Antonio (2016). "Did Plato know of the Orphic god Protogonos?". In García Blanco, María José; Martín-Velasco, María José (eds.). Greek Philosophy and Mystery Cults. Cambridge Scholars. p. 207. ISBN 978-1-4438-8830-1 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ a b Wilkinson, Philip; Carroll, Georgie; Faulkner, Mark; Field, Jacob F.; Haywood, John; Kerrigan, Michael; Philip, Neil; Pumphrey, Nicholaus; Tocino-Smith, Juliette (2018). The Mythology Book (First American ed.). New York: DK. ISBN 978-1-4654-7337-0.
  3. ^ Russell, Jeffrey Burton (1987). The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity. Cornell University Press. p. 137. ISBN 0-8014-9409-5.
  4. ^ a b Leeming, David Adams (2010). Creation Myths of the World: An Encyclopedia. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 119. ISBN 978-1-59884-174-9.
  5. ^ Athanassakis-1977-Hymn6: For this I call you Phanes and Lord Priapos and bright-eyed Antauges. [1]
  6. ^ Coulter, Charles Russell; Turner, Patricia (2012). Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities. Jefferson: McFarland & Company. p. 381. ISBN 978-0-7864-9179-7. OCLC 1289371188.
  7. ^ a b Campbell, Joseph (1978). The Mysteries. Princeton University Press. p. 71. ISBN 978-0-691-01823-2.
  8. ^ a b Aristophanes. The Birds. 690–702. The passage is quoted in the play as an attempt by "the birds" to demonstrate that flying creatures are well-known to be senior to all other living creatures – older, even, than many of the gods.
  9. ^ cf. B. 75–80, K. 54[full citation needed]
  10. ^ "ἀνταυγής". Retrieved 2021-06-06.
  11. ^ "Hymn 6 to Protogonos". The Orphic Hymns. Translated by Athanassakis, Apostolos N.; Wolkow, Benjamin M. (Kindle ed.). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. 29 May 2013 [1977]. ISBN 978-1421408828.
  12. ^ Chrysanthou, Anthi (20 April 2020). Defining Orphism: The Beliefs, the 'teletae' and the Writings. Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG. p. 244. ISBN 978-3-11-067845-1.
  13. ^ Otlewska-Jung, pp. 91–2.


  • Otlewska-Jung, Marta, "Orpheus and Orphic Hymns in the Dionysiaca", in Nonnus of Panopolis in Context: Poetry and Cultural Milieu in Late Antiquity with a Section on Nonnus and the Modern World, pp. 77–96, edited by Konstantinos Spanoudakis, De Gruyter, 2014. ISBN 978-3-110-33937-6. Online version at De Gruyter.

Further reading[edit]

  • Iozzo, Mario (2012). "La kylix fiorentina di Chachrylion ed Eros Protogonos Phanes". Antike Kunst (55): 52–62.
  • "Phanes". The Suda On Line: Byzantine Lexicography.[permanent dead link]

External links[edit]