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God of Creation
A 16th-century illustration of Phanes by Francesco de' Rossi
Personal information
ParentsNone/Orphic Egg or Chronos and Ananke or Nyx
SiblingsChaos, Moirai, Horae

Phanes /ˈfˌnz/ (Ancient Greek: Φάνης, romanizedPhánēs, genitive Φάνητος) or Protogonus /prˈtɒɡənəs/ (Ancient Greek: Πρωτογόνος, romanizedPrōtogónos, lit.'first-born') was the mystic primeval deity of procreation and the generation of new life, who was introduced into Greek mythology by the Orphic tradition; other names for this Classical Greek Orphic concept included Ericapaeus /ˌɛrɪkəˈpəs/ or Erikepaios (Ancient Greek: Ἠρικαπαῖος/Ἠρικεπαῖος, romanizedĒrikapaîos/Ērikepaîos, lit.'power') and Metis ("thought").[1][2]


Orphic cosmogony[edit]

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. He had a helmet and had broad, golden wings. The Orphic cosmogony is bizarre, and 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 (Time) is said to have created the silver egg of the universe, out of which burst the androgynous[2] first-born deity Phanes, or Phanes-Dionysos.[4] Phanes was a male God, in an Orphic hymn he is named as "Lord Priapos".[5] Phanes was a deity of light and goodness, whose name meant "to bring light" or "to shine"; a first-born god of light who emerged from a void or a watery abyss and gives birth to the universe.[6] Nyx (Night) is variously said to be Phanes' daughter[4] or older wife.

Many threads of earlier myths are apparent in the new tradition.[clarification needed] Phanes was believed to have been hatched from the World-Egg of Chronos (Time) and Ananke (Necessity or Fate) or Nyx in the form of a black bird and wind. His older wife Nyx called him Protogenus. As she created nighttime, Phanes created daytime, and also invented 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 scepter from his father Ouranos; and finally the scepter held by Cronus was seized by Zeus, who holds it at present. Some Orphic myths suggest that Zeus intends to pass the scepter to Dionysus.

According to Aristophanes,[7] in a play where Phanes is called ‘Eros’, he 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.[7][a]

Protogonos Theogony[edit]

The "Protogonos Theogony" is known through the commentary in the Derveni papyrus and references in Empedocles and Pindar.

According to Damascius, Phanes was the first god "expressible and acceptable to human ears" ("πρώτης ητόν τι ἐχούσης καὶ σύμμετρον πρὸς ἀνθρώπων ἀκοάς").[8]

Another Orphic hymn states:[5]

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[9] with bright eyes.
ὄσσων ὃς σκοτόεσσαν ἀπημαύρωσας ὁμίχλην πάντη δινηθεὶς πτερύγων ῥιπαῖς κατὰ κόσμον λαμπρὸν ἄγων φάος ἁγνόν , ἀφ ' οὗ σε Φάνητα κικλήσκω ἠδὲ Πρίηπον ἄνακτα καὶ Ἀνταύγην ἑλίκωπον.

The Derveni Papyrus refers to Phanes:

Of the First-born king, the neverend[10] 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".[11]
Πρωτογόνου βασιλέως αἰδοίου∙ τῶι δ’ ἄρα πάντες ἀθάνατοι προσέφυν μάκαρες θεοὶ ἠδ̣ὲ θέαιναι καὶ ποταμοὶ καὶ κρῆναι ἐπήρατιο ἄλλα τε πάντα, ἅ̣σσα τότ’ ἦγγεγαῶτ’, αὐτὸς δ’ ἄρα μοῦνος ἔγεντο.

Dionysus or Zagreus of the Orphic tradition is intimately connected to Protogonos. In Orphic Hymn 30, he is given a list of epithets that also allude to Protogonos:

"πρωτόγονον, διφυῆ, τρίγονον, Βακχεῖον ἄνακτα, ἄγριον, ἄρρητον, κρύφιον, δικέρωτα, δίμορφον"[12]
πρωτόγονον     primeval
διφυῆ two-natured
τρίγονον thrice-born
Βακχεῖον ἄνακτα     Bacchic lord
ἄγριον savage
ἄρρητον ineffable
κρύφιον secretive
δικέρωτα two-horned
δίμορφον two-shaped

Death and resurrection of Phanes[edit]

Electrum coin from Ephesus issued in the name of Phanes, 625–600 BCE Stag grazing right, ΦΑΕΝΟΣ ΕΜΙ ΣΕΜΑ (retrograde, “I am the badge/sign/tomb of Phanes”).

In the Orphic tradition, Dionysus-Protogonos-Phanes is a dying and rising god. Eusebius tells us the story of his death and recreation:

The Titans boil the dismembered limbs of Dionysus in a kettle, they roast him on a spit and eat the roasted "sacrificial meat", but Athena rescues the still-beating heart[13] from which (according to Olympiodorus)[14] Zeus is able to recreate the god and bring him back to life.

Kessler has argued that this cult of death and resurrection of Dionysus developed the 4th century CE. This cult and other sects this cult formed, together with Mithraism, are thought to have been in direct competition with early Christianity during late Antiquity.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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.[7]


  1. ^ Taylor, Thomas (1824). The Mystical Hymns of Orpheus (2nd ed.). Chiswick. p. xv.
  2. ^ 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. p. 207. ISBN 978-1-4438-8830-1 – via Google Books.
  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. p. 119. ISBN 978-1-59884-174-9.
  5. ^ a b "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.
  6. ^ Greene, Liz (2000). The Astrological Neptune and the Quest for Redemption. Weiser Books. pp. 78–79.[unreliable source?]
  7. ^ a b c Aristophanes. The Birds. 690–702.
  8. ^ cf. B. 75–80, K. 54[full citation needed]
  9. ^ "ἀνταυγής". Retrieved 2021-06-06.
  10. ^ "[no title cited]". Tools / Lexica.
  11. ^ Kouremenos, Parássoglou, and Tsantsanoglou (2006)[full citation needed]
  12. ^ "Hymn 30". 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.
  13. ^ Euseb. Praep. ev. 2.3.25 (K. 35)[full citation needed]
  14. ^ Olympiod. in Plat. Phaedon. 2.21 (K. 220)[full citation needed]
  15. ^ Kessler, E. (17–20 July 2006). Dionysian monotheism in Nea Paphos, Cyprus. Symposium on Pagan Monotheism in the Roman Empire (abstract). Exeter, UK. Archived from the original on 21 April 2008.


  • Lang, Andrew (1887). "10" . Myth, Ritual, and Religion . 1. pp. 315–319 – via Wikisource.
  • Iozzo, Mario (2012). "La kylix fiorentina di Chachrylion ed Eros Protogonos Phanes". Antike Kunst (55): 52–62.
  • "Phanes". The Suda On Line: Byzantine Lexicography.

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