Phanes (mythology)

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A 16th-century drawing of Phanes by Francesco de' Rossi.

Phanes (Ancient Greek: Φάνης),[1][2] or Protogonos (Greek: Πρωτογόνος, "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 (Ἠρικαπαῖος or Ἠρικεπαῖος "power") and Metis ("thought").[3]

In these myths Phanes is often equated with Eros and 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.[4][5]

Time, who was also called Aion, created the silver egg of the universe, out of this egg burst out the first-born, Phanes. Phanes was a uroboric male-female deity of light and goodness, whose name means "to bring light" or "to shine"; a first-born god of light who emerges from a void or a watery abyss and gives birth to the universe.[6]

Many threads of earlier myths are apparent in the new tradition. Phanes was believed to have been hatched from the World-Egg of Chronos (Time) and Ananke (Necessity or Fate) or Nyx in the black bird form and wind. His older wife Nyx (Night) called him Protogenus. As she created nighttime, he created daytime. He also created the method of creation by mingling. He was made the ruler of the deities and passed the sceptre to Nyx. This new Orphic tradition states that Nyx later gave the sceptre to her son Uranos before it passed to Cronus and then to Zeus, who retained it.

According to Aristophanes, whence he 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 birds.[7] This passage seeks to demonstrate that the birds are considered older than all other living creatures, even older than the other gods.

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


  1. ^ According to folk etymology, from φαίνω, phainō, "I bring to light".
  2. ^ William Smith, ed. (1870). A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. Perseus Project. 
  3. ^ Thomas Taylor (1824). The Mystical Hymns of Orpheus (Second ed.). Chiswick. p. XV. 
  4. ^ David Livingstone (2002). The Dying God: The Hidden History of Western Civilization. iUniverse. p. 110. ISBN 0-595-23199-3. 
  5. ^ Jeffrey Burton Russell (1987). The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity. Cornell University Press. p. 137. ISBN 0-8014-9409-5. 
  6. ^ Liz Greene (2000). The Astrological Neptune and the Quest for Redemption. Weiser Books. pp. 78–79. 
  7. ^ Aristophanes, The Birds 690–702

Mario Iozzo, “La kylix fiorentina di Chachrylion ed Eros Protogonos Phanes”, in Antike Kunst 55, 2012, pp. 52-62

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