Greek mythological character most noted for having been Achilles' tutor. Blinded by his father, or cursed with childlessness depending on the story you read, because of an accusation by his father's concubine. Achilles' father, Peleus took him to see the centaur Chiron who had raised Achilles). Chiron is successful in restoring Phoenix's sight and Peleus appoints him Achilles' tutor. Phoenix was also apparently used as a generic term for "wise man" after the Phoenicians, who had given the Greeks the alphabet.
In book nine of the Iliad, Nestor recommends to Agamemnon that he send Phoenix as leader of a delegation to Achilles to include Ajax and Ulyses, to convince him to come out of his tent and return to battle at Troy. Not only had the seer Calchas prophesized that the city could not be taken without Achilles, but the greeks had gotten their butts whupped by the Trojans while Achilles was sulking in his tent. Agamemnon was keen to have him back, even to the point of offering to return Achilles' concubine Briseis, the loss of whom had sent Achilles to his tent in the first place.
Then Nestor answered, "Most noble son of Atreus, king of men, Agamemnon. The gifts you offer are no small ones, let us then send chosen messengers, who may go to the tent of Achilles son of Peleus without delay. Let those go whom I shall name. Let Phoenix, dear to Jove, lead the way; let Ajax and Ulysses follow, and let the heralds Odius and Eurybates go with them.
Unfortunately for Achilles, the seer had also prophesized that he would die young at the selfsame siege of Troy. It was going to take quite a bit to convince him to go back into the fray. Homer uses this story to provide some keen commentary on the nature of heroism. Phoenix appeals to Achilles to take the long view and think of how he will be remembered. If he does not return to the fight now, he will have no honor and will not be remembered as a hero. Achilles is not convinced:
Phoenix, old friend and father, I have no need of such honour. I have honour from Jove himself, which will abide with me at my ships while I have breath in my body.
The others did not fare much better. Ulysses
attempt to sway him with Briseis
and the other gifts sent by Agamemnon and Ajax
's attempt to influence him with appeals to camaraderie, what we would today call peer pressure
, also fail to find purchase with Achilles. He sends them away and only Phoenix remains, perhaps to travel back home with him. The story proves to be much more complicated, and Achilles eventually does fight and find his death in Troy.
In the movie adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke's 2010 there is a scene where Dr. Chandra, designer of the infamously murderous computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey, HAL, asks HAL's earthbound successor, SAL, to open a file and to name it Phoenix. Dr. Chandra asks SAL if she understands the reference. Before settling on the mythological bird, SAL offers up "the tutor of Achilles" which causes Dr. Chandra to exclaim that he was not aware of that reference. Neither was I at the time and I had always wanted to learn more about him. I finally made the time.
Homer: Mission to Achilles,http://220.127.116.11/literature/POL-HS-Mission-Achilles.htm, 2/26/2005