The Myth of Phaethon
Child of the Light. To Drive the Sun. He Knows Not Their Names. Cry of Creation. Fell, But Tried.
So were all
his admonitions said, availing naught;
for Phaethon resisted his advice,
and urged again his claim, and eagerly burned
to use the chariot. Wherefore, Phoebus long
delaying and reluctant, took the youth
to view the spacious chariot, gift of Vulcan.--
gold was the axle and the beam was gold,
the great Wheel had a golden tire and spokes
of silver; chrysolites and diamonds
reflected from the spangled yoke the light
While aspiring Phaethon admired
the glittering chariot and its workmanship,
the vigilant Aurora opened forth
her purple portals from the ruddy east,
disclosing halls replete with roses. All
the stars took flight, while Lucifer, the last
to quit his vigil, gathered that great host
and disappeared from his celestial watch.
And when his father, Phoebus, saw the earth
and the wide universe in glowing tints
arrayed, as waned the Moon's diminished horns,
far-distant, then he bade the nimble Hours
to yoke the steeds.--At once the Deities
accomplished his commands, and led the steeds,
ambrosia-fed and snorting flames, from out
their spacious stalls; and fixed their sounding bits.
Then with a hallowed drug the father touched
the stripling's face, to make him proof against
the rapid flame, and wrought around his hair
the sun-rays. But, foreboding grief, he said,
while many a sigh heaved from his anxious breast;
"If thou canst only heed thy father's voice--
be sparing of the whip and use with nerve
the reins; for of their own accord the steeds
will hasten. Difficult are they to check
in full career. Thou must not drive the car
directly through five circles, for the track
takes a wide curve, obliquely, and is bound
by the extreme edge of three zones.--It avoids
the Southern Pole, and it avoids the Bear
that roams around the north. The way is plain;
the traces of the Wheel are manifest.
"Observe with care that both the earth and sky
have their appropriate heat--Drive not too low,
nor urge the chariot through the highest plane;
for if thy course attain too great a height
thou wilt consume the mansions of the sky,
and if too low the land will scorch with heat.
"Take thou the middle plane, where all is safe;
nor let the Wheel turn over to the right
and bear thee to the twisted Snake! nor let
it take thee to the Altar on the left--
so close to earth--but steer the middle course.--
to Fortune I commit thy fate, whose care
for thee so reckless of thyself I pray.
"While I am speaking humid night has touched
the margin of Hesperian shores. 'Tis not
for us to idle; we are called away;--
when bright Aurora shines the darkness flies.
Take up the reins! But if thy stubborn breast
be capable of change use not our car,
but heed my counsel while the time permits,
and while thy feet are on a solid base,
but not, according to thy foolish wish,
pressing the axle. Rather let me light
the world beneath thy safe and wondering gaze."
But Phaethon with youthful vigor leaped,
and in the light-made chariot lightly stood:
and he rejoiced, and with the reins in hand
thanked his reluctant parent.
Eous, Aethon, Pyrois and Phlegon,
the winged horses of the Sun, gave vent
to flame-like neighs that filled the shaking air;
they pawed the barriers with their shining hoofs.
Then Tethys, witless of her grandson's fate
let back the barriers,--and the universe
was theirs to traverse. Taking the well-known road,
and moving through the air with winged feet,
they pierced resisting clouds, and spreading wide
their pinions soared upon the eastern wind,
far-wafted from that realm. But Phaethon,
so easy of their yoke, lost all control,
and the great car was tossed,--as tapered ships
when lightened of their ballast toss and heave
unsteady in the surging seas: the car
leaped lightly in the air, and in the heights
was tossed unsteady as an empty shell.
Soon as the steeds perceived it, with a rush
impetuous, they left the beaten track;
regardless of all order and control;
and Phaethon filled with fear, knew not to guide
with trusted reins, nor where the way might be--
nor, if he knew, could he control their flight.
Warmed in the sunshine, never felt before,
the gelid Triones attempted vain
to bathe in seas forbid: the Serpent cold
and torpid by the frozen Pole, too cold
for contest, warmed, and rage assumed from heat
bootes, troubled by the heat, took flight,
impeded by his wain.
And as from skies
of utmost height unhappy Phaethon
beheld the earth receding from his view,
a pallor spread his cheeks with sudden fear;
his knees began to quake; and through the flare
of vast effulgence darkness closed his eyes.
Now vainy he regrets he ever touched
his father's steeds, and he is stunned with grief
that so entreating he prevailed to know
his true descent. He rather would be called
the son of Merops. As a ship is tossed
by raging Boreas, when the conquered helm
has been abandoned, and the pilot leaves
the vessel to his vows and to the Gods;
so, helpless, he is borne along the sky.
What can he? Much of heaven remains behind;
a longer distance is in front of him--
each way is measured in his anxious mind.--
at first his gaze is fixed upon the west,
which fate has destined he shall never reach,
and then his eyes turn backward to the east.--
so, stupefied and dazed he neither dares
to loose the bits, nor tighten on the reins,
and he is ignorant of the horses' names.