The myth of Phaethon is one that is very important to me personally. In so many ways, he is the archetypical Seeker, the universal hand reaching for the light... I look at the charioteer and see Jesus, Hamlet, Einstein and, in my more introspective moments, myself. It is the story of our race, of a heritage and destiny we all share, of a journey and a destination. In a very small amount of space, the myth encapsulates all of my hopes, fears, strengths, and weaknesses. I would be positively delighted should you glean from this tale a mere sliver of the wisdom and strength I have obtained by reading it.

I've taken this version of the tale from Book 2 of Ovid's Metamorphoses. I've broken it into several sections and given each of them what I feel to be appropriate titles. Enjoy.

  1. Child of the Light
  2. To Drive the Sun
  3. He Knows Not Their Names
  4. Cry of Creation
  5. Fell, But Tried
Back to Greek and Roman Mythology
Phaethon was the mortal son of Helios, the Sun. He was very proud of his dad (as he should be). One day he wished he could drive the Chariot of the Sun across the sky, so while it was still night he visited his dad and begged him to grant his dearest wish. Now Helios loved his son dearly, and because of this he made a serious blunder: he swore by the River Styx, the strongest oath possible, because once you swear by it you had to do what you said. Phaethon said he wanted to drive the chariot, Helios paniced, knowing that Phaethon could not do this. But he had sworn by the Styx, so he gave in. He crowned his son with the sun, and gave him the chariot.

At first Phaethon did well and the boy stood proudly at the reigns. But soon the horses figured out their driver was just a boy, and went out of control into the zodiac. This enraged the beasts of the heavens, who began to chase the chariot. Then the boy lost control and the chariot swooped down over Africa, turning it's inhabitants deep black. Then the horses dashed upwards and everything froze from the cold.

Jupiter had become fed up with the whole thing. He couldn't let life die, so he threw his lightning bolts at the chariot, smashing it and sending Phaethon plunging to his death in the River Po, where his sisters mourned and were turned into poplar trees.

Pha"e*thon (?), n. [L., Phaethon (in sense 1), fr. Gr. , fr. , , to shine. See Phantom.]

1. Class. Myth.

The son of Helios (Phebus), that is, the son of light, or of the sun. He is fabled to have obtained permission to drive the chariot of the sun, in doing which his want of skill would have set the world on fire, had he not been struck with a thunderbolt by Jupiter, and hurled headlong into the river Po.

2. Zool.

A genus of oceanic birds including the tropic birds.


© Webster 1913.

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