The Myth of Phaethon
Child of the Light. To Drive the Sun. He Knows Not Their Names. Cry of Creation. Fell, But Tried.
So made the tortured Earth an end of speech;
and she was fain to hide her countenance
in caves that border on the nether night.
But now the Almighty Father, having called
to witness all the Gods of Heaven, and him
who gave the car, that, else his power be shown,
must perish all in dire confusion, high
he mounted to the altitude from which
he spreads the mantling clouds, and fulminates
his dreadful thunders and swift lightning-bolts
terrific.--Clouds were none to find on the earth,
and the surrounding skies were void of rain.--
Jove, having reached that summit, stood and poised
in his almighty hand a flashing dart,
and, hurling it, deprived of life and seat
the youthful charioteer, and struck with fire
the raging flames-- and by the same great force
those flames enveloping the earth were quenched,
and he who caused their fury lost his life.
Frantic in their affright the horses sprang
across the bounded way and cast their yokes,
and through the tangled harness lightly leaped.
And here the scattered harness lay, and there
the shattered axle, wrenched from off the pole,
and various portions of the broken car;
spokes of the broken Wheel were scattered round.
And far fell Phaethon with flaming hair;
as haply from the summer sky appears
a falling star, although it never drops
to startled earth.--Far distant from his home
the deep Eridanus received the lad
and bathed his foaming face. His body charred
by triple flames Hesperian Naiads bore,
still smoking, to a tomb, and this engraved
upon the stone; "Here Phaethon's remains
lie buried. He who drove his father's car
and fell, although he made a great attempt."
Filled with consuming woe, his father hid
his countenance which grief had overcast.
And now, surpassing our belief, they say
a day passed over with no glowing sun;--
but light-affording flames appeared to change
disaster to the cause of good.
the woeful Clymene, when she had moaned
in grief, amid her lamentations tore
her bosom, as across the world she roamed,
at first to seek his lifeless corpse, and then
his bones. She wandered to that distant land
and found at last his bones ensepulchred.
There, clinging to the grave she fell and bathed
with many tears his name on marble carved,
and with her bosom warmed the freezing
And all the daughters of the Sun went there
giving their tears, alas a useless gift;--
they wept and beat their breasts, and day and night
called, Phaethon, who heard not any sound
of their complaint:--and there they lay foredone,
all scattered round the tomb.
The silent moon
had four times joined her horns and filled her disk,
while they, according to an ancient rite,
made lamentation. Prone upon the ground,
the eldest, Phaethusa, would arise
from there, but found her feet were growing stiff;
and uttered moan. Lampetia wished to aid
her sister but was hindered by new roots;
a third when she would tear her hair, plucked forth
but leaves: another wailed to find her legs
were fastened in a tree; another moaned
to find her arms to branches had been changed.
And while they wondered, bark enclosed their thighs,
and covered their smooth bellies, and their breasts,
and shoulders and their hands, but left untouched
their lips that called upon their mother's name.
What can she do for them? Hither she runs
and thither runs, wherever frenzy leads.
She kisses them, alas, while yet she may!
But not content with this, she tried to hale
their bodies from the trees; and she would tear
the tender branches with her hands, but lo!
The blood oozed out as from a bleeding wound;
and as she wounded them they shrieked aloud,
"Spare me! O mother spare me; in the tree
my flesh is torn! farewell! farewell! farewell!"
And as they spoke the bark enclosed their lips.
Their tears flow forth, and from the new-formed
amber distils and slowly hardens in the sun;
and far from there upon the waves is borne
to deck the Latin women.
of Sthenelus, by his maternal house
akin to Phaethon, and thrice by love
allied, beheld this wonderful event.--
he left his kingdom of Liguria,
and all its peopled cities, to lament
where the sad sisters had increased the woods,
beside the green banks of Eridanus.
There, as he made complaint, his manly voice
began to pipe a treble, shrill; and long
gray plumes concealed his hair. A slender neck
extended from his breast, and reddening toes
were joined together by a membrane. Wings
grew from his sides, and from his mouth was made
a blunted beak. Now Cycnus is a swan,
and yet he fears to trust the skies and Jove,
for he remembers fires, unjustly sent,
and therefore shuns the heat that he abhors,
and haunts the spacious lakes and pools and streams
that quench the fires.
In squalid garb, meanwhile,
and destitute of all his rays, the sire
of Phaethon, as dark as when eclipse bedims
his Wheel, abhors himself and hates the light,
shuns the bright day, gives up his mind to grief,
adds passion to his woe, denies the earth
his countenance, and thus laments; "My lot
was ever restless from the dawn of time,
and I am weary of this labour, void
and endless. Therefore, let who will urge forth
my car, light-bearing, and if none may dare,
when all the Gods of Heaven acknowledge it,
let Jove himself essay the task. Perchance,
when he takes up the reins, he may forget
his dreadful lightning that bereaves of child
a father's love; and as he tries the strength
of those flame-footed steeds will know, in truth,
the lad who failed to guide my chariot
deserved not death."
But all the Deities
encircle Phoebus as he makes complaint,
and with their supplications they entreat
him not to plunge the world in darkness. Jove
would find excuses for the lightning-bolt,
hurled from his hand, and adds imperious threats
to his entreaties. Phoebus calls his steeds,
frenzied with their maddening fires, and
their fury, as he vents with stinging lash
his rage upon them, and in passion lays
on them the death of Phaethon his son.