One day he was boasting about his father, Helios. Now, as every one knows, a great and wise father may not always have a son as wise and great as himself, and Phaethon's friends taunted him with this; and even declared that his father was not a god at all. This was too much for Phaethon's pride, and rushing to his mother, Clymene, he earnestly besought her to tell him the truth, and assure him of his noble birth. " My son," said Clymene, " thou art too apt to boast, and wilt surely come to grief in consequence; but of a truth, thou art the son of thy father, Helios, and to convince thyself, go and ask him."
Now Phaethon had never seen his father. In order that he might be self-dependent he had been brought up far away from the palace to which his mother intended to take him when he had proven himself worthy. Clymene told him how difficult he would find the journey; but Phaethon was willing to overcome all difficulties, and he started at once. On the way he had many adventures, but at last found himself in a far Eastern country, which has for its boundary a wall of high mountains.
On the top of the highest mountain was the palace of the sun-god, a palace of far greater beauty than any which Phaethon had ever seen, and its brightness dazzled him. It had golden columns, great silver doors, and its ceilings were of ivory. On the walls were vast pictures of the sky, the rivers, oceans, and lands of the earth; and most wonderful of all were the pictures of all the people of the earth in their cities and villages.
But Phaethon did not stop to look at these beautiful things, or to listen to the sweet music of many fountains. He entered the hall in which Helios was preparing to take his daily journey; and walking straight up to the sun-god exclaimed, " light of the boundless world, my father, claim me, I pray thee, as thy son, for such I surely am." Helios bade him approach, and kissing him, exclaimed, " Thou art most welcome, my son. I have looked long for thy coming, and to prove my love for thee, thou shalt ask what thou wilt, and it shall be granted thee." At this moment the goddess of the morning, Eos, drew aside a beautiful crimson veil, and the chariot and horses were brought in. It was a glorious moment. The attendants burst into a chorus of glad music; the air became sweet with perfume, as from many flowers, and the spirited horses stamped impatiently at the delay.
Phaethon looked at the horses, and then at, the dazzling chariot. Hephaestus had given it to Helios. With its wheels of gold and spokes of silver, which sparkled and flashed with many-colored jewels, it was charming. Phaethon became possessed of a great desire to drive the fire-flashing horses. '' Let me but drive them for a day," he asked; " then shall I prove to thee how worthy a son am I for so great a father.' Then, bending low, he exclaimed, " Grant this one wish, I pray thee." "I cannot grant thee that wish, my son. The horses can be safely driven only by Helios himself. Ask anything else."
But Phaethon, foolish lad, insisted, and as Helios had promised, he at length yielded, after trying in vain to turn Phaethon from his intention. Phaethon was very stubborn. He longed for the glory of having driven the sun-chariot for a day, and with this desire strong in his heart, he forgot to respect the wishes of an older and wiser person. When he started upon his journey the chorus ceased; the Hours, Minutes, and Seconds looked sad; Spring dropped her flowers; Summer threw down her garlands of roses, and Autumn's rosy face turned pale, while old Winter's icicles began to melt. At first it was fine sport holding the reins over the fire-breathing horses. Helios had wisely allowed them their own pace, which was far from slow; but Phaethon urged them on until they were rushing at a terrific speed quite out of their regular course. At length they came so near to the poisonous Scorpio, that Phaethon was in danger of being grasped by the great claws, and dropping the reins in his fright, he clung desperately to the chariot.
The horses plunged wildly on. They came so near to the earth that the oceans and rivers dried up, the mountains began to smoke, and the people cried to Zeus for help. When Zeus saw what had been so foolishly done, he became very angry, and sent a bolt which hurled Phaethon from the chariot, down, down his hair and clothes on fire-into a river which hid him jn its cool waters. A sad ending was this to Phaethon's great day.
But, sadder still, two maidens who were standing on the bank of the river, saw in the boy-comet their brother. They could not help him; they could only stand and weep, and they wept so long that their feet became rooted to the ground, and they turned into poplar-trees. If you will listen near one of these trees you may still hear the gentle sighing of the poplarsisters for their brother.
Phaethon's friend Cygnos saw the fall, and was deeply grieved. Day after day he mourned, and each day his neck grew longer as he lingered near the water and looked into its waves. He became a swan and spent his time floating on the river, always looking for, but never finding Phaethon. Only once did he call Phaethon, and that was when he was dying.
The Legend and Myth about Phaethon
The Myth of Phaethon
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