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~Napoleon Bonaparte

Sunday, 15 January 2012


PHAETHON was a young son of Helios and Clymene who begged his father to let him drive the chariot of the sun. The Sun-god reluctantly conceded to the boy's wishes and handed him the reigns. However, the inexperienced Phaethon quickly lost control of the immortal steeds, and the sun-chariot veered out of control setting the earth aflame, scorching the plains of Africa to desert. Zeus was appalled by the destruction and struck the boy from the chariot with a thunderbolt, hurling his flaming body into the waters of the river Eridanos.

The name "Phaëton" means the "shining", is also an epithet of Eosphoros, the Morning Star Venus.

To view Eosphoros( Phosphorus,  "Light-Bringer", the Morning Star ) click here

PHAETHON,  that is, "the shining," occurs in Homer (ll. xi. 735, Od. v. 479) as an epithet or surname of Helios, and is used by later writers as a real proper name for Helios (Apollo, Rhod. iv. 1236; Virg. Aen. v. 105); but it is more commonly known as the name of son of Helios by the Oceanid Clymene, the wife of Merops.

The sun-god Helios or his son Phaethon drives the four-horse chariot of the sun into the sky at dawn. He is crowned with shining aureole of the sun.

                          Helios and Phaeton with Saturn and the Four Seasons, Nicolas Poussin

In the version of the myth told by Ovid in the Metamorphoses, Phaeton ascends into heaven, the home of his suspected father. His mother Clymene had boasted that his father was the sun-god Helios. Helios was especially worshipped in Rhodes, however in the 5th Century BC the Greeks had primarily replaced in him with Apollo Phoebus. However, in Roman mythology the sun-god Helios is adopted again only in his Latin name, which is Sol." Phaeton went to his father who swore by the river Styx to give Phaeton anything he should ask for in order to prove his divine paternity. Phaeton wanted to drive his chariot (the sun) for a day. Helios tried to talk him out of it by telling him that not even Zeus (the king of gods) would dare to drive it, as the chariot was fiery hot and the horses breathed out flames. Phaeton was adamant. When the day came, Helios anointed Phaeton's head with magic oil to keep the chariot from burning him. Phaeton was unable to control the fierce horses that drew the chariot as they sensed a weaker hand.

                                                P. RubensThe Fall of Phaeton
                                                Gustave Moreau, Phaeton

Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3. 31 (trans. Rackham) (Roman rhetorician C1st B.C.) :
"How could a god be deceived? As Sol [Helios the Sun] was when he gave his son Phaethon a ride in his chariot?"

Phaéton on the Chariot of Apollo or Phaeton driving the sun-chariot

Seneca, Medea 826 ff :
"[The witch Medea employs various fabulous ingredients in a spell to create magical fire :] Bolts of living flame I took from my kinsman, Phaëthon [i.e. from his still-flaming body]."

To view Medea click here

Joseph Heintz the Elder, The Fall of Phaeton

                                                    Sebastiano Ricci, The Fall of Phaeton
                                            The fall of Phaeton, Johann Liss

 Card no. 44 from the E-series of the so-called Mantegna Tarocchi. Book scan: Chiara Guarnieri (Herausgeber): Bildlexikon der Kunst, Bd. 8: Astrologie, Magie und Alchemie

Philoxenus of Cythera, Fragment 834 (from Pliny, Natural History) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric V) (Greek lyric C5th to 4th B.C.) :
"When Phaethon was struck by the thunderbolt, his sisters were changed into poplar trees in their grief and every year shed tears of amber by the banks of the river Eridanos, which we call the Padus (Po); the amber is known as electrum, since the Sun is called Elector (elketor, the shiner). Many poets have told this."

                                         Phaethon, from Imagines by Philostratus, 1614

                                    Michelangelo, The Fall of Phaeton