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Phaethon

from Nature Myths And Stories For Little Children





Phaethon was the son of Helios, who drove the chariot of the sun. He
lived with his mother, the gentle Clymene, in a beautiful valley in the
east.

One day when Phaethon was telling his companions about his father, the
sky king, they laughed and said, "How do you know that Helios is your
father? You have never seen him. If, as you say, he cannot safely come
nearer to the earth, why do you not sometimes go to his land."

Phaethon answered, "My father's throne is far away from this valley. My
mother has promised that when I am stronger, I shall go to my father's
palace. I often watch his golden chariot roll by in its path and think
perhaps some day I shall drive the glorious horses of the sun.

"I shall go now to my mother, and ask her how much longer I must wait."

When Phaethon told his mother what his companions had said she answered,
"Go, my child, ask Great Helios if you are his son. If you are worthy to
be the son of Helios you will be given strength and courage for the
journey."

Phaethon gladly and bravely climbed the unused path which led to the
palace of the sun.

At last he came in sight of the throne. He had never seen anything so
beautiful. On one side were standing the days, months and the old years.
On the other side were the seasons; Spring, covered with flowers;
Summer, with her baskets of fruit and grain; Autumn, in a many-colored
dress; and Young Winter, with a crown of icicles.

As Phaethon came nearer to the throne, the light was greater than his
eyes could bear. Its wonderful colors dazzled him.

Helios saw the brave youth and knew that it was Phaethon, his son. He
took his glittering crown from his head and went forward to meet him.

Phaethon cried, "Great Helios, if you are my father give me and others
proof that it is so."

Helios took him in his arms and kissed him. "You are indeed my son," he
said. "I will put an end to your doubts. Ask any gift you will, and it
shall be yours."

Phaethon had always had one wish in his heart and said, "O, my father,
let me drive the wonderful golden chariot of the sun for just one day."

Helios shook his head sadly and said, "That is the one thing which you
must not ask to do.

"You are my son, and I love you. For your own sake, I cannot let you do
this. You have neither the strength nor the wisdom for the great work.

"The first part of the way is very steep and rugged. In the middle part,
even I dare not look below at the far stretching earth, and the last
part is full of terrible dangers."

Phaethon would not listen, but threw his arms around his father's neck
and begged to go.

Helios said at last, "If you persist, foolish boy, you shall have your
wish, for I cannot break my promise. I beg of you choose more wisely.
Ask the most precious thing on earth or in the sky, and you shall have
it."

Already Dawn had drawn back the purple curtains of the morning and the
Hours were harnessing the horses to the chariot.

The stars and moon were retiring for the day.

The chariot glittered with jewels which sent the light in all directions.
Phaethon looked upon it with delight and longed impatiently for the
great joy of driving it.

Helios said, "O, my dear son, go not too high or you will scorch the
dwelling of heaven, nor too low, lest you set the world on fire.

"Keep the middle path; that is best, and do not use the whip; rather,
hold the horses in."

Phaethon was too happy to hear what his father was saying.

He leapt into the golden chariot and stood erect as the fiery horses
sprang forth from the eastern gates of Day.

They soon missed the strong steady hand of their master.

Up, up they went, far into the sky, above the stars, and then plunged
downward toward the earth.

The clouds smoked, the mountain tops caught fire, many rivers dried up
and whole countries became deserts.

Great cities were burning, and even Poseidon cried out in terror from
the sea.

Then the people on earth learned with what great wisdom the path of the
sun was planned.

Helios saw that the whole world would soon be on fire, and cried to
father Zeus to save the earth from the flames.

Zeus searched all the heavens for clouds and hurled his thunderbolts
from the sky.

Phaethon fell from the chariot, down, down into a clear river.

The naiads cooled his burning brow, and gently sang him to sleep.

His sisters came to the banks of the river and wept.

That they might be always near Phaethon, Zeus, in pity changed them into
poplar trees, and their tears became clear amber as they fell into the
water.

At last the tired horses became quiet, and the great car rolled slowly
back into its old path.

But the deserts and barren mountain tops still tell the story of the day
Phaethon tried to drive the chariot of the sun.





Next: The Grateful Foxes

Previous: The Palace Of Alkinoos



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