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In Greek mythology, Phaethon (Greek Φαέθων "shining"), was the son of Helios (Phoebus, the "shining one", an epithet later assumed by Apollo), or of Clymenus by Merope or Clymene.


In an alternate genealogy, Eos bore Cephalus a son, named Phaëthon but Aphrodite stole him away while he was no more than a child, to be the night-watchman at her most sacred shrines. The Cretans called him Adymus, by which they meant the morning and evening star (Hesiod, Theogony, 986; Solinus, xi:9; Nonnus, Dionysiaca, xi:131 and xii:217).

The myth stated that Phaethon bragged to his friends that his father was the sun-god. His friends refused to believe him and so Phaethon went to his father Helios, who swore by the river Styx to give him anything he should ask for. Phaeton wanted to drive his chariot (the sun) for a day. Though Helios tried to talk him out of it, Phaethon was adamant. When the day came, Phaethon panicked and lost control of the white horses that drew the chariot. First it veered too high, so that the earth grew chill. Then it dipped too close, and the vegetation dried and burned. He accidentally turned most of Africa into desert; burning the skin of the Ethiopians black. Eventually, Zeus was forced to intervene by striking the runaway chariot with a lightning bolt to stop it, and Phaëthon plunged into the river Eridanos.

Phaëthon in other stories

Fragments of Euripides' tragedy on this subject, Phaethon survive. In reconstructing the lost play and discussing the fragments, James Diggle has discussed the treatment of the Phaeton myth (Diggle 2004).

Perhaps the most famous version of the myth is given us through Ovid in his Metamorphoses (Book II). Ovid is emphasizing that Phaethon seeks assurance that his mother, Clymene, is telling the truth about his father.

Dante refers to the episode in both the Inferno and Paradiso Canto XVII of his Divine Comedy.


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