The story of Phaeton, the heir of Helios is a hubris filled tale about an exceedingly handsome mortal whose impetuous nature placed him above the jurisdiction of the very gods only to be brought abruptly back to earth in a crashing fireball of punishing humility soon thereafter. It would behoove each of us to keep the story of Phaeton in mind whenever encountering a brilliant sunset or a bedazzling dawn.
With his all-Olympian chiseled features, Phaeton was one of the best looking ancient Greek youths this side of Phoenicia.
And he knew it.
Both female and male peers alike would tag along wherever the adolescent hottie ventured, as if the very Sun rose and set around his exceptionally handsome face. (Little did Phaeton know those words would soon enough become quite the reality…)
Considering his mother was an Ethiopian princess, the lad with killer good looks knew he wasn’t just your average teen in a tunic. But it wasn’t until one of the neighborhood kids threw down the royal lineage gauntlet accusing Phaeton of not knowing who his Daddy was that the indignant youth would come to discover he wasn’t your average teen at all, nor your garden variety run of the mill mortal for that matter.
He was neither.
Being the offspring of the God of the Sun, Helios, Phaeton’s mother informed her interrogating son that indeed, he wasn’t merely mortal, rather his self-loving self was actually a demi-god, since half of his haughtily handsome DNA came from the loins of an immortal deity.Upon receiving confirmation of what he had always sensed, that yes, he simply WAS better than everyone else, Phaeton demanded to meet his deified Daddy.
Thrilled at the idea of how much more room her ancient Greek co-op would have without the presence of her son’s very beautiful yet very ego filled person, Phaeton’s mother pointed her son towards the East, the furthest possible East. It was there, way beyond the mist, she informed her child, that his father resided high atop the snow-capped mountains in his Palace, where the god of the Sun was attended to by the Four Seasons (the real ones, not those ancient guys who can barely sing anymore) along with his former personal assistant, the now newly promoted “Goddess of the Dawn“, that hussey, Aurora.
Phaeton’s mother then urged her son to venture far to the East and give his powerful Pop a surprise visit, suggesting that he embark immediately on his journey.
“Of COURSE your father won’t mind!” Phaeton’s mother insisted assuredly as she dashed away to peruse the latest models of Doric column catalogs in order to completely refurbish her son’s soon-to-be-empty bedroom. So off the overconfident demi-god went.
Trek. Mini-adventures. Fast Forward to Sun Palace.
Although Phaeton couldn’t make anything out due to constantly squinting, from what he could decipher his Dad was one seriously big guy of a god upon approaching the throne of Helios in his Palace of the Sun. The youth also sensed how totally stoked Sun Daddy was with his offspring – that being his beyond good looking, so much better than everyone else self.
Helios’ flames were so stoked, in fiery fact, that the God of the Sun swaggered forth from his throne and began to offer his son anything his heart desire-……
The Sun God hadn’t even finished verbalizing the last syllable of his parental bragging when Phaeton cut off Helios’ display of fatherly showboating by loudly interrupting: “Ride your chariot.”
Helios couldn’t believe what he was hearing. And just as the mighty god started to voice his bewilderment, Phaeton trampled over his father’s reaction of confused shock reiterating, “I want to ride your chariot of the Sun, and I want to do it now.”
(“Wait ‘til that neighborhood jerk sees me.”), Phaeton thought to himself while involuntarily grinning.
Upon regaining his godly composure, Helios immediately began to dissuade his impetuous offspring to think of something (anything) else which his youthful heart desired rather than fulfill his original request. Anything except attempting to drive the vehicle which caused the Sun to rise and set on Earth, whose steeds, the deity admitted, could be so volatile there were times even He, Helios himself, had almost lost control while guiding the Sun through its westward path over the course of a day’s passing.
There were plenty of super awesome earth bound chariots Phaeton would really enjoy riding, his solar deity of a Dad offered enticingly. Better yet! Helios could personally ask the inventor of the gods, Hephaestus, for a special favor to construct a chariot befitting the Sun god’s heir by having it laden with bejewelled gold and driven with Phaeton’s choice of either winged serpents or invisible dragons.
“And what’s a one of a kind chariot without someone to impress driving it, right son?” Helios asked. The god confided to his boy that he knew for a fact some of his Olympian buddies were sowing their godly oats quite abundantly as of late, resulting in some mighty fine demi-goddesses around Phaeton’s age whom Helios would be happy to introd-….
“Did I stutter?” said Phaeton, cutting off the divine sales pitch. “You asked, I answered. The pre-dawn isn’t getting any younger, Dad, let’s roll.”
Helios’ son was unfortunately very right. The solar deity’s live in “friend”, the goddess of the Dawn, Aurora, had already risen and drawn the curtains back from her side chamber, signaling that day had broken and the Sun must now also rise.
The God of the Sun still lowers his radiant head in shame when he recalls what happened next – his Solar Deity self chasing after his foolish, headstrong kid, speed talking a crash course of “How to Rise and Set the Sun 101” as the boy impatiently mounted the mighty vessel not listening to a single word. Helios was in the middle of imparting a solar chariot pearl of wisdom of, “If you can taste salt or get dirt in your mouth, you’ve gone too low, pull the reigns back, but in a slow, gradual motion.”, when the boy was violently thrown forward as the chariot of the Sun whisked away on its crash course of catastrophic calamity.
Phaeton never stood a chance. He was lucky to have gripped the reins, even though there were only three fingers left on his right hand and most of his left elbow simply no longer existed. The only active thing the terror struck boy could do was shriek in paralyzed horror as the solar steeds of fire bucked forward, galloping straight down towards the Earth’s surface.
Sensing there was no driver to bridle their pure solar energy, the stallions of the Sun leapt into the blazing red sky before pummeling directly onto the freshly burnt terra firma. Once again Phaeton was lucky to have been holding on to the reigns when the heavenly horses avoided nearly colliding directly into the surface of the Earth despite his body being catapulted from the chariot, as it flung from its tether violently to and fro like a rag doll in a hurricane.
A rag doll that now was missing its right foot, most of its left ear, and all of the hair singed off its head, face, and body.
The Solar beasts proceeded to then run rampant across the Earth, their flaming hooves causing anything within a mile of their physical impact to immediately dissolve into disintegrated ash. The fiery equines wildly charged towards the densely thick Sahara forest, rendering it a vast wasteland of charred, barren sand.
The warm Sun which was the source of Life now had unleashed Hell on Earth destroying any and all in its near vicinity.
The cries to Heaven were so simultaneously loud and numerous that Zeus, all powerful ruler of the Gods was frozen to total stillness. The divine King then flew to Earth in great haste as to determine the cause of this holocaust that had descended upon the world of Men.
When the ruler of Mt. Olympus beheld the Chariot of Helios hurtling across the globe with a mutilated mortal boy flailing behind it, Zeus proceeded to not waste the smallest particle of time. The King of the Gods motioned his arm back and instantaneously a lightning bolt materialized to which he flung forward with perfect awe-rendering aim directly at Phaeton.
The deadliest weapon of both Heaven and Earth diverted the stallions of the Sun from their instinctual stampede, circumventing their uncontrollable course of destruction away from the fragile planet’s surface and back to the atmospheric skies above, causing the divine horses to return once more to their stables within the Palace of the Sun.
Phaeton, however, didn’t fare nearly as well. The husk that was left of the body of the beautiful young demi-god hurtled to Earth upon Zeus’ bolt reaching its target. Helios’ mighty chariot exploded into a bubbly blaze as the fireball which once was the Sun god’s heir crashed to the bottom of the Eridanos River, self-combusting into oblivion upon impact.
All that remained of the handsome youth whose vanity dared to surpass the Gods was the sound of hissing bubbles as they extinguished themselves upon reaching the water’s disturbed surface.
*Cover picture – Phaeton by John Gibson, 1848
Brad Kronen’s book “Love in the Stars” published by Llewellyn Worldwide, Inc. is available for purchase at your local book seller or online at amazon.com at the link listed below.