The myth of Phaeton, the heir of the Sun god Helios is a hubris filled tale about an exceedingly handsome mortal boy whose vanity placed him above the jurisdiction of the 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 how those words would soon enough become reality…
Considering his mother was a strikingly beautiful 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 suspected 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 near mountain’s worth of hair care products and shimmery head bands, Phaeton’s mother pointed her son towards the East, the furthest reaches East. It was there, way beyond the mist, she informed her child, that Phaeton’s 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” whom her mother referenced with just two words “that hussy”, otherwise named Aurora.
With Phaeton soon to come of age, his mother urged her soon-to-no-longer-be child to begin his young adulthood by embarking on a surprise visit far to the East so that he could receive his father’s blessing as a young man with big aspirations (and an even bigger ego). She strongly suggested that Phaeton should embark on his epic trek as soon as possible.
“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 and more importantly his multi-mirrored bathroom which had become overrun with empty jars of henna, honey, and Dippity Do olive oil. So off the overconfident demi-god with the over-attentive hair fixation went.
Trek. Mini-adventures. Countless stops made for the sole purpose of Hair Primping. Fast Forward to the Palace of the Sun.
Although Phaeton couldn’t make out any details due to constantly squinting, from what he could decipher his Dad was one seriously big guy of a solar 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 was 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 rights 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 aloud to himself while involuntarily grinning.
Upon regaining his godly composure, Helios immediately began trying to dissuade his impetuous son 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, the Sun God himself, had almost lost control while guiding the planet’s illumination source through its westward path over the course of a day’s passing.
Besides, there were plenty of super awesome non-Solar chariots Phaeton would really enjoy riding, his deity of a Dad offered enticingly. Better yet! Helios could personally ask the inventor of the gods, Hephaestus, as 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 flame exhaling 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 in recent years, resulting in some mighty fine demi-goddesses around Phaeton’s age whom Helios would be happy to introd-….
“Did I stutter?” Phaeton interrupted, 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 rise.
Helios still lowers his radiant head in shame when he recalls what happened next; his Solar Deity self chasing after his foolish, headstrong kid while speed talking a crash course of “How to Rise and Set the Sun 101” as the boy impatiently mounted the mighty vessel and grabbed its reigns, not listening to a single word. The Sun God 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 global calamity.
From the moment the Chariot of the Sun’s wheels went into motion, 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 Sun fire bucked forward in full gallop, straight down directly towards the Earth’s surface.
Instinctively sensing there was no driver to bridle their pure solar energy, the stallions of the Sun leapt into the blazing red sky just moments before pummeling directly into the freshly scorched earth. Once again Phaeton was lucky to have been holding on to the reigns 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 whose right foot, most of its left ear, and all of its well-coiffed hair were completely singed off its body.
The Solar beasts proceeded to then run rampant across the Earth, their massive flaming hooves causing anything within their path of physical impact to immediately dissolve into 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 was unleashing Hell on Earth by destroying every living creature within its proximity.
The cries to Heaven were so numerously great that Zeus, all powerful ruler of the Gods was rendered 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 all Creation beheld the Chariot of the Sun wildly 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.
Upon making initial contact with its target the deadliest weapon on 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 badly burnt husk that was left of the boy’s body hurtled to Earth upon Zeus’ bolt obliterating its target with a direct hit. Helios’ mighty chariot exploded into a million blazing pieces as the fireball that 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 vain and head strong youth whose sense of entitlement dared to surpass the Gods was the sound of hissing bubbles as they extinguished themselves upon reaching the water’s disturbed surface.
The myth of Phaeton is now part of a book which tells the tales of how mortal hubris can end up as the source of Man’s undoing. Entitled “Seven Tales of Hubris & Other Divine Things”, the book is available for purchase on either Kindle or paperback on Amazon.com.