In Greek mythology, Phaëton or Phaethon (pron.: // or //; Ancient Greek: Φαέθων "shining") was the son of Apollo and the Oceanid Clymene. Alternate, less common genealogies make him a son of Clymenus by Merope, of Helios and Rhode (thus a full brother of the Heliadae) or of Helios and Prote. Phaëton's best friend and lover was Cycnus, the king of Liguria. He was the son of both Clymene and Apollo. He did not believe he was the true son of Apollo because Epaphus, Zeus' son, told him so.
Perhaps the most famous version of the myth is given us through Ovid in his Metamorphoses (Book II). Phaeton seeks assurance that his mother, Clymenē, is telling the truth that his father is the sun god Helios (as her husband is Merops, a mortal king). When Phaeton obtains his father's promise to drive the sun chariot as proof, he fails to control it and the Earth is in danger of burning up when Phaeton is killed by a thunderbolt from Zeus to prevent further disaster.
Phaethon is also the name of another minor Greek deity, the god of the wandering star Dios, represented by the planet Jupiter.
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. In Roman mythology the sun-god Helios is also primarily known by his other names Phoebus, meaning "bright, radiant", and 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 of the sun for a day. Helios tried to talk him out of it by telling him that not even Jupiter (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, Apollo 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.
"...consider what impetuous force Turns stars and planets in a diff'rent course. I steer against their motions; nor am I Born back by all the current of the skye. But how cou'd you resist the orbs that roul In adverse whirls, and stem the rapid pole?"
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; bringing the blood of the Ethiopians to the surface of their skin, turning it black.
"The running conflagration spreads below. But these are trivial ills: whole cities burn, And peopled kingdoms into ashes turn."
Eventually, Jupiter was forced to intervene by striking the runaway chariot with a lightning bolt to stop it, and Phaëthon plunged into the river Eridanos. Apollo, stricken with grief, refused to drive his chariot for days. Finally the other Greek gods persuaded him not to leave the world in darkness. Apollo blamed Jupiter for killing his son, but Jupiter told him there was no other way.
The epitaph on his tomb was quite to the point:
"Here Phaëthon lies who in the sun-god's chariot fared. And though greatly he failed, more greatly he dared."
This story has given rise to two latter-day meanings of "phaeton": one who drives a chariot or coach, especially at a reckless or dangerous speed, and one that would or may set the world on fire.
In Plato's Timaeus, Critias tells the story of Solon's visit to Egypt shortly after Solon was elected archon in 594 B.C. Solon was puzzled by the fact that the Greeks had no history prior to the Trojan War and told the Egyptians that history must begin with the first man (Phoroneus) and woman (Niobe) and after the Deluge with Deucalion and Pyrrha. To which the Neith priest, identified by Plutarch as Sonchis the Saite, said,
in mind you are all young; there is no old opinion handed down among you by ancient tradition, nor any science which is hoary with age. And I will tell you why. There have been, and will be again, many destructions of mankind arising out of many causes; the greatest have been brought about by the agencies of fire and water, and other lesser ones by innumerable other causes. There is a story, which even you have preserved, that once upon a time Paethon, the son of Helios, having yoked the steeds in his father's chariot, because he was not able to drive them in the path of his father, burnt up all that was upon the earth, and was himself destroyed by a thunderbolt. Now this has the form of a myth, but really signifies a declination of the bodies moving in the heavens around the earth, and a great conflagration of things upon the earth, which recurs after long intervals."
Clement of Alexandria
Suetonius' Lives of the Twelve Caesars
in The Twelve Caesars, Suetonius attributes the following quote to Tiberius, speaking about the future emperor Caligula, "Caius (Caligula) was destined to be the destruction of him, and them all; and that he was cherishing a hydra for the people of Rome, and a Phaeton for all the world" This means, more or less, that Caligula will bring about the destruction of the Empire.
In other stories
Fragments of Euripides' tragedy on this subject suggest that Phaethon survives. In reconstructing the lost play and discussing the fragments, James Diggle has discussed the treatment of the Phaeton myth (Diggle 2004).
The motif of the fallen star is thought to have been familiar in Israel, for Isaiah referred to it in admonishing the king of Babylon for his pride ("How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!" Isaiah 14:12ff). The Jewish Encyclopedia reports that "it is obvious that the prophet in attributing to the Babylonian king boastful pride, followed by a fall, borrowed the idea from a popular legend connected with the morning star." The falling-star image reappears in John's Apocalypse without a name. In the 4th century, Jerome's translation of the "morning star" as "Lucifer" carried the fallen-star myth-element into Christian mythology. For fuller details, see Lucifer and Azazel.
In later art
Camille Saint-Saëns wrote a symphonic poem entitled Phaéton.
Niccolò Jommelli wrote an opera Fetonte to an Italian-language libretto by Mattia Verazi using various sources, principally Ovid, for the myth of Phaeton. First performed at the Ducal Theatre, Ludwigsburg in February, 1768, where Duke Karl-Eugen of Württemberg maintained an opera troupe.
In Otakar Theer's symbolist tragedy Faëthón (1916), the hero epitomizes man's revolt against the world order ("the gods") and against human destiny. The tragedy was adapted in 1962 into a celebrated eponymous radio play by Miloslav Jareš (director) and Jaromír Ptáček (dramaturge).
In 2012, former Disco Inferno frontman Ian Crause adapted the story of Phaethon as The Song of Phaethon for his first musical release in over a decade. Crause used the story as an analogy for Britain's entry into the Second Gulf War.
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- Scholia on Pindar, Olympian Ode 6. 131
- Tzetzes, Chiliades, 4. 127
- Gunnell, John A. (ed.). Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975. krause publications. ISBN 0-87341-027-0.
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- CD MLA Style Encyclopædia Britannica, Helios: 2010 Desktop Encyclopedia CD. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2010
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- Edith Hamilton, MYTHOLOGY: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes, ISBN 0-446-60725-8
- "The Internet Classics Archive | Timaeus by Plato". Classics.mit.edu. Retrieved 2010-08-11.
- "Clement of Alexandria: Stromata, Book 1". Earlychristianwritings.com. 2006-02-02. Retrieved 2010-08-11.
- Pekárek, Hynek. "Otakar Theer: Faëthón" (in Czech). Rozhlas.cz. Retrieved 2013-03-13.
- Pitchfork: 'Listen: Ian Crause of Disco Inferno Shares First New Music in Over a Decade'
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Phaeton|
- The translation and complete reconstruction of Euripides' "Phaethon" made by Vlanes is now available as ebook on Amazon: 
- George Stubbs's 'The Fall of Phaeton' at the Lady Lever Art Gallery
- Comet Phaethon's Ride, by Bob Kobres
- Theoi Project: Phaethon, Greek demigod child of the sun
- Theoi Project: Phaethon, Greek god of the star Jupiter
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