July 20, 2023

#08-327: Phaeton

The Fall of Phaeton (Rubens) (Wikipedia)

Note: The story of Phaeton feels like modern accounts of "climate chaos"--but this was caused by a spoiled son-of-a-god!

Get Ready: how do you think human action has affected global weather patterns?

Phaeton was proud that his father was the Greek Sun God Helios (also called Apollo). But his schoolmates taunted him for his bragging, so to prove his birth, he traveled to the east, to the land where the sun rose. Arriving at the lofty, elegant palace of Helios he asked for confirmation of his paternity, which the Sun God granted readily. Furthermore, in proof, "Ask what you will," he said, "and the gift shall be yours."

Now, the main role of Helios was to drive a chariot carrying the Sun across the sky every day. And that is what Phaeton asked: to be allowed to drive the chariot. "I have spoken rashly," said Helios; "this is the one thing I cannot permit. It is far too dangerous, for you and for the whole world."

But the youth held his father to his promise, and so Helios had no choice but to relinquish the reins of the divinely-fashioned chariot. First, though, he applied a powerful unguent to the boy's face, to protect it from the scorching rays of the sun. And then some advice: "Your main task is not to drive them on, but to hold them back." He advised the youth to drive neither north nor south but through the middle zone, and neither too high nor too low, and the lad was ready to start.

It was quite a ride. The horses immediately recognized that their driver was different, and Phaeton soon lost control of them. If he looked down, he saw the earth far below and feared the height; looking up, he saw the monsters that dwell in the sky: the Scorpion, the great Lion and Bull, the Serpent, and so on.

In the headlong downward rush of the horses, great cities and nations were destroyed, mountains burned, rivers smoked, crops destroyed, and the scorched deserts of the south were created. But when the chariot flew too high, it formed the icy fastnesses of the north.

At last, the Earth cried out. "Oh, Zeus!" it beseeched. "If you will not save me for all I've provided, think of yourself. We may soon be returned to the ancient Chaos in which Heaven, Earth, and Sea are undifferentiated."

And Zeus saw it was so, and ended the wild ride with a thunderbolt to the head of the hapless charioteer. Phaeton, hair afire, fell to Earth like a shooting star.


Practice: Match the term to its definition:

Term Definition
  1. beseeched
  2. Chaos
  3. confirmation
  4. fastnesses
  5. headlong
  6. paternity
  7. relinquish
  8. scorched
  9. undifferentiated
  10. unguent
  1. strongholds; secure areas
  2. fatherhood
  3. ointment; lotion
  4. disorder
  5. unrestrained; impetuous
  6. not separated
  7. begged
  8. proof
  9. burned
  10. give up; turn over

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for July 20, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. g; 2. d; 3. h; 4. a; 5. e; 6. b; 7. j; 8. i; 9. f; 10. c