Greek Myth: Phaethon and the Chariot of the Sun

Phaethon was the son of the sun-god Helios, and he longed to drive his father's golden chariot which bore the sun across the sky every day.

"If you love me, Father," he said, "you will let me drive the chariot!"

Helios at first refused his son's request, knowing that the boy was not strong enough to control the celestial horses. "I myself can barely control the horses," he explained, "so I fear what will happen if you try to drive them, my son."

Yet Phaethon persisted. "You promised!" he shouted, and he spoke the truth, for Helios had promised to grant the boy a wish, any wish he wanted. As a result, Helios was unable to refuse. Reluctantly, he had to let Phaethon drive the chariot.

As day dawned the next morning, Phaethon proudly took the reins in his hands and began to drive the fiery chariot across the sky. His father had warned him to follow the sun's usual path, being careful not to swerve to the right or to the left. The four horses of the sun, however, were wild and powerful, and Phaethon could not hold them back no matter how hard he tried. They rushed from the beaten track and plunged downwards, setting the tops of the mountains on fire and burning up the waters of the rivers and seas.

As she burned, Gaia, the earth-goddess, cried out for help. Zeus, the king of the gods, realized that he had to do something. Sadly, he let loose a lightning bolt which blasted the chariot into bits. The horses ran off in different directions, and poor Phaethon fell to the earth and died. Helios rebuilt the chariot and still makes his blazing journey across the sky every day, but he forever mourns the boy whose reckless wishes brought about his doom.

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