The story picks up with Io, restored to human form, who bears a child, son of Zeus, named Epaphus. Ovid tells us that Phaethon, son of the Sun God, was a friend of Epaphus, and thus he transitions from the story of Io into the story of Phaethon.
[Notes by LKG]
This story is part of the Ovid's Metamorphoses unit. Story source: Ovid's Metamorphoses, translated by Tony Kline (2000).
He had a friend, Phaethon, child of the Sun, equal to him in spirit and years, who once boasted proudly that Phoebus was his father and refused to concede the claim, which Inachus’s grandson could not accept. ‘You are mad to believe all your mother says, and you have an inflated image of your father.’
Phaethon reddened but, from shame, repressed his anger, and went to his mother Clymene with Inachus’s reproof. ‘To sadden you more, Mother, I the free, proud, spirit was silent! I am ashamed that such a reproach can be spoken and not answered. But if I am born at all of divine stock, give me some proof of my high birth, and let me claim my divinity!’
So saying he flung his arms round his mother’s neck, entreating her, by his own and her husband Merops’s life, and by his sisters’ marriages, to reveal to him some true sign of his parentage.
Phaethon sets out for the Palace of the Sun
Immediately Phaethon, delighted at his mother’s words, imagining the heavens in his mind, darts off and crosses Ethiopia his people’s land, then India, land of those bathed in radiant fire, and with energy reaches the East.
The Palace of the Sun
As soon as Clymene’s son had climbed the steep path there, and entered the house of this parent of whose relationship to himself he was uncertain, he immediately made his way into his father’s presence, but stopped some way off, unable to bear his light too close.
Wearing a purple robe, Phoebus sat on a throne shining with bright emeralds. To right and left stood the Day, Month, and Year, the Century and the equally spaced Hours. Young Spring stood there circled with a crown of flowers, naked Summer wore a garland of ears of corn, Autumn was stained by the trodden grapes, and icy Winter had white, bristling hair.
Phaethon and his father
Phaethon replied ‘Universal light of the great world, Phoebus, Father, if you let me use that name, if Clymene is not hiding some fault behind false pretence, give me proof, Father, so they will believe I am your true offspring, and take away this uncertainty from my mind!’
He spoke, and his father removed the crown of glittering rays from his head and ordered him to come nearer. Embracing him, he said, ‘It is not to be denied you are worthy to be mine, and Clymene has told you the truth of your birth. So that you can banish doubt, ask for any favour, so that I can grant it to you. May the Stygian lake, that my eyes have never seen, by which the gods swear, witness my promise.’
Hardly had he settled back properly in his seat when the boy asked for his father’s chariot and the right to control his wing-footed horses for a day.
The Sun’s admonitions
His further warnings
‘Suppose you are given the chariot. What will you do? Will you be able to counter the turning poles so that the swiftness of the skies does not carry you away? Perhaps you conceive in imagination that there are groves there and cities of the gods and temples with rich gifts. The way runs through ambush, and apparitions of wild beasts! Even if you keep your course, and do not steer awry, you must still avoid the horns of Taurus the Bull, Sagittarius the Haemonian Archer, raging Leo and the Lion’s jaw, Scorpio’s cruel pincers sweeping out to encircle you from one side, and Cancer’s crab-claws reaching out from the other.
‘You will not easily rule those proud horses, breathing out through mouth and nostrils the fires burning in their chests. They scarcely tolerate my control when their fierce spirits are hot, and their necks resist the reins. Beware, my boy, that I am not the source of a gift fatal to you, while something can still be done to set right your request!’
Next: Phaethon's Ride