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ELIOS, as you know, was the most famous charioteer
that the world had ever seen. Just how long he had been
driving the chariot of the Sun nobody could tell; but
it must have been many, many years. People said that he
had never done anything else; and the oldest
inhabitant had no recollection of the time when he
began. He never missed a day—not even Sunday; and on
holidays he was always up and at it early, cracking his
whip cheerily to waken the children.
Starting from the home of the Dawn in the far, far
East, he made a daily trip to the verge of Old Ocean's
stream in the distant West. How it was
 that he always
got back to his starting-point before the next morning
was somewhat of a mystery. Nobody had ever seen him
making his return trip, and hence all that men knew
about it was guesswork. It matters very little to us,
however; for that question has nothing to do with the
story which I am going to tell.
The old charioteer always slept soundly in the morning,
and seldom awoke until he heard his young sister, the
maiden whom men call Aurora, rapping at the door of his
bedroom, and making her voice echo through the halls of
"Up, up, brother Helios!" she would cry. "It is time
for you to begin your journey again. Up, and delight
the world once more with your shining morning face and
your life-giving presence!"
Then Helios would hasten to the meadows where his
steeds were feeding, and would call them each by name:
"Come hither, beautiful creatures! Hasten, for Aurora
calleth. Eös, thou glowing one! Æthon,
thou of the
burning name! Brontë, thou thunderer! Sterope, thou
swifter than lightning! Come quickly!"
The wing-footed steeds would obey. The servants would
harness them to the golden car, and
 Aurora and the
Morning Star would deck their manes with flowers and
with wreaths of asphodel. Then Helios would step into
the car and hold the long, yellow reins in his hands. A
word from him and the proud team would leap into the
sky; then they would soar above the mountain tops and
mingle with the clouds, and grandly career in mid-air.
And Helios, holding the reins steadily, would gently
restrain them, or if they lagged would urge them
forward with persuasive words. It was the grandest
sight that men ever saw, and yet they never seemed to
think much about it—perhaps because it was seen so
often. If Helios had failed for a single day, what a
wonderful hub-bub and fright there would have been!
The wife of Helios was a fair young lady named Clymene,
who lived not far from the great sea, and who,
according to some, was a nymph, but according to others
a fisherman's daughter: and they had an only son named
Phaëthon. Helios loved this son above all things else
on earth; and he gave him many rich and noble gifts,
and counseled him to be brave and wise, and especially
to be contented with his lot in life. And Phaëthon grew
to be a tall and comely lad, fond of his looking-glass,
soft-handed, and proud of his
an-  cestry. Some of his
companions, who were only common mortals, liked to
flatter him because of his supposed wealth, while there
were many others who despised him because he affected
to look up to the Sun.
"See the upstart who calls himself the son of Helios,"
"Ah, but he will have a sorry fall some of these days,"
"You are a pretty fellow to claim kinship with the
charioteer of the Sun," said a worthless loafer whose
name was Epaphos. "With your white face, and your
yellow curls, and your slender hands, you are better
fitted to help your mother at her spinning than to be a
leader of men."
"But," said the boy, "my father Helios, who drives the
burning chariot, and who—"
"Don't talk to me," interrupted the unmannerly
fellow—"don't talk to me about your father the
chariot-driver. Why, you would be frightened to death
to drive your sister's goat-cart over the lawn; and you
would shriek at the sight of a real horse. How dare you
claim descent from the charioteer of the skies?
"A pretty son of Helios, indeed!" laughed
 the other
rowdies who were with Epaphos; and some young girls
that were passing tossed their heads and smiled.
"I will show you!" cried Phaëthon, angrily. "I will do
what none of you dare do: I will ride the wild horses
of the plain; I will harness them to the king's
war-chariot, and drive them in the great circus! I will
prove to you that I am worthy to be called the son of
"Perhaps you will take his place as driver of the
sun-chariot? A day's rest now and then would do the old
man great good," sneered Epaphos.
Phaëthon hesitated. "My father," said he, "is one of
the immortals, and I am earth-born. And yet—and yet—"
"And yet," shouted his tormentors, "until you have
driven the sun-chariot through the skies, nobody will
believe that you are the son of Helios!"
And they went on their way laughing.
"You may sneer, and you may laugh," said Phaëthon, "but
the time will come when you will honor me, both for
what I am and for what I can do."
Steadily, and with a determined purpose, he set
making himself ready for the great undertaking of his
life. He exercised himself daily in feats of strength;
he practised running and leaping and throwing weights,
until his muscles were hardened and made as elastic as
Apollo's bow. Then he took lessons in horsemanship from
the greatest riding-masters in the world. He spent
months on the grassy steppes of the Caspian, where he
learned to lasso wild horses, and, leaping astride of
them, to ride them barebacked and bridleless until they
were subdued to his will. He entered the chariot races
at Corinth, and with a team of four outdrove the most
famous charioteers of Greece; and at the great
Olympian games he won the victor's crown. No other
young man was talked about as much as he.
"And with a team of four outdrove the most famous charioteers of Greece."
"A bright young fellow with a brilliant future before
him," said some.
"A fine example of what hard work and a little genius
can do," said others.
"A lucky chap," said still others—"a mere creature of
circumstances. Any of us could do as well, if as many
favorable accidents would happen to us to help us
"A vain upstart," said those whom he had beaten in the
race—"a fop with a girl's face,
 and more hair than
brains, whom the gods have seen fit to favor for a
"He claims to be of better blood than the rest of us,"
said the followers of Epaphos; "yet everybody knows
that he was born in a miserable village a long way from
Athens, and that his mother is the daughter of a
But the young girls whispered among themselves: "How
handsome he is, and how deftly he managed the reins!
What if he be indeed the son of Helios! Wouldn't it be
grand to see him sitting in his father's chariot, and
guiding the sun-steeds along their lofty road?" And
they said to him, "Phaëthon, if you will drive your
father's team for only one little day, we will believe
At length Phaëthon made a long journey to the golden
palace of the Dawn in the far distant East. Helios,
with his steeds, had just returned from the labors of
the day, and he was overjoyed to see his son. He threw
his arms about him, and kissed him many times, and
called him by many endearing names.
"And now tell me,"
he said, "what brings you here at this quiet hour of
the night, when all men are asleep. Have you come to
 favor? If so, do not be afraid to tell me;
for you know that I will do anything for you—that I
will give you anything that you ask."
"There is something," said Phaëthon, "that I long for
more than anything else in the world; and I have come
to ask you to give it to me."
"What is it, my child?" asked Helios, eagerly. "Only
speak, and it shall be yours."
"Father, will you promise to do for me that which I
Then Helios lifted up his hands, and vowed by the river
Styx which flows through the underworld, that he would
surely grant to his son Phaëthon whatsoever he desired.
And this he did, knowing full well the terrible
punishment that would be his in case he should not
observe that vow. Nine years he would have to lie on
the ground as though he were dead, and nine other years
he would be shut out from the company of his friends;
his sun-car would be broken in pieces, and his fleet
horses lost forever, and the whole world doomed to
The young man was glad when his father had made this
vow. He spoke quickly, and said: "This, then, O father,
is the boon which I have come to ask, and which you
have promised to
 give: it is that I may take your place
to-morrow, and drive your chariot through the flaming
pathway of the sky."
Helios sank back terrified at the request, and for a
time could not speak.
"My child," he said at last, "you surely do not mean
it. No man living can ever drive my steeds; and
although you have kinship with the immortals, you are
only human. Choose, I pray you, some other favor."
Phaëthon wept, and answered: "Father, there are some
people who do not believe that I am better than mere
common men, and they scorn me to my face. But if they
could once see me driving the sun-car through mid-air,
they and all the world would honor me. And I can drive
your steeds; for have I not mastered the wildest horses
of the desert, and have I not driven the winning
chariot in the Corinthian races? By long years of
patient training I have fitted myself for this task."
Through all the rest of the night Helios pleaded with
the young man, but in vain: Phaëthon would not listen
to any refusal. "This favor I will have or none," said
he. "I will drive the sun-car through the heavens
 all men shall know that I am the son and
heir of Helios."
At length Aurora, in her yellow morning robes, knocked
at the door, and Helios knew that no more time could be
spent in vain entreaties.
"Ah, my son!" he said, "you know not what you have
asked. Yet since I have made the vow I will not refuse
you. May the immortals have you in their keeping, and
ward all danger from you!"
Then the four horses were led out and harnessed to the
car, and Helios sadly gave the reins into Phaëthon's
"Thy folly will doubtless bring its own punishment, my
son," he said; and, hiding his face in his long cloak,
But the young man leaped quickly into the car, and
cried out, as his father had been wont to cry: "On,
Eös! On, Æthon, Brontë, Sterope! On, ye children of
the morning! Awaken the world with your brightness, and
carry beauty and gladness into every corner of the
earth. Sterope, Brontë, Æthon, Eös, on with you!"
Up sprang the steeds, swift as the thunderclouds that
rise from the sea. Quickly they vaulted upward to the
blue dome of heaven.
 Madly they careered above the
mountain tops, turning hither and thither in their
course, and spurning the control of their driver; for
well they knew that it was not their old master who
stood in the chariot behind them. Then the proud heart
of Phaëthon began to fail within him. He quaked with
fear, and the yellow reins dropped from his hands.
"Madly they careered above the mountain tops."
"O my father!" he cried, "how I wish that I had heeded
And the fiery steeds leaped upward and soared in the
heavens until they reached a point higher than any
eagle had ever attained; then, as suddenly, they
plunged downward, dragging the burning car behind them;
then, for a long time, they skimmed close to the
tree-tops, and dangerously near to the dwellings of
men. From the valley of the Nile westward, across the
continent of Africa, they passed in their unmanageable
flight, and the region that had once been so green and
fertile was scorched into a barren desert.
The rivers were dried up, and the fishes in them died.
The growing grain, the grass, the herbs, the trees—all
were withered by the intense heat. The mountains
smoked, the earth quaked, and the sky was lurid with
flame. The fair people
 who dwelt in that ill-fated land
hastened to hide themselves in caves and among the
rocks, where many of them perished miserably from
thirst and the unbearable heat; and those who survived
and came forth again into the light of day were so
scorched and blackened that their skins were of the hue
of night, and no washing could ever make them white
again. Then all living creatures, great and small,
cried out in their terror, and besought the ever-living
powers to save them from destruction. And mother Gæa,
queen of earth, heard them; and, pitying them, she
prayed to great Zeus, ruler of gods and men, that he
would do something to stop the mad course of the
driverless steeds ere the whole world should be wrapped
in flames. Zeus, from his palace on high, heard her
prayer, and hurled his thunderbolts upon the head of
the hapless Phaëthon. The youth, stricken and helpless,
fell headlong from the car, and the team of Helios,
frightened into obedience, soared aloft to their
accustomed pathway, and, though driverless, pursued
their journey to the shore of the western ocean.
Helios was there awaiting their coming, and when he
saw that Phaëthon was not in the car deep sorrow
filled his heart; he covered his face with his
and it was long ere his smiles were seen again as of
As for Phaëthon, he fell into the great river Po, and
messengers hastened to carry the news of his death into
the country of his birth.
And the daughters of the West built him a noble tomb of
marble near the shore of the great sea; and they caused
an inscription to be engraved upon it, which said that
although he had failed in what he had undertaken, yet
he was worthy of honor, because he had set his mind on