| Gods and Heroes|
|by Robert Edward Francillon|
|One of the best introductions to Greek mythology for children. Includes the stories of all the prominent gods and heroes, woven together into a continuous narrative, ending with a full treatment of the twelve labors of Hercules. Ages 8-12 |
PRESUMPTION; OR, THE STORY OF PHAËTHON
HERE was a nymph named Clymĕnē,
who had a
son so handsome that he was called Phaëthon,
which means in Greek, "bright, radiant, shining," like
the sun. When he grew up the goddess Venus was
so charmed with him that she made him the chief ruler
of all her temples, and took him into such high favor
that all his friends and companions were filled with
One day, when Phaëthon was foolishly bragging
about his own beauty and greatness, and how much he
was put by a goddess above other men, one of his companions,
named Ĕpăphus, answered him, scornfully:—
"Ah! you may boast and brag, but you are a nobody after all!
My father was Jupiter, as everybody
knows; but who was yours?"
So Phaëthon went to his mother Clymene, and
"Mother, they taunt me for not being the son of a
god; me, who am fit to be a god myself for my grace
 and beauty. Who was my father? He must at least
have been some great king, to be the father of such a
son as I."
"A king!" said Clymene. "Ay—and a greater
than all kings! Tell them, from me, that your father
is Phœbus Apollo, the god of the Sun!"
But when he went back and told his friends, "My
father is Phœbus Apollo, the god of the Sun," Epaphus
and the others only scorned him and laughed at him
the more. "You've caught your bragging from your
mother," said they. "You're her son, anyhow,
whoever your father may be."
When Clymene heard this, she felt terribly offended.
"Then I will prove my words," said she. "Go to the
Palace of the Sun and enter boldly. There you will
see the Sun-god in all his glory. Demand of him to
declare you to be his son openly before all the world,
so that even the sons of Jupiter shall hang their heads
If Apollo had been still banished upon earth, of
course Phaëthon could have found him very easily.
But the nine years of banishment were over now, and
the only way to find the god of the Sun was to seek
him in his palace above the sky. How Phaëthon managed
to get there I have never heard; but I suppose
his mother was able to tell him the secret way. You
may imagine the glorious and wonderful place it
was—  the House of the Sun, with the stars for the windows
that are lighted up at night, and the clouds for curtains,
and the blue sky for a garden, and the Zodiac
for a carriage-drive. The sun itself, as you have heard,
is the chariot of Apollo, drawn by four horses of white
fire, who feed on golden grain, and are driven by the
god himself round and round the world. Phaëthon
entered boldly, as his mother had told him, found
Apollo in all his glory, and said:—
"My mother, Clymene, says that I am your son. Is
"Certainly," said Apollo, "it is true."
"Then give me a sign," said Phaëthon, "that all may
know and believe. Make me sure that I am your son."
"Tell them that I say so," said Apollo.
"There—don't hinder me any more. My horses are harnessed:
it is time for the sun to rise."
"No," said Phaëthon, "they will only say that I
brag and lie. Give me a sign for all the world to see—a
sign that only a father would give to his own
"Very well," said Apollo, who was getting impatient
at being so hindered. "Only tell me what you want
me to do, and it shall be done."
"You swear it—by Styx?" said Phaëthon.
Now you must know that the Styx was a river in
Hades by which the gods swore; and that an oath "by
 Styx" was as binding upon a god as a plain promise
is upon a gentleman.
"I swear it—by Styx!" said Apollo, rather rashly,
as you will see. But he was now in a very great hurry
"Then," said Phaëthon, "let me drive the horses of
the Sun for one whole day!"
This put Apollo in terrible alarm, for he knew very
well that no hand, not even a god's, can drive the
horses of the Sun but his own. But he had sworn by
Styx—the oath that cannot be broken. All he could
do was to keep the world waiting for sunrise while he
showed Phaëthon how to hold the reins and the whip,
and pointed out what course to take, and warned him
of the dangers of the road. "But it's all of no use.
You'll never do it," said he. "Give it up, while there
is yet time! You know not what you do."
"Oh, but I do, though," said Phaëthon. "I know
I can. There—I understand it all now, without another
word." So saying, he sprang into the chariot,
seized the reins, and gave the four fiery horses four
lashes that sent them flying like comets through the air.
"Hold them in—hold them hard!" cried Apollo.
But Phaëthon was off, and too far off to hear.
Off indeed! and where? The world must have been
amazed that day to see the sun rise like a rocket and
 go dashing about the sky, north, south, east, west—anywhere,
nowhere, everywhere! Well the horses knew
that it was not Apollo, their master, who plied the
whip and held the reins. They took their bits between
their teeth, and—bolted. They kicked a planet to
bits (astronomers know where the pieces are still): they
broke holes in the chariot, which we can see, and call
"sun-spots," to this day: it was as if chaos were come
again. At last, Phaëthon, whose own head was reeling,
saw to his horror that the horses, in their mad
rush, were getting nearer and nearer to the earth itself—and
what would happen then? If the wheels touched
the globe we live on, it would be scorched to a cinder.
Nearer, nearer, nearer it came—till a last wild kick
broke the traces, overturned the sun itself, and Phaëthon
fell, and fell, and fell, till he fell into the sea,
and was drowned. And then the horses trotted quietly
The story of Phaëthon is always taken as a warning
against being conceited and self-willed. But there are
some curious things about it still to be told. The
Greeks fancied that the great desert of Sahara, in
Africa, is the place where the earth was scorched by
the sun's chariot-wheel, and that the African negroes
were burned black in the same way, and have never
got white again. And the poplars are Phaëthon's
sisters, who wept themselves for his death into trees.
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