The Fall of Phaeton Statue. Marble, c. 1700–1711 by Dominique Lefebvre, from Paris, France, now at The Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Personal information
ParentsHelios and Clymene
SiblingsThe Heliades
ConsortCycnus (lover)

Phaethon (/ˈf.əθən/; Ancient Greek: Φαέθων, romanizedPhaéthōn, lit.'shiner', pronounced [pʰa.é.tʰɔːn]), also spelled Phaëthon, is the son of the Oceanid Clymene and the sun god Helios in Greek mythology.

According to most authors, Phaethon is the son of Helios, and out of a desire to have his parentage confirmed, travels to the sun god's palace in the east. He is recognised by his father and asks for the privilege of driving his chariot for a single day. Despite Helios' fervent warnings and attempts to talk him out of it, counting the numerous dangers he would face in his celestial journey and reminding Phaethon that only he can control the horses, the boy is not dissuaded and does not change his mind. He is then allowed to take the chariot's reins; his ride is disastrous, as he cannot keep a firm grip on the horses. As a result, he drives the chariot too close to the Earth, burning it, and too far from it, freezing it.

In the end, after many complaints, from the stars in the sky to the Earth itself, Zeus strikes Phaethon with one of his lightning bolts, killing him instantly. His dead body falls into the river Eridanus, and his sisters the Heliades are turned to black poplar as they mourn him.

Phaethon's tale was commonly used to explain why uninhabitable lands on both sides of extremity (such as hot deserts and frozen wastelands) exist, and why certain peoples have darker complexions, while his sisters' amber tears accounted for the river's rich deposits of amber.


Ancient Greek Φαέθων, Phaethon, means "radiant", from the verb φαέθω, meaning "to shine."[1] Therefore, his name could be understood as, "the shining/radiant (one)" Ultimately the word derives from φάος, phaos, the Greek word for light, from the Proto-Indo-European root *bheh2-, 'to shine.'[2]


Apollo and Phaëthon, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, c. 1731

Details vary according to version, but most have Phaethon travel far east to meet his father, sometimes in order to get him to assure his paternity. There, he asks Helios for permission to drive his father's Sun-chariot for a single day. Despite Helios' protests and advice against, Phaethon doesn't back down from his initial wish, and thus Helios reluctantly allows him to drive his chariot. Placed in charge of the chariot, Phaethon was unable to control the horses. In some versions, the Earth first froze when the horses climbed too high, but when the chariot then scorched the Earth by swinging too near, Zeus decided to prevent disaster by striking it down with a thunderbolt. Phaethon fell to Earth and was killed in the process.[3][4]


Phaethon was said to be the son of Clymene the Oceanid and Helios, god of the sun.[5][6] Alternatively, less common genealogies make him a son of Clymenus by a different Oceanid, Merope,[7] of Helios and Rhodos and thus a full brother of the Heliadae,[8] or of Helios and Prote.[9] According to a scholion on the Odyssey, Phaethon's mother Clymene was not an Oceanid, but rather a mortal woman, a daughter of Minyas, who married Helios.[10]

Homer and Hesiod

The fall of Phaeton by Jacob Jordaens.

For the two earliest ancient Greek authors, Homer and Hesiod, the chariot and the four horses that pull Helios each morning do not seem to exist at all; the oldest work in which they appear being the Homeric Hymns.[11][12][13]

Neither seems to know Phaethon as an individual, as "Phaethon", meaning "the radiant" seems to be exclusively an epithet used for Helios by them. The only Phaethon Hesiod seems to recognize is the son of Eos, Helios' sister and the goddess of the dawn, whom she had by her lover Cephalus, an Athenian prince.[14]

The late Roman author Hyginus however attributes a version of the story to Hesiod. According to Hyginus, Hesiod wrote that Phaethon was the son of Merope, an Oceanid, and Clymenus, a son of Helios by an unnamed woman or goddess. Phaethon, upon learning that his grandfather is the Sun, put his chariot to bad use, and scorched the Earth, turning the Indians black in the process. He was struck by a thunderbolt, and fell dead on the river Eridanus.[7] Even the firmest believers of Hyginus find the attribution of the tale to Hesiod hard to accept.[15] A fragment from Hesiod very possibly connects Eridanus to amber.[16] it is uncertain, but possible, that the fragment also connected Eridanus and amber to the tears of the Heliades; what is certain however is that Hesiod was not connecting Eridanus, amber and perhaps the Heliades, to the myth of Phaethon.[17]

The tragic poets

Ancient written sources for Phaethon
Author Work Date
Pseudo-Hesiod? Unknown (lost) 7th century BC
Aeschylus Heliades (lost) late 500s-mid 400s BC
Philoxenus of Cythera Unknown (lost) 5th to 4th century BC
Euripides Phaethon (fragmentary), Hippolytus ca 420s BC
Theodorides Phaethon (lost) 363 BC
Plato Timaeus 360 BC
Palaephatus On Unbelievable Tales late 300s BC?
Apollonius Rhodius Argonautica 200s BC
Nicander Unknown (Heteroeumena?) (lost) 100s BC
Satyrus the Peripatetic Unknown (lost) 180-146 BC
Diodorus Siculus Bibliotheca historica 60-30 BC
Cicero De Natura Deorum 45 BC
Virgil Aeneid 19 BC
Ovid Metamorphoses 8 AD
Seneca the Younger Medea c. 50 AD
Pliny the Elder Natural History 77 AD
Valerius Flaccus Argonautica c.79 AD
Statius Thebaid 80-90 AD
Lucian Dialogues of the Gods; Amber, Or The Swans 100s AD
Pausanias Description of Greece 150-180 AD
Hyginus Fabulae, Astronomica 100s AD
Servius Commentary on Aeneid ca 300s AD-400s AD
Quintus Smyrnaeus Posthomerica Late 300s AD?
Nonnus Dionysiaca 400s AD
[anonymous author] Scholia on the Odyssey 5th century BC to 9th century?
First and Second Vatican Mythographers Mythography 9th–11th century?
John Tzetzes Chiliades 12th century

A now-lost tragedy by Aeschylus, titled Heliades ("daughters of the Sun") was written covering the subject of this myth. Very little of this play survives now, and the form of the myth as assumed by Aeschylus is impossible to know.[18] It would seem that in Aeschylus' play, the sisters played a significant role; two of the surviving fragments (F 71 and F 72) focus on grief, mourning, and lamentation.[19] He seems to have transferred the location of Phaethon's fall in Iberia, west of Italy.[18]

By contrast, Euripides' version of the story, the now lost tragedy Phaethon, while similarly fragmentary, is much better preserved, with twelve fragments surviving covering some 400 lines of text. According to the summary of the play, Phaethon is the son of Helios by an Oceanid named Clymene, who nonetheless hid the boy's true parentage and claimed he had been fathered by her nominal husband Merops, the king of Aethiopia (Merops and Clymene are an interesting swap of the names in Hyginus' Hesiodic version, Merope and Clymenus).[20][21] The main conflict of the play is the upcoming marriage of an unwilling Phaethon.

The identity of the bride seems to be this fragmentary play's greatest mystery. Euripides seems to have made Aphrodite the bride of the unfortunate youth; if that is the case, then it would seem that Euripides combined the stories of two Phaethons, that of the son of Helios who drove his father's car and died, and that of Phaethon the son of Helios' sister Eos whom Aphrodite abducted to be a watchman of her shrines, and whom late antiquity writers described as a lover of the goddess, as suggested by Wilamowitz.[22] Another explanation on how Phaethon could possibly be getting married to the goddess of beauty is that Aphrodite had planned Phaethon's destruction from the very beginning, as revenge against his father for revealing to Hephaestus, her husband, the goddess' affair with Ares, the god of war.[21] Henri Weil suggested that Phaethon is to marry one of the Heliades, and James Diggle, while deeming this suggestion improvable, is convinced of it being the case.[23]

Clymene reveals her son his true parentage, perhaps to help him overcome his reluctance to get married. Although doubtful at first, his mother's words convince him and agrees to travel east to find his divine father and have his parentage confirmed.[24] What happens next is that someone, perhaps a paedagogus, arrives in the scene to inform the audience of Phaethon's disastrous ride. According to his account, Helios actually escorted his son on his doomed journey, riding on a horse named Sirius next to him and shouting instructions and advice on how to drive the car, an element not found in subsequent treatments of the myth.[25]

"This said, his son undaunted snatched the reins,
Then smote the winged coursers’ sides: they bound
Forth on the void and cavernous vault of air.
His father mounts another steed, and rides
With warning voice guiding his son. ‘Drive there! Turn, turn thy car this way."

Surviving fragments do not clearly paint Zeus as the culprit of Phaethon's death; but next Clymene orders slave girls to hide Phaethon's smoking body from Merops (who is still unaware both of Phaethon's true parentage as well as his fiery death), pointing to Zeus having indeed played a role in the boy's death.[26][27] Merops discovers his son's charred corpse, and the truth, a bit later.

Phaethon by Gustave Moreau.

The only other tragedy about the myth is Theodorides' now lost Phaethon, performed in 363 BC at the Lenaea festival, nothing of which survives to us.[28][29][30]

References to the myth of Phaethon

With Aeschylus being the earliest (as far as it can be determined) that Phaethon's story would have been known, the next mention possibly came from a lost work of Philoxenus of Cythera (435~434 – 380~379 BC), a dithyrambic poet. Pliny the Elder mentions him second (after Aeschylus) among the authors who spoke of the myth of the Sun god's son.[31] Pliny also names Nicander and Satyrus as other authors who knew of Phaethon.[31]

Plato's Timaeus

In Plato's Timaeus, Critias tells the story of Atlantis as recounted to Solon by an Egyptian priest, who prefaced the story by saying:

There have been, and will be again, many destructions of mankind arising out of many causes; the greatest have been brought about by the agencies of fire and water, and other lesser ones by innumerable other causes. There is a story that even you [Greeks] have preserved, that once upon a time, Phaethon, the son of Helios, having yoked the steeds in his father's chariot, because he was not able to drive them in the path of his father, burnt up all that was upon the earth, and was himself destroyed by a thunderbolt. Now, this has the form of a myth, but really signifies a declination of the bodies moving in the heavens around the Earth, and a great conflagration of things upon the Earth, which recurs after long intervals.[32]

Palaphaetus' On Unbelievable Tales

Like other authors of around this period, Palaephatus's version is not too rich in details. Naming no mother, Palaphaetus speaks of Phaethon as a son of Helios who had the irrational desire to drive his father's chariot, but had no knowledge of how to handle the reins. Unable to keep balance he was swept off course by the wild horses and drowned into the Eridanus river. Unlike several other retellings, a party behind Phaethon's death is not named, as Zeus takes no action to stop Phaethon and save the Earth.[33]

Apollonius Rhodius' Argonautica

The Fall of Phaëthon on a Roman sarcophagus (Hermitage Museum)

While sailing up the Eridanus river on their way back, the Argonauts reach the outfall of the deep lake where Phaethon fell after he was struck with a lightning bolt. During the day, the crew of the Argo was tormented by the nauseating stench from Phaethon's corpse, still smoldering after all this time, and at night they had to listen to the lament of his sisters, now turned into poplar trees and shedding tears of amber.[34]

Diodorus Siculus' Historic Library

Phaethon, the son of Helios, while still a youth persuaded his father to retire for a single day and give to him his chariot. His father eventually yielded to his son's wishes, and gave him his quadriga. The boy was unable to control the reins, and the horses left their accustomed course, setting ablaze the Heavens (creating the Milky Way) and the Earth (creating uninhabitable land) alike. Zeus, seeing the catastrophe, smote Phaethon with a thunderbolt and brought the Sun to its course. Phaethon fell into the Eridanus river, dead. His sisters mourned him, and turned into black poplar trees.[35]


The influence of Euripides' lost play can be easily recognized in Ovid's own version of the myth.[20] Another possible inspiration of Ovid's version might have been Nicander, who is known to have written about Phaethon in some work, perhaps attested in the lost Heteroeumena (loosely translating into "transformations").[36] In the version of the myth told by Ovid, Phaethon is the son of Clymene and the sun-god Sol, who would often boast about being the son of the sun-god. Phaethon, challenged by Epaphus and his playmates, sought assurance from his mother that his father was Sol indeed. She gave him the requested assurance and told him to turn to his father for confirmation. He asked his father for some proof that would demonstrate his relationship with the Sun. When the god swore by the river Styx to grant him whatever he wanted, he insisted on being allowed to drive the Sun chariot for a day. Sol tried to talk him out of it by telling him that not even Jupiter (the king of the gods) would dare to drive it, as the chariot was fiery hot and the horses breathed out flames. He said:

The first part of the track is steep, and one that my fresh horses at dawn can hardly climb. In mid-heaven it is highest, where to look down on earth and sea often alarms even me and makes my heart tremble with awesome fear. The last part of the track is downwards and needs sure control. Then even Tethys herself, who receives me in her submissive waves, is accustomed to fear that I might dive headlong. Moreover, the rushing sky is constantly turning, and drags along the remote stars, and whirls them in rapid orbits. I move the opposite way, and its momentum does not overcome me as it does all other things, and I ride contrary to its swift rotation. 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 the 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 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![37]

The fall of Phaethon by Adolphe Pierre Sunaert

Phaethon, however, was adamant, and thus Sol was forced to relent. When the day came, the fierce horses that drew the chariot felt that it was empty because of the lack of the sun-god's weight and went out of control. Terrified, Phaethon dropped the reins. The horses veered from their course, scorching the Earth, burning the vegetation, bringing the blood of the Ethiopians to the surface of their skin and so turning it black, changing much of Africa into a desert, drying up rivers and lakes and shrinking the sea. Earth cried out to Jupiter who was forced to intervene by striking Phaethon with a lightning bolt. Like a falling star, Phaethon plunged blazing into the river Eridanus.

The epitaph on his tomb was:

Here Phaethon lies who in the sun-god's chariot fared. And though greatly he failed, more greatly he dared.[38]

Sol, stricken with grief at his son's death, at first refused to resume his work of driving his chariot, but at the appeal of the other gods, including Jupiter who used threats, returned to his task.

The detail of Phaethon questioning the parentage he otherwise took pride in being the result of Epaphus' words is also present in the works of Servius, who wrote that Epaphus, now presented as the succeeded king of Egypt, mocked Phaethon for being born out of adultery; the outcome is largely the same, as Phaethon travels east to meet his father, gets Helios to promise him any favor, and then drives the chariot with disastrous results.[39]

Other late authors

Philostratus, who follows the typical premise of Phaethon's tale (son of Helios who asks his father to drive his chariot and ends up burning the Earth) describes in great detail the extent of the catastrophe, putting more detail in the picture and the visual representation rather than the action; the Night drives away the Day from the noonday sky, the Sun's orb plunges into the Earth pulling the stars along with him, the Seasons abandon their posts in fear, and the Earth raises her hands in supplication as she burns. In the end Phaethon falls from the chariot, himself on fire too, and dies. The Eridanus mourns him along with the Heliades.[40]

Fall of Phaethon, by Johann Michael Franz

According to Clement of Alexandria "... in the time of Crotopus occurred the burning of Phaethon, and the deluges of Deucalion".[41] In The Twelve Caesars, Suetonius attributes to the emperor Tiberius the following repeated remark about the future emperor Gaius Caligula: "That to allow Gaius to live would prove the ruin of himself and of all men, and that he was raising a viper for the Roman people and a Phaethon for the world".[42]

A scholiast on Homer's Odyssey provides a different parentage for Phaethon, making him the son of Helios and Rhodos instead (thus full brother to the Heliadae), here the daughter of Asopus, the river god. The scholiast follows the version of Phaethon being raised by his mother; when he learns the truth, he seeks out Helios and asks him to drive his chariot. Helios allows him not due to some promise or vow he made to his son, but rather because of his son's persistence, despite knowing what would follow. In accordance with other authors, Zeus strikes him with a thunderbolt.[8] The element of Helios knowing what's in store for his child, but being unable to thwart it, is present in several tellings; Statius writes that "with tears did he warn the rejoicing youth of treacherous stars and zones that would fain not be o'errun and the temperate heat that lies midway between the poles; obedient was he and cautious, but he cruel Parcae would not suffer him to learn."[43]

Valerius Flaccus gives attention to the wrecked chariot itself, and how Tethys, who is Phaethon's grandmother as well as the goddess who receives Helios in the western ocean as he sets, picks up the fragments of yoke and axle, and one of the horses too (Pyrois) who is fearful of a father's wrath.[44]

Cicero, another Roman author, describes Sol as being "tricked" into letting his son drive his chariot, expressing surprise and disbelief that a god could be deceived like that.[45]

Seneca speaks of Phaethon, the "youth who dared drive the everlasting chariot, heedless of his father's goal."[46]

Phaethon as a legitimate offspring

Phaeton Driving the Chariot of the Sun, by Hendrik Goltzius, (Holland, Mülbracht, 1590)

Hyginus wrote that Phaethon, son of Helios / Sol and Clymene, secretly mounted his father's car without said father's knowledge and leave, but with the aid of his sisters the Heliades who yoked the horses. Being inexperienced, Phaethon drove the chariot too high, and it was fear that made him plunge into the Eridanus; when Zeus struck him with a thunderbolt, the Earth began to burn. Zeus then, pretending to want to put out the fire, let loose all the rivers everywhere, causing the flood that drowned everyone except for Deucalion and Pyrrha.[7] Phaethon secretly stealing the chariot, and his sisters helping him out perhaps implies the existence of an early version, where Phaethon and his (full) sisters are legitimate offspring of the Sun god and his wife, brought up in their father's house, rather than product(s) of an extramarital liaison.[47] After his death, Phaethon was conveyed to the stars by his father as a constellation.[48] The constellation associated with Phaethon was the Auriga, or the Charioteer.[49]

The satirical author Lucian of Samosata treated the myth in a comedic matter in his Dialogues of the Gods. In the short dialogue, Zeus angrily berates Helios for letting his inexperienced son drive his chariot, which almost resulted in the world being destroyed. Helios acknowledges his error, but claims he was pressured by Phaethon and Phaethon's mother Clymene both (another implication of the union between Helios and the mother of Phaethon being marital in nature, not an affair, and thus making their child legitimate), and could have not foreseen the extent of the disaster. Zeus is displeased to hear it, unconvinced that he would not know that an inexperienced driver like Phaethon would not be able to control the steeds. Helios then asks Zeus to be merciful, as his son has already been punished (being dead) and he himself is in great mourning. Zeus disagrees that this punishment is enough, returns Helios his damaged chariot which is in need of repair, and threatens to strike him with one of his thunderbolts should he ever do such thing again.[50] In True History, another work of Lucian's, Phaethon is the king of the Sun and is at war with the Moon, ruled by King Endymion.

Phaethon asks his father for the chariot, engraving by Hendrik Goltzius, 1590

Nonnus' late version of the story is one of the two extensive narratives to survive, the other being Ovid's. Unlike other versions, Nonnus' is one of the few where Phaethon is a legitimate offspring of a married couple, with his motivation shifting from need to prove his parentage to him wanting to imitate his idolized father. In Nonnus' account, found in his epic Dionysiaca, Hermes tells Dionysus the tragic story of Phaethon. Helios and the beautiful nymph Clymene fall in love and get married with her father Oceanus' blessing, and together they have Phaethon. Phaethon is raised by his parents, in the company of Oceanus and the Oceanid nymphs. As a boy, he would mimic his father and his daily journey by driving a wagon of his own design, with burning torches standing in for the fire. When he grows up, he begs his father to let him drive his chariot, but Helios refuses, arguing that sons are not necessarily fit to follow on their fathers' footsteps (bringing up how Ares, Hephaestus, Apollo and Hermes do not hold lightning bolts like their father Zeus does). Phaethon nevertheless is not a bit discouraged by his worried father's words, and then pressures him more, as does Clymene; with great reluctance, Helios consents, and gives his son a very extensive and detailed speech about all the dangers and the hazards of the ride. He then dresses Phaethon up in his own robes, helmet and solar crown and gives him the reins. With a final warning from his father, Phaethon yokes the horses and ascends in the sky, as his mother Clymene cheerfully waves him goodbye, still unaware of the danger that awaits her son. Like in all other versions, his ride is a disaster, as he burns the Earth. Zeus then kills him with a lightning bolt, and places him among the stars as the constellation Auriga, the charioteer of the heavens.[51] Nonnus's version of the events is similar to that of Lucian, as both make (or imply) Clymene a wife to Helios, their son Phaethon born in marriage, and Clymene is actively present in persuading Helios to let their son drive the chariot.

The Heliades by Pierre Brébiette.

Mourning for Phaethon

The mournful sisters

A very common element of the story is that Phaethon's sisters, the Heliades, mourn his death by the river and transform into black poplars, shedding tears of amber for their lost brother. According to Pliny the Elder, it was Aeschylus who introduced the transformation of the sisters into poplar trees.[31][52] Their number and names vary; a scholiast on Homer gives an alternative parentage where Phaethon and his three sisters (Phaethusa, Lampetia and Aegle) are the children of Helios and Rhodos, here the daughter of Asopus.[8] Hyginus names seven; Merope, Helie, Aegle, Lampetia, Phoebe, Aetherie and Dioxippe.[7] Ovid has at least three, but only two (Phaethusa and Lampetia) are named. Servius only mentions Phaethusa and Lampetia.[39]

The Gods mourning Phaeton by Theodoor van Thulden

Although the Heliades' role and fate in the myth is not mentioned in any of the surviving fragments of Phaethon, Euripides briefly brings up the Heliades and their shedding of amber tears for their brother by the Eridanus in another play, Hippolytus.[53]

Ovid vividly describes the sisters cry and mourn for their brother by the banks of the Eridanus for four months unmoving. Then, as they try to move, find themselves rooted to the ground, unable to leave. Their mother Clymene finds them, and although she tries to free her daughters by breaking off the forming branches and snapping the barks, she is unable to help them and the metamorphosis is completed.[54]

The Odyssey scholiast writes that Zeus, feeling pity for them, changed them into the amber-crying poplar trees, and allowing them to retain the memories of their old lives and sorrows.[8]

According to Quintus Smyrnaeus, it was Helios who turned them into trees, for their honor to Phaethon,[55] and Hyginus wrote that they were transformed into trees for yoking the chariot without their father's consent.[7]

The part concerning the Heliades might have been a mythical device to account for the origin of amber; it is probably of no coincidence that the Greek word for amber, elektron (ἤλεκτρον), resembles elektor (ἠλέκτωρ), an epithet of Helios.[56] The poplar tree was considered sacred to Helios, due to the sun-like brilliance its shining leaves have.[57]

The mournful lover

Later authors, particularly the Romans, mention the story of Cycnus, a man who was Phaethon's lover and deeply mourned his death and was turned into a swan, birds who are known for mourning the loss of their mates for days.[58] In Ovid's account, the gods turned the inconsolable Cycnus into a swan soon after Phaethon's own death; even as a swan he retained memories of Phaethon's fiery demise, and the bird would thereafter avoid the sun's heat.[59] Virgil instead writes that Cycnus mourned for Phaethon well into his old age, thereupon he was turned into a swan, his white hair becoming the bird's white feathers upon transformation.[60] Pausanias and Servius explicitly name Apollo as the god who turned Cycnus into a swan, after having blessed him with talent in singing at some time before;[61][39][62] Apollo then placed him among the stars, as the constellation Cygnus, "the swan". Cycnus' profession as a musician seems to be a direct reference to the swan song swans are famous for.[7]

Artistic evidence

On one of the earliest extant artistic attestations of the myth, a cast taken from an Arretine mould now housed in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston,[63] Phaethon is shown fallen from the car, a wheel lying next to him while another is being collected by the water goddess Tethys, his grandmother, as Valerius Flaccus wrote. The god behind Phaethon's death, Zeus, is seen hurling his thunderbolt, while Helios appears on horse-back, with a spare horse by his side (matching Euripides' telling where Helios accompanies his son in the sky), having caught two of the horses and now directing his attention to the other two (like Lucretius describes him doing[64]). Artemis is there too, perhaps alluding to some obscure version where she played a role in the story, as is Iris, the rainbow and messenger goddess.[65][66] Another figure, perhaps Isis, is also present.[63] An Apulian crater of c. 360-350 has a scene with named characters Merops, Clymene and Melanippus (TrGF adesp . 5f).[29]

The myth of father and son was immortalized in Corinth (where Helios had a significant cult), where Pausanias describes two gilded chariots, one carrying Phaethon the other Helios, adorning a gateaway near Corinth's market:

On leaving the market-place along the road to Lechaeum you come to a gateway, on which are two gilded chariots, one carrying Phaethon the son of Helius (Sun), the other Helius himself.[67]

The Fall of Phaethon by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1604/1605


The lesser-known myth of Sirius the dog star god and the harvest goddess Opora share some elements with the myth of Phaethon. In that myth, Sirius visits the earth on some mission but then meets and falls in love with Opora. His unfulfilled love makes him burn hotter, which results in the humans suffering under the great heat he causes. They pray to the gods, and eventually Boreas the god of the north wind orders his sons to deliver Opora to Sirius while he uses cold wind blasts to cool the earth. To commemorate the event, Sirius would continue to burn hot each year during the harvest season, explaining the intense heat of the dog-days of summer, attributed to Sirius by the ancients.[68][69] In addition, some ancient authors used 'Sirius' (meaning "scorching") as an epithet for Helios himself.[70]

Phaethon's story shares some similarities to the myth of Asclepius, as mortal sons of divine fathers (Helios and Apollo) who disrupted natural order (Phaethon by driving the chariot off-course, Asclepius by resurrecting the dead) and were then killed by Zeus in order to establish that order again after complains from other divinities (Gaia and Hades), bringing sorrow to said fathers. Phaethon's myth was the preeminent myth involving amber in classical antiquity, and according to Celtic tradition, Apollo shed tears of amber for Asclepius' death; while Apollo's association with amber is not extraordinary, the context of it (mourning for his son) is significant.[71] Diodorus Siculus in his own account of Phaethon ended by saying that amber was commonly used in connection to mourning the death of young people,[35] and the link between resin and tears was not an uncommon one, as seen in the myths of Myrrha and Meleager (according to a lost play by Sophocles); the ancient Greek word for tear dakruon could also mean sap or gum.[72] The first of the Vatican Mythographers tried to merge the two myths, writing that Phaethon brought Hippolytus back to life (Asclepius in myth), and that after he was killed by Zeus, Apollo slew the Sicilian smiths who forged Zeus' thunderbolts (Apollo slaying the Cyclopes who forged Zeus' lightning bolts after he slew Asclepius).[73] The second narrative on Phaethon however, from the so-dubbed "Second Vatican Mythographer", recounts the more traditional version of the myth with no traces of amalgamation with other myths or any connection to Asclepius.[74]

Post-classical works

Shared name

The name "Phaethon", which means "Shining One",[82] was given also to Phaethon of Syria, to one of the horses of Eos (the Dawn), the Sun, the constellation Auriga, and the planet Jupiter, while as an adjective it was used to describe the sun and the moon.[83] In some accounts the planet referred to by this name is not Jupiter but Saturn.[84]

When 1 Ceres and 2 Pallas – the first asteroids – were discovered, astronomer Heinrich Olbers suggested that they were fragments of a much larger hypothetical planet, which was later named Phaethon. However, the 'Phaeton hypothesis' has been superseded by the accretion model, in which the asteroid belt represented the remainder of the protoplanetary disk that never formed a planet, due to the interference of the gravity of Jupiter. However, fringe theorists still consider the Phaeton hypothesis likely.

In modern times, an asteroid whose orbit brings it close to the Sun has been named "3200 Phaethon" after the mythological Phaethon.

The French form of the name "Phaethon" is "Phaéton". This form of the word is applied to a kind of carriage and automobile.[85][86]

An order, family, and genus of birds bear the name Phaethon in their taxonomic nomenclature, the tropicbirds.



See also


  1. ^ A Greek-English Lexicon s.v. φαέθω
  2. ^ Beekes 2009, pp. 1:1551–52.
  3. ^ Gunnell, John A. (ed.). Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946–1975 (Second ed.). Krause Publications. p. 14. ... okay to borrow the chariot of the Sun for a day?
  4. ^ Coolidge, Olivia E. (2001). Greek Myths. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 12–17. ISBN 978-0-61815426-5.
  5. ^ "Phaethon". Oxford Dictionaries. Archived from the original on 2016-07-01. Retrieved 2013-09-11 – via
  6. ^ "Phaethon". Collins English Dictionary.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Gaius Julius Hyginus. Fabulae. 154.
  8. ^ a b c d Homer. Odyssey. Scholia. 17.208.
  9. ^ Tzetzes. Chiliades. 4.127.
  10. ^ Hesiod. "Catalogue of Women". The Wikimedia Library. p. 137. Scholia on Homer's Odyssey and a papyrus of the Società Italiana Clymene, the daughter of Minyas, the son of Poseidon and Euryanassa, the daughter of Hyperphas, married Phylacus, the son of Deion, and bore Iphiclus, her swift son. It is said that by virtue of his feet he rivaled the winds and ran over the cornstalks and because of the lightness of his speed did not break their tassels. Some say that she {Clymene} married Helius first, and bore him as son Phaethon. The story is in Hesiod.
  11. ^ Smith, s.v. Helios
  12. ^ Keightley, p. 56, 62
  13. ^ Vergados, p. 286
  14. ^ Hesiod. Theogony. 986.
  15. ^ Diggle, pp 22-23
  16. ^ Hesiod. fr. 150. 21-24 Merkelback-West (= Pap. Oxy. 1358)
  17. ^ Diggle, p. 24
  18. ^ a b Aeschylus (1926). Aeschylus: Agamemnon, Libation-Bearers, Eumenides, Fragments (PDF). Loeb Classical Library. Vol. 146. Translated by Smyth, Herbert Weir. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 402.
  19. ^ Marshall & Marshall 2020, p. 111.
  20. ^ a b Diggle, pp 7–8
  21. ^ a b Gantz, pp 32-33
  22. ^ Diggle, p. 12
  23. ^ Lloyd-Jones, Hugh (Dec 1971). "[no title cited]". The Classical Review. 21 (3): 341–345. doi:10.1017/S0009840X00220908. S2CID 162831907.
  24. ^ Cod. Claromont. - Pap. Berl. 9771, Euripides fragment 773 Nauck
  25. ^ Euripides. Phaethon. frag 779.
  26. ^ Euripides. Phaethon. frag 781 N².
  27. ^ Diggle, p. 42
  28. ^ Zimmermann, Bernhard (Freiburg). "Theodorides". In Cancik, Hubert; Schneider, Helmuth; Landfester, Manfred (eds.). Brill's New Pauly, Antiquity. Classical Tradition. Translated by Salazar, Christine F.; Gentry, Francis G. (English, online ed.). doi:10.1163/1574-9347_bnp_e1207970. Retrieved 10 May 2022.
  29. ^ a b Euripides (1995). Aris & Philips (eds.). Euripides, Selected Fragmentary Plays: Telephus, Cretans, Stheneboea, Bellerophon, Cresphontes, Erectheus, Phaethon, Wise Melanippe, Captive Melanippe. p. 203.
  30. ^ "Phaethon | APGRD". Retrieved April 5, 2023.
  31. ^ a b c Pliny the Elder. Natural History. 37.11.2.
  32. ^ Translation by Benjamin Jowett (1817–1893) reproduced in, for example, John Michael Greer, Atlantis (Llewelyn Worldwide 2007 ISBN 978-0-73870978-9), p. 9
  33. ^ Palaephatus, On Unbelievable Tales 52
  34. ^ Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 4.596-610; 4.620-626
  35. ^ a b Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5.23.12
  36. ^ Norton 2013, p. 146.
  37. ^ A.S. Kline's translation of Ovid, Metamorphoses
  38. ^ Hamilton, E. (1942). Mythology: Timeless tales of gods and heroes. Warner Books, Incorporated. ISBN 0-446-60725-8.
  39. ^ a b c Maurus Servius Honoratus. On Aeneid. 10.189.
  40. ^ Philostratus, Imagines 1.11.1
  41. ^ Clement of Alexandria (2006-02-02). "Book 1". Stromata. Retrieved 2010-08-11 – via
  42. ^ Suetonius (2004). Lives of the Caesars. Barnes & Noble. p. 115. ISBN 978-0-76075758-1.
  43. ^ Statius. Thebaid. 6.321 ff.
  44. ^ Valerius Flaccus. Argonautica. 5.428 ff.
  45. ^ Cicero. De Natura Deorum. 3.76.
  46. ^ Seneca the Younger. Medea. 598 ff.
  47. ^ Gantz, p. 33
  48. ^ Hyginus. De Astronomica. 2.42.2.
  49. ^ Falkner 2011, p. 41.
  50. ^ Lucian. "Zeus and the Sun". Dialogues of the Gods.
  51. ^ Nonnus. Dionysiaca. 38.142435.
  52. ^ Diggle, p. 27
  53. ^ Euripides, Hippolytus 735-741
  54. ^ Ovid. Metamorphoses. 2.329-366.
  55. ^ Quintus Smyrnaeus. Posthomerica. 5.300. The daughters of the Sun, the Lord of Omens, shed (tears) for Phaethon slain, when by Eridanos' flood they mourned for him. These, for undying honour to his son, the god made amber, precious in men's eyes.
  56. ^ Keightley, p. 58, esp. [note a]
  57. ^ Decharme, pp 240–241
  58. ^ Wedderburn, Pete. "Animals grieve just as people do". The Telegraph. Retrieved 25 July 2019.
  59. ^ Ovid. Metamorphoses. 2.367-380.
  60. ^ Virgil. Aeneid. 10.189.
  61. ^ Pausanias. Description of Greece. 1.30.3.
  62. ^ Grimal. s.v. Cygnus 4
  63. ^ a b Which can be seen here.
  64. ^ Diggle, p. 42–43
  65. ^ Cook, pp 473-475
  66. ^ Gantz, p. 34
  67. ^ Pausanias. Description of Greece. 2.3.2.
  68. ^ Arnott, William Geoffrey (1955). "A Note on Alexis' Opora". Rheinisches Museum für Philologie. 98 (4): 312–15. JSTOR 41243800. Retrieved 20 June 2023.
  69. ^ Wright, M. Rosemary (September 2012). "A Dictionary of Classical Mythology: III The Constellations of the Southern Sky". University of Patras. Retrieved January 3, 2023.
  70. ^ Diggle 1970, p. 138.
  71. ^ Causey 2011, pp. 54-58.
  72. ^ Causey 2011, pp. 5458.
  73. ^ First Vatican Mythographer 116
  74. ^ Second Vatican Mythographer 75
  75. ^ Shakespeare, William. "Text of Act 3". Romeo and Juliet – via
  76. ^ Merrix, Robert P. (1987). "The Phaëton allusion in Richard II: The search for". English Literary Renaissance. 17 (3): 277–287. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6757.1987.tb00937.x. JSTOR 43447224. S2CID 222444710.
  77. ^ Pekárek, Hynek. "Otakar Theer: Faëthón" (in Czech). Retrieved 2013-03-13.
  78. ^ "The Tragedy of Phaethon". Radio Times. Schedules from Saturday, 6th February 1965 to Friday, 12th February 1965. Vol. 166, no. 2152 (London South East ed.). 6 February 1965 – via BBC Genome.
  79. ^ Wright, John C. (20 April 2002). The Golden Age. Tor Publishing. ISBN 0765336693.
  80. ^ "Ian Crause of Disco Inferno shares first new music in over a decade". Listen. Pitchfork.
  81. ^ "A bold production of Phaeton from Taffety Punk Theatre company". Theater / Dance. The Washington Post. 2016-05-10.
  82. ^ Liddell & Scott (eds.). "φαέθω". Lexicon – via
  83. ^ Liddell & Scott (eds.). "Φαέθω". Lexicon – via
  84. ^ "Phaethon". Greek Mythology. Theoi.
  85. ^ "phaeton". Oxford Dictionaries. Archived from the original on 2016-05-16. Retrieved 2013-09-11 – via
  86. ^ "phaeton". Collins English Dictionary – via