Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 31

"O ruler of the gods, if I have deserved this treatment, and it is your will that I perish with fire, why withhold your thunderbolts? Let me at least fall by your hand. Is this the reward of my fertility, of my obedient service? Is it for this that I have supplied herbage for cattle, and fruits for men, and frankincense for your altars? But if I am unworthy of regard, what has my brother Ocean done to deserve such a fate? If neither of us can excite your pity, think, I pray you, of your own heaven, and behold how both the poles are smoking which sustain your palace, which must fall if they be destroyed. Atlas faints, and scarce holds up his burden. If sea, earth, and heaven perish, we fall into ancient Chaos. Save what yet remains to us from the devouring flame. Oh, take thought for our deliverance in this awful moment!"

Thus spoke Earth, and overcome with heat and thirst, could say no more. Then Jupiter Omnipotent, calling to witness all the gods, including him who had lent the chariot, and showing them that all was lost unless some speedy remedy were applied, mounted the lofty tower from whence he diffuses clouds over the earth, and hurls the forked lightnings. But at that time not a cloud was to be found to interpose for a screen to earth, nor was a shower remaining unexhausted. He thundered, and brandishing a lightning-bolt in his right hand launched it against the charioteer, and struck him at the same moment from his seat and from existence! Phaeton, with his hair on fire, fell headlong, like a shooting star which marks the heavens with its brightness as it falls, and Eridanus, the great river, received him and cooled his burning frame. The Italian Naiads reared a tomb for him, and inscribed these words upon the stone:

  "Driver of Phoebus' chariot, Phaeton,
  Struck by Jove's thunder, rests beneath this stone.
  He could not rule his father's car of fire,
  Yet was it much so nobly to aspire."

His sisters, the Heliades, as they lamented his fate were turned into poplar trees, on the banks of the river, and their tears, which continued to flow, became amber as they dropped into the stream,

One of Prior's best remembered poems is that on the Female
Phaeton, from which we quote the last verse.

Kitty has been imploring her mother to allow her to go out into the world as her friends have done, if only for once.

  "Fondness prevailed, mamma gave way;
  Kitty, at heart's desire,
  Obtained the chariot for a day,
  And set the world on fire."

Milman, in his poem of Samor, makes the following allusion to
Phaeton's story:—

  "As when the palsied universe aghast
  Lay …. mute and still,
  When drove, so poets sing, the sun-born youth
  Devious through Heaven's affrighted signs his sire's
  Ill-granted chariot. Him the Thunderer hurled
  From th'empyrean headlong to the gulf
  Of the half-parched Eridanus, where weep
  Even now the sister trees their amber tears
  O 'er Phaeton untimely dead."