A Book of Myths

Page: 12

As to Clymene, so also to Apollo, Phaeton told his tale, and his father listened, half in pride and amusement, half in puzzled vexation. When the boy stopped, and then breathlessly, with shining eyes and flushed cheeks, ended up his story with: “And, O light of the boundless world, if I am indeed thy son, let it be as I have said, and for one day only let me drive thy chariot across the heavens!” Apollo shook his head and answered very gravely:

“In truth thou art my dear son,” he said, “and by [Pg 19] the dreadful Styx, the river of the dead, I swear that I will give thee any gift that thou dost name and that will give proof that thy father is the immortal Apollo. But never to thee nor to any other, be he mortal or immortal, shall I grant the boon of driving my chariot.”

But the boy pled on:

“I am shamed for ever, my father,” he said. “Surely thou wouldst not have son of thine proved liar and braggart?”

“Not even the gods themselves can do this thing,” answered Apollo. “Nay, not even the almighty Zeus. None but I, Phœbus Apollo, may drive the flaming chariot of the sun, for the way is beset with dangers and none know it but I.”

“Only tell me the way, my father!” cried Phaeton. “So soon I could learn.”

Half in sadness, Apollo smiled.

“The first part of the way is uphill,” he said. “So steep it is that only very slowly can my horses climb it. High in the heavens is the middle, so high that even I grow dizzy when I look down upon the earth and the sea. And the last piece of the way is a precipice that rushes so steeply downward that my hands can scarce check the mad rush of my galloping horses. And all the while, the heaven is spinning round, and the stars with it. By the horns of the Bull I have to drive, past the Archer whose bow is taut and ready to slay, close to where the Scorpion stretches out its arms and the great Crab’s claws grope for a prey....”

“I fear none of these things, oh my father!” cried [Pg 20] Phaeton. “Grant that for one day only I drive thy white-maned steeds!”

Very pitifully Apollo looked at him, and for a little space he was silent.

“The little human hands,” he said at length, “the little human frame!—and with them the soul of a god. The pity of it, my son. Dost not know that the boon that thou dost crave from me is Death?”

“Rather Death than Dishonour,” said Phaeton, and proudly he added, “For once would I drive like the god, my father. I have no fear.”