Classic Myths

Page: 3

"Brave son, ask what you will, the gift is yours."

Quicker than a flash from his father's crown came the question from Phaeton:

"Will you let me for one day drive your chariot?"

Foolish father, foolish son! Apollo shook his head three times in warning.

"I have spoken rashly. This one thing no mortal can achieve. Nor can any immortal save myself hold in the horses that draw the fiery car of day. It is not honor, but death you ask. Change your wish."

Phaeton answered:

"My mother taught me that my father always kept his promises."

"It is even so, rash boy. If you do not change, neither can I. Bring the chariot of the Sun."

The daring child stood beside the glorious car that was higher than his head. His eyes flashed bright as the diamonds that studded the back of the golden chariot. The golden axle gleamed through the silver spokes, for the chariot was made of naught but gold and silver and precious stones.

Then Early Dawn threw open the purple doors of the eastern sky. The stars, answering the signal of the Day Star, slowly passed from sight, followed by their marshal.

The Hours obeyed Apollo's orders, and, harnessing the horses, led out the wondrous creatures and fastened them to the chariot.

Apollo bathed Phaeton's face with ointment, and taking up the crown of shining rays, fastened it on the rash boy's head.

With a sigh, he said:

"My son, you will at least take my advice in one thing: spare the whip and hold tight the lines. You will see the marks of the wheels where I have gone before, and they will guide. Go not too high or you will burn the heavens, nor too low or you will set your mother's home, the earth, on fire. The middle course is best. Take the reins, or, if even now you will change your wish, abide here, and yield the car to me."

Phaeton leaped into the golden chariot, and with a proud smile thanked his father. Then he gave the word to the horses.

They darted forward through the morning clouds with the fury of a tempest. Men on the earth thought it was noonday and tried to do double their daily work. The fiery horses soon found their load was light, and that the hands on the reins were frail. They dashed aside from their path, until the fierce heat made the Great and the Little Bear long to plunge into the sea.

Poor Phaeton, looking down on the earth, grew pale and shook with terror. He wished that he had never seen these shining steeds, had never sought the palace of the Sun, and that he had never held his father to that rash promise.

Diana, who drives the chariot of the Moon, heard the mad racket in the sky, and shooting her arrows at the frightened horses, turned them aside in time to prevent them from dashing her own silver car to pieces.