1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Phaëthon

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PHAËTHON (Gr. φαέθων, shining, radiant), in Greek mythology, the son of Helios the sun-god, and the nymph Clymene. He persuaded his father to let him drive the chariot of the sun across the sky, but he lost control of the horses, and driving too near the earth scorched it. To save the world from utter destruction Zeus killed Phaëthon with a thunderbolt. He fell to earth at the mouth of the Eridanus, a river of northern Europe (identified in later times with the Po), on the banks of which his weeping sisters, the Heliades, were transformed into poplars and their tears into amber. This part of the legend points to the mouth of the Oder or Vistula, where amber abounds. Phaethon was the subject of a drama of the same name by Euripides, of which some fragments remain, and of a lost tragedy of Aeschylus (Heliades); the story is most fully told in the Metamorphoses of Ovid (i. 750–ii. 366 and Nonnus, Dionysiaca, xxxviii). Phaëthon has been identified with the sun himself and with the morning star (Phosphorus). In the former case the legend is supposed to represent the sun sinking in the west in a blaze of light. His identification with the morning star is supported by Hyginus (Astron. ii. 42), where it is stated that the morning (and evening) star was the son of Cephalus and Eos (the father and mother of Phaëthon according to Hesiod, Theog. 984–986). The fall of Phaëthon is a favourite subject, especially on sarcophagus reliefs, as indicating the transitoriness of human life.

See G. Knaack, "Quaestiones Phaethonteae," in Philologische Untersuchungen (1885): F. Wieseler, Phaethon (1857); Wilamowitz-Möllendorff and C. Robert in Hermes, xviii. (1883); Frazer's Pausanias, ii 59; S. Reinach, Revue de l'hist. des religions, lviii. (1908).