Meet us on:
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "Yet do I fear thy nature; It is too full o' the milk of human kindness."

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Chapter 3

    • Rate it:
    • 1 Favorite on Read Print
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 3
    Previous Chapter
    Chapter III
    Io and Callisto. Diana and Actaeon. The Story of Phaeton

    Jupiter and Juno, although husband and wife, did not live
    together very happily. Jupiter did not love his wife very much,
    and Juno distrusted her husband, and was always accusing him of
    unfaithfulness. One day she perceived that it suddenly grew
    dark, and immediately suspected that her husband had raised a
    cloud to hide some of his doings that would not bear the light.
    She brushed away the cloud, and saw her husband, on the banks of
    a glassy river, with a beautiful heifer standing near him. Juno
    suspected that the heifer's form concealed some fair nymph of
    mortal mould. This was indeed the case; for it was Io, the
    daughter of the river god Inachus, whom Jupiter had been flirting
    with, and, when he became aware of the approach of his wife, had
    changed into that form.

    Juno joined her husband, and noticing the heifer, praised its
    beauty, and asked whose it was, and of what herd. Jupiter, to
    stop questions, replied that it was a fresh creation from the
    earth. Juno asked to have it as a gift. What could Jupiter do?
    He was loth to give his mistress to his wife; yet how refuse so
    trifling a present as a simple heifer? He could not, without
    arousing suspicion; so he consented. The goddess was not yet
    relieved of her suspicions; and she delivered the heifer to
    Argus, to be strictly watched.

    Now Argus had a hundred eyes in his head, and never went to sleep
    with more than two at a time, so that he kept watch of Io
    constantly. He suffered her to feed through the day, and at
    night tied her up with a vile rope round her neck. She would
    have stretched out her arms to implore freedom of Argus, but she
    had no arms to stretch out, and her voice was a bellow that
    frightened even herself. She saw her father and her sisters, went
    near them, and suffered them to pat her back, and heard them
    admire her beauty. Her father reached her a tuft o gras, and she
    licked the outstretched hand. She longed to make herself known
    to him, and would have uttered her wish; but, alas! words were
    wanting. At length she bethought herself of writing, and
    inscribed her name it was a short one with her hoof on the
    sand. Inachus recognized it, and discovering that his daughter,
    whom he had long sought in vain, was hidden under this disguise,
    mourned over her, and, embracing her white neck, exclaimed,
    "Alas! My daughter, it would have been a less grief to have lost
    you altogether!" While he thus lamented, Argus, observing, came
    and drove her away, and took his seat on a high bank, whence he
    could see in every direction.

    Jupiter was troubled at beholding the sufferings of his mistress,
    and calling Mercury, told him to go and despatch Argus. Mercury
    made haste, put his winged slippers on his feet, and cap on his
    head, took his sleep-producing wand, and leaped down from the
    heavenly towers to the earth. There he laid aside his wings, and
    kept only his wand, with which he presented himself as a shepherd
    driving his flock. As he strolled on he blew upon his pipes.
    These were what are called the Syrinx or Pandean pipes. Argus
    listened with delight, for he had never heard the instrument
    before. "Young man," said he, "come and take a seat by me on
    this stone. There is no better place for your flock to graze in
    than hereabouts, and here is a pleasant shade such as shepherds
    love." Mercury sat down, talked, and told stories until it grew
    late, and played upon his pipes his most soothing strains, hoping
    to lull the watchful eyes to sleep, but all in vain; for Argus
    still contrived to keep some of his eyes open, though he shut the

    Among other stories, Mercury told him how the instrument on which
    he played was invented. "There was a certain nymph, whose name
    was Syrinx, who was much beloved by the satyrs and spirits of the
    wood; but she would have none of them, but was a faithful
    worshipper of Diana, and followed the chase. You would have
    thought it was Diana herself, had you seen her in her hunting
    dress, only that her bow was of horn and Diana's of silver. One
    day, as she was returning from the chase, Pan met her, told her
    just this, and added more of the same sort. She ran away,
    without stopping to hear his compliments, and he pursued till she
    came to the bank of the river, where he overtook her, and she had
    only time to call for help on her friends, the water nymphs. They
    heard and consented. Pan threw his arms around what he supposed
    to be the form of the nymph, and found he embraced only a tuft of
    reeds! As he breathed a sigh, the air sounded through the reeds,
    and produced a plaintive melody. The god, charmed with the
    novelty and with the sweetness of the music, said 'Thus, then, at
    least, you shall be mine.' And he took some of the reeds, and
    placing them together, of unequal lengths, side by side, made an
    instrument which he called Syrinx, in honor of the nymph."
    Before Mercury had finished his story, he saw Argus's eyes all
    asleep. As his head nodded forward on his breast, Mercury with
    one stroke cut his neck through, and tumbled his head down the
    rocks. O hapless Argus! The light of your hundred eyes is
    quenched at once! Juno took them and put them as ornaments on
    the tail of her peacock, where they remain to this day.

    But the vengeance of Juno was not yet satiated. She sent a
    gadfly to torment Io, who fled over the whole world from its
    pursuit. She swam through the Ionian Sea, which derived its name
    from her, then roamed over the plains of Illyria, ascended Mount
    Haemus, and crossed the Thracian strait, thence named the
    Bosphorus (cow-bearer), rambled on through Scythia and the
    country of the Cimmerians, and arrived at last on the banks of
    the Nile. At length Jupiter interceded for her, and, upon his
    promising not to pay her any more attentions, Juno consented to
    restore her to her form. It was curious to see her gradually
    recover her former self. The coarse hairs fell from her body,
    her horns shrunk up, her eyes grew narrower, her mouth shorter;
    hands and fingers came instead of hoofs to her forefeet; in fine,
    there was nothing left of the heifer except her beauty. At first
    she was afraid to speak for fear she should low, but gradually
    she recovered her confidence, and was restored to her father and

    In a poem dedicated to Leigh Hunt, by Keats, the following
    allusion to the story of Pan and Syrinx occurs:--

    "So did he feel who pulled the boughs aside,
    That we might look into a forest wide,
    * * * * * * * *
    Telling us how fair trembling Syrinx fled
    Arcadian Pan, with such a fearful dread.
    Poor nymph poor Pan how he did weep to find
    Nought but a lovely sighing of the wind
    Along the reedy stream; a half-heard strain,
    Full of sweet desolation, balmy pain."


    Callisto was another maiden who excited the jealousy of Juno, and
    the goddess changed her into a bear. "I will take away," said
    she, :"that beauty with which you have captivated my husband."
    Down fell Callisto on her hands and knees; she tried to stretch
    out her arms in supplication,-- they were already beginning to be
    covered with black hair. Her hands grew rounded, became armed
    with crooked claws, and served for feet; her mouth, which Jove
    used to praise for its beauty, became a horrid pair of jaws; her
    voice, which if unchanged would have moved the heart to pity,
    became a growl, more fit to inspire terror. Yet her former
    disposition remained, and, with continued groaning, she bemoaned
    her fate, and stood upright as well as she could, lifting up her
    paws to beg for mercy; and felt that Jove was unkind, though she
    could not tell him so. Ah, how often, afraid to stay in the
    woods all night alone, she wandered about the neighborhood of her
    former haunts; how often, frightened by the dogs, did she, so
    lately a huntress, fly in terror from the hunters! Often she
    fled from the wild beasts, forgetting that she was now a wild
    beast herself; and, bear as she was, was afraid of the bears.

    One day a youth espied her as he was hunting. She saw him and
    recognized him as her own son, now grown a young man. She
    stopped, and felt inclined to embrace him. As she was about to
    approach, he, alarmed, raised his hunting spear, and was on the
    point of transfixing her, when Jupiter, beholding, arrested the
    crime, and, snatching away both of them, placed them in the
    heavens as the Great and Little Bear.

    Juno was in a rage to see her rival so set in honor, and hastened
    to ancient Tethys and Oceanus, the powers of ocean, and, in
    answer to their inquiries, thus told the cause of her coming; "Do
    you ask why I, the queen of the gods, have left the heavenly
    plains and sought your depths. Learn that I am supplanted in
    heaven,-- my place is given to another. You will hardly believe
    me; but look when night darkens the world, and you shall see the
    two, of whom I have so much reason to complain, exalted to the
    heavens, in that part where the circle is the smallest, in the
    neighborhood of the pole. Why should any one hereafter tremble
    at the thought of offending Juno, when such rewards are the
    consequence of my displeasure! See what I have been able to
    effect! I forbade her to wear the human form,-- she is placed
    among the stars! So do my punishments result,-- such is the
    extent of my power! Better that she should have resumed her
    former shape, as I permitted Io to do. Perhaps he means to marry
    her, and put me away! But you, my foster parents, if you feel
    for me, and see with displeasure this unworthy treatment of me,
    show it, I beseech you, by forbidding this guilty couple from
    coming into your waters." The powers of the ocean assented, and
    consequently the two constellations of the Great and Little Bear
    move round and round in heaven, but never sink, as the other
    stars do, beneath the ocean.

    Milton alludes to the fact that the constellation of the Bear
    never sets, when he says,

    "Let my lamp at midnight hour
    Be seen in some high lonely tower,
    Where I may oft outwatch the Bear."
    Il Penseroso

    And Prometheus, in James Russell Lowell's poem, says,

    "One after one the stars have risen and set,
    Sparkling upon the hoar-frost of my chain;
    The Bear that prowled all night about the fold
    Of the North Star, hath shrunk into his den,
    Scared by the blithsome footsteps of the dawn."

    The last star in the tail of the Little Bear is the Pole star,
    called also the Cynosure. Milton says,

    "Straight mine eye hath caught new pleasures
    While the landscape round it measures.
    * * * * * * * *
    Towers and battlements it sees
    Bosomed high in tufted trees,
    Where perhaps some beauty lies
    The Cynosure of neighboring eyes."

    The reference here is both to the Pole-star as the guide of
    mariners, and to the magnetic attraction of the North. He calls
    it also the "Star of Aready," because Callisto's boy was named
    Arcas, and they lived in Arcadia. In Milton's Comus, the elder
    brother, benighted in the woods, says,

    "Some gentle taper!
    Through a rush candle, from
    the wicker hole
    Of some clay habitation,
    visit us
    With thy long levelled rule
    of streaming light,
    And thou shalt be our star of Aready,
    Or Tyrian Chynsure."


    It was midday, and the sun stood equally distant from either
    goal, when young Actaeon, son of King Cadmus, thus addressed the
    youths who with him were hunting the stag in the mountains:--

    "Friends, our nets and our weapons are wet with the blood of our
    victims; we have had sport enough for one day, and tomorrow we
    can renew our labors. Now, while Phoebus parches the earth, let
    us put by our instruments and indulge ourselves with rest."

    There was a valley thickly enclosed with cypresses and pines,
    sacred to the huntress-queen, Diana. In the extremity of the
    valley was a cave, not adorned with art, but nature had
    counterfeited art in its construction, for she had turned the
    arch of its roof with stones as delicately fitted as if by the
    hand of man. A fountain burst out from one side, whose open
    basin was bounded by a grassy rim. Here the goddess of the woods
    used to come when weary with hunting and lave her virgin limbs in
    the sparkling water.

    One day, having repaired thither with her nymphs, she handed her
    javelin, her quiver, and her bow to one, her robe to another,
    while a third unbound the sandals from her feet. Then Crocale,
    the most skilful of them, arranged her hair, and Nephele, Hyale,
    and the rest drew water in capacious urns. While the goddess was
    thus employed in the labors of the toilet, behold, Actaeon,
    having quitted his companions, and rambling without any especial
    object, came to the place, led thither by his destiny. As he
    presented himself at the entrance of the cave, the nymphs, seeing
    a man, screamed and rushed towards the goddess to hide her with
    their bodies. But she was taller than the rest, and overtopped
    them all by a head. Such a color as tinges the clouds at sunset
    or at dawn came over the countenance of Diana thus taken by
    surprise. Surrounded as she was by her nymphs, she yet turned
    half away, and sought with a sudden impulse for her arrows. As
    they were not at hand, she dashed the water into the face of the
    intruder, adding these words: "Now go and tell, if you can, that
    you have seen Diana unapparelled." Immediately a pair of
    branching stag's horns grew out of his head, his neck gained in
    length, his ears grew sharp-pointed, his hands became feet, his
    arms long legs, his body was covered with a hairy spotted hide.
    Fear took the place of his former boldness, and the hero fled.
    He could not but admire his own speed; but when he saw his horns
    in the water, "Ah, wretched me!: he would have said, but no sound
    followed the effort. He groaned, and tears flowed down the face
    that had taken the place of his own. Yet his consciousness
    remained. What shall he do? Go home to seek the palace, or lie
    hid in the woods? The latter he was afraid, the former he was
    ashamed, to do. While he hesitated the dogs saw him. First
    Melampus, a Spartan dog, gave the signal with his bark, then
    Pamphagus, Dorceus, Lelaps, Theron, Nape, Tigris, and all the
    rest, rushed after him swifter than the wind. Over rocks and
    cliffs, through mountain gorges that seemed impracticable, he
    fled, and they followed. Where he had often chased the stag and
    cheered on his pack, his pack now chased him, cheered on by his
    own huntsmen. He longed to cry out, "I am Actaeon; recognize
    your master!" But the words came not at his will. The air
    resounded with the bark of the dogs. Presently one fastened on
    his back, another seized his shoulder. While they held their
    master, the rest of the pack came up and buried their teeth in
    his flesh. He groaned, not in a human voice, yet certainly not
    in a stag's, and, falling on his knees, raised his eyes, and
    would have raised his arms in supplication, if he had had them.
    His friends and fellow-huntsmen cheered on the dogs, and looked
    every where for Actaeon, calling on him to join the sport. At
    the sound of his name, he turned his head, and heard them regret
    that he should be away. He earnestly wished he was. He would
    have been well pleased to see the exploits of his dogs, but to
    feel them was too much. They were all around him, rending and
    tearing; and it was not till they had torn his life out that the
    anger of Diana was satisfied.

    In the "Epic of Hades" there is a description of Actaeon and his
    change of form. Perhaps the most beautiful lines in it are when
    Actaeon, changed to a stag, first hears his own hounds and flees.

    "But as I gazed, and careless turned and passed
    Through the thick wood, forgetting what had been,
    And thinking thoughts no longer, swift there came
    A mortal terror; voices that I knew.
    My own hounds' bayings that I loved before,
    As with them often o'er the purple hills
    I chased the flying hart from slope to slope,
    Before the slow sun climbed the eastern peaks,
    Until the swift sun smote the western plain;
    Whom often I had cheered by voice and glance,
    Whom often I had checked with hand and thong;
    Grim followers, like the passions, firing me,
    True servants, like the strong nerves, urging me
    On many a fruitless chase, to find and take
    Some too swift-fleeting beauty, faithful feet
    And tongues, obedient always: these I knew
    Clothed with a new-born force and vaster grown,
    And stronger than their master; and I thought,
    What if they tore me with their jaws, nor knew
    That once I ruled them, brute pursuing brute,
    And I the quarry? Then I turned and fled
    If it was I indeed that feared and fled
    Down the long glades, and through the tangled brakes,
    Where scarce the sunlight pierced; fled on and on,
    And panted, self-pursued. But evermore
    The dissonant music which I knew so sweet,
    When by the windy hills, the echoing vales
    And whispering pines it rang; now far, now near
    As from my rushing steed I leant and cheered
    With voice and horn the chase; this brought to me
    Fear of I knew not what, which bade me fly,
    Fly always, fly; but when my heart stood still,
    And all my limbs were stiffened as I fled,
    Just as the white moon ghost-like climbed the sky,
    Nearer they came and nearer, baying loud,
    With bloodshot eyes and red jaws dripping foam;
    And when I strove to check their savagery,
    Speaking with words; no voice articulate came,
    Only a dumb, low bleat. Then all the throng
    Leapt swift upon me and tore me as I lay,
    And left me man again."

    In Shelley's poem Adonais is the following allusion to the story
    of Actaeon:--

    "Midst others of less note came one frail form,
    A phantom among men; companionless
    As the last cloud of an expiring storm,
    Whose thunder is its knell; he, as I guess,
    Had gazed on Nature's naked loveliness,
    Actaeon-like, and now he fled astray
    With feeble steps o'er the world's wilderness;
    And his own Thoughts, along that rugged way,
    Pursued like raging hounds their father and their prey."
    Adonais, stanza 31.

    The allusion is probably to Shelley himself.


    Some thought the goddess in this instance more severe than was
    just, while others praised her conduct as strictly consistent
    with her virgin dignity. As usual, the recent event brought
    older ones to mind, and one of the bystanders told this story.
    "Some countrymen of Lycia once insulted the goddess Latona, but
    not with impunity. When I was young, my father, who had grown
    too old for active labors, sent me to Lycia to drive thence some
    choice oxen, and there I saw the very pond and marsh where the
    wonder happened. Near by stood an ancient altar, black with the
    smoke of sacrifice and almost buried among the reeds. I inquired
    whose altar it might be, whether of Faunus or the Naiads or some
    god of the neighboring mountain, and one of the country people
    replied, 'No mountain or river god possesses this altar, but she
    whom royal Juno in her jealousy drove from land to land, denying
    her any spot of earth whereon to rear her twins. Bearing in her
    arms the infant deities, Latona reached this land, weary with her
    burden and parched with thirst. By chance she espied in the
    bottom of the valley this pond of clear water, where the country
    people were at work gathering willows and osiers. The goddess
    approached, and kneeling on the bank would have slaked her thirst
    in the cool stream, but the rustics forbade her. 'Why do you
    refuse me water?' said she; 'water is free to all. Nature allows
    no one to claim as property the sunshine, the air, or the water.
    I come to take my share of the common blessing. Yet I ask it of
    you as a favor. I have no intention of washing my limbs in it,
    weary though they be, but only to quench my thirst. My mouth is
    so dry that I can hardly speak. A draught of water would be
    nectar to me; it would revive me, and I would own myself indebted
    to you for life itself. Let these infants move your pity, who
    stretch out their little arms as if to plead for me'; and the
    children, as it happened, were stretching out their arms.

    "Who would not have been moved with these gentle words of the
    goddess? But these clowns persisted in their rudeness; they even
    added jeers and threats of violence if she did not leave the
    place. Nor was this all. They waded into the pond and stirred
    up the mud with their feet, so as to make the water unfit to
    drink. Latona was so angry that she ceased to feel her thirst.
    She no longer supplicated the clowns, but lifting her hands to
    heaven exclaimed, 'May they never quit that pool, but pass their
    lives there!' And it came to pass accordingly. They now live in
    the water, sometimes totally submerged, then raising their heads
    above the surface, or swimming upon it. Sometimes they come out
    upon the bank, but soon leap back again into the water. They
    still use their base voices in railing, and though they have the
    water all to themselves, are not ashamed to croak in the midst of
    it. Their voices are harsh, their throats bloated, their mouths
    have become stretched by constant railing, their necks have
    shrunk up and disappeared, and their heads are joined to their
    bodies. Their backs are green, their disproportioned bellies
    white, and in short they are now frogs, and dwell in the slimy

    This story explains the allusion in one of Milton's sonnets, "On
    the detraction which followed upon his writing certain

    "I did but prompt the age to quit their clogs
    By the known laws of ancient liberty,.
    When straight a barbarous noise environs me
    Of owls and cuckoos, asses, apes and dogs.
    As when those hinds that were transformed to frogs
    Railed at Latona's twin-born progeny,
    Which after held the sun and moon in fee."

    The persecution which Latona experienced from Juno is alluded to
    in the story. The tradition was that the future mother of Apollo
    and Diana, flying from the wrath of Juno, besought all the
    islands of the Aegean to afford her a place of rest, but all
    feared too much the potent queen of heaven to assist her rival.
    Delos alone consented to become the birthplace of the future
    deities. Delos was then a floating island; but when Latona
    arrived there, Jupiter fastened it with adamantine chains to the
    bottom of the sea, that it might be a secure resting place for
    his beloved. Byron alludes to Delos in his Don Juan:--

    "The isles of Greece! The isles of Greece!
    Where burning Sappho loved and sung,
    Where grew the arts of war and peace,
    Where Delos rose and Phoebus sprung!"


    Epaphus was the son of Jupiter and Io. Phaeton, child of the
    Sun, was one day boasting to him of his high descent and of his
    father Phoebus. Epaphus could not bear it. "Foolish fellow,"
    said he "you believe your mother in all things, and you are
    puffed up by your pride in a false father." Phaeton went in rage
    and shame and reported this to his mother, Clymene. "If," said
    he, "I am indeed of heavenly birth, give me, mother, some proof
    of it, and establish my claim to the honor." Clymene stretched
    forth her hands towards the skies, and said, "I call to witness
    the Sun which looks down upon us, that I have told you the truth.
    If I speak falsely, let this be the last time I behold his light.
    But it needs not much labor to go and inquire for yourself; the
    land whence the sun rises lies next to ours. Go and demand of
    him whether he will own you as a son" Phaeton heard with delight.
    He travelled to India, which lies directly in the regions of
    sunrise; and, full of hope and pride, approached the goal whence
    the Sun begins his course.

    The palace of the Sun stood reared aloft on columns, glittering
    with gold and precious stones, while polished ivory formed the
    ceilings, and silver the doors. The workmanship surpassed the
    material; for upon the walls Vulcan had represented earth, sea
    and skies, with their inhabitants. In the sea were the nymphs,
    some sporting in the waves, some riding on the backs of fishes,
    while others sat upon the rocks and dried their sea-green hair.
    Their faces were not all alike, nor yet unlike, but such as
    sisters' ought to be. The earth had its towns and forests and
    rivers and rustic divinities. Over all was carved the likeness
    of the glorious heaven; and on the silver doors the twelve signs
    of the zodiac, six on each side.

    Clymene's son advanced up the steep ascent, and entered the halls
    of his disputed father. He approached the paternal presence, but
    stopped at a distance, for the light was more than he could bear.
    Phoebus, arrayed in a purple vesture, sat on a throne which
    glittered as with diamonds. On his right hand and his left stood
    the Day, the Month, and the Year, and, at regular intervals, the
    Hours. Spring stood with her head crowned with flowers, and
    Summer, with garment cast aside, and a garland formed of spears
    of ripened grain, and Autumn, with his feet stained with grape
    juice, and icy Winter, with his hair stiffened with hoar frost.
    Surrounded by these attendants, the Sun, with the eye that sees
    every thing, beheld the youth dazzled with the novelty and
    splendor of the scene, and inquired the purpose of his errand.
    The youth replied, "Oh, light of the boundless world, Phoebus, my
    father, if you permit me to use that name, give me some
    proof, I beseech you, by which I may be known as yours." He
    ceased; and his father, laying aside the beams that shone all
    around his head, bade him approach, and embracing him, said, "My
    son, you deserve not to be disowned, and I confirm what your
    mother has told you. To put an end to your doubts, ask what you
    will, the gift shall be yours. I call to witness that dreadful
    lake, which I never saw, but which we gods swear by in our most
    solemn engagements." Phaeton immediately asked to be permitted
    for one day to drive the chariot of the sun. The father repented
    of his promise; thrice and four times he shook his radiant head
    in warning. "I have spoken rashly," said he; "only this request
    I would fain deny. I beg you to withdraw it. It is not a safe
    boon, nor one, my Phaeton, suited to your youth and strength.
    Your lot is mortal, and you ask what is beyond a mortal's power.
    In your ignorance you aspire to do that which not even the gods
    themselves may do. None but myself may drive the flaming car of
    day; not even Jupiter, whose terrible right arm hurls the thunder
    bolts. The first part of the way is steep, and such as the
    horses when fresh in the morning can hardly climb; the middle is
    high up in the heavens, whence I myself can scarcely, without
    alarm, look down and behold the earth and sea stretched beneath
    me. The last part of the road descends rapidly, and requires
    most careful driving. Tethys, who is waiting to receive me,
    often trembles for me lest I should fall headlong. Add to all
    this, the heaven is all the time turning round and carrying the
    stars with it. I have to be perpetually on my guard lest that
    movement, which sweeps everything else along, should hurry me
    also away. Suppose I should lend you the chariot, what would you
    do? Could you keep your course while the sphere was revolving
    under you? Perhaps you think that there are forests and cities,
    the abodes of gods, and palaces and temples on the way. On the
    contrary, the road is through the midst of frightful monsters.
    You pass by the horns of the Bull, in front of the Archer, and
    near the Lion's jaws, and where the Scorpion stretches its arms
    in one direction and the Crab in another. Nor will you find it
    easy to guide those horses, with their breasts full of fire which
    they breathe forth from their mouths and nostrils. I can
    scarcely govern them myself, when they are unruly and resist the
    reins. Beware, my son, lest I should give you a fatal gift;
    recall your request while yet you may. Do you ask me for proof
    that you are sprung from my blood? I give you a proof in my
    fears for you. Look at my face,-- I would that you could look
    into my breast, you would there see all a father's anxiety.
    Finally," he continued, "look round the world and choose whatever
    you will of what earth or sea contains most precious, ask it
    and fear no refusal. This only I pray you not to urge. It is
    not honor, but destruction you seek. Why do you hang round my
    neck and still entreat me? You shall have it if you persist,
    the oath is sworn and must be kept, but I beg you to choose
    more wisely."

    He ended; but the youth rejected all admonition, and held to his
    demand. So, having resisted as long as he could, Phoebus at last
    led the way to where stood the lofty chariot.

    It was of gold, the gift of Vulcan; the axle was of gold, the
    pole and wheels of gold, the spokes of silver. Along the seat
    were rows of chrysolites and diamonds, which reflected all around
    the brightness of the sun. While the daring youth gazed in
    admiration, the early Dawn threw open the purple doors of the
    east, and showed the pathway strewn with roses. The stars
    withdrew, marshalled by the Daystar, which last of all retired
    also. The father, when he saw the earth beginning to glow, and
    the Moon preparing to retire, ordered the Hours to harness up the
    horses. They obeyed, and led forth from the lofty stalls the
    steeds full fed with ambrosia, and attached the reins. Then the
    father bathed the face of his son with a powerful unguent, and
    made him capable of enduring the brightness of the flame. He set
    the rays on his head, and, with a foreboding sigh, said, "If, my
    son, you will in this at least heed my advice, spare the whip and
    hold tight the reins. They go fast enough of their own accord;
    the labor is to hold them in. You are not to take the straight
    road directly between the five circles, but turn off to the left.
    Keep within the limit of the middle zone, and avoid the northern
    and the southern alike. You will see the marks of the wheels,
    and they will serve to guide you. And, that the skies and the
    earth may each receive their due share of heat, go not too high,
    or you will burn the heavenly dwellings, nor too low, or you will
    set the earth on fire; the middle course is safest and best. And
    now I leave you to your chance, which I hope will plan better for
    you than you have done for yourself. Night is passing out of the
    western gates and we can delay no longer. Take the reins; but if
    at last your heart fails you, and you will benefit by my advice,
    stay where you are in safety, and suffer me to light and warm the
    earth." The agile youth sprang into the chariot, stood erect and
    grasped the reins with delight, pouring out thanks to his
    reluctant parent.

    Meanwhile the horses fill the air with their snortings and fiery
    breath, and stamp the ground impatient. Now the bars are let
    down, and the boundless plain of the universe lies open before
    them. They dart forward and cleave the opposing clouds, and
    outrun the morning breezes which started from the same eastern
    goal. The steeds soon perceived that the load they drew was
    lighter than usual; and as a ship without ballast is tossed
    hither and thither on the sea, so the chariot, without its
    accustomed weight, was dashed about as if empty. They rush
    headlong and leave the travelled road. He is alarmed, and knows
    not how to guide them; nor, if he knew, has he the power. Then,
    for the first time, the Great and Little Bear were scorched with
    heat, and would fain, if it were possible, have plunged into the
    water; and the Serpent which lies coiled up round the north pole,
    torpid and harmless, grew warm, and with warmth felt its rage
    revive. Bootes, they say, fled away, though encumbered with his
    plough, and all unused to rapid motion.

    When hapless Phaeton looked down upon the earth, now spreading in
    vast extent beneath him, he grew pale and his knees shook with
    terror. In spite of the glare all around him, the sight of his
    eyes grew dim. He wished he had never touched his father's
    horses, never learned his parentage, never prevailed in his
    request. He is borne along like a vessel that flies before a
    tempest, when the pilot can do no more and betakes himself to his
    prayers. What shall he do? Much of the heavenly road is left
    behind, but more remains before. He turns his eyes from one
    direction to the other; now to the goal whence he began his
    course, now to the realms of sunset which he is not destined to
    reach. He loses his self-command, and knows not what to do,
    whether to draw tight the reins or throw them loose; he forgets
    the names of the horses. He sees with terror the monstrous forms
    scattered over the surface of heaven. Here the Scorpion extended
    his two great arms, with his tail and crooked claws stretching
    over two signs of the zodiac. When the boy beheld him, reeking
    with poison and menacing with his fangs, his courage failed, and
    the reins fell from his hands. The horses, feeling the reins
    loose on their backs, dashed headlong, and unrestrained went off
    into unknown regions of the sky, in among the stars, hurling the
    chariot over pathless places, now up in high heaven, now down
    almost to the earth. The moon saw with astonishment her
    brother's chariot running beneath her own. The clouds begin to
    smoke, and the mountain tops take fire; the fields are parched
    with heat, the plants wither, the trees with their leafy branches
    burn, the harvest is ablaze! But these are small things. Great
    cities perished, with their walls and towers; whole nations with
    their people were consumed to ashes! The forest-clad mountains
    burned, Athos and Taurus and Tmolus and OEte; Ida, once
    celebrated for fountains, but now all dry; the Muses' mountain
    Helicon, and Haemus; AEtna, with fires within and without, and
    Parnassus, with his two peaks, and Rhodope, forced at last to
    part with his snowy crown. Her cold climate was no protection to
    Scythia, Caucasus burned, and Ossa and Pindus, and, greater than
    both, Olympus; the Alps high in air, and the Apennines crowned
    with clouds.

    Then Phaeton beheld the world on fire, and felt the heat
    intolerable. The air he breathed was like the air of a furnace
    and full of burning ashes, and the smoke was of a pitchy
    darkness. He dashed forward he knew not whither. Then, it is
    believed, the people of AEthiopia became black by the blood being
    forced so suddenly to the surface, and the Libyan desert was
    dried up to the condition in which it remains to this day. The
    Nymphs of the fountains, with dishevelled hair, mourned their
    waters, nor were the rivers safe beneath their banks; Tanais
    smoked, and Caicus, Xanthus and Meander. Babylonian Euphrates
    and Ganges, Tagus with golden sands, and Caijster where the swans
    resort. Nile fled away and hid his head in the desert, and there
    it still remains concealed. Where he used to discharge his
    waters through seven mouths into the sea, there seven dry
    channels alone remained. The earth cracked open, and through the
    chinks light broke into Tartarus, and frightened the king of
    shadows and his queen. The sea shrank up. Where before was
    water, it became a dry plain; and the mountains that lie beneath
    the waves lifted up their heads and became islands. The fishes
    sought the lowest depths, and the dolphins no longer ventured as
    usual to sport on the surface. Even Nereus, and his wife Doris,
    with the Nereids, their daughters, sought the deepest caves for
    refuge. Thrice Neptune essayed to raise his head above the
    surface and thrice was driven back by the heat. Earth,
    surrounded as she was by waters, yet with head and shoulders
    bare, screening her face with her hand, looked up to heaven, and
    with a husky voice called on Jupiter.

    "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

    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."

    In the beautiful lines of Walter Savage Lando describing the sea-
    shell, there is an allusion to the sun's palace and chariot. The
    water-nymph says,

    " I have sinuous shells of pearly hue
    Within, and things that lustre have imbibed
    In the sun's palace porch, where when unyoked
    His chariot-wheel stands midway in the wave.
    Shake one and it awakens; then apply
    Its polished lip to your attentive car,
    And it remembers its August abodes,
    And murmurs as the ocean murmurs there."
    Gebir, Book 1

    Next Chapter
    Chapter 3
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a Thomas Bulfinch essay and need some advice, post your Thomas Bulfinch essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Want to read

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?