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Month: July, 2020

The Story of Phaeton (VII) – Ovid


   Earth (2010) 


            Rolf Ohst




mythologies are stories a people will 

tell itself to explain phenomena that 

remain mysterious, by transforming 

conundrums into people, 

anthropomorphizing them, a tale is

told that not only entertains, but 

informs, gives context in order to

shape moral character


most mythologies, if not all, it’s a 

question of definition, which I’ll 

get into later, past and present, 

are pantheistic, which is to say 

they refer to many goddesses 

and gods, rather than to one 

almighty one, therefore they see 

deities in rivers, trees, oceans, 

mountains, the sun, the moon, 

constellations, as well as in the 

more metaphysical entities, 

poetry, beauty, love  


there is therefore a more respectful,

even reverent, attitude to all of these

otherwise neglected realities, for 

being, often, peripheral to more 

immediate, daily, domestic, 



our prevalent monotheistic 

mythologies, by contrast, purport 

to be historical, however specious, 

which is why the word mythology 

here might not be appropriate, but 

regardless, they all posit one 

omnipotent God, notably 

imponderable, esoteric, and there 

are, correspondingly, only a few 

mentions in their foundational  

texts, the Bible, the Koran, the 

Torah, of nature playing any  

significant part, it is secondary to

to their overriding message


we therefore have allowed ourselves 

to watch the world burning without

having even noticed it come about, 

a function exacerbated, incidentally,

by our living mostly, now, in cities


Phaeton has let his horses stray from 

the cosmically ordained path of the 

Sun, the constellations have already

complained, Earth will follow


we, for our part, have despoiled our 

mother, we are presently watching 

her being ignominiously desecrated


see above


                   The Earth at length, on ev’ry side embrac’d
                   With scalding seas that floated round her waste, 


waste, waist, though waste itself throws 

its own homonymic reverberations of 

disorganized detritus, float[ing] round, 

into the mix, something Shakespeare,

incidentally, was especially good at

                   When now she felt the springs and rivers come,
                   And crowd within the hollow of her womb, 


the waters are receding, evaporating

                   Up-lifted to the Heav’ns her blasted head, 


blasted, overwhelmed

                   And clapt her hand upon her brows, and said
                   (But first, impatient of the sultry heat,
                   Sunk deeper down, and sought a cooler seat): 


a strange, and not especially effective

interjection between the parentheses

here, I think

                   “If you, great king of Gods, my death approve,
                   And I deserve it, let me die by Jove; 


Earth asks of Jove, king of Gods, 

that she might die at his own hands,

if her time has come

                   If I must perish by the force of fire,
                   Let me transfix’d with thunder-bolts expire.
                   See, whilst I speak, my breath the vapours choak
                   (For now her face lay wrapt in clouds of smoak),
                   See my singe’d hair, behold my faded eye,
                   And wither’d face, where heaps of cinders lye! 


we are familiar with forest fires,

hurricanes, droughts in our own day

                   And does the plow for this my body tear? 


after all I have given through 

agriculture, the plow, of nourishment, 

Earth asks, is this how I am to be 



                   This the reward for all the fruits I bear,
                   Tortur’d with rakes, and harrass’d all the year?
                   That herbs for cattle daily I renew,
                   And food for Man, and frankincense for you? 


not only does Earth benefit living

creatures, but also the goddesses

and gods, she exclaims


                   But grant me guilty; what has Neptune done? 


Neptune, god of Water, the Sea,

is also Jove‘s brother

                   Why are his waters boiling in the sun?
                   The wavy empire, which by lot was giv’n,
                   Why does it waste, and further shrink from Heav’n? 


wavy empire, made of waves


Jove, Neptune, and Pluto were all

sons of Saturn, Titan, god of Time, 

after the sons overthrew their father 

during the Giants’ War, they divided 

the world by lot, which is to say, who

had the longest straw, Jove got the 

Heavens, Neptune, the Seas, Pluto

the Underworld


waste, resounding from above 


                   If I nor he your pity can provoke,
                   See your own Heav’ns, the Heav’ns begin to smoke!
                   Shou’d once the sparkles catch those bright abodes,
                   Destruction seizes on the Heav’ns and Gods;
                   Atlas becomes unequal to his freight,
                   And almost faints beneath the glowing weight. 


Atlas, a Titan, condemned to hold 

the heavens up for eternity

                   If Heav’n, and Earth, and sea, together burn,
                   All must again into their chaos turn. 


into their chaos turn, see the Creation

of the World

                   Apply some speedy cure, prevent our fate,
                   And succour Nature, ere it be too late.” 


sounds disquietingly familiar

                   She cea’sd, for choak’d with vapours round her spread,
                   Down to the deepest shades she sunk her head. 


surrounded by vapours, round her 

spread, Earth inexorably succumbs





R ! chard



The Story of Phaeton (VII) – Ovid


   Landscape of Ruins and Fires (1914)


               Félix Vallotton






                ‘Twas then, they say, the swarthy Moor begun
                To change his hue, and blacken in the sun. 


Moor, a flagrant anachronism here, 

as Moors, Muslim inhabitants of

North Africa, didn’t exist before the 

advent of Islam, which began in the 

Seventh Century CE, Ovid, in Latin,

uses Ethiopian, which would entirely 

throw off, note, Dryden‘s poetic 

metre, thus Moor

                Then Libya first, of all her moisture drain’d,
                Became a barren waste, a wild of sand. 


Libya, Ancient Libya, a much larger 

country of North Africa than the 

Libya we know of today

                The water-nymphs lament their empty urns,
                Boeotia, robb’s of silve Dirce, mourns, 


empty urns, the water has evaporated


Boeotia, a region still of Greece


Dirce, upon her gruesome death, which 

I won’t get into here, was transformed 

by Dionysus, god of revelry and fertility,  

into a fountain, which became revered


silve, sylvan, of the forest, the 



robb’s, I’ll guess robbers, because 

Boeotia is where Dirce, abducted,

became a fountain 

                Corinth Pyrene’s wasted spring bewails,
                And Argos grieves whilst Amymone fails. 


Corinth, a city still in Greece


Pyrene, a princess, who was, another 

distressing story, transformed into the 

Pyreneesby Heracles, her seducer,

as well as being a god renowned for 

his extraordinary exploits


Argos, a city still in Greece


Amymone, another unfortunate maiden,

who was granted by Poseidon, god of 

Water, for, throughout her tribulations, 

her probity, springs, sources of water, 

for her community, which, in the 

instance, all fail[ ] 

                The floods are drain’d from ev’ry distant coast,
                Ev’n Tanais, tho’ fix’d in ice, was lost. 


Tanais, the river today known as the 

Don in Russia, thus fix’d in ice

                Enrag’d Caicus and Lycormas roar, 


Caicus, a river in Asia Minor, now

given a different name in a different

script, Bakırçay, which I’ll let you 

try to pronounce 


Lycormas, a river in Ancient Greece, 

now called Evinos

                And Xanthus, fated to be burnt once more. 


Xanthus, or Xanthos, a river in Ancient

Asia Minor, which was yellowish already

due to its surrounding tainted soil, thus 

burnt once more    


                The fam’d Maeander, that unweary’d strays 


Maeander, a river in Ancient Asia


                Through mazy windings, smoaks in ev’ry maze. 


smoaks, smokes


mazy, maze, cute

                From his lov’d Babylon Euphrates flies;
                The big-swoln Ganges and the Danube rise
                In thick’ning fumes, and darken half the skies. 


the Euphrates, the Ganges, and the

Danube, rivers which still go by their

ancient names


                In flames Ismenos and the Phasis roul’d, 


Ismenos, or Ismenus, a river in 

Boeotia, Greece


Phasis, ancient name for the 

Rioni River in Georgia, Eurasia


roul’d, rolled

                And Tagus floating in his melted gold. 


Tagus, a river in the Iberian 


                The swans, that on Cayster often try’d
                Their tuneful songs, now sung their last and dy’d. 


Cayster, a river in Turkey

                The frighted Nile ran off, and under ground
                Conceal’d his head, nor can it yet be found:
                His sev’n divided currents all are dry,
                And where they row’ld, sev’n gaping trenches lye: 


it is being suggested that the Nile

had at one point seven tributaries,

some of which dried up, never



rowl’d, rolled


                No more the Rhine or Rhone their course maintain,
                Nor Tiber, of his promis’d empire vain. 


the Rhine, the Rhone, and the Tiber

are all European rivers


vain, deprived

                The ground, deep-cleft, admits the dazling ray,
                And startles Pluto with the flash of day. 


dazling, dazzling


Pluto, god of the Underworld, who 

would be understandably startle[d] 

by a flash of day

                The seas shrink in, and to the sight disclose
                Wide naked plains, where once their billows rose; 


billows, of [t]he seas

                Their rocks are all discover’d, and increase
                The number of the scatter’d Cyclades.

 discover’d, uncovered


Cyclades, a group of islands in the 

Aegean Sea, between present-day

Greece and Turkey

                The fish in sholes about the bottom creep, 


sholes, shoals

                Nor longer dares the crooked dolphin leap
                Gasping for breath, th’ unshapen Phocae die, 


Phocae, plural of Phoca, is the 

generic name, and therefore, 

interestingly, capitalized, for 

seals, walruses, sea lions

                And on the boiling wave extended lye. 


lye, lie

                Nereus, and Doris with her virgin train,
                Seek out the last recesses of the main; 


Nereus, and Doris, Sea god and 

goddess, parents, notably, of the 

Nereids, sea nymphs, the virgin 



the main, the ocean


                Beneath unfathomable depths they faint,
                And secret in their gloomy caverns pant. 


secret, unseen, alone, untended


                Stern Neptune thrice above the waves upheld
                His face, and thrice was by the flames repell’d. 


Neptune, principal god of the Sea


it is interesting to note that where 

earlier the earth had been 

submerged in water, during the 

Giants’ War, now the earth is

engulfed in flames, a primordial

global warming, as it were, the 

result, consider, of a human, 

Phaeton, trying to take on the 

duties of a god, a warning the 

Ancients were already delivering,

so many years, so many centuries, 

so many millennia, ago


I suspect, worldwide, indigenous 

people would be telling a similar 

tale were we able to access their 

own, unfortunately unwritten, 

though undoubtedly comparable, 

ancestral wisdom, going back,

perhaps, even as far 



R ! chard




The Story of Phaeton (VI) – Ovid


    Mountain Fire (c.1903 – c.1908)


              John Singer Sargent





because Phaeton was light, nor cou’d 

he fill the seat, the horses he would’ve

controlled forsake / Their stated course, 

and leave the beaten track


                What cou’d he do? his eyes, if backward cast,
                Find a long path he had already past;
                If forward, still a longer path they find:
                Both he compares, and measures in his mind;
                And sometimes casts an eye upon the east,
                And sometimes looks on the forbidden west, 


note the description of the movement 

of the eyes, backward, forward, east

and west, uncontrolled, erratic, nearing 

madness, despite attempts, however 

futile, to remain rational, steady, his 

very mind, comparing, measuring, is 

quickly losing its bearings


forbidden, once again, this should 

probably read forbidding


                The horses’ names he knew not in the fright,
                Nor wou’d he loose the reins, nor cou’d he hold ’em right. 


“Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, 

Prancer, and Vixen! / “On, Comet! 

On, Cupid! On, Donner and Blitzen!,

who drove another of the very few 

famous chariots in our Western 

cultural history


couldn’t help it


the only other one I could think of 

is that of the Four Horsemen of 

the Apocalypse, red, white, black, 

and pale horses, which I won’t get 

into, but to say that they have no 



the horses who drove the Chariot of

the Sun, meanwhile, were called

Phlegon, Aeos, Aethon, and Pyrios, 

though I fully admit that I had to 

look those up, then again I’ve never 

had to ride the Chariot of the Sun


it appears that Helios / Phoebus / 

Apollo had other steeds in his stable 

as well, for a rainy day, but they don’t 

feature in this particular story

                Now all the horrors of the Heav’ns he spies,
                And monstrous shadows of prodigious size,
                That, deck’d with stars, lye scatter’d o’er the skies. 


lye, lie

                There is a place above, where Scorpio bent
                In tail and arms surrounds a vast extent; 


Scorpio, the constellation Scorpius

visible only in the Southern hemisphere


Scorpio, represented by a scorpion,

thus has eight legs, or arms, and a 

highly distinctive tail

                In a wide circuit of the Heav’ns he shines,
                And fills the space of two coelestial signs. 


coelestial, celestial

                Soon as the youth beheld him vex’d with heat
                Brandish his sting, and in his poison sweat,
                Half dead with sudden fear he dropt the reins; 


vex’d with heat, from the wayward 

chariot, Scorpio [b]randish[es]

his sting


poison sweat, Scorpio, under the 

influence of the heat, sweat[s],

exudes, produces, characteristically, 


                The horses felt ’em loose upon their mains, 


mains, manes, long hair

                And, flying out through all the plains above,
                Ran uncontroul’d where-e’re their fury drove;
                Rush’d on the stars, and through a pathless way
                Of unknown regions hurry’d on the day. 


hurry’d on the day, kept the day going

at its usual, however presently pathless, 

or uncharted, pace


                And now above, and now below they flew,
                And near the Earth the burning chariot drew. 


ever, and increasingly, ominously

                The clouds disperse in fumes, the wond’ring Moon
                Beholds her brother’s steeds beneath her own; 


wond’ring, confused, puzzled


Brother Sun, Sister Moon

                The highlands smoak, cleft by the piercing rays,
                Or, clad with woods, in their own fewel blaze. 


smoak, smoke


fewel, fuel


where the highlands are clad with 

woods, they blaze in the fires 

consuming their own trees

                Next o’er the plains, where ripen’d harvests grow,
                The running conflagration spreads below.
                But these are trivial ills: whole cities burn,
                And peopled kingdoms into ashes turn. 


an apocalypse

                The mountains kindle as the car draws near, 


the car, the chariot

                Athos and Tmolus red with fires appear; 


Athos, Mount Athos, Tmolus, Mount

Tmolus, both mountains in Greece,

both named after mountain gods

                Oeagrian Haemus (then a single name) 


Haemus Mons, an early name for 

the Balkan Mountains


Oeagria, Agria, a town in Greece


                And virgin Helicon increase the flame; 


Helicon, Mount Helicon, notable for

being the home of the Muses

                Taurus and Oete glare amid the sky, 


Taurus, the Taurus Mountains, a 

mountain range in southern Turkey 


Oete, Mount Oeta, a mountain in

Central Greece

                And Ida, spight of all her fountains, dry.
                Eryx and Othrys, and Cithaeron, glow,
                And Rhodope, no longer cloath’d in snow;
                High Pindus, Mimas, and Parnassus, sweat,
                And Aetna rages with redoubled heat. 


spight, in spite

Ida, Eryx, Othrys, CithaeronRhodope

Pindus, and the more familiar Parnassus

and Aetna, or Etna, are all mountains, or 

ranges, in the Mediterranean, Mimas, an 

island there, which is to say, a partially 

submerged mountain, all of them



see above

                Ev’n Scythia, through her hoary regions warm’d, 


Scythia, a region northeast of Ancient 

Greece, barbarian to the more cultured 

people of Greek Antiquity, coarse 

forebears of the Cossacks 


hoary, sullied white, tired, withered 

                In vain with all her native frost was arm’d. 


even so frosty a region as Scythia

was not immune to, arm’d against, 

the running conflagration

                Cover’d with flames the tow’ring Appennine,
                And Caucasus, and proud Olympus, shine;
                And, where the long-extended Alpes aspire,
                Now stands a huge continu’d range of fire. 


the AppennineCaucasusOlympus

and Alpes, or Alps, are all mountain 

ranges throughout Europe, the 

representative part then of the 

known world


               Th’ astonisht youth, where-e’er his eyes cou’d turn,
                Beheld the universe around him burn:
                The world was in a blaze; nor cou’d he bear
                The sultry vapours and the scorching air,
                Which from below, as from a furnace, flow’d;
                And now the axle-tree beneath him glow’d:
                Lost in the whirling clouds that round him broke,
                And white with ashes, hov’ring in the smoke.
                He flew where-e’er the horses drove, nor knew
                Whither the horses drove, or where he flew. 




R ! chard





Chopin Piano Concerto no. 1


   “The Monument to Chopin in the Luxembourg Gardens (1909) 


             Henri Rousseau




                                               for Joselyn, thanks for the tip



one good Chopin Piano Concerto deserves

another, especially if it is, to my mind, superior,

however ever be these things entirely subjective, 

you decide 


here’s his First, listen, be mesmerized



R ! chard



an enlightening distraction / Chopin


   Friends (1895) 


        Konstantin Makovsky





like a lover who needs to return to old and

trusted friends to find a sense of balance, 

where a recent infatuation might’ve rendered 

usual assumptions untrustworthy, is black 

white, is up down, is what I’m doing crazy,

I turned to Chopin, a muse of long and 

distinguished standing, this evening, for 

instruction, a different perspective from 

my recently all-consuming, though entirely 

exhilarating, fascination with Ovid, his 

highly engrossing, even enchanting, 

utterly beguiling, Metamorphoses


here’s Chopin’s Piano Concerto no 2, which 

reminded me that it’s good to pay attention

to your old friends, the ones who’ll be there 

when others won’t, when the going gets, 

well, disconcerting, tough, the ones who’ll 

ever stand by you


you get his Revolutionary Etude and his 

posthumous Waltz in E minor here too, 

as encores, equally sturdy, staunch, if 

only apparently metaphysical, supporters, 

who turn out to be, however miraculously, 

rocks when you need them




R ! chard

The Story of Phaeton (V) – Ovid


     Phaethon (1878) 


            Gustave Moreau






              Mean-while the restless horses neigh’d aloud,
              Breathing out fire, and pawing where they stood.
              Tethys, not knowing what had past, gave way,
              And all the waste of Heav’n before ’em lay. 


Tethys, a Titaness, from the original 

race of gods, before the Olympians,

who seems to have some sort of 

controlling force in the heavens, 

and concern for the regularity of its

movements, though I haven’t yet 

figured out her specific purpose,

position, in the scheme of things 

              They spring together out, and swiftly bear
              The flying youth thro’ clouds and yielding air; 


They, the horses


The flying youth, Phaeton

              With wingy speed outstrip the eastern wind,
              And leave the breezes of the morn behind. “


the eastern wind, Eurus, which you

might remember from the Creation

of the World

              The youth was light, nor cou’d he fill the seat, 
              Or poise the chariot with its wonted weight: 


wonted, usual, the chariot is lighter 

now that only Phaeton’s lesser 

weight is in it rather than that of his 

heavier father


poise, superb word here suggestive 

of the delicacy, the precariousness, 

of the operation, not to mention its 


              But as at sea th’ unballass’d vessel rides, 


unballass’d, without ballast,

unstable, destabilized


              Cast to and fro, the sport of winds and tides;
              So in the bounding chariot toss’d on high,
              The youth is hurry’d headlong through the sky. 


see above

              Soon as the steeds perceive it, they forsake
              Their stated course, and leave the beaten track.
              The youth was in a maze, 


you can hear the etymology of amaze

here, was in a maze, caught up in a 

conundrum, completely disoriented


                                                    nor did he know
              Which way to turn the reins, or where to go;
              Nor wou’d the horses, had he known, obey. 


had he known, Phaeton didn’t know,

as his father would have, his horses


              Then the sev’n stars first felt Apollo’s ray,
              And wish’d to dip in the forbidden sea. 


the sev’n stars, the Pleiades, a star 

cluster, closest to the earth, would 

resort to the coolness of the sea, 

supposedly, upon being subjected 

to the heat of Apollo’s ray, or rays


forbidden, probably forbidding 


              The folded serpent next the frozen pole,
              Stiff and benum’d before, began to rowle, 


The folded serpent, the constellation


              And raged with inward heat, and threaten’d war,
              And shot a redder light from ev’ry star; 


a redder light, the brightest star, 

indeed a double star, in the 

constellation Serpens, is called 

Alpha Serpentis, we now, with our 

greater understanding of the 

cosmos, call such stars red giant

because of a distinctive ring they 

present around their core for 

reasons of thermodynamics, Ovid 

is using this cosmic peculiarity 

here for his own poetic purposes


              Nay, and ’tis said Bootes too, that fain
              Thou woud’st have fled, tho’ cumber’d with thy wane. 


Bootes, or Boötes, is yet another 

constellation, like Serpens, in the 

northern sky

cumbered, encumbered

 wane, to lose its vigour 

              Th’ unhappy youth then, bending down his head,
              Saw Earth and Ocean far beneath him spread.
              His colour chang’d, he startled at the sight,
              And his eyes darken’d by too great a light. 


darken’d, blinded, by too great a light

              Now cou’d he wish the fiery steeds untry’d, 


untry’d, o, that he had not attempted to

take on the fiery steeds, Phaeton rues, 

nor to have ridden at all the Chariot of 

the Sun


              His birth obscure, and his request deny’d: 


had Phaeton only left [h]is birth obscure,

not demanded to know who his father 

was, and been denied, been deny’d, this 

horrifying proof of it would not be now

so threatening

              Now wou’d he Merops for his father own, 


Merops, Clymene‘s husband, Phaeton‘s 

stepfather, Phaeton would now willingly

accept, own, Merops as his father, and

give up his claim to being son of the

Sun god


              And quit his boasted kindred to the sun. 


kindred, originating from the same family,


              So fares the pilot, when his ship is tost
              In troubled seas, and all its steerage lost,
              He gives her to the winds, and in despair
              Seeks his last refuge in the Gods and pray’r. 


after a lifetime’s consideration, I’ve

determined there are only two things

one can do when confronted with a 

dire situation, pray for grace, and 

make sure your tie’s on right’s stepfather


Phaeton, one extrapolates, is doing 

at least one of these two things, the 

rest being up to the Gods, his last



stay tuned



R ! chard




The Story of Phaeton (IV) – Ovid


    “Dawn (1873) 


           Fyodor Vasilyev






                Thus did the God th’ unwary youth advise; 


Helios / Phoebus / Apollo tells his

son Phaeton, th’ unwary youth, 

that he shouldn’t try to ride the 

Chariot of the Sun himself

                But he still longs to travel through the skies. 


Phaeton, however, is inclined to

disregard his father’s advice

                When the fond father (for in vain he pleads)
                At length to the Vulcanian Chariot leads. 


Vulcanian, of Vulcan, god of fire,

metal, metalworkers


Vulcan, according to Ovid here, 

built the Chariot of the Sun 

                A golden axle did the work uphold, 


the axle is the principal part, the 

beam between the wheels, that 

holds the chariot together, that 

did the work, which is to say

the chariot, uphold

                Gold was the beam, the wheels were orb’d with gold.
                The spokes in rows of silver pleas’d the sight,
                The seat with party-colour’d gems was bright; 


the chariot was made of precious 

metals and gems, was therefore 

bright, resplendent


                Apollo shin’d amid the glare of light. 


Apollo, Sun god, would surely, as 

well as the chariot, be radiant, 



note that the Sun god is called 

Apollo here, where earlier he’d

been called Phoebus, the Latin 

name replacing the Greek, but

upon further investigation I found

that it was Dryden who’d made 

the switch, Ovid had called the 

Sun god Phoebus in the original

Latin text

                The youth with secret joy the work surveys, 


Phaeton is beside himself, eager 

with anticipation

                When now the moon disclos’d her purple rays; 


purple rays, tinged with the colours 

of dawn


see above

                The stars were fled, for Lucifer had chased
                The stars away, and fled himself at last. 


Lucifer, the Morning Star, the

planet Venus, as it appears in 

the East before sunrise


having suspected Dryden of having

replaced with Lucifer another name 

from the original Latin text, I was 

surprised to discover that Lucifer

had been indeed translated faithfully 

from Ovid’s poem, which means that 

the Christian name we’re familiar 

with as another name for Satan has 

to have been adopted from the 

Ancients and modified to fit the new 

Christian mythology, the biblical



Lucifer, a god in his own right in

Antiquity, had been the son of 

Aurora, goddess of the Dawn


do you love it


                Soon as the father saw the rosy morn,
                And the moon shining with a blunter horn, 


blunter, less incandescent, dulled

by the advancing light


horn, a lesser phase of the moon, 

when it is either waxing or waning, 

thus resembling a horn

                He bid the nimble Hours, without delay,
                Bring forth the steeds; the nimble Hours obey: 


the Hours, or Horae, goddesses 

of the Seasons, horae is the 

Greek word for seasons

                From their full racks the gen’rous steeds retire, 


retire, come away, from their stalls

in the stables

                Dropping ambrosial foams, and snorting fire. 


ambrosial, especially fragrant, or


                Still anxious for his son, the God of day,
                To make him proof against the burning ray,
                His temples with celestial ointment wet,
                Of sov’reign virtue to repel the heat; 


celestial ointment, ambrosia,

elixir of the gods


sov’reign virtue, exceedingly effective


                Then fix’d the beamy circle on his head, 


beamy circle, radiant halo of

solar rays

                And fetch’d a deep foreboding sigh, and said,
                “Take this at least, this last advice, my son,
                Keep a stiff rein, and move but gently on:
                The coursers of themselves will run too fast,
                Your art must be to moderate their haste.
                Drive ’em not on directly through the skies,
                But where the Zodiac’s winding circle lies,
                Along the midmost Zone; but sally forth
                Nor to the distant south, nor stormy north.
                The horses’ hoofs a beaten track will show,
                But neither mount too high, nor sink too low.
                That no new fires, or Heav’n or Earth infest;
                Keep the mid way, the middle way is best.
                Nor, where in radiant folds the serpent twines,
                Direct your course, nor where the altar shines. 


serpent twines, serpentine, tortuous



altar, probably alter, or other, light 

sources, the moon, for instance,

the Morning Star, do not be 

distracted by bright lights, 

Phoebus / Apollo advises

                Shun both extreams; the rest let Fortune guide, 
                And better for thee than thy self provide! 


Fortune, or Fortuna, goddess of Fate,

will be of greater help to you, Phoebus 

/ Apollo tells his son, than you, thy self,

can provide for yourself 


compare this last fatherly advice,

incidentally, to that of Polonius to

Laertes, his own son, act I, scene 

3, lines 55 to 81 in Shakespeare’s 

Hamlet, proof that Shakespeare 

was not only well acquainted 

with Ovid, but also much 

admired him


                See, while I speak, the shades disperse away,
                Aurora gives the promise of a day; 


Aurora, goddess of the Dawn

                I’m call’d, nor can I make a longer stay. 


I’m call’d, the time has come to 

mount the Chariot of the Sun, 

the morning breaks, I must, or

you must, in my stead, go

                Snatch up the reins; or still th’ attempt forsake,
                And not my chariot, but my counsel, take,
                While yet securely on the Earth you stand;
                Nor touch the horses with too rash a hand.
                Let me alone to light the world, while you
                Enjoy those beams which you may safely view.” 


should you choose to my counsel, take, 

from the Earth you may safely view my 

beams while I alone … light the world, 

Phoebus / Apollo implores his son

                He spoke in vain; the youth with active heat
                And sprightly vigour vaults into the seat;
                And joys to hold the reins, and fondly gives
                Those thanks his father with remorse receives.


for better, or for worse


stay tuned



R ! chard



The Story of Phaeton (III) – Ovid


   Apollo in His Chariot with the Hours (1922–25) 


               John Singer Sargent





                 The God repented of the oath he took, 


the God, Helios / Phoebus / Apollo,

father of Phaeton, with Clymene,

Phaeton’s mother


the oath, to grant Phaeton his wish

in order to prove his paternity

                 For anguish thrice his radiant head he shook;
                 “My son,” says he, “some other proof require,
                 Rash was my promise, rash is thy desire.
                 I’d fain deny this wish, which thou hast made,
                 Or, what I can’t deny, wou’d fain disswade. 


fain, willingly, gladly


what I can’t deny, his oath


disswade, dissuade

                Too vast and hazardous the task appears,
                 Nor suited to thy strength, nor to thy years.
                 Thy lot is mortal, but thy wishes fly
                 Beyond the province of mortality:


Beyond the province of mortality,

into immortality, for which Phaeton

is not equipped, being human, his

lot is mortal

                There is not one of all the Gods that dares
                 (However skill’d in other great affairs)
                 To mount the burning axle-tree, but I; 


the axle-tree, the bar that joins the 

wheels of the chariot, is burning 

because it transports the sun

                Not Jove himself, the ruler of the sky,
                 That hurles the three-fork’d thunder from above,
                 Dares try his strength: yet who so strong as Jove? 


not even Jove / Jupiter / Zeus, god of 

gods, and of Thunder, will attempt to  

mount the burning axle-tree, despite 

his immense strength, superior to


                The steeds climb up the first ascent with pain,
                 And when the middle firmament they gain, 


the middle firmament, noon, the

middle of the day, where the sun

reaches its zenith

                If downward from the Heav’ns my head I bow,
                 And see the Earth and Ocean hang below, 


hang, suspended in the heavens

                Ev’n I am seiz’d with horror and affright,
                 And my own heart misgives me at the sight. 


Helios / Phoebus / Apollo admits 

to fear of vertigo


                A mighty downfal steeps the ev’ning stage,
                 And steddy reins must curb the horses’ rage.
                 Tethys herself has fear’d to see me driv’n
                 Down headlong from the precipice of Heav’n. 


Tethys, a Titaness, of the race of 

Giants, who were defeated during 

the Giants’ War


what I’ve learned in the meantime 

is that the Giants, the Titans, had 

actually ruled the cosmos before 

being defeated by the Olympians

something Ovid had misrepresented

in his retelling, where he suggests 

that they were upstarts, rather, 

mortal, however gigantic, who were 

trying from the Earth, Hills pil’d on

hills, on mountains mountains … /

To make their mad approaches to

the skie, in order to unseat the 

gods of Olympus


the Titans, as it turns out, were 

immortals, who ruled the cosmos 

before being ousted by the

Olympians, Jove / Jupiter / Zeus

and his cohorts, and relegated, 

most of them, to the Underworld

though Tethys herself seems to 

have made it out, and been 

reconciled with, at least, the 

Sun god


should I point out that to try to set 

out in one, however comprehensive,

manuscript, a mythology that had 

endured for going on a thousand 

years was likely to reflect some 

inconsistencies, some inaccuracies,

not to mention the dictates of not 

only cultural, but also political 

considerations, we’ll have to 

forgive Ovid, or not, it appears,

his  transgressions 


                Besides, consider what impetuous force
                 Turns stars and planets in a diff’rent course. 


Helios / Phoebus / Apollo continues

to speak, warning his son Phaeton

of the strong, impetuous, and 

unpredictable, currents that [t]urn,

jostle, stars and planets

                I steer against their motions; 


that’s what I have to deal with,

Helios / Phoebus / Apollo

cautions, these motions,

these irascible, interplanetary,

interstellar, streams 


                                                              nor am I
                 Born back by all the current of the sky. 


neither am I born back, which is 

to say borne back, carried back, 

guided back, by any regular,

orderly, current of the sky, by any 

rhythm, of the days, for instance, 

or of the, however intransigent,

hours, that could, potentially,

redirect his path 

                But how cou’d you resist the orbs that roul
                 In adverse whirls, and stem the rapid pole? 


roul, roll, swirl


adverse whirls, of the winds, like 

ocean currents, that stem, are 

created by, are the source of, as 

in the stem of plants, the rapid 

pole, or pull, to rhyme with roul,

a bit, I think, of a poetic stretch


                But you perhaps may hope for pleasing woods,
                 And stately dooms, and cities fill’d with Gods;
                 While through a thousand snares your progress lies,
                 Where forms of starry monsters stock the skies: 


dooms, eventualities, a wonderful 

conjunction here of stately, or 

exalted, expectations, with the 

more dire threat of a thousand

snares, or starry monsters, that

the word doom would usually



                For, shou’d you hit the doubtful way aright, 


even if you stay on the right track,

even if you hit the … way aright

                The bull with stooping horns stands opposite; 


you’ll have to confront [t]he bull, 


                Next him the bright Haemonian bow is strung, 


Haemonian, of Thessaly, a region 

still of Greece  


the Haemonian bow, representative

of Sagittarius


                And next, the lion’s grinning visage hung: 


the lion, Leo

                 The scorpion’s claws, here clasp a wide extent; 


The scorpion, Scorpio

                And here the crab’s in lesser clasps are bent. 


the crab, Cancer


an array of astrological configurations 

obstruct the sky

                Nor wou’d you find it easie to compose
                 The mettled steeds, when from their nostrils flows
                 The scorching fire, that in their entrails glows. 


mettled, spirited 

                Ev’n I their head-strong fury scarce restrain,
                 When they grow warm and restif to the rein. 


Ev’n I, Helios / Phoebus / Apollo, can 

barely, scarce, hold them back, restrain

them, when they grow … restif, restive,

unable to keep still 

                Let not my son a fatal gift require, 


don’t require of me a fatal gift, 

Phaeton’s father pleads, a gift 

that will destroy you 


                But, O! in time, recall your rash desire;
                 You ask a gift that may your parent tell, 


a gift that may your parent tell,

that is meant to determine, to 

prove, your descent

                Let these my fears your parentage reveal;
                 And learn a father from a father’s care:
                 Look on my face; or if my heart lay bare,
                 Cou’d you but look, you’d read the father there. 


were you to just look at my face, 

see my concern, you should be 

able to make out that I’m your 

father, Helios / Phoebus / Apollo


                Chuse out a gift from seas, or Earth, or skies, 


[c]huse, choose

                For open to your wish all Nature lies,
                 Only decline this one unequal task,
                 For ’tis a mischief, not a gift, you ask. 


unequal task, a challenge that 

is too great for Phaeton

                You ask a real mischief, Phaeton:
                 Nay hang not thus about my neck, my son: 


don’t hang about my neck, Helios

/ Phoebus / Apollo tells his son, 

you don’t need to try to cajole me

                I grant your wish, and Styx has heard my voice, 


Helios / Phoebus / Apollo has 

sworn an oath on Styx, the 

goddess, the river, an 

unshakable promise, which 

he intends to deliver

                Chuse what you will, but make a wiser choice.” 


now it’s up to you, Phaeton, for 

better or for worse, to decide



R ! chard




“The Story of Phaeton” (II) – Ovid


   “The Sun (1911 – 1916) 


            Edvard Munch





                    The Sun’s bright palace, on high columns rais’d, 


The Sun, Helios / Phoebus / Apollo

                    With burnish’d gold and flaming jewels blaz’d;
                    The folding gates diffus’d a silver light,
                    And with a milder gleam refresh’d the sight; 


since the folding gates of the bright

palace shimmered with a silver light 

rather than with the glow of the gold 

and flaming jewels of the palace itself,

their milder gleam was easier on the 

eyes, refresh’d the sight

                    Of polish’d iv’ry was the cov’ring wrought: 


the palace was covered with polish’d

wrought ivory

                    The matter vied not with the sculptor’s thought, 


the execution of the palace was  

everything that its sculptor, its

architect, had had in mind to 


                    For in the portal was display’d on high
                    (The work of Vulcan) a fictitious sky


Vulcan, god of fire, metal, smiths, 



at the entrance to the palace, the

portal, Vulcan had painted the ceiling, 

he’d display’d on high … a fictitious 

sky, I suspect Dryden must’ve had 

Michelangelo and his ceiling of the  

Sistine Chapel in mind during his 

translation of this passage of Ovid


                    A waving sea th’ inferiour Earth embrac’d, 


inferiour, Earth, surging from under the 

greater masses of water dominating it, 

especially after the flood, is, therefore, 

beneath the waving sea, inferiour to it

                    And Gods and Goddesses the waters grac’d. 


remember that Ovid is describing a 

painting here, on the ceiling at the

entrance, the portal, to the palace 

of the god of the Sun

                    Aegeon here a mighty whale bestrode; 


Aegeon, marine god, god of storms,

note the similarity of the name with 

that of the Aegean Sea, but which 

came first, the chicken or the egg, 

the god or the expanse of water, 

remains, as far as I’ve been able 

to determine, undetermined


                    Triton, and Proteus (the deceiving God) 


Triton, another god of the Sea, you’ll 

remember him coming to the aid of 

Neptune, his father, in settling the

waters after the flood at the request 

of Jove / Jupiter / Zeus


Proteus, still another sea god, 

described as deceiving, for his 

ability to effortlessly, and 

spontaneously, change his shape, 

from which, incidentally, we get 

the adjective protean, for easily 

changeable, or versatile 


                    With Doris here were carv’d, and all her train, 


Doris, sea goddess, and all her train,

her following of nymphs, the Nereids,

her fifty daughters, if you’ll remember,

are carv’d, etched, given graphic 



                    Some loosely swimming in the figur’d main, 


figur’d, painted, depicted, drawn


main, the open ocean, but, probably 

also here, the main, or central, part 

of the painting itself

                    While some on rocks their dropping hair divide, 


their hair divide, they loosen strands 

of their wet hair 

                    And some on fishes through the waters glide: 


sea gods and goddesses are often

shown riding sea creatures, dolphins, 

seahorses, even whales, see Aegeon


                    Tho’ various features did the sisters grace,
                    A sister’s likeness was in ev’ry face. 


the sisters, the Nereids, all have different

features, but a family resemblance, sister’s 

likeness, can always be detected in each

individual sibling’s rendering


                    On Earth a diff’rent landskip courts the eyes, 


Earth doesn’t look, court[ ] the eyes,

at all like what’s painted on the 

palace’s ceiling


landskip, landscape

                    Men, towns, and beasts in distant prospects rise, 


distant prospects, from a distance, one 

can see [m]en, towns, and beasts 

appear, rise, arise

                    And nymphs, and streams, and woods, and rural deities. 


nymphs, consigned, it appears, to 

earthly duties, streams, and woods, 

are not a feature of the Sun god’s 


                    O’er all, the Heav’n’s refulgent image shines; 


the Heav’n’s refulgent, brightly shining,

image, expression, is manifest [o]’er all,

everywhere, the rays of the sun cast a

light on everything


                    On either gate were six engraven signs. 


again I’m reminded of a Renaissance

wonder, Lorenzo Ghiberti‘s gilded bronze 

doors for the Florence Baptistery, which 

Michelangelo himself called the Gates of

Paradise, a work nearly as famous, then 

and now, as his own Sistine Chapel ceiling   


Ovid would never have known of these 

masterworks, of course, having lived 

over a millenium earlier, but I suspect 

John Dryden, a cultured man, a couple 

of hundred years later than these 

cultural icons, would no doubt have 

been fully aware of them, much as we, 

however disinterested we might be, 

can’t help but have heard of, say, 

RembrandtChopinCharles Dickens,

for instance, though they be, similarly, 

centuries separated from us 


my point is that, without knowledge of 

the original Latin, Dryden‘s cultural

heritage must’ve slipped, I think, 

consciously or not, into his 

translation, for better, or for worse


it should be remembered, however,

that Dryden was writing for an early 

18th Century audience, much as I 

am presently doing myself with 

Dryden for a 21st, and maybe also

similarly skewing his idiom to better 

adapt it to our own time, for better, 

also, or for worse 


                    Here Phaeton still gaining on th’ ascent, 


gaining on th’ ascent, going faster 

and faster, climbing higher and 



                    To his suspected father’s palace went


suspected father, Phaeton doesn’t

yet know if Helios / Phoebus / Apollo

is indeed his father

                    ‘Till pressing forward through the bright abode,
                    He saw at distance the illustrious God:
                    He saw at distance, or the dazling light
                    Had flash’d too strongly on his aking sight. 


had Phaeton not been as far, at

distance, from what he was seeing,

the illustrious God, the dazling, or 

dazzling, light would’ve hurt his 

eyes, hurt his aking, or aching, 



                     The God sits high, exalted on a throne
                    Of blazing gems, with purple garments on; 


Tyrian, surely, purple, a hue we’ve 

seen here before, indicative of 

stature, of imperial, if not even

divine, as in this instance, 


                     The Hours, in order rang’d on either hand,
                    And Days, and Months, and Years, and Ages stand.
                    Here Spring appears with flow’ry chaplets bound;
                    Here Summer in her wheaten garland crown’d;
                    Here Autumn the rich trodden grapes besmear;
                    And hoary Winter shivers in the reer. 


this is no longer a picture, but the 

real thing, Phoebus / Apollo / Helios

sits high, exalted on a throne /  Of 

blazing gems, with purple garments 

on, while Time and all of the Seasons 

hold court around him

                     Phoebus beheld the youth from off his throne;
                    That eye, which looks on all, was fix’d in one. 


Phoebus, who sees everything, who 

looks on all, beholds, fixes his eye on, 

his son

                     He saw the boy’s confusion in his face,
                    Surpriz’d at all the wonders of the place;
                    And cries aloud, “What wants my son? for know
                    My son thou art, and I must call thee so.” 


Phaeton, according to Phoebus / 

Apollo / Helios‘ forthright admission,

is truly his son

                     “Light of the world,” the trembling youth replies,
                    “Illustrious parent! since you don’t despise
                    The parent’s name, 


despise, refute


                                                some certain token give,
                    That I may Clymene’s proud boast believe,
                    Nor longer under false reproaches grieve.” 


your word is good, Phaeton allows,

but incontrovertibly, now, prove it, 

some certain token give, he 


                     The tender sire was touch’d with what he said,
                    And flung the blaze of glories from his head, 


flung the blaze of glories from his head, 

reduced the intensity of his presence,

the impact of his charisma, took off 

his dazling crown, if only, maybe,

metaphorically, to be father to his son

                    And bid the youth advance: “My son,” said he,
                    “Come to thy father’s arms! for Clymene
                    Has told thee true; a parent’s name I own,
                    And deem thee worthy to be called my son.
                    As a sure proof, make some request, and I,
                    Whate’er it be, with that request comply;
                    By Styx I swear, whose waves are hid in night,
                    And roul impervious to my piercing sight.” 


an oath upon Styx is incontrovertible, 

like swearing on a Bible, as earlier 


                     The youth transported, asks, without delay,
                    To guide the sun’s bright chariot for a day. 


Phaeton wants to drive his father’s 

car, the sun’s bright chariot, how 

contemporary, how immediate, 

how timeless 


stay tuned



R ! chard