The Story of Phaeton (V) – Ovid

by richibi


     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