The Story of Phaeton (VI) – Ovid

by richibi


    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