Story of Phaeton (VIII) – Ovid


  the initial page of the Peterborough Chronicle (14th Century CE)





                  Jove call’d to witness ev’ry Pow’r above, 
                  And ev’n the God, whose son the chariot drove, 
                  That what he acts he is compell’d to do, 
                  Or universal ruin must ensue. 


had Dryden applied commas above,

as I am, you might’ve noted, nearly

compulsively wont to do, commas 

being a significant part of my religion, 

the verses might’ve been more easily 

understood, put a comma after 

witness and the object of the 

witnessing, in this case an entire 

independent clause, That what he 

acts he is compell’d to do, finds its 

natural position, clarity, Jove has to 

do, he says, what Jove has to do


I cannot too much blame Dryden for 

this literary indiscretion, this peccadillo,

to my mind, for punctuation has been 

an evolving thing, there was a time 

when there was no punctuation at all, 

not even spaces between the words, 

see abovethis translation, of 1717, 

stands somewhere within the gamut 

of our ever evolving English grammar


the God, meanwhile, whose son the 

chariot drove, in, above, the second 

pentameter, is Phoebus / Apollo

Phaeton‘s father


                  Strait he ascends the high aetherial throne, 


Jove does

                  From whence 
he us’d to dart his thunder down,  
                From whence his show’rs and storms he us’d to pour, 
                But now cou’d meet with neither storm nor show’r. 


Jove, being rendered impotent by the 

raging fires, the immutable trajectory 

of the very Sun having been 

catastrophically, however improbably, 

distorted, is left, at that time, or Then, 

as the next line starts up, with no 



                  Then, aiming at the youth, with lifted hand, 
                  Full at his head he hurl’d the forky brand, 
                  In dreadful thund’rings. 


forky brand, a forklike piece of burning 

wood, Jove’s trident


                                                  Thus th’ almighty sire   
                  Suppress’d the raging of the fires with fire. 


I’m reminded of the planned explosions 

at the mouth of the oil wells in Kuwait,

wellheads, after the Gulf War, that were 

meant to still for a critical moment the 

fires, that would otherwise burn out 

of control, in order to squelch the

disastrous conflagrations 

                  At once from life and from the chariot driv’n, 
                  Th’ ambitious boy fell thunder-struck from Heav’n. 
                  The horses started with a sudden bound, 
                  And flung the reins and chariot to the ground: 
                  The studded harness from their necks they broke, 
                  Here fell a wheel, and here a silver spoke, 
                  Here were the beam and axle torn away; 
                  And, scatter’d o’er the Earth, the shining fragments lay. 
                  The breathless Phaeton, with flaming hair, 
                  Shot from the chariot, like a falling star, 
                  That in a summer’s ev’ning from the top 
                  Of Heav’n drops down, or seems at least to drop; 
                  ‘Till on the Po his blasted corps was hurl’d, 


corps, body, from the French, or 



the Po, a river in Italy

                   Far from his country, in the western world. 


one wonders, however, what happened

to the Earth, the Chariot of the Sun, 

upon their fiery interaction, perhaps 

the Sun, fallen behind the horizon,

beyond the western oceans, set out 

again, the following morning, with its 

usual master, Phoebus / Apollo, at 

its steady reins, for the world to 

see again another day under that 

lord’s august intervention



R ! chard