What You Didn't Know About Phaethon And The Sun Chariot

Mythology is full of stories about the gods intermingling with the people. Literally. Especially the Greek gods. Zeus was notorious for being a cad to his wife, Hera, who actually was his fifth wife, according to Greek Mythology. He regularly stepped out on her with both goddesses and mortals alike. His numerous offspring included both gods and mortals. The most well-known one was Hercules, that strong fellow who did a lot of labors, according to Theoi

As amazing as it sounds, imagine being a mortal heir to a god. It would create an incredible amount of pressure. Some, like Hercules, were able to deal with it, while others had more tragic endings. The ancient Greeks believed that the sun was a chariot that the god Helios rode across the sky from dusk to dawn. It was a very interesting way to visualize the arc of the sun. But how many people know that he had a son?  And that his son paid the price for his own recklessness?

Per Britannica, Phaethon grew up knowing that his mortal mother, Clymene, had been impregnated by Helios. Phaethon was the result. His classmates didn't believe him, which upset him. Clymene sent him to Helios' castle in India, where he supposedly started his daily duties. He got the Sun God to confirm his paternity.

Helios lived to regret his benevolence toward his son

Then Helios made a mistake: He promised to grant any favor for Phaethon, who asked to take control of the Sun Chariot for a day. 

Bound by his oath, Helios reluctantly allowed Phaethon to control the Sun Chariot. He told Phaethon a safe path to take across the sky, and he tried to make Phaethon look tough, unlike the inexperienced child that he was.

Horses have a mind of their own and they decided to take Phaethon on a wild and dangerous ride, with disastrous results. They ripped a gash in the sky with the chariot, resulting in the Milky Way galaxy, and then they scorched the Earth so much that Ethiopia became a desert. The wildly careening Chariot and its hapless driver angered Zeus, the King of the Gods (via Greek Mythology). Zeus hurled a thunderbolt at Phaethon, smiting him and causing his body to fall into the Eridanus River. 

The myth doesn't end there. Phaethon had sisters, who were named the Heliades. They were so grief-stricken at the loss of their brother that they became poplar trees, which is where they remain for eternity, hovering over the Eridanus, guarding Phaethon's body, according to Greeka. So the next time we read about the child of a celebrity getting in trouble, we should remember that it could be worse — they could be Phaethon.