The tragic myth of the Sun God's son - Iseult Gillespie
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As a God, Helios embodies the rise and fall of the sun. You can learn more about him here. Across world mythology, there are many myths that explain the sun – click here to read introductions to Maori, Norse, Cherokee and Chinese narratives.
There are many versions of the story of Phaethon – you can find modern summaries here and here as well as a famous classical version in Ovid’s Metamorphosis, which you can read here.
The Metamorphosis are renowned tales of transformation, which contain rich details about the rise and fall of Phaethon as well as the ways in which his family responded to his fate. For instance, Phaethon’s sisters (known as the Heliades, after their father) gathered at the site of his death, weeping into the river that claimed his life. In many tellings they wasted away into bark and bloom, becoming mournful poplar trees that leaked precious amber into the river. You can read more about the transformation of the Heliades here.
Another peripheral character in the story is Merops, King of Aethiopia. In classical myth, Aethiopia is not the same as Ethiopia the modern-day country. As this article explains, Aethiopia is a shifting space that appears in Greek and Roman myth, geography and history. One of the most famous Aethoipian heroes is Memnon, who fought in the Trojan war. You can learn about him here.
Phaethon is depicted in several notable works of visual art, including work by Sodoma and Rubens. Ultimately, his tale continues to resonate as a story of mortal hubris that ends in tragedy. This is a common arc in Greek cautionary myths, as seen in the fate of famous characters like Icarus and Arachne.
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