Sunday, March 27, 2011

The wild ride of Phaethon

The tale of Phaethon refusing to listen to his father, Helios, whose arguments against supplanting the Sun would naturally persuade any balanced mind, offers Ovid the opportunity to pull out all the stops. Anyone reading this and not experiencing the vertigo of a very wild roller coaster is missing all the fun. (Hint: If it's not disorienting enough, read it again - it gets more dizzying with each reading).

The story is a literal dis-orientation - a loss of the track of the sun, with lethal consequences.Worth pondering, among much else, is the description of the doors of the sun's palace, and the figures of time, the seasons, that appear to either side of Helios's throne.

More about Helios - according to Homeric Hymn #31, he is the son of Hyperion ("he who goes above") and Thea (seeing) or Euryphaessa (wide-shining):
Sing of glowing Helios whom mild-eyed Euryphaessa, the far-shining one, bare to the Son of Earth and starry Heaven. For Hyperion wedded glorious Euryphaessa, [5] his own sister, who bare him lovely children, rosy-armed Eos and rich-tressed Selene and tireless Helios who is like the deathless gods. As he rides in his chariot, he shines upon men and deathless gods, and piercingly he gazes with his eyes [10] from his golden helmet. Bright rays beam dazzlingly from him, and his bright locks streaming from the temples of his head gracefully enclose his far-seen face: a rich, fine-spun garment glows upon his body and flutters in the wind: and stallions carry him. [15] Then, when he has stayed his golden-yoked chariot and horses, [15a] he rests there upon the highest point of heaven, until he marvelously drives them down again through heaven to Ocean

Also: why does the story end in certain changes -- to poplar and amber, for the Heliades, and to a swan, for Cycnus?

A note about Helios and Apollo:

HELIUS EQUATED WITH APOLLON (found here - scroll down quite a bit)

Apollon was identified with the sun-god Helios by a few early Greek poets and philosophers. However, it was really only the Latin poets, such as Ovid, Virgil and Seneca, who truly conflated the gods. Even in poets like Ovid, however, it is worth noting that the sun-god is often titled "Phoebus," but never directly referred to as "Apollo." Further, the same poets who mention Phoebus the sun, often call him "Hyperionides" (the son of Hyperion), and "Titan" (the Titan god) in the same passage. The name "Apollo," on the other hand, is used almost exclusively for non-solar references, i.e. Apollon as the god of music, oracles and poetry.

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