An A-Z Guide To The Search For Plato's Atlantis

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Jurgen Spanuth was the main proponent of the Northern Atlantis interpretation, and into this he brought not only the People of the Sea but also the Myth of Phaethon’s Wild Ride as representing the fall of a heavenly body into the North Sea, Dislodging the Peoples of the Sea who then went raiding. Plato does mention Phaethon during the Atlantis discourses, but he makes out that the Deluge which destroyed Atlantis was one type of catastrophe while Phaethon’s ride was another, the two types cyclical and alternating but separated by some several thousand years in between (They are intended to be Winter and Summer of the Platonic year of approximately 25000 years long, The Precession of the Equinoxes.)

However the Myth of Phaethon and the likelihood that it refers to some heavenly body other than the sun “Come too near to the Earth” is interesting and deserves some examination. It should be noted that while the standard explanation is that Phaethon crashed into a mythical river in Europe (Originally intended to be the Danube but regularly interpreted as the Po), from whence amber was to be sought, another version had Phaethon going down West of Iberia, in the “River Oceanus”. See note on the lost play of Aeschylus, below.

Comet Phaethon’s Ride
by Bob Kobres ~ 1993
A condensed version of this article titled, The Path of a Comet and Phaethon’s Ride, was published by The World & I (ISSN 0887-9346) Vol. 10, No. 2 (Feb. 95) pp. 394-405.

In 1927 Franz Xaver Kugler, a Jesuit scholar who had devoted over thirty years to the study of cuneiform astronomical texts, published an essay entitled “The Sibylline Starwar and Phaethon In the Light of Natural History.” His tri-decade-plus familiarity with ancient documents of celestial events plus a growing consensus that the crater at Coon Mountain Arizona (Meteor Crater) was in fact produced by a large meteoroid provided the scientific footing for Kugler’s assertion that a similarly large impact event in the Mediterranean Sea inspired fire-from-above legends such as Phaethon’s ride.

Figure One illustrates the final six hours during a close approach of a comet in an Encke type orbit. In this scenario a Mediterranean view at minus six hours is sunrise and already the comet nucleus appears eleven degrees above the horizon, with a tail, shortened by perspective, pointing upward. For the next several hours the Sun seems to chase the comet as the latter increases its apparent size at an increasing rate. By minus one hour the comet has reached a maximum apparent motion to the west, eighty degrees above the eastern horizon. Here it will appear to stay for the next half hour as, in line with the Sun, the translucent coma seems to double in size. At this point Earth is within the tail of the comet perhaps producing an erie glowing sky with intense aurora and meteor shower phenomena. In the next quarter hour the coma again seems to increase by over one hundred percent as the center of this horrifying spectacle appears to move back to the east by over sixteen degrees. It is during the last fifteen minutes, as the comet reaches it’s closest distance to Earth, that damaging impacts with larger fragments from the nucleus are most likely to occur.

Similarities to the Phaethon myth are obvious. The young driver with rays about his head rises early, his father, Helios, according to Lucretius (5: 397-405) and Euripides (see J. Diggle 1970), follows behind ultimately taking control of the reins after Phaethon falls from the chariot. The inexperienced charioteer balks nearly halfway across the sky and is not destined to make it to the west. He travels against the stars (incursent stellis–Ovid, Met. II: 205) before being struck by a thunderous bolt as the Earth catches fire. Helios, in grief, refuses to bring light to the world. A likely allusion to a now recognized secondary phenomenon of large impact events: aerosols blocking or attenuating solar radiation.

It is unfortunate, in terms of expediting a definitive solution, that it is not possible to simply back track the orbit of a suspect comet and thereby show that the object was close enough to Earth to produce such effects on a specific date. The small mass of comets relative to the planets plus the natural ‘retro-rocket’ phenomenon produced by gases jetting from the solar heated surface of these bodies renders precise calculation of past positions impossible. A credible answer to what actually inspired the Phaethon legend can only come from examining all available evidence.

Figure One also shows that different cultures around the world would witness this hypothetical yet plausible approach of the comet; however, the perspective of disparate observers would not be the same. For instance, at minus one hour for an observer on the Nile delta, the phenomena is hovering overhead, while at the mouth of the Amazon (80 degrees to the west) a disconcerting dawn is breaking. It is therefore encouraging to find stories which seem to support the witnessing of such an event embedded within the native lore of this part of the world:

The sun had risen indeed, and with a glory of the cruel fire about him that not even the eyes of the gods could endure; but he moved not. There he lay on the horizon; and when the deities sent Tlotli, their messenger, to him, with orders that he should go on upon his way, his ominous answer was, that he would never leave that place till he had destroyed and put an end to them all. Then a great fear fell upon some, while others were moved only to anger; and among the latter was one Citli, who immediately strung his bow and advanced against the glittering enemy. By quickly lowering his head the Sun avoided the first arrow shot at him; but the second and third had attained his body in quick succession, when, filled with fury, he seized the last and launched it back upon his assailant. And the brave Citli laid shaft to string nevermore, for the arrow of the sun pierced his forehead.

Then all was dismay in the assembly of the gods, and despair filled their heart, for they saw that they could not prevail against the shining one; . . . (emphasis added) (H.H. Bancroft 1886 Vol. 3 p. 61)

and along the same theme:

. . . According to the Annals of Quauhtitlan, Quetzalcoatl, when driven from Tollan, immolated himself on the shores of the eastern sea, and from his ashes rose birds with shining feathers (symbols of warrior souls mounting to the sun), while his heart became the Morning Star, wandering for eight days in the underworld before it ascended in splendour. In numerous legends Quetzalcoatl is associated with Tezcatlipoca, commonly as an antagonist; and if we may believe one tale, recounted by Mendieta, Tezcatlipoca, defeating Quetzalcoatl in ball- play (a game directly symbolic of the movements of the heavenly orbs), cast him out of the land into the east, where he encountered the sun and was burned. (emphasis added) (H.B. Alexander 1919, 1964 ed., Vol. 11 p. 68)

A strong tradition of “Sun Ages” existed among the people who passed these potentially quite valuable stories to our time; memories that relate the transitions of those eras also seem pregnant with information:

. . . “The Sun of Air,” Ehcatonatiuh, closed with a furious wind, which destroyed edifices, uprooted trees, and even moved the rocks. . . . Quetzalcoatl appeared in this third Sun, teaching the way of virtue and the arts of life; but his doctrines failed to take root, so he departed toward the east, promising to return another day. With his departure “the Sun of Air” came to its end, and Tlatonatiuh, “the Sun of Fire,” began, so called because it was expected that the next destruction would be by fire. (emphasis added) (ibid, p. 91)

This tradition seems to imply that Quetzalcoatl (the feathered serpent) departed to the east in the last great period of cosmic destruction. A recent palaeoecological study of lakes in the Caribbean region (D.A. Hodell, 1991) reveals a sudden onset of dry conditions about thirty-two hundred years ago, this finding adds to an already robust collection of data which suggest a global perturbation of climate around that time period (1200 – 1000 B.C.E.). It is an intriguing possibility that cultures throughout the world experienced hardships during this era due to a large input of extraterrestrial material.

As Figure Two illustrates, there would, assuming one near approach, have been several close encounters over a two hundred-year period; not all, or even another, of these rendezvous would need to be as near and hence destructive as the one hypothesized above to adversely affect Earth’s climate. The reason for this is that the gravity of Earth makes our planet an efficient dust collector and in close proximity to an active comet there is plenty available to form a solar shade in the upper atmosphere which would be disruptive to the climate.

Though definitive dating of protohistoric impact events can only come from careful stratigraphic work, there are some rather strong indicators that a nasty encounter such as suggested here occurred about 1159 B.C.E. This is not an arbitrary date for it marks the beginning of a sharp decline in the annual growth of Irish bog oak which lasted almost two decades and for that reason stands out in the over seven thousand year long dendrochronological record based on this species of tree (see M.G.L. Baillie and M.A.R. Munro 1988). The middle of the twelfth century also, according to widely accepted chronologies based on eclectic sources (such as Egyptian), marks a time period of general discord. [Including the “People of the Sea” Disturbances and so on-DD]

[Obviously a great deal of information pertaining to worldwide observations in the original article has to be left out in this blog version: interested readers are urged to use the links and examine the original. One key paragraph is also worth repeating-DD]:

As mentioned above, without detailed groundwork, no definitive conclusion regarding the magnitude or timing of a past impact event can be put forth. It is, however, possible to be relatively secure in asserting that encounters disruptive to the environment have occurred since the end of the Pleistocene some twelve-thousand years ago. Indeed the Younger Dryas cold oscillation, which is contemporary with the Pleistocene/Holocene transition as well as the American and perhaps Euro/Asian megafauna extinction episode, may have been caused by external input. The newly recognized large population of near-Earth-objects provides a sound astronomically based argument for a much higher frequency of impact events than was estimated two decades ago.


-While the newest variation on the theory links the Fall of Phaethon to a set of purported meteorie craters found in Bavaria, Germany and dated to between 500 and 2000 BC, most likely around 1300 BC:

(Click on photo for larger version)

Antiquity / June, 2010
The fall of Phaethon: a Greco-Roman geomyth preserves the memory of a meteorite impact in Bavaria
by Barbara Rappengluck, Michael A. Rappengluck, Kord Ernstson, Werner Mayer, Andreas Neumair, Dirk Sudhaus, Ioannis Liritzis;content

[Brief Review]

The fall of Phaethon: Does this myth reflect an impact (“Chiemgau Impact”) in Bavaria during the Celtic period?

Barbara and Michael Rappenglueck, Chiemgau Impact Research Team (Germany)

In Greek mythology there exists one story that had been interpreted by modern scholars as well as by authors of classical antiquity to describe the fall of a heavenly body: the story of Phaethon. Its main features are the following ones: Phaethon, the son of Helios, borrows the sun-chariot of his father for just one day. But he is not able to keep course along the sun’s accustomed path and the un-oriented, burning chariot sets parts of heaven and earth on fire. To prevent an even bigger catastrophe, Zeus strikes Phaethon by his thunderbolt and the youth falls to earth into the river Eridanos.

In an article published in 2007 (Barbara and Michael Rappenglck: Does the myth of Phaethon reflect an impact? – Revising the fall of Phaethon and considering a possible relation to the Chiemgau Impact, in: Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry, special issue vol. 6 no. 3 [2007], 101-109) we analysed the arguments given by the ancient classical authors for interpreting this story as the reflection of a natural phenomenon. Then we compared the old descriptions of Phaethon’s fall with nowadays knowledge of impact phenomena. Furthermore we examined the texts for clues to the time and the location of the hypothesised impact. These considerations resulted in the hypothesis that the myth of Phaethon reflects a concrete strike of an extraterrestrial body, the so-called Chiemgau Impact. This impactor hit the south-east of Bavaria/Germany at some time during the Celtic period. It left a crater-strewnfield of about 100 craters with a size ranging from 3 m to 400 m in diameter.

As our published article represents the state of research given in the year 2005, we will now present the actual state of research. We interlock details of the ancient texts with the results of our interdisciplinary geological, geophysical, mineralogical, pedological and archaeological research in the affected area. Additional support is given by astronomical considerations concerning the modelling of the Chiemgau Impact. Based on these arguments there is some good evidence for our hypothesis, that the Phaethon-myth indeed reflects the Chiemgau Impact.

Illustrations of maps and samples from the Chiemgau site.



The largest of these Bavarian craters is now filled and forms a lake. Government officials consider this to be a remnant ice-age feature.

Map of smaller craters in the swarm and also ejecta noted where it has been found. Below, another one of the sammer craters.

Chart analizing material of possible meteorite origin and comparing comparable samples from other areas. Below, electron microscope view of the purported meteorite material.

Tektites and carbon spherules from the site. Microdiamonds are also present there. That pretty much tells me all I need to know.

Accretionary spherule and shocked quartz from the Chiemgau site.

Evidence for a soil discontinuity at the site where there are evidences of an impact, including the shocked minerals, microdiamonds and glass spherules (tektites) shown in adjoining illustrations. This flatly contradicts Bavarian authorities (and consequently the Wikipedia) where it says that the soil has remained uninterrupted since the ice age and that the main crater is an Ice-age feature.

Magnetic anomaly at dayable stratum on the site. Below, a map of Gravitational anomalies.

The ridge to the South indicates a body traveling from the North, and the South rim also seems as if it could be counted a masco

Smaller surface crater associated in local swarm.

Another similar article from another journal

Barbara and Michael Rappenglück (2006):

Does the myth of Phaethon reflect an impact? – Revising the fall of Phaethon and considering a possible relation to the Chiemgau Impact. – Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry, Proceedings of the International Conference on Archaeoastronomy, SEAC 14th 2006, “Ancient watching of cosmic space and observation of astronomical phenomena”, Vol. 6, No. 3 (2006), 101-109.

Abstract. – In Greek mythology there exists one story that has repeatedly been interpreted to describe the fall of a celestial body: the story of Phaethon, who undertakes a disastrous drive with the sun-chariot of his father Helios. First, the article presents the arguments given by ancient authors for interpreting this story as the reflection of a natural phenomenon. Then details given in the old descriptions of Phaethon’s fall are compared with nowadays knowledge of impact phenomena. Furthermore the texts are examined for clues to the time and the location of the hypothesised impact. These considerations substantiate the suggestion that the myth of Phaethon reflects a concrete strike of a meteorite, the so-called Chiemgau Impact. That impact struck the south-east of Bavaria/Germany at some time during the Celtic period and left an extended crater-strewnfield of about 100 craters. A conspicuous intersection between the tradition of the Phaethon-story and the up to now known time-frame for the Chiemgau Impact gives new clues for dating the Chiemgau Impact to the time between 600 and 428 BC.[Later revised to twice that]
This is the Homepage for the site:

But there is the alternative theory that has it a large meteorite or Asteroid was responsible for the stories of Phaethon’s Wild Ride but that it landed in the North Atlantic Ocean instead. There are other separate pieces of evidence which fit this version.

“Snapped-Off Forest” from Flickr (Actually a simulation using old pilings from a ruined pier)

Ivan T. Sanderson had a chapter in his book Investigating The Unexplained about a snapped-off forest reported in New Jersey (where he was living at the time) He connected this example to the Pine Barrens and said that the trees could not all be snaped off at the same level by a hurricane, it was more likely a tsunami generated by a large meteorite or asteroid falling into the ocean a few thousand years ago (I assume one to three thousand years ago from what Sanderson says.)
At a later date similar snapped-off submerged forests were uncovered further North up the coast and radiocarbon dated to just before 1000 BC. There is an indication for disturbances in climate in the Greenland ice cores at the corresponding date.

Locations of Pine Barrens and Ivan Sanderson’s Snapped-off Forests. There are simultaneous signs of a tsunami in New York at this time, resulting in Long Island clay beds, and similar snapped-off submerged forests off the British coast.

Putting all of these lines of evidence together it seems that the Phaethon event did include both a main comet ary aspect, a large body coming from the region of the sun, as big and bright as the sun (apparently) as stated in the 1993 article: the charts and crosscultural sightings of the comet are quiteconvincing. However, it is already stated in the 1993 article that falls of large fragments should be expected from such a close brush. Two such large fragments could have fallen in Bavaria and the Atlantic Ocean respectively: the Atlantic fragment seems to have been large ebough to snap off Ivan Sanderson’s forests mentioned in Investigating the Unexplained as well as other forests from around the Atlantic. Most importantly, Tartessos was inundated and ruined as a result of this event. And Jurgen Spanuth had seen evidences of a meteorite strike on the North Sea: perhaps that is another fragment associated with the fall in Bavaria.
There was local confusion between these fallen bodies and the comet seen at close flyby (the comet would not have fallen but kept going on, but confused reports would assume the meteorite fall was of the same body as the “Errant Sun” Comet. And this fall in the territory at the ancestry of the Celts could have had something to do with the reputation of the Gauls as given by the Romans: They are uncommonly brave and they fear but one thing, that the sky might fall in on their heads.

For interested readers, here is some information on the source materials. I prefer Ovid myself.

Aeschylus, Heliades (lost play) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
Aeschylus’ lost play The Heliades or Daughters of Helius described the story of Phaethon. His sisters formed the titular chorus. Weir Smyth (L.C.L.) summarises evidence of the plot : “The Daughters of Helios dealt with the legend of Phaëthon, whose rashness in diving the chariot of the Sun, his father, caused the parching of the earth, and thereby his punishment at the hands of Zeus, whose thunderbolt hurled him into the river Eridanus. In pity for the unceasing grief of Phaëthon’s sisters, Zeus turned them into poplars, from which, it was believed, their tears oozed forth and became amber, the stone of light; a poetic fancy due to the association of êlectron ‘amber’ with êlectôr ‘the beaming sun.’ The form assumed by the myth in Aeschylus is unknown; but it is certain that Euripides in his Phaëthon differed widely from the older poet. Aeschylus was in part dependent on Hesiod for the story; but whereas Hesiod knew of seven daughters of Helios, Aeschylus recognized only three–Lampetië, Aegle, and Phaëthousa–children of the sun-god and Rhode. Furthermore he transferred to Iberia the scene of the fall of Phaëthon.”

Euripides, Phaethon (lost play) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
Euripides’ version of the Phaethon story diverged in certain respects from the earlier play by Aeschylus. Later accounts of the story–e.g. those of Hyginus and Ovid–are probably largely based on the content of this play.

Ovid, Metamorphoses 1. 750 ff :
[N.B. In Ovid, Epaphos is the prince of Egypt, and Phaethon the prince of Merope, the Aithiopian kingdom of the upper Nile.]
“His [Epaphos, prince of Egypt’s] peer in pride and years was Phaethon, child of Phoebus [i.e. Helios the sun], whose arrogance one day and boasts of his high parentage were more than Inachides [Epaphos] could bear. `You fool, he said, `To credit all your mother says; that birth you boast about is false.’ Then Phaethon flushed, though shame checked his rage, and took those taunts to Clymene, his mother. `And to grieve you more, dear mother, I so frank’, he said, `So fiery, stood there silent. I’m ashamed that he could so insult me and that I could not repulse him. But, if I indeed am sprung from heavenly stock, give me sure proof of my high birth, confirm my claim to heaven.’
He threw his arms around his mother’s neck, and begged her by his own and Merops’ [Clymene’s mortal husband] life, his sisters’ hopes of marriage, to provide some token that that parentage was true. And Clymene, moved whether by his words or anger at the insult to herself, held out her arms to heaven and faced Sol [Helios the Sun] and cried, `By this great glorious radiance, this beaming blaze, that hears and sees us now, I swear, dear child, that he, Sol [Helios the Sun], on whom you gaze, Sol who governs all the globe, he is your father. If I lie, let him deny his beams, let this light be the last my eyes shall ever see! And you may find your father’s home with no long toil. The place from which he rises borders our own land [of Egypt]. Go, make the journey if your heart is set, and put your question to Sol [Helios] himself.’
Then up flashed Phaethon at his mother’s words; through his own Aethiopes and the lands of India beneath their burning skies, he quickly reached his father’s rising place. The palace of Sol (the Sun) rose high aloft on soaring columns, bright with flashing gold and flaming bronze; the pediments were clothed with sheen of ivory; the double doors dazzled with silver–and the artistry was nobler still. For Mulciber [Hephaistos] had engraved the world’s great orb, the seas that ring the world, the sky that hangs above; and in the waves the Di Caerulei (Sea-gods) dwelt, Aegeon, his huge arms entwined around the backs of giant whales, ambiguous Proteus, Triton with his horn; and Doris and her daughters [the Nereides] might be seen, and some were swimming, some on fishes rode, or sat on rocks to dry their sea-green hair. Nor were their looks the same, nor yet diverse, but like as sisters should be. On the land people and cities, woods and beasts were graven, Flumina (Rivers) and Nymphae and Numina Ruris (Rural deities), and, set above them, the bright signs of heaven [the Zodiac], in glory shining, six upon each door. Then the son of Clymene [Phaethon], climbing the steep ascent, entered his father’s palace, fatherhood uncertain still, and made his way direct into the presence and there stood afar, unable to approached the dazzling light. Enrobed in purple vestments Phoebus [Helios] sat, high on a throne of gleaming emeralds. Attending him on either side stood Dies (Day) [Hemera] and Mensis (Month) and Annus (Year) and Saecula (Century), and Horae (Hours) disposed at equal intervals between. Young Ver (Spring) was there, with coronet of flowers, and naked Aestas (Summer), garlanded with grain; Autumnus (Autumn) was there with trampled vintage stained, and icy Hiems (Winter), rime upon his locks.
Enthroned amidst, Sol [Helios] who sees all things beheld the boy dismayed by sights so strange, and said `What purpose brings, faring so far, my son, a son no father would deny, to this high citadel?’ The boy replied `O thou, Creation’s universal light, Phoebus, my father, if to use that name thou givest me leave, and Clymene spoke truth and hides no guilt, give proof that all may know I am thy son indeed, and for ever end the doubt that grieves me.’ Then his father laid aside the dazzling beams that crowned his head and bade him come and held him to his heart : `Well you deserve to be my son’, he said, ‘Truly your mother named your lineage; and to dispel all doubt, ask what you will that I may satisfy your heart’s desire; and that dark marsh [the river Styx] by which the gods make oath, though to my eyes unknown, shall seal my troth.’
He scarce had ended when the boy declared his wish–his father’s chariot for one day with licence to control the soaring steeds. Grief and remorse flooded his father’s soul, and bitterly he shook his glorious head : `Rash have your words proved mine! Would that I might retract my promise, Phaethon! This alone I would indeed deny you. Yet at least I may dissuade you. Dangerous is your choice; you seek a privilege that ill befits your growing years and strength so boyish still. Mortal your lot–not mortal your desire; this, to which even the gods may not aspire, in ignorance you claim. Though their own powers may please the gods, not one can take his stand above my chariot’s flaming axle-tree save I. Even he whose hand hurls thunderbolts, the mighty Rector Olympi (Lord of Olympus), may never drive my team–and who is mightier than Jove [Zeus]? Steep is the way at first, which my steeds scarce can climb in the morning freshness; in mid sky the altitude is greatest and the sight of land and sea below has often struck in my own heart an agony of fear. The final part drops sheer; then above all control must be assured, and even she whose waters lie below to welcome me, Tethys, waits fearful lest I headlong fall. Besides, in constant flux the sky [with its moving constellations] streams by, sweeping in dizzy whirl the stars on high. I drive against this force, which overcomes all things but me, and on opposing course against its rushing circuit makes my way. Suppose my chariot yours : what then? Could you confront the spinning poles [of the sky] and not be swept away by the swift axis of the world? Perhaps you fancy cities of gods are there and groves and temples rich with offerings. No! Wild beasts lie in wait and shapes of fear! And though you shall meet Taurus (the Bull), must brave his horns, and face Arcus Haemonius (the Thessalian Archer) [Saggitarius] and the ravening Leo (the Lion), the long curved circuit of the Scorpio’s claws, Cancer (the Crab) whose claws in counter-menace wave. My horses too, when fire within their breast rages, from mouth and nostrils breathing flames, are hard to hold; even I can scarce restrain their ardent hearts, their necks that fight the rein. But, O my son, amend, while time remains, your choice, so may my gift not be your doom. Sure proof you seek of fatherhood; indeed my dread sure proof affords: a father’s fear proves me your father. Look into my eyes! Would you could look into my heart and see and understand your father’s agony! The bounty of the lands, the seas, the skies; choose what you will of these–it shall be yours. But this alone, not this! Bane truly named not glory, Phaethon–bane this gift not boon! Why fold me in your arms, fond foolish boy? By Stygia I swore and I shall not refuse, whate’er your choice: but oh! more wisely choose!’
So Sol [Helios] warned; but Phaethon would not yield and held his purpose, burning with desire to drive the chariot. Then his father, slow and pausing as he might, lead out the boy to that high chariot, Vulcanus’ [Hephaistos’] masterwork. Gold was the axle, gold the shaft, and gold the rolling circles of the tyres; the spokes in silver order stood, and on the harness patterns of gorgeous gems and chrysolites shone gleaming in the glory of Sol [Helios]. And while the daring boy in wonder gazed, Aurora [Eos the Dawn], watchful in the reddening dawn, threw wide her crimson doors and rose-filled halls; the Stellae (Stars) took flight, in marshalled order set by Lucifer [Eosphoros] who left his station last. Then, when Titan [Helios] perceived the Morning Star [Eosphoros] setting and saw the world in crimson sheen and the last lingering crescent of Luna the Moon [Selene] fade in the dawn, he bade the nimble Horae (Hours) go yoke his steeds, and they, swift goddesses, fastened the jingling harness and the reins, as from the lofty stalls the horses came, filled with ambrosial food and breathing flame. Then on his son’s young face the father smeared a magic salve to shield him from the heat and set the flashing sunbeams [the Sun’s aureole] on his head, and with a heavy heart and many a sigh, that told of grief to come, addressed the boy : `If this advice at least you will obey, spare, child, the whip and rein them hard; they race unurged; the task’s to hold them in their zeal. Avoid the road direct through all five zones; on a wide slanting curve the true course lies within the confines of three zones; beware alike the southern pole and northern Arctus (the Bear). Keep to this route; my wheeltracks there show plain. Press not too low nor strain your course to high; too high, you’ll burn heaven’s palaces; too low, the earth; the safest course lies in between. And neither rightwards towards the twisting Anguis (the Snake) nor leftwards swerve to where the Ara (Altar) lies. Hold in the midst! To fortune I resign the rest to guide with wiser wit than yours. See, dewy Nox (Night) upon the Hesperian shore even while I speak has reached her goal. No more may we delay; our duty calls; the day dawns bright, all shadows fled. Come take the reins! Or take, if yet your stubborn heart will change, my counsel, not my chariot, while you may, while still on firm foundations here you stand before you mount between my chariot wheels, so ignorant, so foolish!–and let me give the world light that you may safely see.’
But Phaethon mounted, light and young and proud, and took the reins with joy, and looking down, thanked his reluctant father for the gift. Meanwhile the four swift horses of Sol [Helios], Aethon (Blaze), Eous (Dawn), Pyrois (Fire) and Phlegon (Flame), kick at the gates, neighing and snorting fire, and Tethys [the mother of Clymene, mother of Phaethon] then, her grandson’s fate undreamt, draws back the bars and makes the horses free of all the boundless heavens. Forth they go, tearing away, and cleave with beating hooves the clouds before them, and on wings outride the winds that westwards from the morning blow. But lightly weighs the yoke; the chariot moves with ease unwonted, suspect buoyancy; and like a ship at sea unballasted that pitches in the waves for lack of weight, the chariot, lacking now its usual load, bounced driverless, it seemed, in empty leaps. The horses in alarm ran wild and left the well-worn highway. Phaethon, dazed with fear, could neither use the reins nor find the road, nor were it found could make the team obey. Then first the sunbeams warmed freezing Troiones (the Bear), who sought vain refuge in forbidden seas [the Constellation was forbidden to set in the river Okeanos]; Serpens (the Snake) that numb and harmless hitherto lay next the icy pole, roused by the heat, in newly kindled rage began to burn; Bootes (the Wagoner) too, it’s said , fled in dismay, though slow and hampered by his lumbering wain.
And when poor hapless Phaethon from the height of highest heaven looked down and saw below, far, far below the continents outspread, his face grew pale, his knees in sudden fear shook, and his eyes were blind with light so bright. Would he had never touched his father’s steeds, nor learnt his birth, nor won his heart’s desire! Oh, to be known as Merops’ son! Too late! He’s swept a way as when a barque is driven before the northern gales and in despair the master leaves the helm, resigns his charge to heaven. What shall he do? The sky behind him stretches away so far; yet more in front. He measures each in turn; ahead he sees the west that fate ordains he shall not reach, then looks back to the east. Dazes and in doubt he cannot hold the reins or let them fall or even recall the horses’ names. And then he sees in panic strewn across the sky monstrous gigantic shapes of beasts of prey.
There is a place in which the Scorpio’s claws curve in a double arc, with tail and legs on either side crossing two signs of heaven; sweating black venom, there before his eyes, circling its tail to strike, the creature lies. His senses reel; he drops the reins aghast. And when the reins fall loose upon their backs, the horses swerve away and, unrestrained, gallop through tracts of air unknown and race headlong, out of control, running amok amid the stars fixed in the vault of heaven, hurtling the chariot where no road had run. And now they climb to highest heaven, now plunge sheer in breakneck descent down to the earth. Luna [Selene the Moon] with wonder sees her brother’s team running below her own; the scalding clouds steam; the parched fields crack deep, all moisture dried, and every summit flames; the calcined meads lie white; the leaf dies burning with the bough and the dry corn its own destruction feeds. These are but trifles. Mighty cities burn with all their ramparts; realms and nations turn to ashes; mountains with their forests blaze. Athos is burning, Oete is on fire, and Tmolus and proud Taurus Cilix and the crest of Ide, dry whose springs were once so famed, and virgin Helicon and Haemus, still unknown, unhonoured. Aetne burns immense in twofold conflagration; Eryx flames and Othrys and Parnasos’ double peaks; Cynthus and Dindyma and Mycale and Rhodope, losing at last her snows, and Mimas and Cithaeron’s holy hill. Caucasus burns; the frosts of Scythia fail in her need; Pindus and Ossa blaze and, lordlier than both, Olympus flames and the airy Alpes and cloud-capped Appeninus. Then Phaethon saw the world on every side ablaze–heat more that he could bear. He breathed vapours that burned like furnace-blasts, and felt the chariot glow white-hot beneath his feet. Cinders and sparks past bearing shoot and swirl and scorching smoke surrounds him; in the murk, the midnight murk, he knows not where he is or goes; the horses whirl him where they will. The Aethiopes then turned black, so men believe, as heat summoned their blood too near the skin. Then was Libya’s dusty desert [the Sahara] formed, all water scorched away. Then the sad Nymphae bewailed their pools and springs; Boeotia mourned her Dirce lost, Argos Amymone, Ephyre Pirene; nor were Flumina (Rivers) safe though fortune’s favour made them broad and deep and their banks far apart; in middle stream from old Peneus rose the drifting steam, from Erymanthus Phegaicus too and swift Ismenos, and Caicus Teuthranius and the Tanais; Maeander playing on his winding way; tawny Lycormas, Xanthus doomed to burn at Troy a second time; Melas Mygdonius, that sable stream; the pride of Eurotas Taenarius. Eurphrates Babylonius burned, Phasis, Hister [Danube] and Ganges were on fire, Orontes burned and racing Thermodon; Alpheus boiled, fire scorched Spercheus’ banks. The gold that Tagus carried in his sands ran molten in the flames, and all the swans that used to charm the Maeonian banks with song huddled in mid Cayster sweltering. The Nilus in terror to the world’s end fled and his head, still hidden; this seven mouths gaped dusty, seven vales without a stream. The same disaster dried the Ismarian rivers, Hebrus and Strymon, dried the lordly flow of the Hesperian waters, Rhodanus [Rhode] and Rhenus [Rhine] and Padus [Po], and Thybris [Tiber], promised empire of the world. Earth everywhere splits deep and light strikes down into Tartara (the Underworld) and fills with fear Rex Infernus (Hell’s monarch) [Haides] and his consort [Persephone]; the wide seas shrink and where ocean lay a wilderness of dry sand spread; new peaks and ranges rise, long covered by the deep, and multiply the scattered islands of the Cyclades. The fishes dive, the dolphins dare no leap their curving course through the familiar air, and lifeless seals float supine on the waves; even Nereus, fathoms down, in his dark caves, with Doris and her daughters, felt the fire. Thrice from the waters Neptunus [Poseidon] raised his arm and frowning face; thrice fled the fiery air.
But Mother Tellus (Earth) [Gaia], encompassed by the seas, between the ocean and her shrinking streams, that cowered for refuge in her lightless womb, lifted her smothered head and raised her hand to shield her tortured face; then with a quake, a mighty tremor that convulsed the world, sinking in shallow subsidence below her wonted place, in solemn tones appealed : `If this thy pleasure and my due, why now, Summus Deum (Supreme God) [Zeus], lie thy dread lightnings still? If fire destroy me, let the fire be thine: my doom were lighter dealt by thy design! Scarce can my throat find voice to speak’ the smoke and heat were choking her. `See my singed hair! Ash in my eyes, ash on my lips so deep! Are these the fruits of my fertility? Is this for duty done the due return? That I endure the wounds of pick and plough, year-long unceasing pain, that I supply grass for the flocks and crops, sweet sustenance, for humankind and incense for you gods? But, grant my doom deserved, what have the seas deserved and shat they brother? Why shrinks that main, his charge, and form the sky so far recoils? And if no grace can save they brother now, nor me, pity thine own fair sky! Look round! See, each pole smokes; if there the fire should gain, your royal roofs will fall. Even Atlas fails, his shoulders scarce sustain the flaming sky. If land and sea, if heaven’s high palaces perish, prime chaos will us all confound! Save from the flames whatever’s still alive, and prove you mean Creation to survive!’
Tellus (Earth) could speak no more, nor more endure the fiery heat and vapour, and sank back to her deep caverns next the Manes (Ghosts of the Underworld). But Pater Omnipotens (the Almighty Father) [Zeus], calling the gods and him who gave the chariot to attest creation doomed were now his aid not given, mounted the highest citadel of heaven, whence he was wont to veil the lands with clouds and roll his thunders and his lightnings hurl. But then no clouds had he the lands to veil, nor rain to send from heaven to soothe their pain. He thundered; and poising high his bolt to blast, struck Phaethon from the chariot and from life, and fire extinguished fire and flame quenched flame. The horses in wild panic leapt apart, burst from the traces and flung off the yoke, there lies the reins, the sundered axle there, here the spokes dangle from a shattered wheel, and far and wide the signs of wreckage fly. And Phaethon, flames ravaging his auburn hair, falls headlong down, a streaming trail of light, as sometimes through the cloudless vault of night a star, though never falling, seems to fall. Eridanus receives him, far from home, in his wide waters half a world away. And bathes his burning face.
The Naides Hesperiae bury his smouldering body in a tomb and on a stone engrave this epitaph : `Here Phaethon lies, his father’s charioteer; great was his fall, yet did he greatly dare.’ His father, sick with grief, had hidden his face, shrouded in misery, an, if the tale is true, one day went by without the Sun. The flaming fires gave light–some gain at least in that disaster. Clymene, distraught with sorrow, said whatever could be said in woes so terrible and beat her breast, and roamed the world to find his lifeless limbs and then his bones, and found his bones at last buried beside a foreign river-bank. And, prostrate there, she drenched in tears his name carved in the marble and hugged it to her breast. His sister’s too, the three Heliades, wept sad tears, their futile tribute to the dead, and long lay prostrate on their brother’s tomb, bruising their breasts and calling day and night Phaethon who never more would hear their moans. Four times the waxing crescent of the moon had filled her orb, in their wonted way, wailing was now their wont, they made lament [and were transformed into amber-crying poplar-trees; and his friend Kyknos was transformed into a swan] . . .
Sol [Helios] meanwhile, dishevelled, his bright sheen subdued as in the gloom of an eclipse, loathing himself, loathing the light, the day, gives way to grief, and, grief rising to rage, denies his duty to the world. `Enough’, he cries, `Since time began my lot has brought no rest, no respite. I resent this toil, unending toil, unhonoured drudgery. Let someone else take out my chariot that bears my sunbeams, or, if no one will, and all the gods confess they can’t, let Jove [Zeus] drive it, and, as he wrestles with the reins, there’ll be a while at least when he won’t wield his bolt to rob a father of his son; and, when he’s tried the fiery-footed team and learnt their strength, he’ll know no one should die for failing to control them expertly.’
Then all the deities surround Sol [Helios] and beg him and beseech him not to shroud the world in darkness. Juppiter [Zeus], indeed, defends his fiery bolt and adds his royal threats. So Sol [Helios] took in hand his maddened team, still terrified, and whipped them savagely, whipped them and cursed them for their guilt that they destroyed his son, their master, that dire day.”

[One of the basic confusions of the several retellings of the myth is that poplars do not yield amber. It comes from other more resinous trees and is usually found in the fossil state.-DD]

Posted by Dale Drinnon at 12:58 AM

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Labels: Asteroid Collision, Cataclysm, Celestial Impacts, Comets, Jurgen Spanuth, Phaethon