Metamorphoses Book 2, lines 301 - 332

Phaethon, concluded

by Ovid

Now that Phaethon has lost all semblance of control over the chariot of the Sun and allowed it too close to the Earth, Ovid takes us on a world tour of disaster. Everywhere, the mountain-tops kindle, countries mourn vanished rivers and Nymphs their vanished streams. New islands proliferate as the sea boils off in steam: the Ethiopians are scorched black, great cracks in the ground let in the light of day, startling the Gods of the underworld, and Neptune himself cannot bear to be above the waves. Finally, the Earth herself makes a call to order, asking if all the benefits she has brought forth merit such treatment, and urges the Father of the Gods to intervene. This concluding extract from the story of Phaethon begins as she has just brought her appeal to a close.

In the illustrated blog post, Phaethon falls to earth: the illustration also shows his mourning sisters being transformed into poplars on his burial mound, and his great friend Cycnus, the strength of whose grief led to him being turned into a swan. See it here:

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To scroll the original and English translation of the poem at the same time - tap inside one box to select it and then scroll.

Dixerat haec Tellus: neque enim tolerare vaporem
ulterius potuit nec dicere plura: suumque
rettulit os in se propioraque manibus antra.
At pater omnipotens, superos testatus et ipsum,
qui dederat currus, nisi opem ferat, omnia fato
interitura gravi, summam petit arduus arcem,
unde solet nubes latis inducere terris,
unde movet tonitrus vibrataque fulmina iactat.
Sed neque quas posset terris inducere nubes
tunc habuit, nec quos caelo demitteret imbres.
Intonat et dextra libratum fulmen ab aure
misit in aurigam pariterque animaque rotisque
expulit et saevis compescuit ignibus ignes.
Consternantur equi et saltu in contraria facto
colla iugo eripiunt abruptaque lora relinquunt.
Illic frena iacent, illic temone revulsus
axis, in hac radii fractarum parte rotarum,
sparsaque sunt late laceri vestigia currus.
At Phaethon rutilos flamma populante capillos,
volvitur in praeceps longoque per aera tractu
fertur, ut interdum de caelo stella sereno
etsi non cecidit, potuit cecidisse videri.
Quem procul a patria diverso maximus orbe
excipit Eridanus fumantiaque abluit ora.
Naides Hesperiae trifida fumantia flamma
corpora dant tumulo, signant quoque carmine saxum:
Nam pater obductos, luctu miserabilis aegro
condiderat vultus: et, si modo credimus, unum
isse diem sine sole ferunt: incendia lumen
praebebant aliquisque malo fuit usus in illo.

Earth had done, unable to bear the scorching heat any longer or say more: she drew her countenance in to herself, and to caves nearer the world of the spirits. Now the almighty Father, when he has born witness to the Gods, and the giver of the chariot, that unless he puts forth his power all things will perish by a terrible fate, on high takes to the citadel from which he is wont to spread clouds over the wide expanse of Earth, from where he peals the thunder and brandishes and hurls the thunderbolts – though then he had no clouds that he could spread, nor rains to pour down from the heavens. He thundered, and poising a thunderbolt by his ear in his right hand, he hurled it at the charioteer and blasted him out of both chariot and life, checking fire with fierce fire of his own. The horses are panicked: leaping apart, they tear their necks from the yoke, freed from their harness as it is torn apart. Here lie the bridles, there the axle, ripped from the pole; over there are the spokes of the shattered wheels, and fragments of the wrecked chariot are scattered far and wide. Phaethon, flames ravaging his golden hair, goes spinning headlong and is carried across the heavens in a long arc, just as sometimes a star, even though it has not fallen from a clear sky, may appear to have done so. Far from his homeland, in a distant part of the world, the mighty river Po received him and quenched his smoking face. The Naiads of Italy lay his body, still smoking from three-forked flame, in the tomb, and mark his tombstone with a verse: HERE LIES PHAETHON, DRIVER OF HIS FATHER’S CHARIOT: THOUGH HE DID NOT MASTER IT, HE DARED GREAT DEEDS BEFORE HE FELL. His father, wretched in his bitter grief, had veiled and hid his face, and they say, if we are to believe it, that one day passed without the sun: the infernos gave light, and so were of some use at that evil time.