AskDefine | Define phaeton

Dictionary Definition

phaeton n : large open car seating four with folding top [syn: touring car, tourer]

User Contributed Dictionary

see Phaeton

English

Noun

phaeton (or phæton)
  1. a light four-wheeled open carriage drawn by four horses
  2. a large open touring motorcar with a folding top

Extensive Definition

In Greek mythology, Phaëton or Phaethon ( or /ˈfeɪəθən/) ( "shining") was the son of Helios (Phoebus, the "shining one", an epithet later assumed by Apollo), or of Clymenus by Merope or Clymene. Or, in the later myths, Apollo.
In an alternate genealogy, Eos bore Cephalus a son, named Phaëthon but Aphrodite stole him away while he was no more than a child, to be the night-watchman at her most sacred shrines. The Minoans called him Adymus, by which they meant the morning and evening star (Hesiod, Theogony, 986; Solinus, xi:9; Nonnus, Dionysiaca, xi:131 and xii:217).
The myth stated that Phaeton bragged to his friends that his father was the sun-god. One of his friends, who was rumored to be a son of Zeus, refused to believe him and said his mother was lying. So Phaeton went to his father Helios, who swore by the river Styx to give Phaeton anything he should ask for in order to prove his divine paternity. Phaeton wanted to drive his chariot (the sun) for a day. Though Helios tried to talk him out of it, Phaeton was adamant. When the day came, Phaeton panicked and lost control of the mean horses that drew the chariot. First it veered too high, so that the earth grew chill. Then it dipped too close, and the vegetation dried and burned. He accidentally turned most of Africa into desert; burning the skin of the Ethiopians black. Eventually, Zeus was forced to intervene by striking the runaway chariot with a lightning bolt to stop it, and Phaëthon plunged into the river Eridanos. His sisters the Heliades grieved so much that they were turned into poplar trees that weep golden amber.
This story has given rise to two latter-day meanings of "phaeton": one who drives a chariot or coach, especially at a reckless or dangerous speed, and one that would or may set the world on fire.

Phaëton in other stories

thumb|right|Phaeton, by [[Gustave Moreau]]
Fragments of Euripides' tragedy on this subject suggest that Phaethon survives. In reconstructing the lost play and discussing the fragments, James Diggle has discussed the treatment of the Phaeton myth (Diggle 2004).
Perhaps the most famous version of the myth is given us through Ovid in his Metamorphoses (Book II). Ovid is emphasizing that Phaeton seeks assurance that his mother, Clymene, is telling the truth about his father.
Dante refers to the episode in both the Inferno and Paradiso Canto XVII of his Divine Comedy.
The motif of the fallen star must have been familiar in Israel, for Isaiah referred to it in admonishing the king of Babylon for his pride ("How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!" Isaiah 14:12ff). The Jewish Encyclopedia reports that "it is obvious that the prophet in attributing to the Babylonian king boastful pride, followed by a fall, borrowed the idea from a popular legend connected with the morning star." The falling-star image reappears in John's Apocalypse without a name. In the 4th century, Jerome's translation of the "morning star" as "Lucifer" carried the fallen-star myth-element into Christian mythology. For fuller details, see Lucifer and Azazel.
Camille Saint-Saëns wrote a symphonic poem entitled Phaëton.

Extra-terrestrial impact theory

It has been noted by a number of commentators, including the astronomers Victor Clube and Bill Napier, that, if stripped of its obviously mythological elements, the story of Phaethon reads like a genuine account of the impact of an asteroid or a piece of cometary debris. They compare the description of an intensely bright light and searing heat with eyewitness accounts of the Tunguska event and point out that the after effects of Phaethon's fall, including flooding and a darkening of the sun, are consistent with the dust veil and tsunamis which an impact might be expected to cause (Clube & Napier 1982, The Cosmic Serpent, pgs 206-9).

External links

phaeton in Breton: Faethon
phaeton in Bulgarian: Фаетон
phaeton in Czech: Faethón
phaeton in Danish: Faeton
phaeton in German: Phaethon (Mythologie)
phaeton in Modern Greek (1453-): Φαέθων
phaeton in Spanish: Faetón
phaeton in French: Phaéton
phaeton in Galician: Faetonte
phaeton in Croatian: Faetont
phaeton in Italian: Fetonte
phaeton in Lithuanian: Faetonas
phaeton in Japanese: パエトーン
phaeton in Polish: Faeton (mitologia)
phaeton in Portuguese: Faetonte
phaeton in Romanian: Faeton
phaeton in Russian: Фаэтон
phaeton in Slovenian: Faeton
phaeton in Serbo-Croatian: Faetont
phaeton in Finnish: Faethon
phaeton in Swedish: Phaethon
phaeton in Ukrainian: Фаетон
phaeton in Chinese: 法厄同
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