Study Guide

Daedalus and Icarus Phaeton

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Wait a second: another Greek myth? Yep. Same culture, similar story. Let's take a look. Phaeton is a young man living in Ethiopia who believes that his father was the sun god Apollo. Determined to prove this fact, Phaeton travels to Apollo's house near the end of the world. You know, where the sidewalk ends. Phaeton confronts Apollo, dramatically asking him if he really is his father. Apollo says yes (gasp!), and as a reward for having traveled so far, Apollo offers to grant Phaeton one wish.

Immediately, Phaeton asks to drive Apollo's chariot, which contains the sun. Apollo tries to persuade Phaeton against this wish (would a nice big ice cream cone be better?), saying that the horses that draw the chariot are too strong for Phaeton. But the boy insists, and eventually, Apollo caves. The god lets Phaeton drive the chariot—and surprise, surprise, it's a complete disaster. Just like Apollo said, the horses are way too strong for Phaeton, and the boy zigzags all over the earth, terrorizing its inhabitants with the sun's heat.

The creatures of the earth beg Zeus to do something about this catastrophe, so Zeus throws a lightning bolt at Phaeton, shattering the chariot and burning up the boy. Apollo is totally devastated by the loss of his son: he even refuses to drive the new chariot that the god Vulcan builds for him. But finally, Zeus convinces Apollo that he had to destroy Phaeton, because the boy had become a public menace. Fine, then.

Like the Daedalus and Icarus myth, Phaeton's story is a lesson in listening to your parents' advice. If Phaeton had listened to dad's words of wisdom, he wouldn't have insisted on driving the dangerous chariot. And if Icarus had heeded his father's advice, he would have avoided the sun. In both myths, the sun becomes a metaphor for objects and life events that are just too dangerous for young people to handle.

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