Characters• Jupiter (Jove): Chief of the gods and a son of Saturn and husband of Juno.• Juno: The queen of the gods, sister and wife of Jove.• Vulcan (Hephaestus): Husband of Venus and god of fire, the blacksmith god.• Phaethon: Son of Clymene and Phoebus, the sun god• Clymene: Phaethons mother• Heliades: Phaethons sisters• Cycnus: Phaethons kinsman and friend• Naiads: Water-nymphs• Callisto: She is a nymph follower of Diana.• Arcas: He is the son of Callisto
• When Phaethon reaches the palace, he heads straight to see the Sun.• The Sun greets him, calling him his son. But Phaethon still demands proof.• The Sun reassures him that he is his father; he says, "Heres what, to prove it to you, ask me for anything and Ill give it to you"• In response to this, Phaethon says, " Let me drive the chariot of the sun for one day."• The Sun says, "I really wish I hadnt made that promise. You dont even have your sun-chariot learners permit yet! I know, kids your age, they always think theyre immortal – but trust me, youre not. Im the only one who can drive this chariot – not even the other gods can do it! Please, ask for something else."
• But Phaethon insists, and his dad has to keep his word.• The Sun leads him over to where the golden chariot is waiting, and helps him get ready.• Then, just before its time for Phaethon to head out, the Sun gives him some advice. He tells him not to whip the horses; theyll be eager enough to be going. Also, he tells him to steer a middle course through the sky, and to keep his altitude at a medium level.• At the last minute, Phoebus tries once more to convince Phaethon to back down from his madness, but Phaethon doesnt answer. Instead, he whips up the horses and rides off.• The horses sense the difference – Phaethon holds the reins with a lot less strength – and they start running wild.
• Various animals of the zodiac get scorched when he flies too close. Phaethon wishes he had never gotten proof of who his father was.• Then, when Phaethon is nearing the constellation Scorpio – the scorpion – he gets afraid that it will attack him. In terror, he drops the reins.
• The horses of the sun run all over the place, completely out of control. They collide with stars, set clouds on fire, and then veer down towards earth and destroy a number of mortal cities.• But that isnt all; he also scorches numerous rivers; parches the earth so that deep cracks appear in it.
• In the midst of all this chaos, the goddess of Earth calls out to Jupiter for help. She tells him that hed better act quickly; even if he doesnt care about everyone elses sufferings, he should at least be worried that heaven itself will be burned up in the flames.• Hearing her, Jupiter calls all the other gods to assembly. He makes them all – including the Sun – bear witness that he doesnt have any choice in what hes about to do.• Then, he climbs to the highest point of the heavens, aims his lightning bolt, and throws it, striking Phaethon and killing him.• Phaethon plummets to the earth. He is found by some Naiads, who bury him near the Po, a river in Northern Italy.
• Clymene, his mother, wanders the earth in grief, looking for her lost son. Eventually she finds him – and weeps over his grave.• Then the Heliades, join in the lament.• Then, for no particular reason, they turn into poplar trees and their tears turn to amber. Ovid tells us that the amber droplets end up becoming jewelry worn by fashionable Roman women of his day.• Then Cycnus, a friend of Phaethons, also shows up to weep beside his grave. In no time, he turns into a swan.• Ovid speculates that this birds characteristics reflect the fact that Cycnus was traumatized by his friends death: swans dont like flying (hence they avoid Jupiters thunderbolts), and they stay close to water (the opposite of fire).
• Meanwhile, the Sun is wracked with grief for Phaethon and threatens to stop driving the chariot of the sun. The other gods convince him not to be stupid, however.• Then Jupiter wanders around, trying to assess the damage from the fire. On his wanderings, he spies the nymph Callisto, the goddess Dianas favorite handmaiden. He immediately fell in love with her.• Soon afterward, Callisto gives birth to a son, Arcas.• After this, Juno as a punishment for attracting her husbands eye turns Callisto into a bear.
• Sixteen years later, Callistos son, Arcas is out hunting.• He comes upon his mother, the bear. She vaguely recognizes him, and signals him to come closer. He obviously doesnt recognize her because, shes a bear.
• Before Arcas can kill her with his spear, however, Jupiter intervenes. He scoops both of them up and puts them in the sky – turning them into the constellations the Big and Little Bear, or, as we sometimes call them, the Big and Little Dipper.
• Now Juno is really ticked off, because becoming a constellation is a high honor.• She goes down to complain to her friends, the god Ocean and his wife Tethys, a sea-goddess. She tells them that, in punishment, they should never let the skanky Great Bear touch their waters.• So that’s why, viewed from most regions in the Northern hemisphere, the stars of the Great Bear do never dip beneath the horizon into the ocean.