|The Fall of Phaeton (c. 1604-05)
Peter Paul Ruebens
source Wikimedia Commons
Phaethon reaches the gorgeous palace of Phoebus, where his father confirms his birthright. Arrogantly, Phaeton requests to drive his chariot, and sadly Phoebus concedes, giving instructions to his son for his safe journey. Thetis unbars the way for her grandson and the horses leap high in the air, but it’s as if they have no rider and control is lost. Phaethon regrets his decision, yet is paralyzed and the chariot finally plunges down to earth destroying large swaths of it with fire. The earth cries out and “the Almighty Father” (Jove) hurls a thunderbolt, unseating Phaeton, yet combatting fire with fire. Phaeton, consumed by the fire, is buried by the river Po by the Naiads, while his father in grief buries his face and shuts out the sun for a day. Clymene laments with her daughters, the Heliades, at her son’s grave, but her daughters metamorphosize into trees in spite of her attempts to save them.
Cycnus, a king of Liguria and a relative of Phaeton’s, goes to pay his respects and is transformed into a swan, a bird who does not trust to seek the sky because of Jove’s lightning bolts.
Jove then inspects the heavens and earth for damage from the fire, but spots a nymph, Callisto and, disguising himself as the goddess Diana before reappearing in his normal form, rapes her in spite of her frantic struggles. Diana discovers her shame and sends her away, and when Juno learns of Jove’s crime and of the son born to Callisto, Arcas, she transforms Callisto into a bear. Later, Arcas encounters his mother and nearly kills her, but Jove intervenes, grabbing both and placing them in the sky as Ursa Major and Minor.
|Plate 101 Raven
John James Audubon
As Juno is enraged at the compliment given to Callisto, she travels to heaven in her chariot which is drawn by the peacocks who have recently changed hue. We hear of another bird, Phoebus’ sacred bird, the Raven, who also gets his colour changed from white to black, as punishment for his talkative chatter. He refuses to listen to the Crow’s warning, whose feathers were transformed as he informed on the three daughters of the bi-form Cecrops, Pandrosos, Herse and Aglauros, when they looked into a basket and discovered a baby that had been formed by the seed of Vulcan, after he attempt to rape Minerva. Minerva, however, turns him black for his snitching, and the poor crow relates that before this incident, he had been a princess, but was transformed into a crow while escaping from the sea-god who attempted to ravish her. Yet now he is supplanted in the affections of Minerva by Nyctimene, the owl, oh woe is he! The Raven, however, declines to heed the crow’s wise wisdom, and instead reveals to Apollo (Phoebus) that his love, Coronis had lain beside a Thessalian youth. Inflamed with hot fury, Apollo kills Coronis yet before she is burned, he snatches their unborn son, Aesculapius, from her womb and gives him to the centaur, Chiron, to raise. The Raven, however, receives his due and is banished. We learned of this same story in Chaucer’s The Manciple’s Tale.
The daughter of Chiron, Ocyrhoe, prophesies over Aesculapius, saying that he will become a great healer and god. Her father’s immortality will also change to mortality, but as she speaks she is transfigured into the form of a horse with a new name, Hippe.
|Landscape with Mercury and Battus (1618)
source Wikimedia Commons
Meanwhile, bereft with grief, Phoebus is roaming the hills in the guise of a shepherd, but in his mourning over the fate of Coronis, his cows wander off and are hidden by Mercury. Yet an old man named Battus witnesses the theft, but Mercury buys off his silence with a choice cow from the herd. Battus promises a stone would give more information than he. To test the old man’s resolve, Mercury disguises himself and returns asking for “his cows” and offering Battus a cow from the herd for information on the theft. Battus reveals all and Mercury changes him into a stone (now called a touchstone or tellstone) in payment for his betrayal.
Mercury spots Herse, daughter of Cecrops, and is determined to possess her. He enlists the help of her sister, Aglauros, but Envy, spurred by Minerva, poisons Aglauros. Infected with resentment of her sister’s happiness, she attempts to prevent Mercury from entering her bedroom, and he turns Aglauros into a statue.
Returning to heaven, Mercury is directed by Jove to drive the king Agenor’s cattle down to the shore, yet unbeknownst to him, Jove is planning the capture of the daughter of the king, Europa. He disguises himself as a perfect white bull, entices the girl, and then rides away into the ocean with her on his back.
|The Abductiion of Europa (1715)
Jean-François de Troy