Before beginning to relate the two legends of the sun that I have chosen from the many that abound in every culture on the planet I believe it is important to say a quick work about legends in general. They exist because some person, the storyteller, felt he had something important to say about either the physical world in which he lived or about the psychology of the people around him. In both cases the legends were told to explain his world. It is why the legends last for thousands of years and still excite the imaginations of the very young. The legends of Helios, the Greek god of sun, and his son Phaeton serve to illustrate those two elements of legend.
Helios, was the god that caused the rising and setting of the sun. At dawn he would take his place in his chariot and steer his horses through the sky. Starting in the east and mounting higher with his steeds under his tight control until it came time to return to earth and bring the onset of dusk in the west. It was a job filled with responsibility for who could tell what disaster might strike the world if he failed to perform his daily duty and the sun did not rise.
It is a simple enough legend, but consider for a moment the lessons being taught to the young. The tale tries to explain why the sun rises and falls in such stately procession each and every day and to inculcate the young with a sense of duty toward themselves and others. They are taught that no matter how difficult your daily task can be, there is pride to be taken in doing it, no matter how monotonous your work can be.
The story of Phaeton, however, is a tragic tale filled with the arrogance of youth and a total disregard of his father’s warnings of the danger in piloting the sun through its daily sojourn through the sky. He was born of a mortal mother and desperately wanted to prove himself to the god that sired him combined with his own arrogance. Despite his father’s warnings Phaeton believed he could master the steeds that pulled Helios’s chariot and finally convinced his father to allow him to try just one day. He was successful at first and climbed high into the sky but in the end could not control the four steeds known as Pyrois, Eos, Aethon and Phlegon. Phaeton paid the price for his arrogance when he fell from the chariot to his death.
From Phaeton’s ill-fated sojourn comes the expression “pride cometh before a fall.” Personally I don’t consider Phaeton to have been proud. Pride in one’s achievements is natural and to be sought after it is earned. The boy had not earned his right to that responsibility and honour. It was his arrogant belief that he was as capable of such a task simply because his father could that led to his downfall and his death.
It is with such legends that the young are first taught and gain the confidence in their ability to understand and control the world around them.