In Greek mythology, Phaëton or Phaethon (or /ˈfeɪəθən/) (Φαέθων "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).
In the version of the myth told by Ovid in the Metamorphoses, 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.
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.
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.