Despite the darkness of the night before, the sun rises again in the early morning. When I face the rising sun in the vortex of life, I usually look at it with a reproachful regard, feeling bitter towards it for its heartlessness. The ancient Greeks, who are the greatest group of philosophers in human history, explain the sun’s pitilessness through the god of the sun, Helios.
Helios emerges from the eastern edge of the world each dawn, driving a chariot drawn by four winged steeds. After he reaches the farthest west, he climbs into a great golden cup and comes back to his palace in the east. This daily voyage around the world is so arduous and tough that other gods cannot dare to try. Besides, the horses pulling the chariot have fierce tempers and are disobedient to anyone except Helios. He has no choice but to drive the sun wagon.
However, his son Phaethon proudly volunteers to drive the chariot. He was obsessed with being recognized as the son of Helios and told his father that he wanted to drive the sun wagon by himself for a day. Knowing the dangers of the carriage, Helios was surprised by Phaethon’s wish. Yet, Helios had no choice because it came after he had promised to grant Phaethon any wish.
Helios, who failed to persuade his son, otherwise, was compelled to let Phaethon drive the chariot and repeatedly ask him to never get off the beaten track. However, Phaethon’s power was not enough to control the bad-tempered horses at will, so the sun wagon eventually went badly off the rails, leaving the whole world in disaster. As the supreme god Zeus was unable to remain a mere spectator, he ended the chaos by sending down a lightning bolt to Phaethon.
Phaethon is often interpreted as the fool, who acts with reckless bravado and draws ruin upon himself. Indeed, the scene where Phaethon obstinately continues even when Helios is worried and encouraging Phaethon to change his mind is enough to stir up the frustration. But the fact that we should not forget is that Phaethon is the only one who dared to drive the sun wagon, which even the gods could not do. Although he did not have complete control, his ambition deserves praise.
The fearless desire to go beyond one’s limits is the driving force that leads man to be reborn as a virtuous person, even though the man breaks down into charred ruins in the process and falls into the river. The human footprint is a repetition of failures decorated with the successes which have often followed. Humankind has challenged the limits, keeping them locked up by fighting against all the restrictions. If you are complacent in reality, nothing changes. Look at the people who are constantly agonizing and contemplating. Verweile doch! Du bist so schön!
By Na Geum-chae