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Mythology of the constellation Eridanus

The long, winding, sprawling constellation Eridanus has been identified variously as the rivers Tigris, Euphrates, Po, Nile, Ebro, Rhine and Rhone, and Homer referred to it as an "Ocean Stream" which circled the earth.

One legend which has a particular association with Eridanus is that of Phaeton, son of Helios, the Sun God. As a young man, Phaeton desperately wanted to drive the sun chariot across the skies - a task always undertaken by his father. In this desire, he was encouraged by his sisters and mother. His father steadfastly refused to give his permission as he knew that Phaeton was not yet strong enough for such a task. However, after much pestering he finally agreed. The two white horses were harnessed, Phaeton climbed aboard and took up the reins to drive the sun across the heavens. It quickly became clear that he was not strong enough to control the horses. At first they galloped so high in the sky that the earth far below was in danger of freezing, then they swept so close to the earth that it became scorched. Zeus had watched all this in growing anger. His patience finally snapped, and he threw a thunderbolt straight at the chariot. Phaeton was killed outright, falling into the sacred river Eridanus. For their foolishness in encouraging him in such an irresponsible adventure, his sisters were turned into trees along the river bank.

(It is on the banks of this same river that Orion stands, with his left foot touching the water.)

 

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