Auriga

The Charioteer

Auriga Constellation

The Brighter Stars of Auriga

The Story

The Lame King

The Charioteer may be the legendary King Erichthonius of Athens. He was the son of Hephaestus, the God of Fire, whom the Romans called Vulcan. Like his father Erichthonius was lame.

Erichthonius was raised by Athene, the patron goddess of Athens, and from her acquired the skill of taming horses. It was he who first harnessed four horses to a chariot, in imitation of the Chariot of the Sun. For this he was honored by Zeus by being placed among the stars as the constellation of Auriga.

The Charioteer - A Bum Rap

Others say that The Charioteer represents Hippolytus, the son of the very same Theseus of Athens who sailed to Crete, ventured the Labyrinth with the help of King Minos' daughter Ariadne and killed the monstrous Minotaur. It is said that Hippolytus stepmother Phaedra lusted after the boy and killed herself in despair after he rejected her, but not before writing a note to her husband Theseus charging Hippolytus with rape.

Reading the note, Theseus banished Hippolytus from the city and prayed to that the god Poseidon should strike him down. As Hippolytus drove off in his chariot, the horses drawing the chariot were thrown into a panic by the vision of a giant bull emerging from the sea. The chariot crashed and Hippolytus was killed.

Chariot Drivers Have No Luck!

Others identify The Charioteer with Myrtilus, a son of Hermes and the chariot driver for King Oenomaus of Elis. The king had a beautiful daughter Hippodamia. There were many suitors who sought her hand. But to marry her, a suitor had first to win a chariot race with the king, who rode in a chariot driven by Myrtilus. Any suitor who could not beat the king's chariot, had his head lopped off.

Hippodamia's chances of marriage did not look very good until Pelops son of Tantalus showed up. She fell in love with him and arranged that Myrtilus would throw the chariot race. He sabotaged the king's chariot so that a wheel came off during the race and the king was thrown to his death.

The ungrateful Pelops threw the chariot driver Myrtilus into the sea, where he drowned. Hermes memorialized his drowned son Myrtilus by putting the image of the Chariot Driver among the stars.

Accounting for the Goat

The Chariot Driver is shown as holding a small goat. The goat is usually identified as the animal that had suckled the baby Zeus on the Island of Crete, where his mother Rhea had hid him from his father Cronus. Cronus was a Titan, one of the elder gods. Because of a prophesy that one of his children would otherthrow him, Cronus swallowed each of his children as they were born. Out of gratitude to the goat that had suckled him, Zeus placed the image of the goat into the stars.

Another story tells us that the goat was so very ugly that it could frighten even the Titans. When Zeus became an adult, he made a cloak from the hide of this ugly goat. This was Zeus "aegis" which protected him and frightened his enemies.

There is no explanation of how the goat became associated with the Chariot Driver.

 
 


Copyright © 1998 - 2010 by Arnold V. Lesikar,
Professor Emeritus
Dept. of Physics, Astronomy, and Engineering Science,
St. Cloud State University,St. Cloud, MN 56301-4498

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