The River Eridanus

Eridanus Constellation

The Brighter Stars of Eridanus

The Story

Which River Is It?

Eridanus is the River, but which River is being represented in the sky? According to Ridpath, many authors consider Eridanus to represent the Nile River, but it has also been identified with the River Po in Italy.

A Teenager Yearns to Drive

In myth Eridanus is the river in which the young Phaethon crashed after his disastrous attempt to drive the Chariot of the Sun. The father of Phaethon was the Sun God Helios. Phaethon was eager to drive the magnificent chariot in which Helios drove the disk of the sun across the sky each day. Helios was reluctant to agree to the boy's request, but finally Helios gave in to the lad's persistence and agreed that the boy might drive the chariot.

Chariot Driving is not Easy!

Indeed after the boy had driven up into the sky, he found it difficult to control the four gigantic steeds which drew the chariot among the stars. As the chariot mounted higher and higher above the earth, Phaethon became more and afraid, until all of a sudden he saw ahead the giant figure of Scorpius the Scorpion with claws outstretched and the sting poised to strike. Then he lost it and let go of the reins completely.

A Wild Career

The chariot began to sway and bob as the wild horses ran out of control. The chariot dived toward the earth so low that the land caught fire. It was at this time that Libya was burned into a desert. The skin of the Ethiopians was burned black and the seas of Africa evaporated.

Zeus Ends the Ride

Finally, to bring the catastrophes to an end, Zeus struck down Phaethon with a thunderbolt. Streaming smoke, with hair aflame, Phaethon plunged through the air like a meteor and fell into the River Eridanus, where after many years Jason and the Argonauts found the body still smoldering amid choking clouds of poisonous steam.  

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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