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Mythological Origin of Amber


Helios and the Sun Chariot

Helios and the Sun Chariot

The mythological origins of amber come from the story of Phaethon.

Phaethon was the son of the doting sun god Helios who offered his son whatever he wanted. Phaethon said he wanted to drive his father's chariot. Helios tried to persuade his son to choose anything else. After all, Helios himself could barely control the horses and steer the chariot along its proper arc without hitting the stars or scorching the earth. His son, completely inexperienced and human, couldn't hope to survive the journey. Phaethon wouldn't be dissuaded. Helios had promised and Phaethon wanted his gift, so with as much instruction crammed in as Helios could deliver, Phaethon climbed into the sun chariot and tried to lead the horses across the sky. The horses immediately realized Helios wasn't guiding them and started enjoying their freedom. Phaethon veered too high, too low, and started burning things on earth. Zeus had to step in to stop the destruction. He threw one of his thunderbolts and Phaethon fell to earth.

So much is the story of Phaethon. The aftermath is about amber.

As told in Russia Today: "Amber: tears of Heliades that bring health"*, Phaethon's sisters, the Heliades (children of Helios), grieved so profoundly that they were turned by the gods into poplar trees. Even as trees, they kept crying, but now their tears were no longer water, but golden amber.

Our word "electron" comes from the ancient word for amber because rubbed amber attracted pieces of straw to it.

* [<URL = http://www.russiatoday.ru/features/news/12467 > accessed August 16, 2007]

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