Gateway to the Classics: Stories from Plato and Other Classic Writers by Mary E. Burt
Stories from Plato and Other Classic Writers by  Mary E. Burt


What Happened When the Sun Forgot To Behave Well

It is evidently the duty of the Sun as he goes round and round the earth to distribute his favors equally on all. It does not look well for such a great creature, who carries all the sunshine and has the power of making everybody happy or miserable, to shine smilingly on one person or on one blossom and neglect another. How could the violet grow if all the sunshine were given to the rose? How could the rose blush if the Sun should forget all about her and shine only on the buttercup? No indeed, it does not look well in people in high office to have favorites, and shower all the smiles upon them and keep all the frowns for other people. When the Sun took it upon himself to distribute sunshine to all the world, he should have started out with the determination to be just as good to one person as to another. And he should have made up his mind to keep the days and nights of equal length.

But it is said of him that he looked down upon the Ocean and saw a pretty creature, very white and very gentle, something which you and I would call an ocean wave. The Sun did not call it a wave. He said it was the "White Lady of the Sea," and he gazed and gazed at her and forgot to go around the earth for days at a time. This made some parts of the earth very cold, those parts of it which could not get the least glimpse of him, and the flowers in those places, as well as the people, almost froze to death. They couldn't grow and they wondered why the Sun did not come around and give them daylight and warm them up with sunshine. When the Sun had gazed a long time at the "White Lady of the Sea," he would suddenly remember that he ought to be going around the earth and he would start on, running as fast as he could go, so that he would get around too soon, and that made the days very short, too short in fact, sometimes.

And again, when he came over the ocean and saw the pretty wave, he would linger and gaze at her, and wish she would take his hand and go round the earth with him, until even in mid-winter when the days were expected to be shortest, they became altogether too long. You would not believe me if I should tell you how the Sun behaved. Sometimes he was so troubled that a great dark shadow came over his face, and the birds and flowers and people were all alarmed. You and I call it an eclipse, but the flowers did not call it that. They said he was in grief because the Moon had got in the way so that he could not look at the "White Lady of the Sea."

The pretty white wave did not notice the Sun very much, however. She did not know that people and flowers were deprived of sunshine on her account. She was a happy princess, daughter of the kingly Ocean.

There were many other white waves, her beautiful handmaidens who served her, and they all used to sit near the door of her father's palace spinning and weaving. They wove sashes of sea-foam, and sailors have often saved themselves from drowning by wearing these girdles. When the Sun found out that the "White Lady of the Sea" did not even notice him, he said, "I will change myself into a great white wave which shall look just like her mother. And I will go and speak to her and then she will notice me."

So the Sun put away his golden chariot and turned his horses into a pasture away off in the West, where they could feed upon ambrosia to their hearts' content, for the horses of the gods do not eat grass. Then the Sun plunged into the Ocean and took on the likeness of a great brilliant wave. You ought to have seen it as it went rolling along toward the White Lady of the Sea. The Sun entered the door of the palace where the White Lady sat spinning and, kissing her dainty forehead, took his own form again and told her that he was the god who measured out the year, who beheld all things, and gave light to all the world. When the White Lady of the Sea saw the great shining Sun so near her, she was frightened and threw down her spindle.

Now there was a fair nymph who lived in the fields, who was troubled because the sunlight did not come to her every day and she sought to find the reason for the Sun's delay. When the days were short she grew pale from the cold and darkness and shuddered for fear when he did not come out at all. She watched and watched, until she discovered that the Sun wasted his time in gazing after the White Lady of the Sea; and when she saw him actually kissing her she sent word about it to her father, Old Ocean.

Old Ocean called to his daughter and told her to hurry away to the land, and he sent a wave to hasten her flight. So she ran to the shore and as she hurried up onto the sand she sank down into it and never was seen again. Then the Sun sent his beams to search for her down among the grains of sand, and he sprinkled the earth into which she sank with sweet-smelling nectar, and said, "Still shalt thou reach the skies as incense."

So there grew up a frankincense-tree in the place where the beautiful White Lady was lost. But the Sun refused to shine any more on the pretty nymph that lived in the field. There she sat on the bare ground with her hair in frightful disorder and flying in every direction. For nine days she lived on dew and tears, without food or water. She did not raise herself from the ground but turned her face in the direction of the Sun as he moved along, praying for a little sunshine.

The Sun would not look at her, however, and when she tried to rise from the ground, they say that her feet had taken root so that she was held fast, and that she had changed into a sun-flower and that she could do nothing else but turn around on her stem and look at the Sun.

I knew a boy who said that the sun-flower never turned around to look at the sun, and so his sister used to go out every morning and turn them toward the east and at night she would turn them to the west; but he found out her joke. I believe this story is true—that is—a part of it, because I have seen a whole row of sun-flowers hang their heads over a fence to look at the sun, and I have seen other flowers stretch their necks a long way to try to get a little sunshine.

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