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

Why the Swan Loves the Water

Have you ever been to the parks and watched the swans floating about on the water? If you have, perhaps you have seen them come up on the land, and have noticed how red their toes are and how wide the web is between the toes, making good paddles of their feet when they are in the water. Their feathers are white and glossy, and their bill is broad and flat without any point. I have heard that they sing a sweet song just as they are about to die, but that may be a fancy. There is a pretty story told about the swan, which reads as follows:

There was a young prince named Phaeton, with long yellow hair, whose father drove the chariot of the Sun. Phaeton begged his father to let him drive for one day only, and the god of the Sun unwillingly gave his consent. Phaeton mounted the chariot, but not being a skillful driver, he drove too near the earth, and set it on fire, and the rivers all began to boil. So Jupiter, who had charge of the whole world, sent a thunderbolt to slay the young prince. Phaeton had a friend who was a noble man as well as a great king, and whose name was Cycnus.

Cycnus loved Phaeton very much, and when he heard of his sad end, he left his kingdom and all of his people and went out into a forest where he wept aloud, mourning and complaining because his friend was lost to him. He wept until his voice became shrill, crying aloud, calling the name of the lost one. His hair turned white and became like feathers, but he wept on and on. At last his neck became very long, and he found himself all clothed in white feathers. A bill without a point grew upon his lips, and soft membranes joined his toes, and he had become a new bird.

But he would never trust himself to fly, for he had seen fire come from the air when it struck his beloved Phaeton. He chose to remain in the pools and in wide lakes, where he might be safe from fire. There he lives to this day, a beautiful swan, swimming about in the clear waters, mourning for his lost friend.

And I am sure we respect him more with his flat bill and the webs between his toes, than a king on his throne who cannot remember his friend any longer than it suits his fancy. And we would rather sit on a cold lake all day with our hearts sincere and true, than to sit on a throne with no love in our hearts for loyalty.

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