KLYMENE (or Clymene) was an Okeanid nymph loved by the sun-god Helios. She bore him seven daughters, the Heliad nymphs, and a son named Phaethon. The boy was killed when he attempted to drive his father's chariot across the sky, and his sisters were transformed into poplar trees.
Klymene was the personification of fame and infamy, an appropriate name for the consort of the bright sun. She was also named Merope ("with face-turned," meros + ops) or the wife of Merops. This may have originally been a reference to the solar eclipse, in which the sun's face turned away (merops). However, the poets came to associate the name with the Aithiopian realm and city of Merope, whose people were said to have been scorched black by Phaethon when he lost control of the chariot of the sun.
Klymene was probably also identified with Klytie, the nymph loved by Helios who was transformed into a heliotrope flower. Both of their names mean "the famous one", and Klymene's title Merope ("with turning face") aptly describes the behaviour of the flower.
Klymene appears to be unrelated to the wife of the Titan Iapetos who was also named Klymene and described as a daughter of Okeanos.
CLY′MENE (Klumenê). According to Hesiod (ap. Eustath. ad Hom. p. 1689; comp. Ov. Met. i. 756, iv. 204), she was the mother of Phaëton by Helios.
ME′ROPE (Meropê). A daughter of Oceanus, and by Clymenus the mother of Phaëton. (Hygin. Fab. 154.)
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
Aeschylus, Heliades (lost play) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
Aeschylus' lost play Heliades described the story of Phaethon. Presumably his mother Klymene or Merope played an important role in the drama.
Euripides, Phaethon (lost play) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
Euripides' version of the story differed somewhat from Aeschylus treatment of the myth. The summary of Hyginus and Ovid's version may derive from his play.
Pseudo-Hyginus, Preface (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"From Sol [Helios the Sun] and Clymene [were born]: Phaethon and the Phaethontides Merope, Helie, Aetherie, Dioxippe."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 154 :
"Phaethon, son of Clymenus, son of Sol [Helios the Sun], and the Nymph Merope, who, as we have heard was and Oceanid, upon being told by his father that his grandfather was Sol, put to bad use the chariot he asked for. For when he was carried too mear the earth, everyithing burned in the fire that came near, and, struck by a thunderbolt, he fell into the river Po. This river is called Eridanus by the Greeks; Pherecydes was the first to name it. The Indians became black, because their blood was turned to a dark color from the heat that came near. The sister of Phaethon, too, in grieving for their brother, were changed into poplar trees. Their tears, as Hesiod tells, hardened into amber’ in spite of the change they are called Heliades. They are, then, Merope, Helie, Aegle, Lampetia, Phoebe, Aetherie, Dioxippe."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 156 :
"Children of Sol [Helios the Sun] . . . By Clymene, daughter of Oceanus, Phaethon, Lampetie, Aegle, Phoebe."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 1. 750 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
[N.B. In Ovid, Epaphos is the prince of Egypt, and Phaethon the prince of Merope, the Aithiopian kingdom of the upper Nile.]
"His [Epaphos, prince of Egypt] peer in pride and years was Phaethon, child of Phoebus [i.e. Helios the sun], whose arrogance one day and boasts of his high parentage were more than Inachides [Epaphos] could bear. ‘You fool,’ he said, ‘To credit all your mother [Klymene] says; that birth you boast about is false.’
Then Phaethon flushed, though shame checked his rage, and took those taunts to Clymene, his mother. ‘And to grieve you more, dear mother, I so frank,’ he said, ‘So fiery, stood there silent. I'm ashamed that he could so insult me and that I could not repulse him. But, if I indeed am sprung from heavenly stock, give me sure proof of my high birth, confirm my claim to heaven.’
He threw his arms around his mother's neck, and begged her by his own and Merops' [i.e. Clymene's mortal husband] life, his sisters' hopes of marriage, to provide some token that that parentage was true. And Clymene, moved whether by his words or anger at the insult to herself, held out her arms to heaven and faced Sol [Helios the Sun] and cried, ‘By this great glorious radiance, this beaming blaze, that hears and sees us now, I swear, dear child, that he, Sol [Helios the Sun], on whom you gaze, Sol who governs all the globe, he is your father. If I lie, let him deny his beams, let this light be the last my eyes shall ever see! And you may find your father's home with no long toil. The place from which he rises borders our own land [of Egypt]. Go, make the journey if your heart is set, and put your question to Sol [Helios] himself.’
Then up flashed Phaethon at his mother's words [to seek out his father] . . .
[Phaethon finds Helios and asks him:] ‘Phoebus, my father, if to use that name thou givest me leave, and Clymene spoke truth and hides no guilt, give proof that all may know I am thy son indeed, and for ever end the doubt that grieves me.’
Then his father laid aside the dazzling beams that crowned his head and bade him come and held him to his heart: ‘Well you deserve to be my son,’ he said, ‘Truly your mother named your lineage; and to dispel all doubt, ask what you will that I may satisfy your heart’s desire; and that dark marsh [the river Styx] by which the gods make oath, though to my eyes unknown, shall seal my troth.’
He scarce had ended when the boy declared his wish--his father's chariot for one day with licence to control the soaring steeds. Grief and remorse flooded his father’s soul."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 2. 333 & 355 ff :
"[Phaethon fell to his death from the chariot of the sun:] Clymene, distraught with sorrow, said whatever could be said in woes so terrible and beat her breast, and roamed the world to find his lifeless limbs and then his bones, and found his bones at last buried beside a foreign river-bank. And, prostrate there, she drenched in tears his name carved in the marble and hugged it to her breast . . .
His sister's too, the three Heliades, wept sad tears . . . And while they stood bewildered, bark embraced their loins and covered, inch by inch, their waists, breasts, shoulders, hands, till only lips were left, calling their mother. She, what can she do but dart distractedly now here, now there, and kiss them while she may. It’s not enough. She tries to tear the bark away and breaks the tender boughs, but from them bloody drops ooze like a dripping wound. ‘Stop, mother, stop!’ each injured girl protests; ‘I beg you, stop, the tree you tear is me. And now, farewell!’ The bark lapped her last words."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 7. 280 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"Helios (the Sun) . . . you know the madness of love . . . draw your own forerunner Phosphoros (the Morning Star) to his setting, and do grace to your desire and mine; enjoy your Klymene (Clymene) all night long."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 8. 345 ff :
"Yet I have heard of another fiery wedding: did not Helios (the Sun) embrace his bride Klymene (Clymene) with fiery nuptials?"
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 17. 269 ff :
"He [Orontes the Indian chief] stept back and turned his gaze to the eastern expanse, and uttered his last words to Phaethon [Helios the Sun] opposite: ‘O Helios . . . And if you have not forgotten your Klymene's (Clymene's) bed, protect Deriades, a sprout of your own stock, who has in him the blood of Astris (Sidereal Maiden) said to be your daughter [by Klymene].’"
[N.B. In Nonnus the Indian king Deriades was the son of the river Hydaspes and Astris, the daughter of Helios and Klymene. Astris' brother was Phaethon, who was sometimes also described as an Indian.]
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 33. 182 ff :
"Eros (Love) wildly leapt from his mother's lap and took up his bow, slung the allvanquishing quiver about his little shoulder, and sailed away on his wings through the air; round Kerne [Cerne, a mythical island of the Indian Ocean,] he turned his flight opposite the rays of morning, smiling that he had set afire that great charioteer of the heavenly car with his little darts, and the light of the loves had conquered the light of Helios (the Sun)." [N.B. Helios here falls in love with Klymene, see the passage which follows.]
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 38. 108 ff :
"Loudbooming Okeanos, girdled with the circle of the sky, who leas his water earth-encompassing round the turning point which he bathes, was joined in primeval wedlock with Tethys. The water bride-groom begat Klymene (Clymene), fairest of the Neiades, whom Tethys nursed on her wet breast, her youngest, a maiden with lovely arms. For her beauty Helios (the Sun) pined, Helios who spins round the twelvemonth lichtgang, and travels the sevenzone circuit [i.e. the zodiac] garland-wise--Helios dispenser of fire was afflicted with another fire! The torch of love was stronger than the blaze of his car and the shining of his rays, when over the bend of the reddened Okeanos as he bathed his fiery form in the eastern waters, he beheld the maiden close by the way, while she swam naked and sported in her father's waves. Her body gleamed in her bath, she was one like the full Moon (Mene) reflected in the evening waters, when she has filled the compass of her twin horns with light. Half-seen, unshod, the girl stood in the waves shooting the rosy shafts from her cheeks at Helios; her shape was outlined in the waters, no stomacher hid her maiden bosom, but the glowing circle of her round silvery breasts illuminated the stream.
Her father united the girl to the heavenly charioteer. The lightfoot Horai (Seasons) acclaimed Klymene's bridal with Helios Phaesphoros (Lightbringer), the Nymphai Neides (Naiads) danced around; in a watery bridal-bower the fruitful maiden was wedded in a flaming union, and received the hot bridegroom into her cool arms. The light that shone on that bridal bed come from the starry train [Helios the Sun had to marry at night otherwise he would have been in the sky]; and the star of Kypris [Aphrodite], Eosphoros [i.e. the Star Venus], herald of the union wove a bridal song. Instead of the wedding torch, Selene sent her beams to attend the wedding. The Hesperides raised the joy-cry, and Okeanos beside his bride Tethys sounded his song with all the fountains of his throat.
Then Klymene's womb swelled in that fruitful union, and when the birth ripened she brought forth a baby son divine and brilliant with light. At the boy's birth his father’s ether saluted him with song; as he sprang from the childbed, the daughters of Okeanos cleansed him, Klymene's son, in his grandsire's waters, and wrapt him in swaddlings. The Stars (Asteres) in shining movement leapt into the stream of Okeanos which they knew so well, and surrounded the boy, with Selene Eileithyia (our Lady of Labour), sending forth her sparkling gleams.
Helios gave his son his own name, as well suited the testimony of his form; for upon the boy's shining face was visible the father's inborn radiance.
Often in the course of the boy's training Okeanos would have a pretty game, lifting Phaethon on his midbelly and letting him drop down; he would throw the boy high in the air, rolling over and over moving in a high path as quick as the wandering wind, and catch him again on his arm; then he would shoot him up again, and the boy would avoid the ready hand of Okeanos, and turn a somersault round and round till he splashed into the dark waters, prophet of his own death. The old man groaned when he saw it, recognizing the divine oracle, and hid all in prudent silence, that he might not tear the happy heart of Klymene the loving mother by foretelling the cruel threads of Phaethon's Fate.
So the boy, hardly gown up, and still with no down on his lip, sometimes frequented his mother Klymene's house, sometimes travelled even to the meadows of Thrinakia, where he would often visit and stay with Lampetie, tending cattle and sheep . . .
He [Phaethon] prodded his father [i.e. asking to drive the chariot of the sun] and wetted his tunic with hotter tears . . . Klymene cried and begged too . . .
Then Phaethon mounted [the chariot], Helios his father gave him the reins to manage, shining reins and gleaming whip: he shook in trembling silence, for he understood that his son had not long to live. Klymene his mother could be half seen near the shore [i.e. she was up to her waist in water], as she watched her dear son mounting the flaming car, and shook with joy."
- Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st BC - C1st A.D.
- Nonnos, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th A.D.