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The Story of Ixion in Greek Mythology

Updated on August 21, 2016

According to stories of Ancient Greece, there are a select number of people faced with eternal punishment in the depths of Tartarus; these tortured souls include the Danaids, Tantalus, Sisyphus and Ixion.

Ixion was once a respected Greek king, but in short amount of time he managed to commit a heinous crime, and also angered the most power of al Greek gods, Zeus.

Ixion King of the Lapiths

The story of Ixion begins in Thessaly for Ixion was a king of the Lapiths.

Ixion is normally named a son of Antion and Perimele, and therefore great-grandson of Lapithus the founder of the Lapith tribe.

Occasionally though, Ixion is named the son of Phlegyas, another man named as a king of the Lapiths, and a more famous one, for Phlegyas appears in the Aeneid (Virgil) as well as Dante’s Divine Comedy. Phlegyas would be famed for burning down a temple of Apollo after the god slept with Phlegyas’ daughter, Coronis. If Phelgyas was the father of Ixion, then it perhaps a degree of madness sin the family line, something which might explain later events.

In any case Ixion would succeed his father, be it Antion or Phlegyas, as king of the Lapiths, and Ixion would successfully expand the territory of the tribe. Domestically though, problems started to arrive, for Ixion decided to marry Dia, the daughter of Deioneus.

Ixion Expelled from Thessaly

Ixion, would promise Deioneus a large bridal purse, if Deioneus allowed Ixion to marry Dia, and so Deioneus consented to the marriage. When it came to pay Deioneus though, Ixion refused to pay.

Rather than have a direct confrontation with his new son-in-law, Deioneus decided to obtain payment in a different way; and so Deioneus stole away some of Ixion’s prized horses.

The loss of the horses was quickly noticed though, but like Deioneus before him, Ixion did not go for a direct confrontation with his father-in-law, and instead Deioneus was invited to a banquet. There was no food awaiting Deioneus though, just a fiery pit into which he was pushed by Ixion.

It was a treacherous crime, and one of the most serious to Ancient Greeks, for Ixion had murdered a guest as well as a family member. Other king’s of Ancient Greece could have purified Ixion of his crime, but none of his neighbours wished to do so, and instead these same neighbouring kingdoms drove Ixion out of Thessaly.

Ixion Angers Zeus

Ixion was left to roam Ancient Greece shunned by both man and immortal, and slowly the former king of the Lapiths went mad. Zeus looked down from upon the earth, and in a rare act of pity, invited Ixion to dine with the gods of Mount Olympus.

It might be thought that in this moment of salvation Ixion would be on his best behaviour, but instead Ixion was so taken by the beauty of Hera, Zeus’ wife, that he lusted after her. The demeanour of Ixion was noticed by the other gods of Mount Olympus, and Zeus was informed about the inappropriate thoughts of his guest.

Zeus would not initially believe that Ixion would act in such a manner, but the god decided to put his guest to the test, and Zeus shaped a cloud, Nephele, into an exact duplicate of his wife.

When the chance arose to sleep with this duplicate Hera, Ixion took it, and so he became father to the monstrous Centauros, the beast, who, after coupling with the Magnesian mares, would bring forth the Centaurs.

Downfall of Ixion

Ixion in Tartarus - Jules-Élie Delaunay (1828-1891) - PD-art-100
Ixion in Tartarus - Jules-Élie Delaunay (1828-1891) - PD-art-100 | Source

Ixion in Tartarus

Zeus is of course now convinced of his guest’s misbehaviour, and Ixion is promptly thrown out of Mount Olympus. To Zeus’ mind though, Ixion’s indiscretions were worthy of further punishment, and so Zeus dispatched Hermes to enact the punishment. Ixion would be chained to a fiery wheel that would constantly spin allowing Ixion no respite.

Punishment of Ixion

The Punishment of Ixion - Bernard Picart (1673–1733) - PD-art-100
The Punishment of Ixion - Bernard Picart (1673–1733) - PD-art-100 | Source

The Family Line of Ixion

Aside from Centauros and the Centaurs, the family line of Ixion would continue, for Dia gave birth to a son, either by Ixion or by Zeus. This son was Pirithous, who would become king of Lapiths. Pirithous is famous for being a companion of Theseus, but some of his own actions show the same indiscretions as Ixion portrayed.

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  • daydreamer13 profile image

    daydreamer13 

    2 years ago

    Another excellent hub! I again, printed this out. Well done!

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