The Fall of Ixion by Cornelis van Haarlem

In Greek mythology, Ixion (/ɪkˈsən/ ik-SY-ən;[1] Greek: Ἰξίων, gen.: Ἰξίονος means 'strong native'[2]) was king of the Lapiths, the most ancient tribe of Thessaly.[3]


Ixion was the son of Ares, or Leonteus,[4] or Antion and Perimele,[5] or the notorious evildoer Phlegyas, whose name connotes "fiery".[6] Peirithoös[7] was his son[8] (or stepson, if Zeus were his father, as Zeus claims to Hera in Iliad 14).[9]


Punishment of Ixion: in the center is Mercury holding the caduceus and on the right Juno sits on her throne. Behind her Iris stands and gestures. On the left is Vulcan (blond figure) standing behind the wheel, manning it, with Ixion already tied to it. Nephele sits at Mercury's feet; a Roman fresco from the eastern wall of the triclinium in the House of the Vettii, Pompeii, Fourth Style (60–79 AD).

Ixion married Dia,[10] a daughter of Deioneus[11] (or Eioneus), and promised his father-in-law a valuable present. However, he did not pay the bride price, so Deioneus stole some of Ixion's horses in retaliation. Ixion concealed his resentment and invited his father-in-law to a feast at Larissa. When Deioneus arrived, Ixion pushed him into a bed of burning coals and wood. These circumstances are secondary to the fact of Ixion's primordial act of murder; it could be accounted for quite differently: in the Greek Anthology (iii.12), among a collection of inscriptions from a temple in Cyzicus, is an epigrammatic description of Ixion slaying Phorbas and Polymelos, who had slain his mother, Megara, the "great one".[12]

Ixion went mad, defiled by his act; the neighboring princes were so offended by this act of treachery and violation of xenia that they refused to perform the rituals that would cleanse Ixion of his guilt (see catharsis). Thereafter, Ixion lived as an outlaw and was shunned. By killing his father-in-law, Ixion was reckoned the first man guilty of kin-slaying in Greek mythology.

This act alone would warrant Ixion a terrible punishment, but Zeus took pity on Ixion and brought him to Olympus and introduced him at the table of the gods. Instead of being grateful, Ixion grew lustful for Hera,[13][14] Zeus's wife, a further violation of guest–host relations. Zeus found out about his intentions and made a cloud in the shape of Hera, which became known as Nephele (from nephos "cloud") and tricked Ixion into coupling with it. From the union of Ixion and the false-Hera cloud came Imbros[15] or Centauros,[16] who mated with the Magnesian mares on Mount Pelion, Pindar told,[17] engendering the race of Centaurs, who are called the Ixionidae from their descent.

Ixion was expelled from Olympus and blasted with a thunderbolt. Zeus ordered Hermes to bind Ixion to a winged fiery wheel that was always spinning. Therefore, Ixion was bound to a burning solar wheel for all eternity, at first spinning across the heavens,[18] but in later myth transferred to Tartarus.[19][20] Only when Orpheus played his lyre during his trip to the Underworld to rescue Eurydice did it stop for a while.

Ixion by Jules-Elie Delaunay, 1876


Robert L. Fowler observes that "The details are very odd, the narrative motivation creaks at every juncture ... the myth smacks of aetiology."[21] He notes that Martin Nilsson suggested[22] an origin in rain-making magic, with which he concurs: "In Ixion's case the necessary warning about the conduct of magic has taken the form of blasphemous and dangerous conduct on the part of the first officiant."

In the fifth century, Pindar's Second Pythian Ode (c. 476–468 BC) expands on the example of Ixion, applicable to Hiero I of Syracuse, the tyrant of whom the poet sings. Aeschylus, Euripides and Timasitheos each wrote a tragedy of Ixion though none of these accounts have survived.

Ixion was a figure also known to the Etruscans, for he is depicted bound to the spoked wheel, engraved on the back of a bronze mirror, c. 460–450 BC, in the British Museum.[23] Whether the Etruscans shared the Ixion figure with Hellenes from early times or whether Ixion figured among those Greek myths that were adapted at later dates to fit the Etruscan world-view is unknown. The figure on the mirror-back is shown as winged, a characteristic shared with Etruscan daimones and Underworld figures rather than human heroes.

José Ribera's grittily realistic Ixion, 1632 (Museo del Prado).
King Ixion fooled by Juno, whom he wanted to seduce, by Peter Paul Rubens, 1615 (Louvre Museum)

In literature

See also


  1. ^ The Latin transcription, Ixīōn, shows that the stress should be on the second syllable.
  2. ^ Robert Graves. The Greek Myths, section 50 s.v. Asclepius
  3. ^ Virgil, Aeneid 6.601
  4. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae 62
  5. ^ Diodorus Siculus, 4.69.3
  6. ^ Strabo, 9, p. 442
  7. ^ Peirithoös, too slew a kinsman, which occasioned his own wandering in search of catharsis.
  8. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica 4.63.1; Ovid, Metamorphoses 12.210; Apollodorus, 1.8.2; Hyginus, Fabulae 14.2, 79 & 257
  9. ^ "come, let us turn to lovemaking. For never did such desire for goddess or woman ever flood over me, taming the heart in my breast, not even when I loved Ixion's wife, who bore Peirithoös, the gods' equal in counsel..." Tactless, Zeus lists several more of his conquests to Hera.
  10. ^ Dia "is only another name for Hebe, the daughter of Hera, and indeed was probably the name for Hera herself, as 'she who belongs to Zeus' or 'the Heavenly one'" (Kerenyi 1951:159).
  11. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica 4.69.3
  12. ^ The more familiar Megara of myth is not the same figure.
  13. ^ He was already wedded to her double, Dia.
  14. ^ Lucian, Dialogi Deorum 9
  15. ^ Tzetzes, Chiliades 9.20 line 464, 469 & 477
  16. ^ Apollodorus, Epitome 1.20
  17. ^ Pindar, Pythian Ode 2
  18. ^ The meticulous Pindar mentions the feathers.
  19. ^ Virgil, Georgics 3.39 & 4.486; Ovid, Metamorphoses 4.461–465 & 10.42
  20. ^ Kerenyi 1951:160
  21. ^ Fowler, "The myth of Kephalos as aition of rain-magic (Pherekydes FrGHist 3F34)", Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 97 (1993:29–42).
  22. ^ Nilsson, The Mycenaean Origin of Greek Mythology (1931) p. 135 note 19.
  23. ^ BM GR 1900.6–11.3, illustrated in Larissa Bonfante and Judith Swaddling, Etruscan Myths (series The Legendary Past, British Museum/University of Texas), 2006, p. 29 fig. 15; "On an Etruscan mirror, Ixion is shown spread-eagled to a firewheel, with mushroom tinder at his feet" (Graves 1960, §63.2) The wheel has been recognized as the solar wheel at least since Arthur Bernard Cook, Zeus: A Study in Ancient Religion, 1914, pp. 197–98, and pl. XVII, the bronze Etruscan mirror engraved with Ixion on his wheel.
  24. ^ "Don Juan: Dedication by Lord Byron (George Gordon)". Poetry Foundation. 30 April 2017. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  25. ^ Moby Dick vis Project Gutenberg|
  26. ^ Bleak House by Charles Dickens via Project Gutenberg|


Further reading