In Greek mythology, Ixion (// ik-SY-ən; Greek: Ἰξίων, gen.: Ἰξίονος means 'strong native') was king of the Lapiths, the most ancient tribe of Thessaly.
Ixion was the son of Ares, or Leonteus, or Antion and Perimele, or the notorious evildoer Phlegyas, whose name connotes "fiery". Peirithoös was his son (or stepson, if Zeus were his father, as Zeus claims to Hera in Iliad 14).
Ixion married Dia, a daughter of Deioneus (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".
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, 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 or Centauros, who mated with the Magnesian mares on Mount Pelion, Pindar told, 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, but in later myth transferred to Tartarus. Only when Orpheus played his lyre during his trip to the Underworld to rescue Eurydice did it stop for a while.
Robert L. Fowler observes that "The details are very odd, the narrative motivation creaks at every juncture ... the myth smacks of aetiology." He notes that Martin Nilsson suggested 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. 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.