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Greek Mythology

Sisyphos, Ixion and Tantalus

In Greek mythology, Ixion (Ιξίων, Ἰξίων was one of the Lapiths, a king of Thessaly, and a son of Phlegyas (or a son of Antion or Peision). Pirithous was his son. He married Dia, a daughter of Deioneus and promised his father-in-law a valuable present. He did not pay 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. 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. Thereafter, Ixion lived as an outlaw and shunned. By killing his father-in-law, Ixion was reckoned the first man guilty of kin slaying in Greek mythology. That alone would warrant him a terrible punishment.

Greek Mythology

Ixion with Nephele (a copy of Hera), Pierre Paul Rubens (1615), Musée du Louvre, Paris

However, Zeus had 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. Hera was willing to be with Ixion, but Zeus found out about the attempt (either because Hera told him or because of his own efforts). Zeus made a cloud in the shape of Hera, which became known as Nephele, and tricked Ixion into coupling with it. From the union of Ixion and the cloud came the race of centaurs (hence their being called Ixionidae). Ixion was expelled from Olympus and blasted with a thunderbolt. Zeus ordered Hermes to bind Ixion to a wheel that was always spinning. Therefore, Ixion is bound to a burning wheel for all eternity in Tartarus. The story of Ixion is told by Diodorus, Pindar, Virgil in Georgics 4 and Aeneid 6, and by Ovid in Metamorphoses 12.

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The fable of Ixion, who, embracing a cloud instead of Juno, begot the Centaurs, has been ingeniously enough supposed to have been invented to represent to us ambitious men, whose minds, doting on glory, which is a mere image of virtue, produce nothing that is genuine or uniform, but only, as might be expected of such a conjunction, misshapen and unnatural actions. Plutarch Agis

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