Ixion: The figure in Greek mythology who is bound to a fiery wheel.

Ixion by French painter Jules-Elie Delaunay, 1876

In Greek mythology, Ixion was a mortal king and a figure known for his infamous actions and severe punishment from the gods.

He was the king of the Lapiths, a Thessalian tribe, and he committed a grave offense against the gods. Ixion, driven by his lust and arrogance, sought to seduce Hera, the queen of the gods and wife of Zeus.

Zeus, who is the king of the gods in Greek mythology, discovered Ixion’s intentions and devised a plan to test the mortal king’s character. He created a cloud in the likeness of Hera and presented it to Ixion. Deceived by the illusion, Ixion lay with the cloud, thereby committing an act of impiety.

As punishment for his audacious act, Ixion was banished and condemned to Tartarus, the deepest abyss of the Underworld. There, he was bound to a fiery wheel or a perpetually spinning fiery chariot, depending on different versions of the myth.

Ixion’s punishment served as a warning to mortals about the consequences of disrespecting the gods and violating the laws of hospitality. His eternal torment in Tartarus became a cautionary tale in Greek mythology.

Consort and child

In the myths, Ixion takes Dia, the daughter of Deioneus, as his wife. Depending on the source, Pirithous is either seen as the son or the stepson of Ixion. With the latter, Homer states that Zeus disguised himself as a stallion and slept with Dia. From the union came forth Pirithous.

The Centauromachy

The Centauromachy

A centauromachy relief on an ancient Roman sarcophagus, c. 150 AD, Museo Archeologico Ostiense, Rome, Italy

According to the myth, a brawl broke out at the wedding feast of King Pirithous, son of Ixion. The brawl broke out after the centaur Eurytion tried to adopt the bride, Hoppodamia. It is said that the centaurs were poor at handling their drink; as a result, they got very uncivilized at the feast after drinking copious amounts of wine.

The brawl quickly devolved into an all-out war between the Lapiths and the centaurs. The myth goes on to say that Theseus, the mythical king and hero, offered his support to the Lapiths. In the ensuing battle, Euytion’s ears and nose were cut off.

During the famous battle between the Lapiths and the Centaurs at the wedding feast of Pirithous, Caeneus demonstrated his extraordinary strength. It was said that no weapon could harm him, and he single-handedly defeated many centaurs.

Ultimately, the Lapiths emerged victorious as many of the centaurs were expelled from Thessaly.

Read More: Most Famous Residents of Tartarus in Greek Mythology

The first figure in Greek mythology to kill his kin

In one account of the myth, Ixion could not afford to pay the bride price of Dia. As a result, his father-in-law, Deioneus, took possession of some of Ixion’s horses. Ixion sought vengeance by inviting Deioneus to dinner. Upon arriving, Deioneus was pushed into a raging fire by Ixion.

By murdering Deioneus, Ixion became the first man in Greek mythology to kill his own kin.

The gods invite Ixion to Mt. Olympus

His transgressions infuriated the gods. Luckily for Ixion, his sins were wiped clean by the gods, and Zeus sent him an invitation to attend a banquet on Mount Olympus. There, Ixion fell into his usual ways; he is said to have developed an uncontrollable lust for his host’s wife, Hera, the queen of the gods.

Ixion in Greek mythology

King Ixion fooled by Juno, whom he wanted to seduce, by Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens, 1615 (Louvre Museum)

When Zeus got news of this, he decided to play a ruse on Ixion to test his loyalty. The king of the gods shaped a cloud to look like Hera. Upon seeing the cloud, which later came to be known as Nephele, Ixion quickly leaped from his chair and proceeded to sleep with the apparition.

For his unforgivable transgression, Ixion was cast out of Mount Olympus. The mortal king was quickly ferried to Hades, where he was punished by being bound to a winged fiery wheel that always spins. His punishment was for eternity. In a different myth, Ixion was sent down to Tartarus, an eternal prison beneath Hades.

For his transgression, Ixion was punished by the gods. He was bound to fiery wheel. Image: a Roman fresco from the eastern wall of the triclinium in the House of the Vettii, Pompeii, Fourth Style (60–79 AD).

Did you know…?

The Greeks believed that the Lapiths were the inventors of the bridle’s bit.

Two of the most acclaimed Greek tragedians – Aeschylus and Euripides – penned works on Ixion. However, none of those works survived to this day.

Ixion’s story has appeared in many artworks, including paintings, sculptures and literature. His character appeared in Charles Dickens’ works – “David Copperfield” and “Bleak House”. Ixion also appears in English satirist Alexander Pope’s poem “The Rape of the Lock”.

Answer to popular questions about Ixion

The Fall of Ixion by Dutch Golden Age painter Cornelis van Haarlem

Who were the parents of Ixion?

According to the myths, Ixion was seen as the son of Ares, or Leonteus. In some accounts, his parents were Antion and Perimele.

Who were the Lapiths?

In the myths Ixion is the ruler of the Lapiths. Located in the valley of the Peneus in Thessaly, the Lapiths were believed to have come from the Aeolians, one of the four major tribes of Greece in the ancient period.

The Lapiths were said to have ties to the centaurs, creatures in Greek mythology with the body of a human and legs of a horse.

In one account of the myth, Lapithes, the ancestor of the Lapiths, and the centaurs are seen as the offspring of the Greek god Apollo and the nymph Stilbe. The latter was the daughter of the Thessalian river god Peneus.

According to Homer’s Iliad, the Lapiths contributed forty ships to the war efforts of the Greeks during the Trojan War. The Lapiths were commanded by Polypoetes and Leonteus. The former was the son of King Pirithous.

Read More: Greatest Heroes and Heroines in Greek Mythology

Aside Ixion, who are the other notable Lapiths?

  • Pirithous: He was a hero and the king of the Lapiths, a tribe of Thessaly. He was known for his courage, strength, and friendship with Theseus, the legendary hero of Athens. Pirithous played a significant role in several mythological tales, but he is best remembered for his ill-fated attempt to marry Persephone, the queen of the Underworld. In the myths, Pirithous’ parents are Ixion and Dia. The latter was the daughter of Eioneus or Deioneus.
  • Coronus: She was a figure associated with the story of Apollo and his love affairs. She was a Thessalian princess and the daughter of King Phlegyas. Coronis became one of Apollo’s lovers and was known for her beauty.
  • Caeneus: He was a legendary figure known for his incredible strength and his transformation from a woman to a man. Caeneus was originally born as a woman named Caenis, but due to her beauty, she caught the attention of the god Poseidon. Poseidon, captivated by Caenis’s beauty, offered her a wish. Caenis wished to become invulnerable to harm, and Poseidon granted her request, transforming her into a man named Caeneus. With his newfound invulnerability, Caeneus became a formidable warrior and a renowned figure among the Lapiths.


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