Ixion and Io

The Torture of Ixion, by Giovan Battista Langetti

Ixion is a demigod and King of the Lapiths, Thessaly’s most ancient tribe. Depending upon the myth, his father was the god Ares, Leonteus, Antion, or Phlegyas. Ixion’s son is Pirithous (Peirithoös), though this son may have really been fathered by the always-horny, always-philandering Zeus.

Ixion married Dia, daughter of Deioneus (or Eioneus), and promised Deioneus a very valuable present as the bride price. When Ixion failed to deliver, Deioneus stole some of Ixion’s horses. Ixion pretended not to care, and invited him to a feast in Larissa, capital of Thessaly.

When Deioneus arrived, Ixion pushed him into a bed of burning coals and wood. After the murder, Ixion went crazy. To make matters even worse, the neighbouring princes were so horrified by Ixion’s violation of xenia (hospitality), they refused to perform catharsis, the rituals which would cleanse him of his guilt. Ixion, the first person in Greek mythology guilty of murdering his own kin, became an outcast and outlaw.

Ixion Précipité Dans les Enfers, by Jules-Élie Delaunay, 1876

Zeus took pity on him, brought him up to Olympus, and introduced him by the table of the deities. Ixion once again violated xenia by lusting after Hera and not showing any gratitude towards his host. When Zeus discovered what was going on, he made a cloud that looked like Hera, henceforth called Nephele, and tricked Ixion into coupling with it. The Centaurs, also called Ixionidae, arose from this union.

Ixion was kicked out of Olympus and blasted with a thunderbolt. Zeus then ordered Hermes to bind Ixion to a fiery, winged, perpetually-spinning wheel. Originally, this wheel went through the heavens, but later myths moved it to Tartarus, a deep abyss used as a torture chamber and the prison for the Titans. The torture had a brief reprieve when Orpheus played his lyre during his trip to the underworld to rescue Eurydice.

Ixion possibly derives from ixos, which means both “birdlime” and “mistletoe.”

Giove e Io, by Paris Bordone, 1550s

Io is the daughter of Ianchus, first King of Argos, and Oceanid Melia, according to the majority of traditions. She served as a priestess of Hera in Argos, a cult of worship her father allegedly brought to the area. When Zeus saw this beautiful mortal, he once again began thinking with the wrong head. In some versions, Io initially rejected his advances, until her father kicked her out of the house based on oracles.

According to some traditions, Zeus turned Io into a heifer to hide her from Hera, but the deception failed, and Hera begged Zeus to give her the heifer as a gift. After Zeus granted her request, Hera sent the hundred-eyed giant Argos Panoptes to spy on Zeus and prevent him from visiting Io. In turn, Zeus sent Hermes to distract and eventually kill Argos Panoptes.

Juno, Jupiter, and Io, by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout

Zeus freed Io, who was still in the form of a heifer, and Hera was not pleased. She sent a gadfly after Io, compelling her to forever wander the world without rest. Eventually, Io crossed the path between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara (called Propontis in classical antiquity). This strait became known as the Bosphorus, which means “ox passage.”

By the now-Bosphorus, Io met Prometheus, who was still chained to Mount Caucasus as eternal punishment for having given fire to humans. Prometheus told Io she’d be restored to human form and become the progenitor of Hercules, the greatest of all heroes. Io fled across the Ionian Sea to Egypt, where Zeus transformed her back into a human. In Egypt, she birthed Epaphus and Keroessa, both fathered by Zeus.

On 7 January 1610, Galileo Galilei officially discovered a moon of Jupiter which was later named after Io.

Io means “Moon” in the Argive dialect.

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4 thoughts on “Ixion and Io

  1. I think Ixion deserved what he got. As a king, he could have definitely afforded a decent present for his father-in-law, instead of turning to murder. For some reason, I thought Io was a man. Thanks for the correction!

  2. Pingback: A to Z Reflections 2017 « Onomastics Outside the Box

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