Ixion: Bound to a Wheel of Fire

“But I am bound upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears do scald like molten lead.”

– Shakespeare, King Lear, Act IV, Scene VII

King Ixion had uncertain parentage; depending on the narrator, he might have descended from the line of Apollo, may have been a child of Ares (God of War), or might have had a more mundane, human ancestry.

Then again, if we believe Homer, Ixion was an offspring of the Storm Gatherer Himself, Zeus.

Regardless of his parentage, he was allowed and forgiven his first transgression:


Ixion’s first crime

Built into the core of Greek morality was the concept of Xenia, or hospitality.

Basic things, like:

Don’t feed your guests human flesh (see Tantalus)

Don’t steal your host’s wine (ditto, Tantalus)

Don’t throw your father-in-law into a barbecue pit.

The last bit, about cooking your father-in-law, was a rule of etiquette that Ixion slipped up on.

In his defense, his father-in-law had stolen some of Ixion’s horses…

But that was after Ixion reneged on paying his marriage dowry.

An eye for an eye? Not in Ixion’s book.

He invited the old king over to feast, then pushed him into the fire.

The Greeks do love to foreshadow…


This act made Ixion the first kin-slayer in Greek Myth.

However, unlike Cain who slew his brother Abel in the Old Testament, Ixion did not receive divine censure.

Indeed, the Gods had the opposite response; Ixion was invited – by Zeus – to visit Mt. Olympus, home of the Gods.

Ixion went along for the ride…


Back to Xenia, Greek hospitality:

Don’t throw your father-in-law into a barbecue pit…

Don’t lust after your host’s spouse…

Especially when your host is Zeus, King of the Gods…


Given Zeus’ multiple infidelities – many resulting in children – it might seem hypocritical for Zeus to be the slightest bit possessive of his sister-consort Hera.

However, the tale of Ixion requires a greater degree of suspension of disbelief than most Greek Myth:

Imagine Zeus as a husband wronged by a faithless wife.

Swallow that pill, and see if you can keep it down for the remainder of this tale…


Zeus saw the gazes Ixion was making at Hera.

So, this was how Ixion intended to repay Zeus’ forgiveness…

But Zeus decided to test him, just to be certain.

One last chance for Ixion…

Before the Wheel was set in motion…


Zeus fashioned a living cloud in the form of Hera, who he sent to sleeping Ixion.

Cloud-Hera laid next to Ixion, who woke, and proceeded to ravage who he believed to be Hera, Queen of the Gods.

On the confirmation of his suspicions, Zeus wielded his Thunder bolt against Ixion, binding him to a burning wheel that spun its way across the sky, until Zeus cast it down to Tartarus, where it sill spins the bound Ixion, burning him with the fires of his own anger and lust.


Is there an upshot to this tale of self-destruction?

Well, that depends on whether you like centaurs or not.

You see, Ixion’s one night stand with cloud-Hera (known later as Nephele, “cloud”) was not without consequences…

Nephele gave birth to a son, Centaurus. While not a centaur himself, he was hunchbacked and awkward; he only felt comfortable in the company of the mares on Mount Pelion, where his father Ixion once ruled. Centaurus mated with the mares, giving rise to the race of half men-half horses known as centaurs…

And as for Ixion himself…

The Wheel keeps spinning…

Ixion by Jules-Elie Delaunay, 1876, Musée d’Arts de Nantes.

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