Ixion was a particularly unscrupulous and conniving figure from the tales of ancient Greek mythology. Although he was most famous for stories involving him disrespecting the gods, he was also quite evil to his own family. In this particular tale, it was Ixion’s in-laws who suffered because of the man’s evil behavior.
Ixion, so the ancient authors tell, was enamored with a woman named Dia—daughter of a man named Eïoneus. It is unclear how stained Ixion’s reputation was by this point of his life, but there were enough red flags to make Eïoneus hesitant about the match. Yet, greed can sometimes make people overlook their doubts and go against their principles. In Eïoneus’ case, he evidently had a weakness for fine horses, and Ixion happened to have a herd of prized mares. Ixion, by using the horses and promises of other gifts as leverage, was ultimately able to get Eïoneus to agree to the marriage between Ixion and Dia.
Words, unfortunately, do not always cause action, especially when liars and oath-breakers are involved. Eïoneus, for his part, did relinquish Dia, allowing her to marry Ixion. Yet, the father of the bride made a terrible mistake when he allowed the marriage to proceed before the horses and other presents had been transferred into the direct ownership of himself or Dia. Now that Ixion had what he wanted, with the wedding behind them and Dia moved into her new home, Ixion began ignoring Eïoneus’ questions about the status of the promised gifts. It is unclear if Ixion, over the earlier course of the marriage negotiations, had ever truly intended give direct control of any of his possessions to Dia or Eïoneus, but by this point in the timeline, Ixion wanted to delay the issue indefinitely.
Eïoneus, despite his initial accommodating and patient behavior, eventually became quite insistent that Ixion finally make good on the arrangements that they had agreed upon before the marriage. When Ixion continued to delay, Eïoneus finally decided to forcefully claim what was due, and planned to take whatever was available, even if it had to be in piecemeal fashion, starting with Ixion’s prized mares. Eïoneus was still somewhat accommodating in this repossession phase, giving his son-in-law fair warning about his intentions. Ixion, however, did not appreciate his father-in-law’s new forceful approach, and when Eïoneus arrived to take the horses, things became violent—diabolically so. On this myth and its horrible conclusion, the ancient scholar Diodorus Siculus (1st century BCE) wrote:
“[Ixion], having promised that he would give many gifts of wooing to Eïoneus, married Dia, the daughter of Eïoneus, by whom he begat Peirithoüs, but when afterward Ixion would not pay over the gifts of wooing to his wife, Eïoneus took as security for these his mares. Ixion thereupon summoned Eïoneus to come to him, assuring him that he would comply in every respect, but when Eïoneus arrived he cast him into a pit which he had filled with fire” (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, 4.69).
So ended Eïoneus’ quest to hold Ixion to his word. Backed into a corner, Ixion channeled his inner super-villain and concocted the elaborate and brutal plan to throw his father-in-law into a pit of fire. Eïoneus, unfortunately, did not survive being pushed into the depths of the inferno. Yet, the plot was not a complete success. Ixion’s flashy scheme, with the pit, flames and smoke, was quite visible and left a great deal of evidence. The crime was quickly discovered and Ixion was easily pinned as the culprit. News of the crime spread throughout Greece, making Ixion a pariah. Nevertheless, in a bizarre twist, Ixion received a pardon or purification from the god, Zeus. Given purification, Ixion was able to resume his life of mischief and disrespect, including later affronts to his pardoner, Zeus.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribute: (Terracotta column-krater c. 430 BC, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the MET).
- The Library of History, by Diodorus Siculus, edited by Giles Laurén (Sophron Editor, 2014).