Αθαμας

A Boeotian king who reigned over the land of Croneus or, in some accounts, Thebes itself. He was the son of Aeolus and grandson of Hellen (Table 8). His legend which was the theme of many tragedies was the subject of complicated and sometimes contradictory stories. Athamas was married three times, and these marriages provide the basis for the romantic development of an older myth. In the best known version, which undoubtedly goes back to the Phrixus of Euripides, now lost, Athamas first married Nephele and fathered a son, Phrixus, and a daughter Helle. Later he discarded Nephele and married Ino, the daughter of Cadmus. There were two sons to this marriage, Learchus and Melicertes. Ino, who was jealous of the children of Athamas' first marriage, formed the idea of killing them and devised the following trick. She began by persuading the women of the country to roast the seeds of corn which were to be sown. The men sowed the seed, but none of it came up. Naturally Athamas, confronted by this apparent phenomenon, sent messengers to seek the advice of the Delphic oracle. Ino bribed them to report that the god required the sacrifice of Phrixus. The ruse almost succeeded. Phrixus was brought to the altar (together, according to some versions, with his sister) and was about to be killed, when Nephele gave him a ram with a golden mane, a gift from Hermes, which wafted the children into the air and snatched them from danger. Phrixus succeeded in reaching Colchis, while his sister drowned herself. There is another tradition which claims that the messenger who had been bribed by Ino pitied Phrixus and revealed the plan to Athamas who, when he learned of the plot of which his wife had been guilty, gave orders that she should be sacrificed in place of Phrixus, along with her son, little Melicertes. When they were being led to the altar, however, Dionysus had pity on his former nurse (see below) and enveloped her in a cloud which made her invisible and allowed her to escape with Melicertes. He then caused Athamas to go mad and kill his younger son, Learchus, by throwing him into a cauldron of boiling water. Ino, in turn, killed herself together with Melicertes (see Leucothea). This version is a tragic form of the legend, designed to reconcile two themes, the hatred of Ino towards the children of Nephele and her own death - two episodes which seem originally to have had nothing to do with each other.

Euripides wrote a second tragedy, Ino in which he dealt with the third marriage of Athamas with Themisto, the daughter of Hypseus. In this play Ino departed (no doubt after the failed sacrifice of Phrixus) into the mountains to rejoin the Bacchantes in the service of Dionysus. Athamas, who believed that she was dead, married Themisto, and fathered two children, Orchomenus and Sphingius, but Ino returned secretly. She made herself known to Athamas who brought her into the palace in the guise of a servant. Themisto discovered that her rival was not dead, but could not learn where she was hiding. She set about killing Ino's children and to achieve that end she took the new servant as her confidante. She ordered her to make Ino's children wear black clothes and her own children white so that they could be recognized in the dark. The servant changed the clothes around so that Themisto killed her two sons and Ino's children were unharmed and when she discovered her mistake Themisto killed herself. This legend is probably mostly an invention of Euripides. The more common story was that the wrath of Hera had fallen on Athamas after the sacrifice of Phrixus because he agreed to bring up young Dionysus who had been entrusted to Ino, the sister of Semele. Struck with madness by the goddess, he killed the little Learchus. At this Ino killed Melicertes and then threw herself into the sea with his body (see Leucothea).

After he was banished from Boeotia because of this crime Athamas took to a wanderer's life. he asked the oracle where he should settle, and received the answer that he should stop at the place where the wild beasts would feed him. When he reached Thessaly he found two wolves engaged in eating a sheep's carcass. When they saw him they ran off, leaving the carcass behind and thus the oracle was fulfilled. Athamas settled in that region, which he called Athamantia, and there he founded the town of Alos or Halos. There he was said to have married Themisto, Hypseus' daughter, by whom he had four sons: Leucon, Erythrius, Schoeneus and Ptous (Table 23 and Table 33). Later, Athamas was on the point of being sacrificed by his subjects for having broken a religious prohibition, but he was saved by his grandson Cytissorus. This final episode in the legend was dramatized by Sophocles in his lost tragedy of Athamas Crowned, and it seems likely that the hero's sacrifice was plotted by Nephele as an act of vengeance. Athamas was said to have been saved not by Cytissorus but by Heracles.

{E2 DICTIONARY OF CLASSICAL MYTHOLOGY}

Table of Sources:
- Apollod. Bibl. 1, 9, 1f; 3, 4, 3
- Hyg. Fab. 1-4; Astron. 2, 20
- Tzetzes on Lyc. Alex. 22; 229
- Ovid, Met. 4, 481ff.; 9, 195ff.
- Aeschylus, Athamas (lost tragedy, Nauck TGF, edn 2, pp. 3f)
- Euripides, Ino and Phrixus (lost tragedies, Nauck TGF, edn 2, pp. 482ff., and 626ff.)
- Sophocles, Athamas (lost tragedy, Jebb-Pearson, I p. 1)
- Paus. 1, 24, 2; 1, 44, 7; 6, 21, 11; 7, 3, 6; 9, 23, 6 with schol.; 9, 24, 1; 9, 34, 5-8
- Strabo 9, 5, 8, p. 433
- schol. on Hom. Il. 7, 86 and Eustath
- schol. on Aristophanes, Clouds 257
- schol. on Apoll. Rhod. Arg. 3, 265; 1, 763
- Serv. on Virgil, Georg. 1, 219
- Ovid, Fast. 2, 628ff.; 3, 853ff.
- Diod. Sic. 4, 47

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