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date: 09 December 2022



  • Emily Kearns


A figure of Boeotian and Thessalian myth. In the best-known story, he was king of Boeotian *Orchomenus (1), husband of Ino (see ino-leucothea) and father of Phrixus, *Helle, *Melicertes and Learchus. The first two were the children of Nephele (‘Cloud’), Athamas' first wife; their stepmother Ino concocted a bogus oracle demanding their deaths in sacrifice in order to restore the fertility of the land, but they were borne away on a golden ram (see helle). Later, Ino and Athamas brought up the child *Dionysus, in revenge for which *Hera drove them mad. Athamas killed their son Learchus, and Ino ran from him carrying Melicertes and jumped into the sea, where mother and son were transformed into deities, Leucothea and Palaemon. In one version, Athamas was then exiled and settled in Thessaly, where he married Themisto. But another tradition places Athamas originally in Thessalian (H)alos, where he himself proposes to sacrifice Phrixus to Zeus Laphystius. The motif of human sacrifice is altogether clearer here, since in Herodotus' rather confusing account (7. 197) Athamas himself is later nearly sacrificed. Both stories probably have to do with the cult of Zeus Laphystius; the Thessalian one explained why a descendant of Athamas must be sacrificed if he set foot in the *prytaneion.


  • Greek Myth and Religion

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