1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Athamas

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ATHAMAS, in Greek mythology, king of the Minyae in Boeotian Orchomenus, son of Aeolus, king of Thessaly, or of Minyas. His first wife was Nephele, the cloud-goddess, by whom he had two children, Phrixus and Helle (see Argonauts). Athamas and his second wife Ino were said to have incurred the wrath of Hera, because Ino had brought up Dionysus, the son of her sister Semele, as a girl, to save his life. Athamas went mad, and slew one of his sons, Learchus; Ino, to escape the pursuit of her frenzied husband, threw herself into the sea with her other son Melicertes. Both were afterwards worshipped as marine divinities, Ino as Leucothea, Melicertes as Palaemon (Odyssey v. 333). Athamas, with the guilt of his son’s murder upon him, was obliged to flee from Boeotia. He was ordered by the oracle to settle in a place where he should receive hospitality from wild beasts. This he found at Phthiotis in Thessaly, where he surprised some wolves eating sheep; on his approach they fled, leaving him the bones. Athamas, regarding this as the fulfilment of the oracle, settled there and married a third wife, Themisto. The spot was afterwards called the Athamanian plain (Apollodorus i. 9; Hyginus, Fab. 1-5; Ovid, Metam. iv. 416, Fasti, vi. 485; Valerius Flaccus i. 277).

According to a local legend, Athamas was king of Halos in Phthiotis from the first (Schol. on Apoll. Rhodius ii. 513). After his attempt on the life of Phrixus, which was supposed to have succeeded, the Phthiots were ordered to sacrifice him to Zeus Laphystius, in order to appease the anger of the gods. As he was on the point of being put to death, Cytissorus, a son of Phrixus, suddenly arrived from Aea with the news that Phrixus was still alive. Athamas’s life was thus saved, but the wrath of the gods was unappeased, and pursued the family. It was ordained that the eldest born of the race should not enter the council-chamber; if he did so, he was liable to be seized and sacrificed if detected (Herodotus vii. 197). The legend of Athamas is probably founded on a very old custom amongst the Minyae—the sacrifice of the first-born of the race of Athamas to Zeus Laphystius. The story formed the subject of lost tragedies by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and other Greek and Latin dramatists.