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Of the sons of Aeolus, Athamas ruled over Boeotia and begat a son Phrixus and a daughter Helle by Nephele.1 And he married a second wife, Ino, by whom he had Learchus and Melicertes. But Ino plotted against the children of Nephele and persuaded the women to parch the wheat; and having got the wheat they did so without the knowledge of the men. But the earth, being sown with parched wheat, did not yield its annual crops; so Athamas sent to Delphi to inquire how he might be delivered from the dearth. Now Ino persuaded the messengers to say it was foretold that the infertility would cease if Phrixus were sacrificed to Zeus. When Athamas heard that, he was forced by the inhabitants of the land to bring Phrixus to the altar. But Nephele caught him and her daughter up and gave them a ram with a golden fleece, which she had received from Hermes, and borne through the sky by the ram they crossed land and sea. But when they were over the sea which lies betwixt Sigeum and the Chersonese, Helle slipped into the deep and was drowned, and the sea was called Hellespont after her. But Phrixus came to the Colchians, whose king was Aeetes, son of the Sun and of Perseis, and brother of Circe and Pasiphae, whom Minos married. He received Phrixus and gave him one of his daughters, Chalciope. And Phrixus sacrificed the ram with the golden fleece to Zeus the god of Escape, and the fleece he gave to Aeetes, who nailed it to an oak in a grove of Ares. And Phrixus had children by Chalciope, to wit, Argus, Melas, Phrontis, and Cytisorus.


1 For the story of Athamas, Phrixus, and Helle, see Zenobius, Cent. iv.38; Apostolius, Cent. xi.58; Scholiast on Aristoph. Cl. 257; Tzetzes, Scholiast on Lycophron 22; Eustathius on Hom. Il. vii.86, p. 667; Scholiast on Hom. Il. vii.86; Diod. 4.47; Hyginus, Fab. 1-3; Hyginus, Ast. ii.20; Lactantius Placidus on Statius, Achill. i.65; Scriptores rerum mythicarum Latini, ed. Bode, i. pp. 8, 120ff. (First Vatican Mythographer 23; Second Vatican Mythographer 134). According to Herodotus (Hdt. 7.197), it was a rule among the descendants of Phrixus that the eldest son of the family should be sacrificed (apparently to Laphystian Zeus) if ever he entered the town-hall; hence, to escape the risk of such a fate, many of the family fled to foreign lands. Sophocles wrote a tragedy called Athamas, in which he represented the king himself crowned with garlands and led to the altar of Zeus to be sacrificed, but finally rescued by the interposition of Herakles (Scholiast on Aristoph. Cl. 237; Apostolius, Cent. xi.58; The Fragments of Sophocles, ed. A. C. Pearson, i.1ff.). These traditions point to the conclusion that in the royal line of Athamas the eldest son was regularly liable to be sacrificed either to prevent or to remedy a failure of the crops, and that in later times a ram was commonly accepted as a substitute for the human victim. Compare The Dying God, pp. 161ff.

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