Shakespeare's Myths

I. Ixion’s story retold


John LydgateTroy Book (1412-1420), I, 4306-26:

These centaurs, poets specify,

And Servius maketh mention,            [Servius, In Aeneidos, VI, 601]

How they were whilom engendered on a sky,

When first their father, called Ixion,

Was enamoured, full many day agone,

Upon Juno, because she was so fair,

Governess and goddess of the hair.         [hair, i.e. air: see Juno]

This Ixion was her secretary,

And for her fairness and excellent beauty,

Loved her full hot, albeit she was contrary

To  his desire, in Boccace ye may see     [Boccaccio, Genealogia, IX, xxvii]

Him to delude, he writeth how that she

Herself transformed, as she might and could,

Into the likeness of an heavenly cloud.

This Ixion plainly supposing

It was herself, and even thus he wrought,

The cloud embracing, without more tarrying,

Of his folly, the goddess there he sought;

And with their meddling atween hem forth they brought            [atween hem: between themselves]

The centaurs, these beasts marvellous,

Which of nature be found monstruous. [or: contrarious]


Robert HenrysonThe Tale of Orpheus and Erudices his Quene (2nd half of 15th century), 261-73; 476-518:

Than come he till a river wounder depe,

Our it a brig and on it sisteris thre,

Quhilk had the entre of the brig to kepe,

Alecto, Megera and Thesiphonee,

Tornand, a quheile was uglie for to se

And on it spred a man hecht Ixioun,

Rollit about, richt wounder wo begone.

Than Orpheus playit a joly spring,

The thre sisteris full fast thai fell on slepe,

The uglye quheile cessit of hire quhirling;

Thus left was nane the entre for to kepe,

Than Ixioun out of the quhele can crepe,

And stall away. (261-73)

Alecto, Megera and Thesiphonee

Ar nocht ellis, in bukis as we reid,

Bot wikit thocht, evill word and frawerd deid.

Alecto is the bolnyng of the hert,

Megera is the wikit word outwart,

Thesiphonee is operacioun,

That makis finale executioun

Off dedly syn; and thir thre tornes aye

Ane uglye quheile: is nocht ellis to say

That warldlie men sumtyme ar cassyn hie

Apon the quhele in gret prosperite,

And with a quhirll unwarly, or thai wait,

Ar thrawin doune to pure and law estaite.

Of Ixioun, that in the quhele was spred,

I sall the tell sum part, as I have red.

He was on lyf broukle and lichorus,

And in that craft hardy and coragious,

That he wald nocht luf in na lawar place

Bot Juno, quene of nature and goddass.

And on a day, he went up in the sky,

Sekand Juno, thinkand with hir to ly;

Scho saw him cum and knewe his full entent.

A rany clud doune fro the firmament

Scho gart discend and kest betwene thaim two.

And in that clud his nature yeid him fro,

Of quhilk was generit the Centauris,        [centaurs]

Half man, half hors, apon a ferly wys.

Than for the inwart crabbing and offence

That Juno tuke for his grete violence,

Scho send him doune unto the sisteris thre,

Apon thair quhele ay torned for to be.

Bot quhen that ressoun and intelligens

Plays apon the harpe of consciens,

And persuades our fleschly appetite

To leif the thocht of this warldly delyte,

Than seissis of our hert the wicket will,

Fra frawart language than the tong is still,

Our synfull deids fallis doun on sleip,

Than Exione out of the quheill gan creip. (476-518)


[Then he came to a river wondrously deep, / Over it, a bridge and on it three sisters, / Which had the entry of the bridge to keep, / Alecto, Megera, and Tisiphone / Turning a wheel which was ugly to see, / And on it was spread a man called Ixion, / Rolled about, right wondrously woebegone. / Then Orpheus played a jolly dance tune: / The three sisters full fast they fell asleep, / The ugly wheel ceased of its whirling. / Thus was there left no one to keep the entry, / Then Ixion out of the wheel can creep, / And steal away.

Alecto, Megera and Tisiphone / Are naught else, in books as we read, / But wicked thought, evil word, and froward deed. / Alecto is the boldening of the heart, / Megera is the wicked word outward, / Tisiphone is the operation / That makes final execution / Of deadly sin. And these three ever turn / An ugly wheel; that is to say naught else / But that worldly men sometimes are cast high / Upon the wheel, in great prosperity, / And with a whirl, unexpectedly, before they realize, / Are thrown down to poor and low state. / Of Ixion, that in the wheel was spread, / I shall tell thee a little, as I have read. / He was, in his life, dirty and lecherous, / And in that art hardy and courageous / That he would none love, in no lower place, /  But Juno, queen of nature and goddess. / And one day, he went up in the sky, / Seeking Juno, thinking with her to lie. / She saw him come and knew his full intent. / A rainy cloud down from the firmament / She caused to descend and cast it between them two. / And in that cloud, his nature went from him / Of which were generated the centaurs, / Half men, half horses, monstrous-wise. / Then for the earnest annoy and offence / That Juno took for his great offence, / She sent him down unto the sisters three / Upon their wheel ay turned for to be. / But when reason and intelligence / Play upon the harp of conscience / And persuades our fleshly appetite / To leave the thought of this worldly delight, / Then ceaseth of our heart the wicked will, / From froward language then the tongue is free, / Our sinful deeds fall down asleep, / Then Ixion out of the wheel did creep.]


Henry HuttonFollie’s anatomie, sig. D3r-E3v, “ Ixion’s Wheele” (1619) (STC 14028):

[A banquet in heaven]

Swift winged Hermes did Ixion cite,        [Mercury]

The last, to dance attendance at this feast;

Who, swollen with pride of his puissance, might,

Sat with the Gods as a coequal guest;

And though unworthy to assume such place,

Yet did his thoughts aspire for greater grace. (stanza 11)


Bacchus’ moist vapours, which do sursum fume,            [sursum: in latin, “upwards”]

Ixion’s brain so much intoxicate

That in his cup he did (too rash) presume

T’ attempt the act which he repents too late.

So potent are Don Bacchus’ nocive charms,

That they intrude into apparent harms. (stanza 14)


Rapt with queen Juno’s love, whiles he did fix

So princely object in an abject eye,

His joys with sorrows he doth intermix. (stanza 15)


The prime allurement, which Ixion us’d

To rob this matron of her priceless fame,

Were Mammon’s gifts; which women seld refuse,

Although in obloquy they drown their name.

For Fates decreed, each woman’s weaker power

Should not resist faire Danae’s golden shower. (stanza 18)


[Several stanzas are devoted to Ixion’s vain courtship of Juno, “With fallacies sophisticating tears”; Jupiter “of a cloud did make / Chaste Juno’s like” on which Ixion begat the centaurs. Because of his boasting, Ixion is “Condemn’d, contemn’d, and from his throne expell’d”]


Fix’d to the rigour of a tumbling wheel

Which Furies move, and ever restless turns,

This type of lust hell’s terror amply feels,

Whiles serpents sting and Hecate’s furnace burns.

Thus, by just doom, to Styx his soul did dive,

Being enrol’d amongst the damned five. (stanza 46)


II. Ixion’s torments in hell

[In his description of the Underworld (Odyssey, XI, 576-92), Homer initiated what became a literary topos with Virgil’s Aeneid (VI, 580-627) and Seneca’s tragedies (Hippolytus, 1229-37, Thyestes, 1-12, Agamemnon, 15-21, Hercules Furens, 750-59, Hercules Oetaeus, 942-63; 1009-11; 1068-78, Medea, 743-47, Octavia, 619-23). Elizabethan writers add their own reverberations, so that Ixion’s tortures are most often alluded to at the same time as those of Tantalus, Sisyphus, Tityus, the Danaids and sometimes Prometheus. In rarer cases, the focus is only on Ixion’s suffering. Allusions to infernal tortures belong to several rhetorical strategies. They often represent the psychological torments of the Petrarchan lover or the agony of the criminal’s pangs of conscience. They can be relieved by Orpheus’ music, whose harmony is sometimes taken to be the work of reason, philosophy and, more generally, peace of mind.]


Geoffrey Chaucer [Transl. from Boethius].  De Consolatione Philosophiae (c. 1380-1385), III, xii:

[Orpheus’ music in hell]

Tho ne was nat the heved [head] of Ixion y-tormented by the overthrowinge wheel; and Tantalus, that was destroyed by the woodnesse of longe thurst, despyseth the flodes to drinke; the fowl that highte voltor, that eteth the stomak or the giser of Tityus, is so fulfild of his song that it nil eten ne tyren [tear] no more.


Geoffrey ChaucerTroilus and Criseyde (c. 1385), V, 211-12:

[Troilus’ love torments]

To bedde he goth, and walweth ther and torneth   

In furie, as doth he Ixion in helle;


John LydgateTroy Book (1420), III, 5461-67:

[The Narrator appeals to Ixion, the Danaids, Sisyphus and Tantalus, with their experience of grief, to mourn for Hector’s death. See also below, Sir John Ogle, The lamentation of Troy, for the death of Hector (1594)]


John LydgateTroy Book (1420), IV, 3048-53:

[Neither Proserpina, Tytius, Ixion, nor Tantalus could lament themselves as do the Trojans at Troilus’ death]


John LydgateThe Fall of Princes (1438-1439), III, 4324-33:

[The heart of the avaricious is bound to Erebus, in whose iron city Ixion’s wheel turns and Sisyphus toils]


John LydgateThe Fall of Princes (1438-1439), III, 3956-62:

[Tyrants] Shall turn in hell on Ixion’s wheel


John LydgateThe Fall of Princes (1438-1439), VIII, 1009-15:

[A tyrant condemned “Upon the wheel of Ixion to dwell, / For his demerits, with Tantalus in hell”]


John LydgateThe Fall of Princes (1438-1439), V, 2523-29:

[Cerberus’ chain, Tantalus’, Tityus’, or Ixion’s plights would not be sufficient punishment for ungrateful men]


John SkeltonGarlande or Chapelet of Laurell (1495?), 1399-1403:

[No one can be sure of staying in Fortune’s favour]


Erasmus [Transl. by William Tyndale?].  Enchiridion militis christiani, …  the manuell of the christen knight (1533), sig. B2 (STC 10479):

… by the punishment of Tityus, Ixion, Tantalus, Sisyphus and of Pentheus [the poets of the gentiles] painted and described the miserable and grievous life of lewd and wretched persons …


Hector Boece [Transl. by John Bellenden].  The Hystory and Croniklis of Scotland (c. 1536-1540), “Proem on cosmography”, xxxiv (STC 3203):

And otheris ar in reik sulphurius.

As Ixion, and wery Sisiphus,

Eumenides the furyis rycht odibill,

The proud giandis. And thristy Tantalus

With huglie drink and fude most vennomus,

Quhare flamis bald and mirknes ar sensibill.

Quhy ar thir folk in panis so terribill?

Becaus thay wer bot schrewis vicius

In to thayr lyfe, with dedis most horribil.

[And others are in sulphurous smoke, / Like Ixion and weary Sisyphus, / Eumenides, the Furies right odious, / The proud giants; and thirsty Tantalus / With ugly drink and food most venomous, / Where fierce flames and darkness are felt. / Why are these people in pains so terrible? / Because they were no more than wicked villains / During their lives, with deeds most horrible.]


Jasper HeywoodTroas (1559, 1581), II.i, The Spright of Achilles added to the tragedy by the translator:

To light more lothsome furie hath me sent

Than hooked wheel, that Ixion’s flesh doth rent.


Jasper HeywoodThyestes (1560, 1581), V.iv, added to the tragedy by the translator:

Thyestes [calls the tortures of hell upon himself]:

Or whirling wheels, with swing of which Ixion still is rolled,

Your hooks upon this glutted gorge, would catch a surer hold.


William WagerEnough is as good as a feast (1559-c.1570, 1560), 23-26 (STC 24933):


[When Orpheus played in hell,]

Tantalus forgot his hunger and thirst,

Sisyphus left of rolling his Stone:

Ixion, tormented among the worst,

Forgot his wheel that he was hanged on.


Thomas Norton and Thomas SackvilleGorboduc (1562), II.i.16-20 (STC 18684):


The hellish prince adjudge my damned ghost

To Tantal’s thirst or proud Ixion’s wheel,             [Tantalus]

Or cruel gripe to gnaw my growing heart,           [Tityus]

To during torments and unquenched flames,

If ever I conceived so foul a thought.


Robert Wilmot, Roger Stafford, Christopher Hatton, Henry Noel, William AllenGismund of Salerne (1567), IV.i.1-13:

Megera ariseth out of hell.


Vengeance and blood out of the deepest hells

I bring the cursed house where Gismund dwells,

Sent from the grisly god that holds his reign

In Tartarus ugly realm, where Pelops’ sire —         [Tantalus]

That with his own son’s flesh, whom he had slain,

Did feast the gods — with famine hath his hire,

To gape and catch at fleeing fruits in vain,

And yielding waters with his gasping throat;

Where stormy Eolus’ son, with endless pain,

Rolls up the rock; where Tityus hath his lot

To feed the gripe that gnaws his growing heart;

Where proud Ixion whirled on the wheel,

Pursues himself.

[Only minor changes in Robert Wilmot’s 1591 version, Tancred and Gismund (STC 25764)]


Lodowick LloydThe pilgrimage of princes (1573), p. 217v (STC 16624):

[Inward virtue even more powerful than outward beauty; could they see it, the damned would be relieved]

The trampling toil of Tantalus his hungry paunch to please,

The rolling stone of Sisyphus, her virtuous sight would cease.

If Tityus could, if Atlas might, might this Ixion see,

Tityus’ toil, Atlas’ load, Ixion eased should be.


Thomas Achelley [Transl. from Matteo Bandello].  Didaco and Violenta (1576), 925-28 (STC 1356.4):

[Orpheus’ music suspends the tortures of hell]

Ixion, thou, whose snaky wheel

Forever turneth round,

The same had not the power to move,

At Orpheus’ heavenly sound.


John GrangeThe Golden Aphroditis (1577), sig. Nv-Niir (STC 12174):

[Pluto’s show] Yea, all the hellish hags of Tarcurs [Tartar’s] den, and the furies of hell were placed in order about him. Whose delights were only to see how Ixion turned the wheel full of serpents, Tityus whose entrails were torn by greedy gripes; Tantalus standing up to the chin in water died for thirst. The cousins of Lynceus that draws up water continually to fill a brinkless tub, Sisyphus that rolled continually a stone to the top of an high hill, which being thither brought, rolleth down again.


John LylyEuphues and his England (1580), p. 136 (STC 17070):

No, Psellus, not the tortures of hell are either to be compared or spoken of, in the respect of thy torments: for what they all had severally, all that and more do I feel jointly. Insomuch that with Sisyphus I roll the stone even to the top of the hill, when it tumbleth both itself and me into the bottom of hell, yet never ceasing, I attempt to renew my labour, which was begun in death and cannot end in life.

What drier thirst could Tantalus endure than I, who have almost every hour the drink I dare not taste and the meat I cannot? Insomuch that I am torn upon the wheel with Ixion, my liver gnawn of the vultures and harpyes; yea my soul troubled even with the unspeakable pains of Megera, Tisiphone, Alecto, which secret sorrows, although it were more meet to enclose them in a labyrinth than to set them on a hill, yet where the mind is past hope, the face is past shame.


Barnabe RichRiche his Farewell to Militarie profession (1581), VII, “Of Aramanthus born a Leper” (STC 20996):

But what hath Tantalus offended, that he should continually be starved? Or how hath Sisyphus, that rolls the restless stone? Or what trespass hath been committed by Prometheus, Ixion, Tityus, or Danaus’ silly daughters drawing water at the well [Danaids], that may be compared to that which I have done?


George PeeleThe Araygnement of Paris (c. 1581-1584, 1581),  I.ii (STC 19530):

[Paris woos Oenone with mythological tales]

What pains unhappy souls abide in hell,

They say, because on earth they lived not well:

Ixion’s wheel, proud Tantal’s pining woe,       [Tantalus]

Prometheus’ torment, and a many mo’.

All these are old and known, I know …


Thomas WatsonHekatompathia (1582?), LXII (STC 25118a):

[The lover’s plight compared to the tortures of hell]

My state is equal to Ixion’s case,

Whose rented limbs are turn’d eternally.


Brian MelbanckePhilotimus (1583), p. 209 (STC 17801):

Ye greedy gripes, forbear to tire on Tityus’ growing heart: O Tantal, that endeavourest to drink the shunning water, and Danaus’ daughters, that seek to fill your tubs that have no brinks, and Ixion, that dost draw in that incessant wheel, and Sisyphus, with thy rolling restless stone, wail ye no more, work ye no more, your tasks and sorrows every each one are fallen unto my lot. O God, alas!


Robert GreeneArbasto (1584), sig. D3v (STC 12217):

I felt my mind disburthened of a thousand cares … But alas, poor Myrania could not feel one minute of such ease, for she incessantly turned the stone with Sisyphus, rolled on the wheel with Ixion, and filled the bottomless tub with Belides [Danaids].


Robert GreeneGwydonius (1584), “The Dream”, p. 25 (STC 12262):

… the torments of Tantalus, the torture of Ixion, the sorrow of Sisyphus were not half comparable to the perplexed passions that pinched my hapless heart when I saw all hope cut away from enjoying this earthly goddess.


William WarnerPan his Syrinx (1584), XLV (STC 25086):

… from Ixion his wheel to Belides [Danaids] their tub … [synonymous with “from Charybdis into Scylla”]


Thomas Hudson.   The Historie Of Judith In Forme Of A Poeme (1584, STC 21671), V, 45-46.

[Holophernes tortured by his desires more than Ixion and Prometheus]

… it is more pain I feel,

Than Ixion torn upon th’eternal wheel.


Philip Sidney and Arthur Golding [Transl. from Philippe de Mornay].  A woorke concerning the trewnesse of the Christian religion (1587) XII, p. 197 (STC 18149):

But the mischief is, that whereas we would not judge of a song by one note, nor of a comedy by one scene, nor of an oration by one full sentence, we will presume to judge of the harmony and orderly direction of the whole world, and of all that is therein, by some one action alone. Again, in music, we bear with changes and breathes, with pauses and discords; in comedies, with the immeasurable barbarous cruelties of an Atreus, the wicked presumptions of an Ixion, and the lamentable outcries of a Philoctetes: and all this is (if we will say the truth) because we have so good opinion of the musician, that we think he will make all to fall into a good concord; and of the comedy maker, that all his disagreements shall end in some marriage; and of the tragedy writer, that ere he leave the stage, he will tie the wicked Ixion to the wheel, or make the fiends of Hell to torment the Atreus, or contrariwise cause God to hear the woeful voice and pitiful cry of the poor Philoctetes.


Bartholomew Young [Transl. from Boccaccio].  Amorous Fiammetta (1587), V (STC 3179):

[An enamoured woman wishes her rival will die a cruel death] The which I wish may not be so common and natural as to others it is, but that turned into a lump of massy lead, or Ixion’s heavy stone tied about thy neck, thou mayest be cast into some deep and dark cave, amongst the midst of thy enemies’ murdering hands …

[A lover's pain] And miserable Ixion also, turmoiling eternally at his unruly wheel, doth not feel such cruel pain, that it may be likened to mine.


Thomas KydThe Spanish Tragedy (1585-1589, 1587) (STC 15093), I.i.63-66:

Andrea’s Ghost:

The left hand path declining fearfully,

Was ready downfall to the deepest hell,

Where bloody furies shakes their whips of steel,

And poor Ixion turns an endless wheel.


Thomas KydThe Spanish Tragedy (1585-1589, 1587), IV.v.33-35 (STC 15093):

Andrea’s Ghost:

Place Don Lorenzo on Ixion’s wheel,

And let the lover’s endless pains surcease.


George PeeleThe Battle of Alcazar (1588-1589, 1589), IV.ii (STC 19531):

Muly Mahamet:

Then let the earth discover to his ghost

Such tortures as usurpers feel below,

Rack’d let him be in proud Ixion’s wheel,

Pin’d let him be with Tantalus’ endless thirst,

Pray let him be to Tityus’ greedy bird,

Wearied with Sisyphus’ immortal toil.


Edmund SpenserThe Faerie Queene (1596), I, v, 35 (1590) (STC 23082):

[Duessa descends to the infernal regions]

There was Ixion turned on a wheel                             

For daring tempt the queen of heaven to sin;

And Sisyphus an huge, round stone did reel

Against an hill, ne might from labour lin;         [lin: stop (OED)]

There thirsty Tantalus hung by the chin;

And Tityus fed a vulture on his maw;

Typhœus’ joints were stretched on a gin,         [Typhon]        [gin: rack (OED 5)]

Theseus condemned to endless sloth by law,

And fifty sisters in leak vessels draw.    [Danaids]


John BurelTo the right high Lodwik, Duke of Lenox (1596?) “The Queen’s … Entry into the town of Edinburgh, May 19th, 1590” (STC 4105):

[When the queen of Scotland entered Edinburgh, the town was spread with tapestries representing mythological stories, among which Ixion, with Erostratus and the Danaids.]


AnonThe Cobler of Caunterburie (1590), III (STC 4579):

Rather, quoth he, let me suffer death than you be discredited, for if I were to abide the stone of Sisyphus, the wheel of Ixion, the gripe of Prometheus and the hunger of Tantalus, yet had I rather pocket up all these tortures with patience than bring thy credit within the compass of the least prejudice.


Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke [Transl. from Robert Garnier].  Antonius (1592), II.9-16 (STC 18138):


We are not hewn out of the monstrous mass

Of Giants, those which heaven’s wrack conspir’d;

Ixion’s race, false prater of his loves,

Nor yet of him who feigned lightning’s sound,

Nor cruel Tantalus, nor bloody Atreus


Abraham FraunceThe Third part of the Countesse of Pembrokes Yvychurch (1592), p. 24v (STC 11341):

[Adapts Ovid, Metamorphoses, X, 40-45. Here, in honour of Proserpina’s arrival with Pluto, infernal pains are remitted.]

Tantalus eats and drinks; Ixion’s loos’d from his endless

And still turning wheel; Tityus set free from the eagle;

Sisyphus’ extreme toil by the rolling stone is omitted,

And Danaus’ daughers from ruling tubs be released.    [Danaids]


Abraham FraunceThe Third part of the Countesse of Pembrokes Yvychurch (1592), p. 15 r (STC 11341):

Juno laugh’d no less than when she saw in Avernus

Proud Ixion’s wheel turn with revolution endless.


Robert GreeneSelimus (1591-1594, 1592), 425-29 (STC 12310b):


Thinkst thou I care for apparitions,

Of Sisyphus and of his backward stone

And poor Ixion’s lamentable moan?

Now, I think the cave of damned ghosts

Is but a tale to terrify young babes.


Thomas Kyd [Transl. from Robert Garnier].  Cornelia (1594), I.201-07 (STC 11622):


O war, if thou were subject but to death,

And by desert mightst fall to Phlegeton,

The torment that Ixion suffereth,

Or his, whose soul the vulture seizeth on,

Were all too little to reward thy wrath,

Nor all the plagues that fiery Pluto hath

The most outrageous sinners laid upon.


Thomas Kyd [Transl. from Robert Garnier].  Cornelia (1594), V.344-46 (STC 11622):


Ixion’s torment, Sisyph’s rolling stone,

And th’eagle tiring on Prometheus,

Be my eternal tasks …


Michael DraytonIdeas Mirrour (1594), XLIV (STC 7203):

[The lover’s plight]

With Sisyphus thus do I roll the stone,

And turn the wheel with damned Ixion.


Sir John OgleThe lamentation of Troy, for the death of Hector (1594), sig. A4v (STC 18755):

Stone-rolling Sisyphus, in his weary task,

And thirsty Tantalus in his river biding,

And woeful Ixion, all these might I ask

To be with shrieks my dreary pen a-guiding.

[Troy’s appeal to Sisyphus, Tantalus and Ixion parallels the invocation of John Lydgate’s Narrator to Ixion, the Danaids, Sisyphus and Tantalus to help him mourn for Hector’s death (Troy Book, III, 5461-67).]


William Caxton [Transl. of Blancandin et l’orgueilleuse d’amour (13th century)].  Blanchardine and Eglantine (c. 1489) [Thomas Pope Goodwine’s paraphrase, 1595], II, viii (STC 3125):

[Eglantine’s distress at her knight’s departure]

Ah, too true I find that the constellation of my stars, with the calculation of my nativity, have still allotted me with Ixion to be rolled  on the tormenting wheel, daily to turn the stone with Sisyphus, and forever to fill the bottomless tubs with the daughters of Belus [Danaids].


R. B.  Orpheus His Journey to Hell (1595), 371-76 (STC 1060):

[In hell, Orpheus sees Tantalus, and nearby, Ixion:]

By him, Ixion, on a torturing wheel

Continually is rack’d and torn asunder;

His body yet decays not any deal,

But still endures those pains, which is a wonder,

That being rack’d and tortur’d in this rate,

His body should continue in one state.


R. B.  Orpheus His Journey to Hell (1595), 395-96 (STC 1060):

[Orpheus’ music stops the tortures]

Then Sisyphus his rolling stone stood still,

Ixion’s pains began for to decrease.


Richard LincheDiella (1596), XXV (STC 17091):

[The lover’s plight]

Then, sighs and sobs, tell Tantalus he’s blest,

Go fly to Tityus, tell him he hath pleasure,

So tell Ixion, though his wheel ne’er rest;

Their pains are sports, imposed with some measure.

Bid them be patient, bid them look on me,

And they shall see the map of misery.


Edmund SpenserThe Faerie Queene (1596), VII, vi, 29 (STC 23082):

[Ixion punished for his pride]

Till having paus’d awhile, Jove thus bespake:            [Jupiter]

Will never mortal thoughts cease to aspire

In this bold sort, to heaven claim to make,

And touch celestial seats with earthly mire?

I would have thought that bold Procrustes’ hire,

Or Typhon’s fall, or proud Ixion’s pain,

Or great Prometheus’, tasting of our ire,

Would have suffic’d the rest for to restrain,

And warn’d all men by their example to refrain.


Robert TofteLaura (1597), II, 40 (STC 24097):

The heavens their restless sphere do always move,

In thee doth move the faith which thou didst plight;

And I, Ixion-like still, in my love,

Do roll, and yet I roll my wheel aright.


Robert ParrySinetes (1597), XXXIX (STC 19338):

Some one repeats he rolls the restless stone

With Sisyphus; another Tantal’s pain

Doth bear; the third is rack’d with Ixion;

And others do like Tityus complain.

But yet the worst of their accurs’d annoys

E’en is the best and chiefest of my joys.


Thomas James [Transl. from Guillaume Du Vair].  The moral philosophie of the Stoicks (1598), p. 78 (STC 7374):

And were it so that ambition should abandon all other vices, yet would she never leave herself, being only in this one thing just, that she sufficeth to her own punishment, and willingly offereth up herself unto torment. The motion of her desires is like unto the wheel of Ixion, it is turned up and down continually, and never suffers a man’s mind to rest quietly. Let us therefore fortify and establish our minds against these grievous motions which so much disease our quiet rest and repose.


William PercyThe Cuckqueanes and Cuckolds Errants (1601), I.i:


What pain so great as may once be compared

Unto those pains that parting lovers feel?

Believe me, Doucebel, the heart-devouring bird

That daily feeds on gut of Tityus,

The endless wheel, beset with hooks and crooks

On which Ixion runs, or that round ball,

Which the old thief shoves rolling to and fro,

Be not half so great.



William WarnerAlbions England (1596), III, xviii (STC 25082):

[A satiric dream: striving for dignities destroys peace in hell]

To Tantalus the shrinking flood, nor starting fruit, were such;

Nor Tityus his bowels did the hungry vulture touch;

Upon his stone sat Sisyphus, Ixion on his wheel,

The Belides upon their tubs. No wonted toil they feel,

Till, in this antick festival, these last recited five

Of dignities for duties there, they earnestly did strive.

And then the quarrel grew so hot that hell was hell again,

And flocking ghosts did severally their fauctor’s part maintain.      [fauctor: factor (OED I2) or fautor (OED 1): partisan, approver]

With Sisyphus took part the ghosts of minds that did aspire

And by ambitious climbing, fell, deserts unlike desire.

With Tantalus hild starved ghosts, whose pleasure was their pain,    [hild: from hield, incline to (OED, I1)]

Whose ever hoards had never use, and gettings had no gain.

To Belides assisted souls of unthrifts, whose supplies

Did pass from them as sea through sieves, whose wastes no wealths suffice.

Unto Ixion stood their sprites, that had their lusts for law,

Rebellants to a common good, and sinning without awe.

To Tityus, lastly, joined ghosts whose hearts did empty hate

As toads their poison, growing when it seemeth to abate.



Henry PetoweEnglands Cæsar: His Majesties Most Royall Coronation (1603) (STC 19806):

[The late Elizabeth I, here Delia, ascends to bliss under the conduct of the whole mythological pantheon. At her triumph, the tortures of hell stop.]

Tantalus, that time, did taste the pleasant fruit

Which never, till that hour, he could attain.

Ixion’s wheel, that, ceaseless, ever turned,

Stay’d then in spite of Fate (Oh time of wonder!)


William AlexanderAurora (1604), Elegy 1, sig. B2v-B3r (STC 337):

For if th’infernal powers, the damned souls would pine,

Hen let them send them to the light, to lead a life like mine.

O, if I could recount the crosses and the cares

That from my cradle to my bier conduct me with despairs,

Then hungry Tantalus, pleas’d with his lot would stand:

I  famish for a sweeter food, which still is reft my hand;

Like Ixion’s restless wheel my fancies roll about,

And like his guest that stole heaven’s fires, they tear my bowels out    [Prometheus]

I work an endless task and lose my labour still,

Even as the bloody sisters do, that empty as they fill;      [Danaids]

As Sisyph’s stone returns his guilty ghost t’appall,

 I ever raise my hopes so high, they bruise me with their fall.


SHAKESPEAREKing Lear (1605-1606, 1605)


John HindEliosto Libidinoso (1606), I, p. 18 (STC 13509):

[Cleodora in love with her son Eliosto]

… uncessantly, she rolled the stone with Sysiphus, turned the wheel with Ixion, and filled the bottomless tubs with Belides …


John MasonThe Turke (1607-1608, 1607), IV.i ( STC 17617):

[Julia asks for music]

Some say that when the Thracian enter’d hell,         [Orpheus]

The tortur’d souls, enchanted with his tunes,

Felt not their torments; Sisyphus sat down,

Ixion’s wheel stood still; the thirsty son of Jove

Forgat to drink, and all the rest did stand,

Catching the air from his delicious hand.

I would I might partake their happiness.

Ariosto [Transl. by Gervase Markham or Robert Tofte].  Ariosto’s satyres (1608), II (STC 744):

[Rome as hell, where…]

… that same wheel or Ruota turns and winds,

O, not that wheel which doth Ixion scourge,

But that which doth in Rome so shrewdly purge

Men’s purses, whilst through long and vile delays,

Lawyers on them, as fowl on carrion, prey.


Thomas HeywoodTroia Britanica (1609), VII, xvii (STC 13366):

This with such moving accents Orpheus sang

That chin-deep Tantalus forgot to bow

Unto the shrinking wave: Ixion hung

Untossed upon the wheel; and Sisyph now

Rests him upon his stone. His harp was strung

With such rare art, the Danaids knew not how

To use their empty tubs; Styx breath’d not fire,

Nor can the vulture on Prometheus tire.


R. A. [Robert Armin, Robert Anton or Robert Aylett].  The Valiant Welshman, (1610-1615, 1612), IV.v.7-9 (STC 16):


Damned Cornwall, mayst thou sink to hell for this,

Wrack’d by the Furies on Ixion’s wheel,

And whipp’d with steel for this accursed treason.


Thomas HeywoodThe Silver Age (1613), III.1132-41 (STC 13365):

[Hercules in hell]


Hence, ravenous vulture, thou no more shalt tire

On poor Prometheus; Danaids, spare your tubs,

Stand still, thou rolling stone of Sisyphus;

Feed, Tantalus, with apples, glut thy paunch,

And with the shrinking waves quench thy hot thirst.

Thy bones, Ixion, shall no more be broke

Upon the torturing wheel; the eagle’s beak

Shall Tityus spare at sight of Hercules,

And all the horrid tortures of the damn’d

Shall at the waving of our club dissolve.


Thomas HeywoodThe Brazen Age (1613), I.325-29 (STC 13310):

[Hercules triumphs over Nessus]


That the luxurious slave [Nessus] were sensible

Of torture! Not th’infernals with more pangs

Could plague the villain than Alcides should.

Ixion’s bones racked on the torturing wheel

Should be a pastime.


Patrick GordonPenardo and Laissa (1615), ii, 32-33 (STC 12067):

[Melpomene descends into hell to get Alecto]

There, Sulmon, crawling, was in endless pain

For counterfeiting thunder, flaught and fire;        [flaught: flash of lightning]

There, Tityus, darling of the earth, was flain,       [flain: here tortured, rather than specifically flayed?]

A vulture feeding on his filthy liver;

There was the wheel Ixion turning still

For daring tempt heaven’s queen to lech’rous ill;


There, Tisiphus, disjointed on a rack,      [Sisyphus? But the torture does not correspond]

There Theseus to endless sloth condemn’d;

There, fifty sisters drawing water wrack           [wrack: suffer punishment?]

And yet their vessels empty still unstem’d;          [still unstem’d: with holes unstopped?]

There, Tantalus with thirst and hunger slain,

Sees meat and drink, yet neither could he gain.


Phineas FletcherSicelides (1615), Chorus at the end of Act IV (STC 11083):

[Orpheus in hell]

The three-headed porter, pressed to hear,

Prick’d up his thrice-double ear;

The Furies, plagues for guilt up heaping,

Now as guilty, fell a-weeping;

Ixion, though his wheel stood still,

Still was wrap’d with music’s skill.

Tantal might have eaten now

The fruit as still as was the bough

But he, fool, no hunger fearing,

Starv’d his taste to feed his hearing.  

[Rewritten in Purple Island, 1633]


William Browne of Tavistock.   Britannia’s Pastorals (1616), Book II, Song 2, sig. D4v (STC 3915.5):

But stay, sweet Muse! Forbear this harsher strain,

Keep with the shepherds; leave the satyrs’ vein,

Coop not with bears; let Icarus alone

To scorch himself within the torrid Zone,

Let Phaëton run on, Ixion fall,

And with a humble styled pastoral,

Tread through the valleys, dance about the streams.


William Drummond of HawthorndenPoems amorous, funerall, divine, pastorall (1616), sonnet 32, sig. D4v (STC 7256):

[The lover’s plight]

Let her count how, a new Ixion, me

She in her wheel did turn, how high nor low

I never stood, but more to tortur’d be.


William Drummond of HawthorndenPoems amorous, funerall, divine, pastorall (1616), sonnet 53, sig. Gr (STC 7256):

[The lover’s pain worse than the tortures in hell, including “Ixion’s endless smart”]


Thomas GoffeOrestes (c. 1613-c. 1618, 1617), V.v (STC 11982):

[Orestes’ torments after murdering Clytemnestra]


O, I suck’d out my mother’s dearest blood,

I did, indeed. O, she plagues me for’t now.

O, I must go lie down in Tityus’ place,

Ixion’s too; he, sir, would fain resign.

I scorn your petty plagues, I’ll have a worse!

O, the vulture, the wheel, the vulture!


See how his conscious thoughts, like fiends of hell,

Do arm themselves and lash his guilty soul.

He sees no vulture, nor no scorpion strikes,

Yet doth his conscience whip his bloody heart.


Thomas GoffeThe raging Turke (c. 1613-c. 1618), I.iv.11-12 (STC 11980):

[Corcutus’ thoughts about usurpation]

Corcutus:          first let me feel

The Tition vulture, or Ixion’s wheel.


Thomas GoffeThe couragious Turke (1619), V.iii.46-50 (STC 11977):

[Amurath tormented by four fiends “framed like Turkish kings, but black”, his “supposed predecessors”]


Now, who the devil sent my grandsires hither?

Had Pluto no task else to set them to?

He should have bound them to Ixion’s wheel,

Or bid them roll the stone of Sisyphus.


Guillaume du BartasLa Judith [Transl. by Joshua Sylvester]. Bethulian’s Rescue (1614), 47-52 (STC 23581):

[Holophernes in love]

This is not life, or is worse life to feel

Than sad Ixion’s, on the brazen wheel

Eternal turning; or a life, in brief,

Most like the life of that celestial thief,          [Prometheus]

Whose ever-never-dying heart and liver

On Scythian rocks feed a fell vulture ever.


Guillaume du Bartas [Transl. by Joshua Sylvester].  Du Bartas His Divine Weekes And Workes (1621), “The Schism”, “3rd book of the 4th day of the 2nd week”, 621-32 (STC 21653):

[Elijah’s rape]

The Thisbian prophet hangs not in the air,        [Thisbian prophet: Elijah, from the town of Thisbe, in Gilead]

Amid the meteors, to be tossed there,

Nor is he nailed to some shining wheel,

Ixion-like, continually to reel;

For Christ his flesh, transfigur’d, and divine,

Mounted above the arches crystalline;

And where Christ is, from pain and passion free,

There (after death) shall all his Chosen be.


Jasper FisherFuimus Troes (c. 1611-1633, 1625), IV.ii.10-16 (STC 10886):

[Eulinus has killed Hirildas]

The centaur’s wheel, Prometheus’ hawk, the vulture        [Ixion a centaur]

Of Tityus, Sisyphus’ never mossy stone,

The tale of Danaids’ tub, and Tantalus gaping,

Are but flea-bitings to my smart; I’ve slain

A kinsman, more, a friend I dearly lov’d;

Nay more, no cause provoking, but in rash

And hellish choler.



Richard BromeThe City Wit (c. 1630), II.i (Wing B4866):

[Sarpego’s curse]

Dives’ thirst in thy throat, Ixion’s wheel on thy back, Tantalus’ hunger in thy guts, and Sisyphus’ stone in thy bladder!


John TaylorAll the workes of John Taylor the water-poet (1630), “Noble Captain O’ Toole (STC 23725):

[The Captain, like a new Herculean hero, was capable “from the torturing wheel to fetch Ixion”.].


John TaylorAll the workes of John Taylor the water-poet (1630), “Sonnets in Praise Of Thomas Coryat, the Odcombian traveller” (STC 23725):

[Lucifer keeps holiday in hell]

Conglomerating Ajax, in a fog

Constulted with Ixion for a tripe,

At which Gargantua took an Irish bog

And with the same gave Sisyphus a stripe.


John TaylorAll the workes of John Taylor the water-poet (1630), “The Eighth Wonder Of The World: Or, Coryat’s Escape From His Supposed Drowning” (STC 23725):

[In expectation of Coryat’s arrival in hell]

Ixion from the torturing wheel was eas’d,

And pining Tantall was with junkets pleas’d;

And further, 'twas commanded, and decreed,

The Gripe no more on Tityus’ guts should feed.

The nine and forty wenches, water filling,

In tubs unbottom’d, which was ever spilling;

They all had leave to leave their endless toils,

To dance, sing, sport, and to keep revel coils.


John TaylorAll the workes of John Taylor the water-poet (1630), “The Praise And Vertue Of A Jayle (STC 23725):

[London jails]

Where some like Tantalus, or like Ixion.

The pinching pain of hunger daily feel,

Turn’d up and down with fickle Fortune’s wheel;

And some do willingly make their abode,

Because they cannot live so well abroad.


Thomas RandolphAmyntas  (1630), II.iv (STC 20694):

[Amyntas believes himself to be in hell]


Styx, I thank thee! That curl’d wave

Hath toss’d me on the shore. Come, Sisyphus,

I’ll roll thy stone a while: methinks this labour

Doth look like love! Does it not so, Tisiphone?


Mine is that restless toil.


I’st so, Erynnis?

You are an idle huswife, go and spin

At poor Ixion’s wheel!


Alexander CraigThe Pilgrime And Heremite (1631), “The Hermit his Complaint”, sig. C3r (STC 5957):

Yea, would I press to tell the torments that I feel,

With travel tint then might I turn Ixion’s fatal wheel;       [tint: Scottish word, wasted, ruined, damned]

And to disgorge these griefs which make me sigh and sob,

Were for to weave a new Penelopean web.


Ben JonsonChloridia (1630), “The Antimasque” (STC 14762):

[Holiday in hell]

Half-famish’d Tantalus is fallen to his fruit, with that appetite, as it threatens to undo the whole company of custard-mongers, and he has a river afore him, running excellent wine. Ixion is loos’d from his wheel, and turn’d dancer, does nothing but cut caprioles, fetch friscals, and leads lavoltas with the Lamiae! [lamia: a beast that hath a woman’s face and feet of a horse (Cooper, Thesaurus)] Sisyphus has left rolling the stone and is grown a Mr Bowler; challenges all the prime gamesters, persons [i. e. important persons] in hell, and gives them odds, upon Tityus his breast, that — for six of the nine acres — is counted the subtlest bowling-ground in all Tartary [Tartarus].


Ralph KnevetRhodon and Iris (1631), II.iii (STC 15036 and 15036a):

[Eglantine’s lament]

Now let Ixion’s wheel stand still a while,

Let Danaus’ daughters now surcease their toil,      [Danaids]

Let Sisyphus rest on his restless stone,

Let not the apples fly from Plota’s son,        [Tantalus]

And let the full gorg’d vulture cease to tear

The growing liver of the ravisher.   [Tityus]

Let these behold my sorrows, and confess

Their pains do come far short of my distress.


M. M. [Matthew Mainwaring].  Vienna (1632?), p. 58 (STC 17202):

Time I will consume with my breath, and burn up love with the sun. The world I will cut asunder with my sword, and make a new land in the air. The waters I will swallow up, and bury the winds in the moon. Ixion I will remove from his moving and tormenting seat, and set the Dauphin on his turning wheel, where hunger-starved vapours shall gnaw on his hateful heart, and pining Tantalus give him all his food. Vienna shall be sole queen of heaven, and only rule the glorious globe; and I will reign in Jupiter’s stead, and throw down fire and lightning on the cursed castle that enthrals my love; I will beat that cruel Dauphin to powder with thunder, that I may be revenged on time, love, gods, men, the world, the Dauphin, and all for the Dauphin.


James ShirleyHyde Park (1632), V.i (STC 22446):

Rivers of hell I come, Charon thy oar

Is needless, I will swim unto the shore,

And beg of Pluto, and of Proserpine,

That all the damned torments may be mine;

With Tantalus I’ll stand up to the chin

In waves; upon Ixion’s wheel I’ll spin

The sisters’ thread, quail Cerberus with my groan …


Phineas FletcherThe Purple Island (1633), V, 64-65 (STC 11082):

[Orpheus’ music in hell]

The hungry Tantal might have fill’d him now,

And with large draughts swill’d in the standing pool:

The fruit hung list’ning on the wond’ring bough,

Forgetting hell’s command; but he (ah fool!)

Forgot his starved taste, his ears to fill.

Ixion’s turning wheel, unmov’d, stood still,

But he was rapt as much with powerful music’s skill.


Tir’d Sisyphus sat on his resting stone,

And hop’d at length his labour done for ever:

The vulture feeding on his pleasing moan,

Glutted with music, scorn’d grown Tityus’ liver.

[Rewritten and expanded from Sicelides, (1615)]


Francis QuarlesDivine poems (1633), “Dolor Inferni. 5” (STC 20534):

Let poets please to torture Tantalus,

Let griping vultures gnaw Prometheus,

And let poor Ixion turn his endless wheel,

Let Nemesis torment with whips of steel,

They far come short t’express the pains of those

That rage in hell, enwrap’d in endless woes.


Thomas HeywoodThe Hierarchie of the blessed Angells (1635), VI, “The Powers”, p. 344 (STC 13327):

Ixion there, turn’d on his restless wheel,

Follows and flies himself, doth tortures feel

For tempting Juno’s chastity. Tityus, stretch’d

Upon the earth and chain’d, whose body reach’d

In length nine acres, hath, for his aspiring,

A vulture on his entrails ever tiring.


Nathaniel RichardsMessallina, the Roman emperesse (1634-1636, 1635), II.i (STC 21011):


Th’impatient sudden cause of discontent

In your rare worth only torments me more

Than were I rack’d upon Ixion’s wheel

To perpetuity.


Shackerley MarmionCupid and Psyche (1638), Bk II (STC 17444a):

[Psyche’s descent into hell]

There Tantalus stands thirsty, to the chin

In water, but can take no liquor in.

Ixion too, and Sisyphus. The one

A wheel, the other turns a restless stone.

A vulture there on Tityus does wreak

The gods’ just wrath, and pounding with his beak,

On his immortal liver still does feed,

For what the day does waste, the night does breed.


II.  Ixion’s cloud


John GrangeThe Golden Aphroditis (1577), sig. H2r (STC 12174):

Yet, Lady, I would be loath — if otherwise I might choose — to spend my seed in vain, as Ixion, Juno’s secretary, whilom did.


Thomas WatsonHekatompathia (1582), XXXII (STC 25118a):

[The lover dreamt that his mistress had come to “end [his] woe”, but, waking up, discovered “t’was nothing so”.]

Embracing air instead of my delight,

I blamed Love as author of the guile

And said (methought) that I must bide a while

Ixion’s pains, whose arms did oft embrace

False darkened clouds, instead of Juno’s grace.


George WhetstoneAn Heptameron of Civill Discourses (1582), “The fifth day’s exercise”, sig. P2v (STC 25337):

Soranso and Ismarito were severed from the rest of the company upon private discourse, which being ended, Soranso, casting his eye aside, beheld in the hangings, the picture of Ixion, hurdled to his tormenting wheel. See yonder, quoth he, the worthy scourge of ambition, and withal reported the fable of his presumptuous making of love to Juno.

Nay, quoth Ismarito, Ixion is rather the example of vain glory punished; for Jupiter, so well allowed of Ixion’s high mind (in that he represented his image) as he raised him from earth to heaven, and because he should not perish in his affection, he satisfied his desire with the embracement of a counterfeit Juno, and so sent him back unto the earth; where vain glorious Ixion proclaimed that he was the minion of Juno, and had Acteoned Jupiter: for which arrogance, Jupiter threw him to hell, with this pictured vengeance.

[Marginal notes announce “The fable of Ixion” and comment, first “To be proud in virtues is commendable”, then “The scourge of vain glory”]


Robert GreeneGwydonius (1584), p. 34v-35v (STC 12262):

Why, Gwydonius, shall the old Proverb be verified in thee, that the Priest forgets himself that ever he was a clerk, that too much familiarity breeds contempt. … if the proud centaur, Ixion, be bidden to the feast of the Gods, no less than Juno herself will suffice him for his choice. … Madam (quoth he) … the Centaur Ixion was not reproved for his familiarity with Juno as he was a guest, but in that his suit tended to the sacking of her honesty: familiarity never breeds contempt in a good mind, neither am I to be accused of the crime, for the most servile slave in Alexandria (I call the heavens as witnesses of my words) doth not with more loving duty reverence and honour your person and parentage, than doth your poor servant Gwydonius.


William WarnerPan his Syrinx (1584), XXIII (STC 25086):

… so wise in their choice oftentimes are women, that whiles they desire to be wooed, and disdained to be won, it fareth with them as with hobbies, so you serve us as faulkners, granting us to seize, where we happen to souse [souse: swoop down (of a hawk)] ; as sweet a morsel ywis to Juno (had their love been currant) was Ixion as Jupiter…


John LylyGallathea (1584-1588, 1585), III.iv.44-48 (STC 17080):

Diana: Cast before your eyes the loves of Venus’ trulls, their fortunes, their fancies, their ends. What are they else but Silenus’ pictures, without, lambs and doves, within, apes and owls, who like Ixion embrace clouds for Juno, the shadows of virtue instead of the substance?



Pierre de La Primaudaye [Transl. by Thomas Bowes].  The French academie (1586), XXIII, “Of glorie, praise, honor, and of pride” (STC 15233):

Amana: Most certain it is, that commonly nothing affecteth a man more than the coveting of glory, of praise and of honour, whereof he is by nature desirous. But as all the passions and diseases of the soul are for the most part followed with those inconveniences, which men pretend most of all to eschew, so oftentimes they that glance at honour, as if that were virtue itself, leaving behind them the path of that virtue from whence honour ought to proceed, and which is able of itself to adorn and deck men, fall into the same reckoning that Ixion did, who (as the poets say) had to do with a cloud, supposing it to have been the goddess Juno, whereupon the centaurs were engendered.


Robert GreeneGreenes never too late (1590), p. 3-4 (STC 12253):

If quoth he, and he doubled his words with an emphasis, I fall amongst lovers, I will decipher to them that their god is a boy, as fond as he is blind; their goddess a woman, inconstant, false, flattering, like the winds that rise in the shores of Lepantus, which in the morning send forth gusts from the North, and in the evening calms from the West, that their fancies are like April showers, begun with a sunshine, and ended in a storm; their passions deep hells, their pleasures Chimera’s portraitures, sudden joys that appearing like Juno, are nothing, when Ixion toucheth them, but dusky and fading clouds.


Thomas LodgeRosalynde (1590), sig. G4r (STC 16664):

[Rosader speaks] I have, with Ixion, laid my love on Juno, and shall, I fear, embrace nought but a cloud.


Thomas LodgeRosalynde (1590), sig. H4v (STC 16664):

[Rosalind/Ganymede to Rosader: if his love poetry is not sincere] … then, I pray God, when you think your fortunes at your highest and your desires to be most excellent, then that you may, with Ixion, embrace Juno in a cloud and have nothing but a marble mistress to release your martyrdom.


Thomas LodgeRosalynde (1590), sig. I3v (STC 16664):

[Rosalind as Ganymede plays at being Rosalind to an unsatisfied Rosader] When thus they had finished their courting eclogue  …, Ganymede … began to be thus pleasant:

“How now, forester, have I not fitted your turn? Have I not played the woman handsomely? … Did not Rosalind content her Rosader?”

The forester, at this smiling, … made this merry reply:

“Truth, gentle swain, Rosader hath his Rosalind but as Ixion had Juno, who, thinking to possess a goddess, only embraced a cloud.”


Thomas NasheStrange Newes (1592), “To the Gentlemen Readers” (STC 18377):

I cannot tell how it comes to pass, but in these ill-eyed days of ours, every man delights with Ixion to beget children of clouds, dig for pearls in dunghills, and wrest oil out of iron.


Richard BarnfieldCynthia (1595), Sonnet XVI (STC 1483):

Thus, with Ixion, kiss I clouds in vain;

Thus, with Ixion, feel I endless pain.


Michael DraytonMortimeriados (1596), sig. Rr (STC 7207):

[Queen Isabel and Mortimer look at pictures of Phaeton and of Ixion]

Glancing upon Ixion, she doth smile,

Who for his Juno took the cloud amiss;

Madam, quoth he,  thus women can beguile,

And oft we find in love, this error is.

Why, friend, quoth she, thy hap is like to his;

That booteth not, quoth he, were he as I,

Jove would have been in monstrous jealousy.


Gabriel HarveyThe trimming of Thomas Nashe Gentleman (1597), sig. C4r (STC 12906):

… thou feedest thyself with self-conceit that whatsoever cometh from thee is the very quintessence of true wit, and that all thy ribaldry that ever thou settest forth, exceeded in pleasing mirth, that so thou hast embraced true Minerva, when as (God knows) thou art as far deceived as ever was poor Ixion, that embraced a cloud instead of Juno, or that gulled-god monstrous arcadian Pan, who instead of that sweet nymph Syrinx, fumpt [“fumped”, from “thump”, to have sexual intercourse (Partridge)] a bunch of reeds …


John MarstonThe Metamorphosis of Pigmalions Image (1598), st. 18 (STC 17482):

But when he saw poor soul, he was deceived,

Yet scarce he could believe his sense had failed,

Yet when he found all hope from him bereaved,

And saw how fondly all his thoughts had erred,

Then did he like to poor Ixion seem,

That clipped a cloud instead of heaven’s queen.


John MarstonCertaine Satyres (1598), 1, “Quedam videntur, et non sunt” [“either things appear as they are, or they are not”, from Epictetus, Discourses, I, xxvii], 55-62 (STC 17482):

Ixion makes fair weather unto Jove,        [makes fair weather: assumes a deceptive appearance]

That he might make foul work with his fair love,       [Juno]

And is right sober in his outward semblance,

Demure, and modest in his countenance;

Applies himself to great Saturnus’ son,        [Jupiter]

Till Saturn's daughter yields his motion.    [Juno]

Night-shining Phoebe knows what was begat,

A monstrous centaur, illegitimate.


John MarstonCertaine Satyres (1598), 5 “Parva magna, magna nulla” [Small crimes, great punishments; great crimes, no punishment (For complementary interpretations, see Davenport 1961, 247)], 63-64 (STC 17482):

[Juno], Who fore his [Jupiter’s] face was odiously defil’d

And by Ixion grossly got with child.

[Marston emphasizes the cloud delusion in The Metamorphosis of Pygmalion’s Image, where it suits the theme of illusory love, but erases it in Certain Satyres, 1 and 5, to blacken both Ixion and Juno.]


Robert GreeneGreenes Orpharion (1599), p. 5-6 (STC 12260):

[Venus’ deceits]

… suppose she sets them [lovers] on the top of her wheel, where, poor man, thou desirest to be placed, and for their long travail, she gives them, with Ixion, a cloud — a fair dame, I mean, as she bestowed upon Paris …


Robert GreeneGreenes Orpharion (1599), p. 19 (STC 12260):

… if the proud centaur Ixion be bidden to the feast of the gods, no less than Juno herself will suffice him for his choice.



Robert GreeneGreenes Orpharion (1599), p. 29 (STC 12260):

Scarce had Acestes uttered this word “Lidia”, but the king, starting from his seat, turned to his daughter, and asked what love was passed betwixt her and Acestes. Such, quoth she, with a frowning countenance, as passed betwixt Juno and the centaur Ixion: “I not deny, but before his journey to Pamphilia, he courted and made great suit by word, and letters, but how I disdained the motion of so base a companion, let the answers of his letters manifest; and now, before this royal and honourable assembly I protest, if Acestes were featured like Narcissus, as courageous as Hercules, having as many heroical virtues as ever had any, and could present me every day two kings for captives till he made me empress of the world, yet would I disdain him, as one unworthy the princess Lidia”.


SHAKESPEAREKing Lear (1605-1606, 1605)


John Fletcher (with Thomas Middleton, William Rowley?).  Wit at Several Weapons (c. 1609-1620, 1609), II.i.295-97 (Wing B1581):

Guardianess. Oh falsest man, Ixion’s plague fell on me, never by woman such a masculine cloud,  so airy and so subtle, was embrac’d.



William FennorCornu-copiae, Pasquils night-cap: or, Antidot for the head-ache (1612), p. 106 (STC  10782.5):

Nor had she [Juno] only such propitious luck,

Though she in Heaven chief cuck-queen was reputed.

Vulcan, her son, was headed like a buck,

And by the lusty god of war cornuted.

And Jove himself, though some the truth do shroud,

Faining Ixion did embrace a cloud,

Was in this common lot a great partaker,

And both a cuckold, and a cuckold-maker.


Gervase MarkhamThe Second and Last Part of the First Booke of the English Arcadia (1613), fol. 24 (STC 17352):

… who knows not that the eye, of all senses, is most deceivable? Witness Ixion, that instead of Juno embraced a cloud; Alcmena for Amphytrion folded Jupiter Hammon; and Dido, instead of Ascanius, played with Cupid, her destroyer.


Richard BrathwaitA Strappado for the Divell (1615), “Love’s Labyrinth”, p. 20 (STC 3588):

And Juno lov’d Ixion for his kiss.

Richard BrathwaitA Strappado for the Divell (1615), “Love’s Labyrinth” (“Hyppolitus unto Phaedra”), p. 101-02 (STC 3588):

Recall to mind Ixion’s punishment,

See in a mirror what his folly got,

Who, whil’st he soar’d above his element,

Kindly receiv’d of Jove, himself forgot.

And as a stream which runs too violent,

Passing his bounds and limits, knoweth not

How soon that flow shall have a sudden fall,

Whose boundless current kept no mean at all.


So did Ixion, who in self-conceit

Of his proportion, did aspire too high,

Affecting Juno, which did ruinate

The mansion of his pristine dignity,

Dazzling that sun which sun so bright of late,

For, with a cloud deceiv’d, engender’d he

The centaurs’ varied forms, which being bred,

To Pelion came, where they inhabited.


Thomas CollinsThe Teares Of Love: Or, Cupids Progresse (1615), p. 3 (STC 5567):

So he that seeks his goddess to embrace

May have, like Ixion, but a cloud in chase;

And when he thinks fast in his arms to fold her,

Finds her so ay cry that he cannot hold her.   [ay cry: ayery, airy]


John Fletcher, Nathan Field, Philip Massinger.  The Knight of Malta (1616-1619, 1618), I.i.161-65 (Wing B1581):

Mountferrat:               Oh, my Zanthia,

My pearl, that scorns a stain! I much repent

All my neglects; Let me, Ixion-like,

Embrace my black cloud, since my Juno is

So wrathful and averse.


John FletcherWomen Pleas’d (1619-1623, 1620), I.i.100-01 (Wing B1581):

[Claudio hopelessly in love]

Ixion like, I have only yet clasp’d clouds,

And fed upon poor empty dreams that starve me.


Richard BrathwaitEssaies upon the five senses (1620), sig. A3v (STC 3566):

The fable of the sirens had allusion to the ear, of Ixion to the eye, of Atalanta to the taste, of Myrrha to the smell, of Semele to the touch; where the ear, not temperately restrained, was soon enchanted; the eye, lightly affected, was to misery exposed; the taste, for want of due relishing, foiled her that was vanquishing; the smell, too rankly breathing, brought itself to perishing; the touch, too highly aspiring, through her ambition fell to ruin.



Thomas MayThe Heir (1620), sig. B2v (STC 17713):


Gold is the god of his idolatry,

With hope of which I’ll feed him, till at length

I make him fasten, and Ixion-like,

For his lov’d Juno grasp an empty cloud.


James ShirleyThe Schoole of Complement (1625), III.i (STC 22456):

[Selina, disguised as a shepherd, runs away from Rufaldo, an old man she does not want to marry]

This is the morn the sacred rites should tie

Me to Rufaldo, ripe in expectation.

But like Ixion, he shall grasp a cloud,

My empty clothes at home.



John TaylorAll the workes of John Taylor the water-poet (1630), “A Whore” (STC 23725):

Ixion, in his arms, he did suppose

That he the goddess Juno did enclose;

But in the end his frantic error show’d,

That all which he embrac’d was but a cloud.

So whosoever do their lust embrace,

Instead of love, are clouded with disgrace.


John FordThe Broken Heart (c. 1630-1633, 1630), IV.i.65-73 (STC 11156):

Ithocles:          To be any thing

Calantha smiles on, is to be a blessing

More sacred than a petty — prince of Argos

Can wish to equal or in worth or title.


Contain yourself, my lord: Ixion, aiming

To embrace Juno, bosom’d but a cloud,

And begat centaurs: ‘tis an useful moral:

Ambition hatch’d in clouds of mere opinion

Proves but in birth a prodigy.


Fulke GrevilleCælica (1633), XLII (STC 12361):

[The poet’s mistress changes herself into a stone, a cloud, a stream]

From stone she turns again into a cloud,

Where water still had more power than the fire;

And I, poor Ixion to my Juno vowed,

With thoughts to clip her, clipp’d my own desire:

For she was vanished, I held nothing fast,

But woes to come and joys already past.


Henry Peacham the youngerThestylis atrata (1634), sig. C3r (STC 19516):

Sweet beauty, why art thou so transitory?

See, ladies, what it is that make you proud,

A very nothing, an Ixion’s cloud,

When most belov’d, pursu’d, embrac’d and kiss’d,

Dissolves itself to vapour and to mist;

A blushful blossom, pleasing to the eye,

No sooner blown, but blasted by and by.

[Marginal note: “Jupiter perceiving Ixion to be in love with Juno, deceived him with a cloud, which be made like Juno”]


Thomas HeywoodThe Hierarchie of the blessed Angells (1635), IX, “The Angel” (STC 13327):

But as the fable of Ixion proud

Saith, he, in Juno’s stead, embrac’d a cloud.

So, for the most part, those of wits refin’d,

Building upon their amplitude of mind,

And by their own vain apprehensions sway’d,

In their main course erroneously have stray’d.


Philip MassingerThe Bashful Lover (1636), I.i.46-51 (Wing M1050):

[Galeazzo desperately in love with Matilda]


I dare not sue for mercy; like Ixion

I look on Juno, feel my heart turn cinders

With an invisible fire. And yet should she

Deign to appear cloth’d in a various cloud,

The majesty of the substance is so sacred,

I durst not clasp the shadow.


Richard BrathwaitThe Two Lancashire Lovers (1640), XIII, p. 96 (STC 3590):

[Discontented lovers]

… in the way of enjoying of what they most affected, and suddenly, Ixion-like, deceived with a cloud.


Richard BrathwaitThe Two Lancashire Lovers (1640), XVIII, p. 142 (STC 3590):

[Philocles’ supposed dream of Doriclea]

… overjoy’d, I cull’d thee, where thou stood,

But like Ixion, I embrac’d a cloud.



III. Ixion merged or confused with Tityus or Prometheus


Pedro de la Sierra [Transl. by R. P.].  The second part of the Myrror of knighthood (1583), p. 59 (STC 18866):

[a distressed lady compares herself to Ixion and Cupid (or love) to a female vulture]

… the vulture, which always taketh for her repast and feeding the bowels of that unfortunate Ixion, and the more pain he suffereth, the more her hunger increaseth, so that evermore by her greediness, he sustaineth a lasting grief, even so (sovereign lord) love doth torment me, and always is gnawing of these my afflicted bowels, yet never do I feel them without love, but rather always, both in the winter and summer, in presence and in absence it doth still increase.


Robert GreeneAlphonsus, King of Aragon (1587-1588, 1587), I.145-47 (STC 12233):


These words, my sire, did so torment my mind

As, had I been with Ixion in hell,

The ravening bird could never plague me worse.



AnonAdvertisements from Britany, and from the Low Countries. (1591), p. 1v (STC 3802.5):

… their own near neighbouring hungry garrisons would eternally pray upon them, after the feigned instance of Ixion and the eagle …


IV. King Ixion


Raoul Le Fèvre [Transl. by William Caxton].  Recuyell of the Historyes of Troy (1473/74), Book I (STC 15375):

[Battle between Jupiter and Saturn]

Jupiter had set his puissance in two wings, whereof he was chief in the formest, and Ixion and his centaurs were governors of the second.

[Neither Jupiter nor Saturn get the advantage]

And Jupiter returned, with the king Ixion and the centaurs …

[Jupiter] concluded with Ixion that the day following, the centaurs should have the battle, and they that had fought the day afore should rest them.

Jupiter and Ixion thanked their gods greatly of this victory, and concluded together that they would yet pursue their enemies by the sea, for as much as they were yet great in number; and Ixion said that it was expedient to bring them to plain utterance [to utterance: to the bitter end (OED, 2a)].

Jupiter, with Ixion and the centaurs, let then them that he esteemed vanquished and overcome.

Jupiter and Ixion were valiant and desirous to get honour.

[Jupiter and Ixion are victorious and hold Ganymede prisoner]

Jupiter was in the field, and made great cheer with Ixion and the centaurs …

[Jupiter plans to go and free Danae]

This conclusion pleased to king Ixion and to the centaurs for as much as they had heard spoken of the strength of the tour d’airain. [tour d’airain: brazen tower. Caxton directly transcribes Raoul Le Fèvre’s French]

[Back in Crete, Jupiter gathered four hundred of his men to set out to free Danae]

… And taught them and informed them the feat of arms after the discipline of Ixion and of the centaurs.

[But he hears that king Acrisius has set his daughter Danae to sea]

He called Ganymede and Ixion, and told them that his voyage was broken and that the king Acrisius had cast her in to the sea, for whom he made this army. Ganymede and Ixion comforted him the best wise they could.

[The Olympiads. Tournaments organised by two kings:]

That is to weet Tandarus, that was father of Menelas, husband of the fair Helen, and Ixion, that was king of Thessaly.

The king Tandarus and the king Ixion were richly arrayed and well horsed.

[But Hercules overcomes Ixion]

Hercules smote him [Ixion] on the shield in such wise that all astonied he bare him to the earth and down of his horse.


Raoul Le Fèvre [Transl. by William Caxton].  Recuyell of the Historyes of Troy (1473), Book II (STC 15375):

[Wedding of Pirithous and Hippodamia]

The city was all full of noblesse. The centaurs were there; they were a hundred giants armed that ran as the wind, which the king Ixion had ordained in this saylle [in Thessaly?]; of whom some dwelled in Mollose and the others in Aphyte, a city of Epire. [“Mollose” is Molossia, a part of Epirus, in Greece, so called from its first king, Molossus, Pyrrhus’ son (Servius, ad Aeneis, III, 297): see Heywood, Troia Britanica, below. Aphyte is Aphytis, one of the four cities in Phlegra, where, according to Strabo (Geography, VII, xi) lived an impious, lawless tribe of giants whom Hercules destroyed.]


SHAKESPEAREKing Lear (1605-1606, 1605)


Thomas HeywoodTroia Britanica (1609), V, xxiv (STC 13366):

[An army commanded by the Trojan general Ganymede leaves Troy to restore Saturn to his Cretan throne, which Jupiter has usurped. Having landed in Crete, they meet Jupiter’s army on its way towards the brazen tower where Danae is kept prisoner.]

To this employment the stout centaurs came

Under Ixion’s conduct, twice two hundred,

Who first devis’d Thessalian steeds to tame.

[The centaurs are horsemen under the command of king Ixion, a euhemeristic interpretation deriving from Fulgentius, The Mythologies, II, xiv: see Secondary Sources]



Thomas HeywoodTroia Britanica (1609), V, xxxv (STC 13366):

[In the battle between the Trojans (fighting in behalf of Saturn) and Jupiter, Ganymede is taken prisoner and taken aboard Jupiter’s ship.]

… in the guard of those that from Molosse

Came with Ixion, and on horse-back run.

[“Molosse” is Molossia, a part of Epirus, in Greece, so called from its first king, Molossus, Pyrrhus’ son (Servius, ad Aeneis, III, 297): see Raoul Le Fèvre / Caxton, Recuyell of the Historyes of Troy, above.]


How to cite

Gaelle Ginestet.  “Ixion.”  2009.  In A Dictionary of Shakespeare’s Classical Mythology (2009-), ed. Yves Peyré.

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