At the command of Hera, Athamas married Nephele, by whom he became the father of Phrixus and Helle. But he was secretly in love with the mortal Ino, the daughter of Cadmus, by whom he begot Learchus and Melicertes, and Nephele, on discovering that Ino had a greater hold on his affections than herself, disappeared in her anger. Misfortunes and ruin now came upon the house of Athamas, for Nephele, who had returned to the gods, demanded that Athamas should be sacrificed as an atonement to her.
Ino, who hated the children of Nephele and endeavoured to destroy them, caused a famine by her artifices, and when Athamas sent messengers to Delphi to consult the oracle about the means of averting famine, Ino bribed them, and the oracle they brought back declared, that Phrixus must be sacrificed. When the people demanded compliance with the oracle, Nephele rescued Phrixus and Helle upon the ram with the golden fleece, and carried them to Colchis. Athamas and Ino drew upon themselves the anger of Hera also, the cause of which is not the same in all accounts. (Apollodorus iii)
Athamas was seized by madness and in this state he killed his own son, Learchus, and Ino threw herself with Melicertes into the sea. Athamas, as the murderer of his son, was obliged to flee from Boeotia.
He consulted the oracle where he should settle. The answer was, that he should settle where he should be treated hospitably by wild beasts. After long wanderings, he at last came to a place where wolves were devouring sheep. On perceiving him, they ran away, leaving their prey behind. Athamas recognized the place alluded to in the oracle, settled there, and called the country Athamania, after his own name. He then married Themisto, who bore him several sons.
The accounts about Athamas, especially in their details, differ much in the different writers, and it seems that the Thessalian and Orchomenian traditions are here interwoven with one another. According to Pausanias Athamas wished to sacrifice Phrixus at the foot of the Boeotian mountain Laphystius, on the altar dedicated to Zeus Laphystius, a circumstance which suggests some connexion of the mythus with the worship of Zeus Laphystius.
There are two other mythical personages of this name, the one
a grandson of the former, who led a colony of Minyans to Teos and
the other a son of Oenopion, the
Cretan, who had emigrated to Chios.