IASION was an agricultural hero and the springtime consort of Demeter in the Samothracian Mysteries.
Iasion lay with the goddess in a thrice-ploughed field during the wedding celebrations of Kadmos (Cadmus) and Harmonia on the island of Samothrake. When Zeus learned of the affair he slew Iasion with a thunderbolt. According to some Iasion and the agricultural hero Triptolemos were afterwards placed amongst the stars as the constellation Gemini (the Heavenly Twins).
Iasion was perhaps equated with Attis, the dying consort of the Phrygian goddess Kybele (Cybele), and Karmanor (Carmanor), Demeter's consort on the island of Krete (Crete). Hesiod appears to equate the two when he places Iasion in Krete. The meaning of the name Iasion is obscure but it may connected with the Greek word for bindweed, a small white-flowering vine commonly found growing in wheat fields entwined around the grain-stalks.
FAMILY OF IASION
[1.1] ZEUS & ELEKTRA (Catalogues of Women Frag 102, Apollodorus 3.138, Diodorus Siculus 5.48.2, Hyginus Fab 250)
[2.1] ILITHIOS (Hyginus Fabulae 270)
[3.1] THUSKOS (Hyginus Astronomica 2.4)
[4.1] KORYTHOS & ELEKTRA (Other references)
[5.1] ZEUS & HEMERA (Other references)
[6.1] MINOS & PYRONIA (Other references)
IASION (Iasiôn), also called Iasius, was, according to some, a son of Zeus and Electra, the daughter of Atlas, and a brother of Dardanus (Apollod. iii. 12. § 1; Serv. ad Aen. i. 384; Hes. Theog. 970; Ov. Amor. iii. 10, 25); but others called him a son of Corythus and Electra, of Zeus and the nymph Hemera, or of Ilithyius, or of Minos and the nymph Pyronia. (Schol. ad Theocrit. iii. 30; Serv. ad Aen. iii. 167; Eustath. ad Hom p. 1528; Hygin. Fab. 270.) At the wedding of his sister Harmonia, Demeter fell in love with him, and in a thrice-ploughed field (tripolos) she became by him the mother of Pluton or Plutus in Crete, in consequence of which Zeus killed him with a flash of lightning. (Hom. Od. v. 125, &c.; Hes. Theog. 969, &c.; Apollod. l. c.; Diod. v. 49, 77; Tzetz. ad Lycoph. 29; Conon, Narrat. 21.) According to Servius (ad Aen. iii. 167), Iasion was slain by Dardanus, and according to Hyginus (Fab. 250) he was killed by his own horses, whereas others represent him as living to an advanced age as the husband of Demeter. (Ov. Met. ix. 421, &c.) In some traditions Eetion is mentioned as the only brother of Dardanus (Schol. ad Apollon. Rhod. i. 916; Tzetz. ad Lycoph. 219), whence some critics have inferred that Iasion and Eetion are only two names for the same person. A further tradition states that Iasion and Dardanus, being driven from their home by a flood, went from Italy, Crete, or Arcadia, to Samothrace, whither he carried the Palladium, and where Zeus himself instructed him in the mysteries of Demeter. (Serv. ad Aen. iii. 15, 167, vii. 207; Dionys. i. 61; Diod. v. 48; Strab. vii. p. 331; Conon, l. c.; Steph. Byz. s. v. Dardanos.) According to Eustathius (ad Hom. p. 1528), Iasion, being inspired by Demeter and Cora, travelled about in Sicily and many other countries, and every where taught the people the mysteries of Demeter.
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
Homer, Odyssey 5. 125 ff (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"[Hermes commands Kalypso (Calypso) to release Odysseus :] Kalypso shuddered, and her words came forth in rapid flight : ‘You are merciless, you gods, resentful beyond all other beings; you are jealous if without disguise a goddess makes a man her bedfellow, her beloved husband . . . So it was when Demeter of the braided tresses followed her heart and lay in love with Iasion in the triple-furrowed field; Zeus was aware of it soon enough and hurled the bright thunderbolt and killed him.’"
[N.B. the cutting of three furrows was part of fertility rites performed to inaugurate the new agricultural year.]
Hesiod, Theogony 969 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"Demeter, bright goddess, was joined in sweet love with the hero Iasion in a thrice-ploughed fallow in the rich land of Krete (Crete), and bare Ploutos (Plutus, Wealth), a kindly god who goes everywhere over land and the sea's wide back, and him who finds him and into whose hands he comes he makes rich, bestowing great wealth upon him."
Hesiod, Catalogues of Women Fragment 102 (from Oxyrhynchus Papyri 1359 fr. 2) :
"Elektra (Electra) was subject to the dark-clouded Son of Kronos (Cronus) [Zeus] and bare Dardanos . . ((lacuna)) and Eetion . . ((lacuna)) who once greatly loved rich-haired Demeter. And cloud-gathering Zeus was wroth and smote him, Eetion, and laid him low with a flaming thunderbolt, because he sought to lay hands upon rich-haired Demeter." [N.B. Eetion is an alternate name for Iasion.]
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 138 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Elektra (Electra), the daughter of Atlas, and Zeus were the parents of Iasion and Dardanos (Dardanus). Now Iasion had a lust for Demeter and was hit by a thunderbolt as he was about to attack her."
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 48. 2 ff (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"There were born in that land [of Samothrake (Samothrace)] to Zeus and Elektra (Electra), who was one of the Atlantides, Dardanos and Iasion and Harmonia . . . Zeus desired that the other of his two sons [Iasion] might also attain honour, and so he instructed him in the initiatory rites of the mysteries [of Samothrake], which had existed on the island since ancient times but was at that time, so to speak, put in his hands; it is not lawful, however, for any but the initiated to hear about the mysteries. And Iasion is reputed to have been the first to initiate strangers into them and by this means to bring the initiatory rite to high esteem.
After this Kadmos (Cadmus), the son of Agenor, came in the course of his quest for Europe [i.e. his sister who had been abducted by Zeus] to the Samothrakians, and after participating in the initiation [into the Mysteries of Samothrake] he married Harmonia, who was the sister of Iasion and not, as the Greeks recount in their mythologies, the daughter of Ares. [N.B. The usual account was that Harmonia was given to Elektra mother of Iasion to raise as her own.]
This wedding of Kadmos and Harmonia was the first, we are told, for which the gods provided the marriage-feast, and Demeter, becoming enamoured of Iasion, presented him with the fruit of the corn, Hermes gave a lyre, Athene the renowned necklace and a robe and a flute, and Elektra the sacred rites of the Great Mother of the Gods [Rhea-Kyebele], as she is called, together with cymbals and kettledrums and the instruments of the ritual; and Apollon played upon the lure and the Mousai (Muses) upon their flutes, and the rest of the gods spoke them fair and gave the pair their aid in the celebration of the weding. After this Kadmos, they say, in accordance with the oracle he had received, founded Thebes in Boiotia, while Iasion married Kybele (Cybele) [here identified with Demeter] and begat Korybas (Corybas) [leader of the Korybantes]. And after Iasion had been removed into the circle of the gods, Dardanos and Kybele [Demeter] and Korybas conveyed to Asia the sacred rites of the Mother of the Gods and removed with them to Phrygia . . .
To Iasion and Demter, according to the story the myths relate, was born Ploutos (Plutus, Wealth), but the reference is, as a matter of fact, to the wealth of the corn, which was presented to Iasion because of Demeter's association with him at the time of the wedding of Harmonia.
Now the details of the initiatory rite are guarded among the matters not to be divulged and are communicated to the initiates alone; but the fame has travelled wide of how these gods [the Kabeiroi (Cabeiri)] appear to mankind and bring unexpected aid to those initiates of their who call upon them in the midst of perils. The claim is also made that men who have taken part in the mysteries become both more pious and more just and better in every respect than they were before. And this is the reason, we are told, why the most famous both of the ancient heroes and of the demi-gods were eagerly desirous to taking part in the initiatory rite; and in fact Jason and the Dioskouroi (Dioscuri), and Herakles and Orpheus as well, after their initiation attained success in all the campaigns they undertook, because these gods appeared to them."
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 48. 1 :
"One of the inhabitants of the island [of Samothrake (Samothrace)], a certain Saon [probably the same as Iasion], who was a son, as some say, of Zeus and a Nymphe, but, according to others, of Hermes and Rhene, gathered into one body the peoples who were dwelling in scattered habitations and established laws for them."
Strabo, Geography 7 Fragment 49 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Iasion and Dardanos, two brothers [sons of Elektra (Electra)], used to live in Samothrake (Samothrace). But when Iasion was struck by a thunderbolt because of his sin against Demeter, Dardanos sailed away from Samothrake, went and took up his abode at the foot of Mount Ida, calling the city Dardania."
Clement, Exhortation to the Greeks 2. 12 (trans. Butterworth) (Greek Christian writer C2nd A.D.) :
"[An early Christian critique of the pagan Mysteries :] A curse then upon the man who started this deception for mankind, whether it be Dardanos, who introduced the Mysteria for of the Meter Theon (Mother of the Gods); or Eetion [i.e. Iasion], who founded the Samothracian orgies and rites (orgia, teletas)."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 250 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Teams [of horses] which destroyed their drivers . . . Horses destroyed Iasion, son of Jove [Zeus] by Electra, daughter of Atlas." [N.B. Presumably Iasion was killed when Zeus cast his lightning bolt, causing his horses to bolt in panic and throwing him from the chariot.]
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 270 :
"Those who were most handsome. Iasion, son of Ilithius, whom Ceres [Demeter] is said to have loved."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 4 :
"Hermippus [Greek writer C3rd B.C.?], who wrote about the stars, says that Ceres [Demeter] lay with Iasion, son of Thuscus. Many agree with Homer that for his he was struck with a thunderbolt. From them, as Petellides, Cretan writer of histories, shows, two sons were born, Philomelus and Plutus."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 22 :
"[Constellation Gemini the Twins :] Others have called them Triptolemus, whom we mentioned before [i.e. as the constellation Ophiochus], and Iasion, beloved of Ceres [Demeter]--both carried to the stars."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 9. 421 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"A rumbling argument arose in heaven, the gods all grumbling why others should not be able to grant such gifts [the restoration of youth to the elderly, the sole prerogative of the goddess Hebe]. Aurora [Eos] grumbled at her husband's [Tithonos'] age, and gentle Ceres [Demeter] that Iasion was going grey."
- Homer, The Odyssey - Greek Epic C8th B.C.
- Hesiod, Theogony - Greek Epic C8th - 7th B.C.
- Hesiod, Catalogues of Women Fragments - Greek Epic C8th - 7th B.C.
- Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History - Greek History C1st B.C.
- Strabo, Geography - Greek Geography C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Clement, Exhortation to the Greeks - Christian Scholar C2nd A.D.
- Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Hyginus, Astronomica - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
Other references not currently quoted here: Dionysius of Halicarnassus 1.61.2, Servius ad Aeneid 1.384 & 3.15 & 3.167, Ovid Amores 3.10 & 3.25, Scholiast ad Theocritus 3.30, Eustathius ad Homer 1528, Tzetzes ad Lycophron 29, Conon Narrations 21, Stephanus Byzantium s.v. Dardanos.