NEPHELE was a nymph moulded out of clouds by Zeus in the shape of the goddess Hera. He created the double to test the veracity of the goddess' claim that King Ixion had tried to violate her. Ixion was fooled by the ruse and raped the phantom, which conceived and gave birth to the tribe of Kentauroi (Centaurs) in a rain-shower upon the slopes of Mount Pelion. The impious king was subsequently apprehended and chained to a fiery wheel for all eternity.
Nephele may or may not be the same as the wife of the Boiotian king Athamas who was also named Nephele.
FAMILY OF NEPHELE
[1.1] THE KENTAUROI (by Ixion) (Apollodorus E1.20, Diodorus Siculus 4.12.5, Hyginus Fabulae 62, Cicero De Natura Deorum 3.20)
[1.2] KENTAUROS father of the Kentauroi (by Ixion) (Pindar Pythian Ode 2)
NE′PHELE (Nephelê). The wife of Ixion, by whom she became the mother of the Centaurs.
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
Pindar, Pythian Ode 2. 32 ff (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"In the profound and secret depths of her own bridal chamber, he [Ixion] assailed [Hera] the wife of Zeus. Well is it for a man to take the measure of each deed by his own stature. Unto the full deep tides of woe loves which transgress the law casts a man down, who sets foot there. For with a Cloud (Nephele) he lay, pursuing sweet falsehood, that man of folly. In semblance like [Hera] the all-high Sovereign daughter of Kronos (Cronus) son of Ouranos (Uranus), this phantom came, this guile, proffered him by the hands of Zeus, a beauteous bane. Thus on the four-spoked wheel he gave his limbs to bondage, his own destruction. From whence is no escape, he heard the message that he must spread to all the world.
Far were the Kharites (Charites, Graces) when the mother [Nephele] bore--ne'er such a mother, never such a son--her babe of monstrous breed, who had no honour amongst men nor in the laws of Heaven. She reared him up and named him Kentauros (Centaurus), and the Magnesian mares knew his as mate by Pelion's ridges; and that strange race was born [the Kentauroi (Centaurs)], like to both parents, their mother's form below, above their sire's."
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca E1. 20 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Ixion fell in love with Hera and tried to rape her, and when Hera told Zeus about it, Zeus wanted to determine if her report was really true. So he fashioned a Cloud (Nephele) to look like Hera, and laid it by Ixion's side. When Ixion bragged that he had slept with Hera, Zeus punished him by tying him to a wheel, on which he was turned by winds up in the air. The Cloud (Nephele) bore Kentauros (Centaurus) from Ixion's seed."
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 12. 5 4 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"He [Herakles] had indeed to struggle with beings [the Kentauroi (Centaurs)] who were gods on their mother's side, who possessed the swiftness of horses, who had the strength of two bodies, and enjoyed in addition the experience and wisdom of men . . . The Kentauroi were aided in their struggle [against Herakles] by Nephele (Cloud), who sent down a heavy rain, by which she gave no trouble to those which had four legs, but for him who was supported upon two made the footing slippery."
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 69. 4 :
"The myths recount, that in the end he [Ixion] was purified by Zeus [for the murder of his father-in-law], but that he became enamoured of Hera and had the temerity to make advances to her. Thereupon, men say, Zeus formed a figure of Hera out of cloud and sent it to him, and Ixion lying with the cloud (Nephele) begat the Kentauroi (Centaurs), as they are called, which have the shapes of men . . . others say that it was the Kentauroi born of Ixion and Nephele who were called Hippokentauroi (Horse-Centaurs), because they were the first to essay the riding of horses, and that they were then made into a fictitious myth, to the effect that they were of double form."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 62 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Ixion, son of Leonteus, attempted to embrace Juno [Hera]. Juno, by Jove's [Zeus] instructions, substituted a Cloud (Nubes), which Ixion believed to be the likeness of Juno. From this the Centauri (Centaurs) were born."
Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3. 20 (trans. Rackham) (Roman rhetorician C1st B.C.) :
"If the Arcus (Rainbow) [Iris] is a divinity, what will you do about the Nubes (Clouds) [Nephelai]? The rainbow itself is caused by some coloration of the clouds; and also a Nubes (Cloud) [i.e. Nephele] is fabled to have given birth to the Centauri (Centaurs)."
- Pindar, Odes - Greek Lyric C5th B.C.
- Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History - Greek History C1st B.C.
- Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Cicero, De Natura Deorum - Latin Rhetoric C1st B.C.