34. Themisto kills her children

Once upon a time, King Athamas of Boeotia had lost his first wife, divine Nephele, and his children Phrixus and Helle. Thereafter, he had lost his second wife, mortal Ino. He was driven out of Boeotia and also lost his kingdom.

The homeless Athamas, asked an oracle as to the place where he should live, and the oracle replied that wherever wild beasts amused him, there he should live. While Athamas was in Thessaly, he came across a dead lamb being devoured by a pack of wolves, who upon seeing Athamas ran away in fright. Athamas was amused by observing the wolves being afraid of him and running away. He considered it as the fulfillment of the oracle and decided to stay there, naming the place as Athamantia, after his own name. He married a third time and brought home his third wife Themisto, daughter of Hypseus.

Now, Athamas was informed that Ino was not dead, and was living as a Bacchant, in the valleys of Mount Parnassus. Secretly, he sent messengers to fetch Ino, but Themisto came to know about it. As her children and Ino’s children slept in the same room, she plotted to kill the children of Ino. Her plan was to cover her own children with a white sheet of cloth, and Ino’s children with a black sheet of cloth. When she would come at night, she would be able to easily distinguish the black sheet of cloth covering Ino’s children, whom she would kill. Hence, she commanded a slave, to accordingly cover the royal children, with white and black sheets of cloth.

However, the slave who had been so commanded, was none other but Ino herself, in disguise. Ino comprehended the plot of Themisto and exchanged the cloths. She covered her own children in white cloth and Themisto’s children in black cloth. At night, Themisto came and killed the babes covered in black cloth, thinking they were Ino’s children. When Themisto discovered she had killed her own babes, in great despair she hung herself and died.

Excerpt from the book “Once Upon A Time-II: 150 Greek Mythology Stories” by Rajen Jani

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