Introduction: The Equine Experiment.
Within the pantheon of Final Fantasy’s summonable creatures Ixion does not often show himself (his first and most notable appearance being in FFX); yet he’s clearly made an impression and maintains a modest fanbase. Unless specified, this article shall mainly be discussing the FFX summon which set the standard on which other depictions of Ixion were based.
Ixion is presented as a robust unicorn possessing an elemental affiliation with lightning. When Ixion was introduced for the first time in FFX he represented the element of lightning among the pantheon of Aeons (summons) which the summoner Yuna collected. Lined up next to popular fan favourites (Ifrit, fire; Shiva, ice; Bahamut, non-elemental) it becomes apparent that Ixion has replaced FF’s staple lightning character: Ramuh. Ixion was used in his first appearance, it seems, as a trial seeing if fans would either warm to a new character or not notice the absence of an old favourite.
Why change? Could it be because Ramuh does not belong to a clear mythology of his own (except, perhaps, being indirectly based on Hindu mythology)? Ixion’s inclusion was not the first time that Square had parted ways with Ramuh in a major Final Fantasy title; FFVIII replaced Ramuh with the Mesoamerican winged serpent god Quetzalcoatl (named Quezacotl to fit the game’s character limit). It seems that Square went through a phase of experimenting with new lightning based characters pulled from recognisable mythologies, which the enigmatic character of Ramuh lacks. Since FFX marked the dawn of the PS2 era of Final Fantasy games, maybe the time had come to find a new thunderer.
The character which Square selected to replace Ramuh was Ixion: a relatively obscure character plucked out of Greek mythology. As shall be seen in this article, the ways that the mythic material was adapted and the creative form which the FF version of the Ixion character eventually took is unexpected.
Homicide and Horses: Ixion’s Place in Greek Mythology.
Rather than being a horse in Greek mythology, Ixion was instead a rather unsavoury human: a king of the Lapiths (a tribe of Thessaly). When Ixion refused to pay bridal gifts to his father-in-law (Deioneus), Deioneus stole some of Ixion’s horses. Enraged, Ixion then invited Deioneus to his home and threw him into a pit of fire (Diodorus Siculus, Library:4.69).
As a Greek parallel to the story of Cain and Abel, Ixion’s act as the first to kill kin and dishonour the appropriate guest-rights tainted Ixion, and his neighbours refused to perform cleansing rituals to salve his guilt. Zeus (the king of the gods) took pity; after purifying Ixion he invited him to dine with the gods on Mt. Olympus. Instead of being grateful and respecting his divine hosts, Ixion grew lustful towards Hera (Zeus’ wife) and intended to rape her. Noticing this, Zeus created a phantom image of Hera out of a cloud in order to test Ixion (Pindar, Pythian Odes:2.25-39; Apollodorus, Epitome:E.1.20.21). This cloud-Hera was named Nephele (literally ‘Cloud’).
Nephelai (cloud nymphs) on a 5th Century BC red-figure vessel in the shape of an astragalos (knucklebone), from The British Museum.
The Nephele of Ixion’s story was a cloud-phantom of Hera created by Zeus and not a nymph, but she was not unique among personifications of clouds.
A Roman wall painting from the House of the Vettii, Pompeii.
Left, Ixion and the wheel; Centre foreground, Nephele.
Following Ixion’s fornication in the firmament, the cloud-phantom Nephele fell pregnant and gave birth to the half-horse, half-man centaurs: one of the most iconic of Greek mythical monsters (Pindar, Pythian Odes:2.35-48; Hyginus, Fabulae:2.LXII). As is typical with Greek mythology, traditions vary, and Ixion and Nephele’s offspring are either the first centaurs directly, or a man named Centaurus who in turn mated with the wild Magnesian mares on Mt. Pelion to sire the race of centaurs. Regardless of the generation gap attested in some accounts, the centaurs were considered to be the direct result of Ixion’s actions.
Centaurs were notorious for their brutality and untamed lust (traits we can imagine they inherited from their ancestor). If we consider that Ixion was sometimes considered to be the son of the bloodthirsty war god, Ares, then Ixion can be imagined as inheriting some of these attributes (which include a degree of fierce madness less common in the more orderly Roman equivalent, Mars). Perhaps, in turn, the centaur offspring are explained as inheriting warlike brutality as well as Ixion’s tendency to rape.
Truly, the centaurs likely predated their Ixion ‘origin story’ in the Greek imagination; Ixion’s myth is an aetiological tale which helps to fit the centaurs into the mythological landscape and genealogical timeline. Some scholars suggest that the true origin of the centaur myth might lie with the moment when Greeks first started to encounter men riding horses (such as the Thessalians, Thracians, and Scythians). That these riders might appear, momentarily and from a distance, to be of one form might have struck early Greeks with horror was proposed as a theory for the centaur’s origin in antiquity too (Diodorus Siculus, Library:4.70.1). In the wider context of Greek imagination though, centaurs represented the untamed, un-Greek ‘other’.
In mythology centaurs were often fighting, but the most popular incident for literature and art in antiquity was the Centauromachy (a brawl at a Lapith wedding which started when drunk centaur guests attempted to rape the bride and other Lapith women). Remembering Ixion as a previous king of the Lapiths, we are reminded that the centaurs are imitating their ancestor in slaying kin (Homer, Iliad:2.742-745, Odyssey:21.295-305; Pseudo-Apollodorus, Epitome:E1.21; Diodorus Siculus, Library:4.70.2ff; Ovid, Metamorphoses:12.210ff).
Pair of Centaurs Fighting Wild Cats Mosaic from Hadrian’s Villa (c.130 AD),
Altes Museum Berlin. ©Carole Raddato.
With the centaurs and the story of Ixion considered together it becomes clear why Square might have chosen to represent their own version of Ixion as a horse; it’s part of Ixion’s story. Yet why not go the distance and make Ixion a centaur in FFX?
Centaurs are themselves not common in the Final Fantasy franchise. Centaurs or centaur-like creatures are used only a handful times as enemy monsters in FF games (such as FFIV’s Centaur Knight). Instead, our electric equine is sporting a horn, drawing associations with a completely separate sort of mythical steed than the centaur, and one which Final Fantasy uses more often: the unicorn.
Backing the Wrong Horse: Ixion as a Unicorn.
FFX might be the first time that we see Ixion the thunder-horse, but it is not at all the first time that we see a unicorn in Final Fantasy. Since the series’ beginning unicorns have appeared as enemies (in FFI), items, and mounts (FFXIV), yet they are most notable as appearing as minor recurring summons (such as in FFV, FFVI, and the Tactics franchise).
The unicorn of FFV
The unicorn’s origins appear to go back to ancient interpretations of natural history. Unicorns were considered by some ancient writers to be real creatures, often located in the vicinity of India (Ctesias, Indika; Aristotle, History of Animals:2.1; Pliny the Elder, Natural History:8.31). These natural history accounts may be garbled and misunderstood descriptions of rhinoceroses (animals which long suffered from both written and illustrative descriptive errors from antiquity onwards).
The popular folkloric image of a unicorn which is persistent today is the same image which later captured the imagination of European medieval bestiaries and illustrated manuscripts. Here, unicorns became increasingly white, graceful horses, but often located in wild woodlands. The unicorns became symbolic of purity, and they could only be tamed by a virgin (Physiologus: XXXVI; Isidore, Etymologies: XII.12-13). In folklore they sometimes had the ability to heal sickness and render poisoned waters safe to drink. FF’s own use of the unicorn tends to draw from this pool.
‘A Virgin with a Unicorn’ (1604-1605), by Domenichino.
Changeable Like the Weather: Granting Ixion His Elemental Powers.
Although perhaps not the most striking element of Ixion’s story in Greek mythology (Ixion’s torture on the fiery wheel being the pervasive image), weather does in fact play an important role. As seen, Ixion has coitus with a cloud, Nephele, who is often imagined as giving birth by ‘raining’ the centaurs onto Mt. Pelion. Even the wheel which Ixion was fixed to as punishment for his transgressions was in some versions placed in the air to be eternally turned by the wind (pseudo-Apollodorus, Epitome:E.1.20).
Campanian amphora showing Ixion’s wheel, 4th Century BC;
From Сapua, The Provincial Museum of Campania.
Shocking the Steed: Zeus and Ixion.
We might imagine that Zeus’ hurling of a thunderbolt at Ixion may have supercharged and energised the character with lightning based abilities. This is not the case in Greek mythology, but for the FF character it does seem that Zeus’ thunderbolt explains that which otherwise would be mystifying. This electric connection to Zeus transcends the simply elemental affinity and reaches the character design itself.
The unicorn Ixion’s horn doubles as an electrical conductor rod, and the creature uses it to charge energy for its attacks in battle and to channel the lightning element. Forming a zig-zag, the horn is also designed to physically resemble a bolt of lightning. Similar patterning is to be found on the body of the horse itself, cleverly disguised to resemble those of zebra or quagga, thus appearing natural on an equine body. Though the lightning shapes are to be expected given the choice to grant Ixion lightning abilities, they go far beyond aesthetics when we take a closer look at Ixion’s human Fayth form.
In Spiran lore (the world of FFX), the Fayth are humans who have sacrificed their souls to be sealed up so that they can dream. These dreams can manifest in the form of Aeons (summons). There are actually two depictions of Ixion’s Fayth in FFX. First, a ghostly character model who briefly speaks to the player appears to be dressed like a naval captain or admiral. This is irregular as Ixion lacks marine references other than the local Mushroom Rock geological formation being created by an ancient seabed, and perhaps the widespread general water themes of Spira as a whole.
The second depiction of the Fayth is on the floor of the temple, and this depiction contains fascinating artistic choices by the developers which channel the myth of Ixion.
The hair of the Kouros statue of Biton, 580 BC.
Photograph by Stelios Zacharias.
Zeus’ thunderbolt on an Attic Red Figure amphora, ca 470-460 BC; from the Louvre, Paris.
Regrettably, Ixion does shed his Greek origins and experiences a mythological mismatch with his Overdrive (special attack): ‘Thor’s Hammer’. The battle animation has nothing to do with Mjolnir (Thor’s hammer) other than sharing Thor’s element of thunder. Maybe Thor’s connotations were thought to be easily and instantly recognisable by players, but by using this name they chose something with little to do with Ixion’s source material.
Punished Pony: Turning the Wheel.
With the Zeus-like elements brought to the fore alongside the more positive associations of unicorns, it can seem that the dark side of the character Ixion from mythology (the tortured murderer-rapist who refused reformation) is obscured. However, Ixion does rear up his true self occasionally.
There were conflicting versions of Ixion’s myth regarding the placement of his punishment on the wheel. The cosmic interpretation placed his fiery wheel in the sky amongst the heavens where (as a celestial body) Ixion served as a reminder to all mortals to honour their benefactors (Pindar, Pythian Ode:2.20-30). The other popular version places Ixion and his wheel in Tartarus, the Greek Hell-like pit where several punished figures are tortured.
‘Ixion plunged into Hades’ (1876) by Jules-Elie Delaunay.
Etruscan bronze mirror (460-450 BC) representing Ixion’s wheel from The British Museum. The item under his feet is sometimes interpreted as a fungus: fitting biota for Tartarus.
The tortured character from mythology, receiving his just deserts, has therefore not been entirely whitewashed, and Ixion remains an imposing figure within a dark setting.
Robot Unicorn Attack: The Future of Ixion.
Beyond FFX, although Ixion has been seldom used there have been a handful of further appearances of the character in minor roles and references in other games. In FFX-2 the same exact Aeon appears as a boss, this time augmented with machina. This mecha-Ixion is almost entirely robotic and, one assumes, this makes the electrical energy within him more potent.
In FF’s representation of Ixion we see an interesting take on an obscure character from Greek mythology; combining a form of Ixion’s punishment (the thunderbolt) with the creatures he sired (the half-horse centaurs). Like the mythical centaurs there is a duality to the FF character; Ixion is at one time a friendly ally (an interpretation which his unicorn associations and fluffy mane encourage), but on another level he is also heinous (being located in a hell-like landscape and possessing a menacing expression). It may be that this duality helped to decrease the malicious appearance of a character whose unrefined form may otherwise have too closely resembled Anima (another FFX summon whose entire image hinged on being the manifestation of torture).
Square subverts Ixion’s myth, pulling the latent weather themes of his story to the fore, whilst pushing the prominent themes of Ixion’s torture to the rear. These references may not all have been intentional, but some of them must have been, and Square is to be applauded for their creative experiment.
Have you any thoughts on Ixion? Are you glad that they chose to represent Ixion as a unicorn? Discuss! Earn CT for your comments!
For other current articles in the FFFMM series see:
Issue 1: The Carbuncle
Issue 2: Ultros
Issue 3: Alexander
Issue 4: Wedge and Biggs
Issue 5: Red XIII
Issue 6: Shiva
Halloween Special: Phantom Train / Doomtrain.
*Credit goes to Six for designing the banner and for help in resizing images.