Though Hera received her share of attention from perspective suitors, the goddess chose to turn a blind eye to their amorous advances. One unfortunate admirer was a Thessalian king by the name of Ixion.
It seems that King Ixion of Thessaly had been pledged to marry Dia, the daughter of King Eioneus of Magnesia. When the day came for the two to be joined together in marriage, Ixion was unable to fill the promised bride-price.
As a precautionary act, Eioneus took for himself Ixion’s mares as collateral, promising to return them once the appropriate price had been met. After a while Ixion sent word to his new father-in-law stating that all would be made well if he would just come to collect the money.
Finding nothing dubious about the request, Eioneus gathered up his cloak and set out to recoup his funds. But when he arrived at the home of his daughter instead of a warm embrace, the old man was savagely seized by Ixion and thrown into a pit of fire.
Because his actions were both callous and unjust, Ixion could find no one willing to cleanse him of his crime. It came to be that Zeus found it in his heart to take pity on Ixion and agreed to conduct the purification ceremony atop of Mount Olympus.
But once the rites were finished, Ixion proceeded to insult his divine host by trying to seduce Hera. In order to teach the impertinent mortal a lesson, Zeus removed a cloud from the midday sky and shaped it into the image of his wife.
He then placed the phantom goddess in Ixion’s bed and patiently waited for the king to retire for the night. When Ixion entered into his bedchamber he could not believe his eyes. “Surely,” he said lustily, “I must have been blessed by Fortune!” and climbed in next to his new lover.
But his pleasure proved to be short lived, for just as things were getting heated Zeus burst into the room and caught Ixion in the act.
The angry god punished Ixion by chaining him to a wheel of fire which was designed to revolve around the heavens for the rest of eternity.
As for the phantom likeness of Hera, she was given the name of Nephele and went on to bear Ixion a son who was called Centaurus.
The unfortunate child was said to have been born with a physical deformity which prevented him from comfortably interacting with other humans.
The misplaced creature chose to live out his life on Mount Pelion, where he sired a race of half horse, half man creatures with the Magnesian mares he found living in the area. These beings took on the name of their father and were commonly referred to throughout the ancient tales as centaurs.