A son of Aeolus, the king of the winds, Athamas was the king of the Boeotia. With his wife Nephele, he had two children, a son Phrixus and a daughter Helle. He then divorced Nephele, and married Ino, who also bore him two children, Learchus and Melicertes.
Jealous of Semele's two children, Ino schemed to get rid of them. She convinced all of the women in the land to parch the grain set aside for the next year's crops. In the following year, when the grain would not grow, Athamas sent envoys to the Oracle at Delphi to ask what was wrong. Ino bribed the envoys to tell the king on their return that his son Phrixus must be sacrificed.
Athamas was then forced by his starving people to order the sacrifice of his son. Nephele, wishing to save her son, took Phrixus and Helle and sent them away on a golden ram, a gift from Hermes.
After losing his first two children, Athamas soon set about dispatching his second two. In a rage, he killed Learchus with an arrow. Seeing this, Ino grabbed Melicertes and dove into the sea.
Exiled from Boeotia, Athamas had to look for a new home. He was told by an oracle to found a town where wild beasts offered him hospitality. After wandering for days, he came across a pack of wolves, which left behind their kill for him. There Athamas founded the town of Athamantia in Thessaly.