Athamas was the son of Aeolus, a king of Thessaly, and his wife Enarete. After migrating from Thessaly to Boeotia, Athamas ruled over the kingdoms of Orchomenus and Halos.
Athamas’ first wife was a woman named Nephele, with whom he had two children: Phrixus and Helle. But Athamas soon abandoned Nephele and married Ino, the daughter of the Theban king Cadmus. Ino hated Phrixus and Helle and was constantly plotting against them; the children were forced to flee Greece to escape their stepmother’s machinations.
Later, Athamas and Ino angered Hera by raising the young god Dionysus, whom she hated (because he was an illegitimate son of her husband Zeus). Hera punished Athamas and Ino by driving them into a terrible frenzy, which resulted in the death of their sons Learchus and Melicertes.
Some sources claim that Athamas returned to Thessaly after his misfortunes. In one myth, Athamas himself was almost sacrificed to Zeus. Scholars have often posited a link between the myths of Athamas and the Thessalian cult of Zeus Laphystius.