“…and Hera, Hermes and Argus”
The story of Zeus and Io is one of the many fascinating tales from Greek mythology. It involves love, deception, and a remarkable transformation. The story is written in various ancient Greek texts, but one of the most well-known versions can be found in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”. Ovid was a Roman poet who lived during the 1st century AD and wrote a collection of mythical tales, including the story of Zeus and Io.
Here’s the story: Io was a beautiful mortal princess and her radiant beauty caught the attention of Zeus, king of the gods. He became infatuated with her and desired her affection. Zeus, being notorious for his amorous escapades, sought to pursue Io without the knowledge of his jealous wife Hera. To avoid detection, Zeus approached Io in the form of a cloud. It’s Zeus naughty and cunning habit to seduce his amorous victims in disguise, in the form of a cloud this time.
Zeus’ wife Hera became enormously suspicious when she saw that cloud hanging above the fields and went to see if her husband Zeus was behind it and maybe after another beautiful girl.
Zeus then used his divine powers and transformed Io into a white heifer (a young and fertile cow) to hide their affair from his jealous wife. This transformation allowed Io to live among the other cattle without arousing suspicion.
However, Hera was no fool and soon became suspicious of her husband’s intentions. She suspected that Zeus was up to something and devised a plan to discover the truth.
Hera approached Zeus and cunningly expressed her admiration for the cow, suggesting that she would love to have the creature as a gift. Zeus, aware of his wife’s jealousy, could not refuse the request and reluctantly agreed to give the cow to her.
Now, Hera had possession of the transformed Io, but she wasn’t entirely convinced of her husband’s innocence. To keep an eye on the situation, she assigned the many-eyed giant guy Argus Panoptes (the all-seeing Argus) to guard the cow. Argus was an extraordinary creature with hundreds of eyes, and he was capable of keeping watch over Io at all times, even while some of his eyes rested.
Zeus was deeply concerned for Io’s safety and well-being. In a desperate attempt to free her, he sought the help of his son Hermes, the messenger of the gods and a skilled trickster.
Hermes devised a clever plan to rescue Io. He played a melodious tune on his flute and began to tell entertaining stories to Argus. As the music and tales enchanted the many-eyed giant, his eyes gradually closed, one by one, until all were shut in a peaceful slumber.
Taking advantage of the situation, Hermes swiftly slew Argus with a single stroke of his sword.
After Argus’s death, Hera was informed of his demise, and she mourned the loss of her loyal servant. As a tribute to the fallen guardian, Hera transferred Argus’s eyes to the tail of her favorite bird, the peacock, which became a symbol of her power and authority.
Io was finally free from her captor, but Hera’s rage did not subside. In her fury, she sent a tormenting gadfly to relentlessly sting and chase Io across the world, making her wander in agony.
Io’s wanderings led her to Egypt, where she eventually returned to her original human form. In Egypt, she gave birth to a son named Epaphus, who would later become a renowned king and ancestor of various legendary figures.
The story of Io and Zeus is one of the many tales that highlight the complicated relationships among the gods and mortals in Greek mythology. It showcases the consequences of divine infidelity and the lengths to which the gods would go to protect their interests and secrets.
Ionian Sea and Bosporus
After her transformation into a cow and subsequent escape from Argus, Io roamed through various regions, enduring Hera’s torment in the form of a gadfly that continually stung her. Her wandering took her through different lands and over various seas. The Ionian Sea is named after Io and she crossed the Bosporus on her way to Egypt.
The word “Bosporus” does indeed have a connection to the idea of “cow crossing” in its etymology. The Bosporus, the strait that separates the European and Asian parts of Turkey, derives its name from ancient Greek. The Greek word “Βόσπορος” (Bosporos) is a combination of two words: “βοῦς” (bous), which means “cow,” and “πόρος” (poros), which means “crossing” or “passage.” So, the term “Bosporus” can be interpreted as the “Cow Crossing” or the “Cow Passage.” In a similar vein, “Oxford” in England has its name derived from “oxen ford,” which means a place where oxen (and likely other cattle) could cross a river. Same for “Coevorden” in The Netherlands. Place names often carry historical or mythological significance, and they can provide fascinating insights into the cultural heritage and stories of the regions they represent.
Greek and Roman Gods
The three gods involved in the story of Zeus and Io are:
- Zeus (Ζεύς) is the god of the sky and thunder, and king of the gods, married to Hera. His symbol is the eagle. The Roman equivalent is Jupiter, also knows as Jove. Read more about Zeus in The Twelve Olympians.
- Hera (Ήρα) is the goddess of marriage, women and family and the queen of gods, wife of Zeus. Her symbol is the peacock. The Roman equivalent is Juno. See Hera in The Twelve Olympians.
- Hermes (Ἑρμῆς) is the messenger of the gods and the divine trickster. His Roman equivalent is Mercury. More about Hermes in The Twelve Olympians.