She did not know who he was, but
thought that he was a prince from some
far-off land; for he came in the guise of a
young man, and did not look like the great
king of earth and sky that he was.
But Juno, the queen who lived with Jupiter
and shared his throne in the midst of the
clouds, did not love Io at all. When she
heard why Jupiter stayed from home so long,
she made up her mind to do the fair girl all
the harm that she could; and one day she
went down to Argos to try what could be
Jupiter saw her while she was yet a great
way off, and he knew why she had come. So,
to save Io from her, he changed the maiden
to a white cow. He thought that when Juno
had gone back home, it would not be hard to
give Io her own form again.
But when the queen saw the cow, she knew
that it was Io.
"Oh, what a fine cow you have there!" she
said. "Give her to me, good Jupiter, give
her to me!"
Jupiter did not like to do this; but she
coaxed so hard that at last he gave up, and
let her have the cow for her own. He thought
that it would not be long till he could get
her away from the queen, and change her to a
girl once more. But Juno was too wise to
trust him. She took the cow by her horns,
and led her out of the town.
"Now, my sweet maid," she said, "I will see
that you stay in this shape as long as you
Then she gave the cow in charge of a strange
watchman named Argus, who had, not two eyes
only, as you and I have, but ten times ten.
And Argus led the cow to a grove, and tied
her by a long rope to a tree, where she had
to stand and eat grass, and cry, "Moo! moo!"
from morn till night; and when the sun had
set, and it was dark, she lay down on the
cold ground and wept, and cried, "Moo! moo!"
till she fell asleep.
But no kind friend heard her, and no one
came to help her; for none but Jupiter and
Juno knew that the white cow who stood in
the grove was Io, whom all the world loved.
Day in and day out, Argus, who was all eyes,
sat on a hill close by and kept watch; and
you could not say that he went to sleep at
all, for while half of his eyes were shut,
the other half were wide awake, and thus
they slept and watched by turns.
Jupiter was grieved when he saw to what a
hard life Io had been doomed, and he tried
to think of some plan to set her free. One
day he called sly
Mercury, who had wings on
his shoes, and bade him go and lead the cow
away from the grove where she was kept.
Mercury went down and stood near the foot of
the hill where Argus sat, and began to play
sweet tunes on his flute. This was just what
the strange watchman liked to hear; and so
he called to Mercury, and asked him to come
up and sit by his side and play still other
Mercury did as he wished, and played such
strains of sweet music as no one in all the
world has heard from that day to this. And
as he played, queer old Argus lay down upon
the grass and listened, and thought that he
had not had so great a treat in all his
life. But by and by those sweet sounds
wrapped him in so strange a spell that all
his eyes closed at once, and he fell into a
This was just what Mercury wished. It was
not a brave thing to do, and yet he drew a
long, sharp knife from his belt and cut off
the head of poor Argus while he slept. Then
he ran down the hill to loose the cow and
lead her to the town.
But Juno had seen him kill her watchman, and
she met him on the road. She cried out to
him and told him to let the cow go; and her
face was so full of wrath that, as soon as
he saw her, he turned and fled, and left
poor Io to her fate.
Juno was so much grieved when she saw Argus
stretched dead in the grass on the hilltop,
that she took his hundred eyes and set them
in the tail of a peacock; and there you may
still see them to this day.
Then she found a great gadfly, as big as a
bat, and sent it to buzz in the white cow's
ears, and to bite her and sting her so that
she could have no rest all day long. Poor Io
ran from place to place to get out of its
way; but it buzzed and buzzed, and stung and
stung, till she was wild with fright and
pain, and wished that she were dead. Day
after day she ran, now through the thick
woods, now in the long grass that grew on
the treeless plains, and now by the shore of
By and by she came to a narrow neck of the
sea, and, since the land on the other side
looked as though she might find rest there,
she leaped into the waves and swam across;
and that place has been called Bosphorus a
word which means the Sea of the Cow from
that time till now, and you will find it so
marked on the maps which you use at school.
Then she went on through a strange land on
the other side, but, let her do what she
would, she could not get rid of the gadfly.
After a time she came to a place where there
were high mountains with snow-capped peaks
which seemed to touch the sky. There she
stopped to rest a while; and she looked up
at the calm, cold cliffs above her and
wished that she might die where all was so
grand and still. But as she looked she saw a
giant form stretched upon the rocks midway
between earth and sky, and she knew at once
that it was
Prometheus, the young Titan,
whom Jupiter had chained there because he
had given fire to men.
"My sufferings are not so great as his," she
thought; and her eyes were filled with
Then Prometheus looked down and spoke to
her, and his voice was very mild and kind.
"I know who you are," he said; and then he
told her not to lose hope, but to go south
and then west, and she would by and by find
a place in which to rest.
She would have thanked him if she could; but
when she tried to speak she could only say,
Then Prometheus went on and told her that
the time would come when she should be given
her own form again, and that she should live
to be the mother of a race of heroes. "As
for me," said he, "I bide the time in
patience, for I know that one of those
heroes will break my chains and set me free.
Then Io, with a brave heart, left the great
Titan and journeyed, as he had told her,
first south and then west. The gadfly was
worse now than before, but she did not fear
it half so much, for her heart was full of
hope. For a whole year she wandered, and at
last she came to the land of Egypt in
Africa. She felt so tired now that she could
go no farther, and so she lay down near the
bank of the great River Nile to rest.
All this time Jupiter might have helped her
had he not been so much afraid of Juno. But
now it so chanced that when the poor cow lay
down by the bank of the Nile, Queen Juno, in
her high house in the clouds, also lay down
to take a nap. As soon as she was sound
asleep, Jupiter like a flash of light sped
over the sea to Egypt. He killed the cruel
gadfly and threw it into the river. Then he
stroked the cow's head with his hand, and
the cow was seen no more; but in her place
stood the young girl Io, pale and frail, but
fair and good as she had been in her old
home in the town of Argos. Jupiter said not
a word, nor even showed himself to the
tired, trembling maiden. He hurried back
with all speed to his high home in the
clouds, for he feared that Juno might waken
and find out what he had done.
The people of Egypt were kind to Io, and
gave her a home in their sunny land; and by
and by the king of Egypt asked her to be his
wife, and made her his queen; and she lived
a long and happy life in his marble palace
on the bank of the Nile. Ages afterward, the
great-grandson of the great-grandson of Io's
great-grandson broke the chains of
Prometheus and set that mighty friend of
The name of the hero was Hercules.
The Legend and Myth about Io
The Myth of Io
The story of Io is featured in the book
entitled Old Greek Stories by James Baldwin
published in 1895 by the American Book