Io, is that You?



This photo is in honor of Io, the woman from Ovid’s Metamorphoses who was turned into a cow.  The Metamorphoses is the ancient Roman poet Ovid’s compendium of Greek and Roman myths.  All of these myths are linked together so that the poem tells the story of the world, from the creation to the then-present time of Roman Empire.  Linking each story is the process of transformation: people get transformed into animals; animals get transformed into stars, and so forth.

While Ovid was a brilliant writer, I find this poem rather painful to read at times because there is so much abuse of the humans by the gods.  In particular, the male gods (especially Jove/Jupiter) have a habit of lusting after female humans and raping them.  These women are then transformed (usually against their will) into another creature.

The myth of Io and Juno provides one example.  Io was a lovely young woman.  Jove had a “thing” for lovely young women and started pursuing her, literally.  Io most certainly was not interested in having sex with Jove, but he chased her “until she entered the shady groves of Lyrcea / And there, cloaked by a sudden thundercloud / Jove overcame her scruples and her flight.” (Book I, p 48).

As if being overtaken by a thunderbolt-wielding lust-crazed god wasn’t enough, there was more.  Jove’s wife Juno guessed what was going on between her husband and Io, and tried to stop them.  However, Jove realized Juno was coming, so he turned Io into a cow.  It’s as if he said, “Who me?  Raping a virgin?  I would never do that.  I’m just hanging out with this pretty little cow.”

So Io, who was just going about her business, not only get raped, but she also gets transformed into a cow in order to appease the angry wife.  How fair is that?  Unfortunately, Greek and Roman mythology is full of similar stories of male gods being entranced by human females, with the women usually having to pay a heavy price for being attractive.

We talk today about living in a rape culture.  I would remind readers that this culture is nothing new.  We only have to glance at classic literature to see it displayed full force.


Author: DebraB

I am a Professor of English at Concordia University-St. Paul. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My research interests include American literature, contemporary literature, Middle Eastern literature, African literature and feminist theory.

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