Myths of the Greek and Roman Gods
What land is this? What race of living beings?
Who shall I say I see here bound in chains,
exposed and suffering on these cold rocks?690
What crime has led to such a punishment
and your destruction? Tell me where I am.
Where has my wretched wandering brought me?
To what part of the world?
[Io is suddenly in great pain.]
Aaaaiiii! The pain!!!
That gadfly stings me once again, the ghost
of earth-born Argus! Get him away from me,
O Earth, that herdsman with a thousand eyes—
the very sight of him fills me with terror!
Those crafty eyes of his keep following me.
Though dead, he is not hidden underground,700 
but moves out from the shades beneath the earth
and hunts me down and, in my wretched state,
drives me to wander without nourishment
along the sandy shore beside the sea.
A pipe made out of reeds and wax sings out
a clear relaxing strain. Alas for me!
Where is this path of roaming far and wide
now leading me? What did I ever do,
O son of Cronos, how did I go wrong,
that you should yoke me to such agonies . . .710 
[Io reacts to another attack.]
Aaaaiii!! . . . and by oppressing me like this,
setting a fearful stinging fly to chase
a helpless girl, drive me to this madness?
Burn me with fire, or bury me in earth,
or feed me to the monsters of the sea.
Do not refuse these prayers of mine, my lord!
I have had my fill of all this wandering,
this roaming far and wide—and all this pain!
I do not know how to escape the pain!
Do you not hear the ox-horned maiden call?720
How could I not hear that young girl’s voice,
the child of Inachus, in a frantic state
from the gadfly’s sting? She fires Zeus’s heart
with sexual lust, and now, worn down
by Hera’s hate, is forced to roam around
on paths that never end.
Why do you shout
my father’s name? Tell this unhappy girl
just who you are, you wretched sufferer,
and how, in my distress, you call to me,
knowing who I am and naming my disease,730
the heaven-sent sickness which consumes me
as it whips my skin with maddening stings . . .
[Io is attacked again by the gadfly. She moves spasmodically as she wrestles with the pain.]
. . . Aaaiii! . . . I have come rushing here, wracked
with driving pangs of hunger, overwhelmed
by Hera’s plans for her revenge. Of those
who are in misery . . . Aaaiiii! . . . which ones
go through the sufferings I face? Give me
some clear sign how much more agony
I have to bear! Is there no remedy?
Tell me the medicines for this disease,740
if you know any. Say something to me!
Speak to a wretched wandering young girl!
I will clarify for you all those things
you wish to know—not by weaving riddles,
but by using simple speech. For with friends
our mouths should tell the truth quite openly.
You are looking at the one who offered men
the gift of fire. I am Prometheus.
O you who have shown to mortal beings
so many benefits they all can share,750
poor suffering Prometheus! What act
has led you to be punished in this way?
I have just finished mourning my own pain.
Will you not grant this favour to me, then?
Ask what you wish to know. For you will learn
the details of it all from me.
who chained you here against this rocky cleft.
The will of Zeus and Hephaestus’s hands.
For what offence are you being punished?
I have said enough. I will not tell you760
any more than that.
But I need more.
At least inform me when my wandering ends.
How long will I be in this wretched state?
For you it would be better not to know
than to have me answer.
I’m begging you—
do not conceal from me what I must bear.
It is not that I begrudge that gift to you.
Then why do you appear so hesitant
to tell me everything?
I am not unwilling,
but I do not wish to break your spirit.770
Do not be more concerned for how I feel
than I wish you to be.
Since you insist,
I am obliged to speak. So listen to me.
No, not yet. Give us a share in this, as well,
so we may be content with what you say.
We should first learn how she became diseased.
So let the girl herself explain to us
the things that led to her destructive fate.
Then you can teach her what still lies in store.
Well then, Io, it is now up to you780
to grace them with this favour—above all,
because they are your father’s sisters.
And whenever one is likely to draw tears
from those who listen, it is well worthwhile
to weep aloud, lamenting one’s own fate.
I do not know how I could now refuse you.
From the plain tale I tell you will find out
all things you wish to know, although to talk
about the brutal storm sent by the gods,
the cruel transformation of my shape,790
and where the trouble came from, as it swept
down on a miserable wretch like me—
that makes me feel ashamed.
During the night
visions were always strolling through my rooms
calling me with smooth, seductive words:
“You are a very fortunate young girl,
so why remain a virgin all this time,
when you could have the finest match of all?
For Zeus, smitten by the shaft of passion,
now burns for you and wishes to make love.800 
My child, do not reject the bed of Zeus,
but go to Lerna’s fertile meadowlands,
to your father’s flocks and stalls of oxen,
so Zeus’s eyes can ease his fierce desire.”
Visions like that upset me every night,
till I got brave enough to tell my father
about what I was seeing in my dreams.
He sent many messengers to Delphi
and Dodona, to see if he could learn
what he might do or say to please the gods.810 
But his men all came back bringing reports
of cryptic and confusing oracles,
with wording difficult to comprehend.
Inachus at last received a clear response,
a simple order which he must obey—
to drive me from my home and native land,
to turn me out and force me into exile,
roaming the remotest regions of the earth—
and if he was unwilling, Zeus would send
a flaming thunderbolt which would destroy820
his entire race, not leaving one alive.
So he obeyed Apollo’s oracles
by forcing me away against my will
and denying me entry to his home.
He did not want to do it but was forced
by the controlling majesty of Zeus.
Immediately my mind and shape were changed.
My head acquired these horns, as you can see,
and a vicious fly began tormenting me
with such ferocious stings I ran away,830
madly bounding off to the flowing stream
of sweet Cherchneia and then to Lerna’s springs.
But the herdsman Argus, a child of Earth,
whose rage is violent, came after me,
with all those close-packed eyes of his, searching
for my tracks. But an unexpected fate
which no one could foresee robbed him of his life.
And now, tormented by this stinging gadfly,
a scourge from god, I am being driven
from place to place.
So now you understand840
the story of what I have had to suffer.
If you can talk about my future troubles,
then let me know. But do not pity me
and speak false words of reassurance,
for, in my view, to use deceitful speech
is the most shameful sickness of them all.
Alas, alas! Tell me no more! Alas!
I never, never thought my ears
would hear a story strange as this
or suffering so hard to contemplate850 
and terrible to bear, the outrage
and the horror of that two-edged goad
would pierce me to my soul. Alas!
O Fate, Fate, how I shake with fear
to see what has been done to Io.
These cries and fears of yours are premature.
Wait until you learn what lies in store for her.
Then speak, and tell us everything. The sick
find solace when they clearly understand
the pain they have to face before it comes.860
What you desired to learn about before
you now have readily obtained from me,
for you were eager first of all to hear
Io herself tell you what she suffered.
Now listen to what she has yet to face,
the ordeals this girl must still experience
at Hera’s hands. You, too, child of Inachus,
set what I have to say inside your heart,
so you will find out how your roaming ends.
First, turn from here towards the rising sun,870
then move across those lands as yet unploughed,
and you will reach the Scythian nomads,
who live in wicker dwellings which they raise
on strong-wheeled wagons. These men possess
far-shooting bows, so stay away from them.
Keep moving on along the rocky shoreline
beside the roaring sea, and pass their lands.
The Chalybes, men who work with iron,
live to your left. You must beware of them,
for they are wild and are not kind to strangers.880
Then you will reach the river Hubristes,
correctly named for its great turbulence.
Do not cross it, for that is dangerous,
until you reach the Caucasus itself,
the very highest of the mountains there,
where the power of that flowing river
comes gushing from the slopes. Then cross those peaks,
which stretch up to the stars, and take the path
going south, until you reach the Amazons,
a tribe which hates all men. In days to come,890
they will found settlements in Themiscyra,
beside the Thermodon, where the jagged rocks
of Salmydessus face the sea and offer
sailors and their ships a savage welcome.
They will be pleased to guide you on your way.
Next, you will reach the Cimmerian isthmus,
beside the narrow entrance to a lake.
You must be resolute and leave this place
and at Maeotis move across the stream,
a trip that will win you eternal fame900
among all mortal men, for they will name
that place the Bosporus in praise of you.
Once you leave behind the plains of Europe
you will arrive in Asian lands.
does it not strike you that this tyrant god
is violent in everything he does?
Because this maiden was a mortal being
and he was eager to have sex with her,
he threw her out to wander the whole world.
Young girl, the one you found to seek your hand910
is vicious. As for the story you just heard,
you should know this—I am not even past
the opening prelude.
O no, no, no! Alas!
Are you crying and moaning once again?
How will you act once you have learned from me
the agonies that still remain?
you have still more to say about her woes?
I do—a wintry sea of dreadful pain.
What point is there for me in living then?
Why do I not hurl myself this instant920
from these rough rocks, fall to the plain below,
and put an end to all my misery?
I would prefer to die once and for all,
than suffer such afflictions every day.
Then you would find it difficult to face
the torments I endure, for I am one
who cannot die, and death would offer me
relief from pain. But now no end is set
to tortures I must bear, until the day
when Zeus is toppled from his tyrant’s throne.930
What’s that? Will Zeus’s power be overthrown?
It seems to me that if that came about
you would be pleased.
Why not? Because of him
I suffer horribly.
Then rest assured—
these things are true.
But who will strip away
his tyrant’s sceptre?
He will do that himself
with all those brainless purposes of his.
But how? If it will do no harm, tell me.
He will get married—a match he will regret.
To someone mortal or divine? Tell me—940
if that is something you may talk about.
Why ask me that? I cannot speak of it.
His wife will force him from his throne?
For she will bear a child whose power
is greater than his father’s.
Is there some way
Zeus can avert this fate?
No, none at all—
except through me, once I lose these chains.
Who will free you if Zeus does not consent?
One of your grandchildren. So Fate decrees.
What are you saying? Will a child of mine950
bring your afflictions to an end?
when thirteen generations have gone by.
I find it difficult to understand
what you foresee.
You should not seek to know
the details of the pain you still must bear.
Do not say you will do me a favour
and then withdraw it.
I will offer you
two possibilities, and you may choose.
What are they? Tell me what the choices are.
Then let me pick which one.
All right, I will.960
Choose whether I should clarify for you
the ordeals you still must face in days to come,
or else reveal the one who will release me.
Do her a favour by disclosing one
and me by telling us about the other.
Do not refuse to tell us all the story.
Describe her future wanderings to her,
and speak to me of who will set you free.
I long to hear that.
Well, since you insist,
I will not refuse to tell you everything970
you wish to know. First, Io, I will speak
about the grievous wandering you face.
Inscribe this on the tablets of your mind,
deep in your memory.
Once you have crossed
the stream that separates two continents,
[select the route that] leads towards the east,
the flaming pathway of the rising son,
[and you will come, at first, to northern lands
where cold winds blow, and here you must beware
of gusting storms, in case a winter blast980
surprises you and snatches you away.]
Then cross the roaring sea until you reach
the Gorgons’ plains of Cisthene, the home
of Phorcys’ daughters, three ancient women
shaped like swans, who possess a single eye
and just one tooth to share among themselves.
Rays from the sun do not look down on them,
nor does the moon at night. Beside them live
their sisters, three snake-haired, winged Gorgons,
whom human beings despise. No mortal man990
can gaze at them and still continue breathing.
I tell you this to warn you to take care.
Now hear about another fearful sight.
Keep watching out for gryphons, hounds of Zeus,
who have sharp beaks and never bark out loud,
and for that one-eyed Arimaspian horde
on horseback, who live beside the flow
of Pluto’s gold-rich stream. Do not go near them.
And later you will reach a distant land
of people with dark skins who live beside1000
the fountains of the sun, where you will find
the river Aethiop. Follow its banks,
until you move down to the cataract
where from the Bybline mountains the sweet Nile
sends out his sacred flow. He will guide you
on your journey to the three-cornered land
of Nilotis, where destiny proclaims
you, Io, and your children will set up
a distant settlement.
If any of this
remains obscure and hard to understand,1010
question me again, and I will tell you.
For I have more leisure time than I desire.
If you have left out any incidents
or can say more about what lies ahead
in Io’s cruel journeying, go on.
But if that story has now reached an end,
then favour us, in turn, with what we asked,
if you by chance remember our request.
Io has now heard about her travels,
a full account up to the very end.1020
But so she learns that what she heard from me
was no mere empty tale, I will go through
the troubles she endured before she came here,
and thus provide a certain guarantee
of what I have just said. I will omit
most of the details and describe for you
the final stages of your journey here.
Once you came to the Molossian plains
and the steep mountain ridge beside Dodona,
the home of the prophetic oracle1030
of Thesprotian Zeus, that miracle
which defies belief, the talking oak trees,
clearly and quite unambiguously
saluted you as one who would become
a celebrated bride of Zeus. Is this
a memory that gives you some delight?
From there, chased by the gadfly’s sting, you rushed
along the path beside the sea and reached
the mighty gulf of Rhea and from there
were driven back by storms. And you should know1040
an inner region of that sea will now,
in days to come, be called Ionian,
a name to make all mortal men recall
how Io moved across it.
are tokens of how much I understand—
they show how my intelligence can see
more things than what has been revealed.
I will describe for you and her to share,
pursuing the same track I traced before.
On the very edges of the mainland,1050
where at its mouth the Nile deposits soil,
there is a city—Canopus. There Zeus
will finally restore you to your senses
by merely stroking and caressing you
with his non-threatening hand. After that,
you will give birth to dark-skinned Epaphus,
named from the way he was conceived by Zeus,
and he will harvest all the fruit that grows
in regions watered by the flowing Nile.
Five generations after Epaphus,1060
fifty young girls will return to Argos,
not of their own free will, but to escape
a marriage with their cousins, while the men,
with passionate hearts, race after them,
like hawks in close pursuit of doves, seeking
marriages they should not rightfully pursue.
But the gods will not allow them to enjoy
the young girls’ bodies. They will be buried
in Pelasgian earth, for their new brides
keeping watch at night, will overpower1070
and kill them all, in a daring murder,
and each young bride will take her husband’s life,
bathing a two-edged sword in her man’s blood.
I hope my enemies find love like that!
But passion will bewitch one of those wives
to spare her husband’s life, and her resolve
will fade. She will prefer to hear herself
proclaimed a coward than the alternative,
a murderess. And she will then give birth
in Argos to a royal line.
all these events in detail would require
a lengthy story. However, from her seed
a bold man will be born, who will become
a famous archer, and he is the one
who will deliver me from these afflictions.
My primeval Titan mother, Themis,
revealed this prophecy to me in full,
but to describe how and when it happens
would take up too much time. And learning that
would bring no benefit to you at all.1090
Alas, alas for me! These spasms of pain,
these agonizing fits which drive me mad
are turning me to fire. That gadfly’s string—
not forged in any flame—is piercing me.
My fearful heart is beating in my chest,
my eyes are rolling in a frantic whirl,
and raging blasts of sheer insanity
are sweeping me away. This tongue of mine
is now beyond control—delirious words
beat aimlessly against the surging flood1100
of my abhorred destruction.