In his poems, which Ovid wrote while being inspired by Roman folklore, he demonstrated the entire mythology of his time. In addition, the author also managed to illustrate through the prism of poetry the life of the people around him. Even though many of his characters are gods, they are depicted with human characteristics and flaws. For example, Jupiter, being the main deity of Olympus, has an inexhaustible desire for sensual love and passion. For this reason, he is in constant confrontation with his jealous and petty wife Juno. Jupiter cheats on her with several women; however, after encountering him, they always suffer consequences. For instance, even though it is Jupiter who initiates this connection, it is Io who is made to atone for this sin through transformation.
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Even though Jupiter and Juno are divine creatures, in this poem they are shown as imperfect, with negative characteristics that are natural for humans, but not for gods. In other words, ancient deities are far from the standards of morality and ethics. The scene of Juno’s conversation with her husband is a prime example. Despite the fact that Jupiter has serious power and a formidable disposition, he is truly timid in front of his harsh wife. He never admits the fact that he cheated on her and tries to save himself and his mistress by deceiving Juno. As the author states, “He lied – The earth had brought her forth – so to deflect questions about her [Io] birth” (Ovid, 1960, p. 9). It means that in some way, Jupiter is afraid of his partner, which is a feature that is natural for an ordinary human, but not for the greatest god of Olympus.
In addition, aside from his timidity against Juno, Jupiter has other human characteristics. The most obvious one is his strong sense of lust, which is the prime reason he commits his act of cheating with Io. Thus, even though Jupiter is depicted in mythology as a strong heavenly ruler, through his actions, the poet shows the lowest manifestation of such type of love as Ludus.
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to assume that Jupiter possesses only negative human traits. He is also shown as a compassionate man because he does not want to see Io in danger. Seeing what suffering he had brought upon the unfortunate girl, Jupiter instructed his son Mercury to kill the giant who was looking after Io. As the author mentions, “but now heaven’s master could no more endure Io’s distress, and summoned Mercury, whom the bright shining Plaid bore, and charged him to accomplish Argus’s death” (Ovid, 1960, p. 11). Without disagreeing with his father, he fulfilled his instructions, having previously put Argus to sleep with his speeches and freed the captive. It means that even though initially Jupiter was moved by his lust, he truly cared about Io, an ordinary human.
When Jupiter falls in love with Io, she almost endures the wrath of his wife. However, he manages to save her, and, in order to conceal his connection with Io, he turns the poor girl into a cow. Despite this fact, Juno sees through this lie and makes Io suffer by forcing her to stay in that form for a long time. She demanded to give her the animal and assigned the hundred-eyed giant Argos to guard her husband’s mistress. Nevertheless, as Ovid states, even if the goddess won the trial, “the distrust lingered and still, she feared her husband’s tricks” (Ovid, 1960, p. 9). In this case, Juno, along with her husband, demonstrates flaws that make her more human-like. Just like any other woman, she is jealous and non-forgiving. Although Io is an ordinary woman, who is no match for the goddess, Juno feels competition between them for her husband’s attention. For this reason, she makes Io suffer and go through hardships. This poem demonstrates to the reader how far the gods of Olympus were from the ideals of morality. The reason for this is that because even the most respected among them were vulnerable to human passions that were completely human in nature.
As for the depiction of the human in this poem, Io herself, however, is portrayed as a victim of god’s actions and her own carelessness. From the first glance becoming the lover of a powerful god would probably seem like a dream from heroines of ancient Greek myths. However, Io is an excellent example that such a fate is not easy and even dangerous. As Jupiter fell in love with her, he would not stop pursuing her. She, however, did not deny his advances, although she could hardly imagine how this relationship would turn out for her.
Then, she was made to experience a horrible transformation and captivity because Juno found out about their connection. She has been stripped of the opportunity to express her woes, speak with her parents, and live as a normal girl again. Moreover, the cow form was unpleasant to Io, as even her own voice frightened her (Ovid, 1960). When her father meets and surprisingly recognizes her, he is devastated. These facts make the reader sympathize with Io and root for her as she manages to escape from Argus and search for a way to regain her form. After Io go through many trials and reaches Egypt, Jupiter turns her into a girl again, and she lives happily ever after. Because of her connection with the thunder god, she had to endure a lot of torment, even though it is doubtful if Io’s fault was that significant.
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In conclusion, it would appear that this particular poem can be compared to a story of a fallen Christian woman who experiences the consequences of her sins. Io was not lucky because she found herself in a difficult situation, of which she had little control. Despite the fact, Juno still puts most of the blame on her, although it was Jupiter who made the decision to initiate this connection. This factor, along with the agony that Io was forced to bear makes the reader pity her. In the end, however, she manages to endure all misery and distress, and, for her obedience, she is made human again. In addition, Io even becomes a goddess herself, “famous, divine, and linen-robed adorers throng her shrine” (Ovid, 1960, p. 23). In this case, the author embodies the human soul who goes through the cycle of being punished and atoning for her sins. Not only the one who suffered the most is free again, but she is also rewarded with becoming a being that is more powerful than a human.
Ovid. (1960). Metamorphoses. Indiana University Press.