Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses

by

Ovid

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Metamorphoses: Book 1: Io (1) Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In Thessaly, the Peneus river flows down a rocky ravine where the river god Penéus rules. All the river nymphs gather to recognize Daphne’s transformation into a tree, except Ínachus, who is too upset over his missing daughter Io to appear. This is what happened to Io: one day, Io leaves her father’s river and Jupiter sees her and falls in love with her. He tells her to lie down in the shade and to let him help her escape the wild beasts in the woods. She tries to flee, but Jupiter darkens the sky, overpowers her, and rapes her.
The first actual rape in the Metamorphoses is committed by Jupiter—the lord of the gods. Apart from using his divine powers to flood the earth and rid it of sin, Jupiter uses them to overpower and abuse women. Throughout the Metamorphoses, the rape of women is one of Jupiter’s main actions and uses of his power, calling into question the goodness of the gods.
Themes
Gods and Humans Theme Icon
Queen JunoJupiter’s wife—notices that the sunny day has turned to night and suspects that Jupiter is cheating on her again, as he often has. She goes to earth to find him, but before she can catch him, Jupiter transforms Io into a beautiful white cow. Queen Juno suspects that the cow is really Jupiter’s mistress, so she asks Jupiter to give her the cow. Reluctant to give up Io but not wanting to reveal his infidelity to his wife, Jupiter finally gives Queen Juno the cow. The Queen, still suspicious, has Argus—a man with a hundred eyes—keep watch over her. Io can’t plead with Argus to release her, because her voice has become a moo.
Many of the transformations that occur throughout the Metamorphoses, including the transformation of Io, are caused by Jupiter’s infidelities and Juno’s anger in response. Events such as the rape of Io bring the two most powerful gods—Jupiter and Juno—down to earth where they engage in menial or mortal activities, such as cow-herding. Their involvement in earthly affairs both shows that love is a weakness for gods as well as humans, and calls into question the gods’ emotional superiority above human beings.
Themes
Love and Destruction Theme Icon
Gods and Humans Theme Icon
One day, Io wanders close to her father’s river. Her father feeds her grass and she licks his hands, weeping because she can’t tell him who she is. She writes her name in the dust with her hoof to explain. Her father weeps, lamenting that his lineage will be a herd of cattle. Argus then moves Io to a pasture farther away.
When Io finds herself unable to speak due to having been transformed, she adopts the act of writing in order to tell her father who she is. This suggests that loss of speech is the worst consequence of transformation, but also that human beings will go to great lengths to express themselves with words. This need for expression leads to the development of writing.
Themes
Metamorphosis Theme Icon
Time, Fate, and Poetry  Theme Icon
Quotes
Jupiter is unable to bear Io’s distress. He calls for his son, Mercury, and orders him to kill Argus. Mercury grabs his sleep-inducing wand and goes down to earth. There, he pretends to be a shepherd playing music on a reed pipe. Entranced by the music, Argus asks Mercury to sit down beside him. Slowly, the music starts to put Argus to sleep.
Beyond simple transformation, the conflict between Jupiter and Juno over Jupiter’s mortal mistresses leads them to murder. This antagonism between the two heads of the gods suggests an instability in divinity, and a dysfunction in the forces most involved in the universe’s affairs. 
Themes
Metamorphosis Theme Icon
Love and Destruction Theme Icon
Gods and Humans Theme Icon
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