Prometheus Bound

by

Aeschylus

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Io Character Analysis

A mortal princess and Zeus’s lover. Io comes across Prometheus as he is chained to the mountain. Io has been transformed into a cow by Zeus and turned out by Hera, Zeus’s jealous wife, to wander the world aimlessly while being relentlessly pursued by a biting gadfly. Io is an example of Zeus’s power and ability to confine and imprison others through various means and to inflict endless suffering, but she is also the woman from whom Prometheus’s savior will eventually come. “My savior will descend from your womb,” Prometheus says to Io. By this he means the future birth of Heracles in “ten generations, then another three,” but Io’s own child with Zeus will set off a chain of events and births that will result in the birth of the god who will break Prometheus’s chains and set him free. Prometheus uses his gift of foresight to tell Io of her future, to help her along her journey, and to ease her suffering, even though he informs her that her suffering will not end for a very long time. Prometheus tells Io that she will be chased by the gadfly all the way across Europe and into Asia, and she will ultimately end up in Egypt where she will give birth to Zeus’s son, “the one conceived by touch.” Five generations later, Io’s descendant will return to Greece and give birth to “a race of kings.” From this “seed” will “spring” Prometheus’s savior, “famous for his bow.” While Io is an important link between Prometheus and his own hero, she is also a powerful example of suffering and misery for which their can be no comfort, save for the hope of an end.

Io Quotes in Prometheus Bound

The Prometheus Bound quotes below are all either spoken by Io or refer to Io. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Power vs. Reason Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the New York Review Books edition of Prometheus Bound published in 2015.
Prometheus Bound Quotes

What did I do, son of Kronos, what fault did you find in me
that you would yoke me to such pain, driving me mad with fear
of a gadfly’s sting?
Destroy me with fire,
bury me under the earth,
throw me as food to the monsters of the sea,
but Lord, hear my prayers, do not grudge me the favor I ask.
Surely my endless wandering has taught me enough.
I can’t find a way to escape my troubles.
Do you hear the lament of the cow-horned maiden?

Related Characters: Io (speaker), Prometheus, Zeus, Kronos
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

How can I not comply?
In clear words you will learn
all that you want to know.
Though just to speak of it—
the god-sent storm, and then
this hideous mock of my appearance—
makes me ashamed.
Into my maiden chamber, visions came
by night, and came again, secret
visitors that spoke to me
with smooth and urging voices:
“Oh maiden greatly blessed,
why are you still a virgin,
when you could be the bride of the supreme?
Zeus is in love with you, the dart of passion
has set him on fire, he wants to share his pleasure with you.
Don’t spurn the god’s bed, child, but go to Lerna,
to the deep meadow where your father’s flocks graze,
so Zeus’s eye may find relief from longing.”

Related Characters: Io (speaker), Prometheus, Zeus, The Chorus
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 41-2
Explanation and Analysis:

[…] Immediately my shape and mind
became distorted, my head grew horns, and I,
chased by the gadfly, fled with frantic leaps
to that sweet stream, Cerchnea, good to drink from,
and Lerna’s spring. But my appointed cowherd
was earthborn Argos, terrible in his wrath.
He followed me, he watched my steps,
peering with his countless eyes.
Then an unhoped-for sudden death destroyed him.
But I continued, driven by the god-sent scourge,
the gadfly, from land to land.

Related Characters: Io (speaker), Prometheus, Zeus, The Chorus, Argos
Page Number: 42-3
Explanation and Analysis:

First, from this spot, turn toward the rising sun,
and cross the untilled plains until you reach
the Scythian nomads, whose wicker houses
are built on top of wagons with well-wrought wheels,
a warlike tribe armed with far-reaching bows.
Do not go near them, rather keep to the surf line
of the groaning sea, and travel on.
Off to your left there live the ironworking
Chalybes, of whom you must be wary,
for they are savage and do not
bid strangers welcome.

Related Characters: Prometheus (speaker), Zeus, Io, The Chorus, Hera
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

The Amazons will guide you on your way,
and they will do so gladly. Then,
just by the narrow portals of the lake,
you’ll reach the isthmus of Cimerria.
You must move on from there and with a bold heart
cross the channel of Maiotis. Forever after
mortals will remember this your crossing,
and call it Bosporus, the Cow’s Ford.
With Europe at your back, you will arrive in Asia.

Related Characters: Prometheus (speaker), Io, The Chorus
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

However, one of the maidens will be charmed
by love to spare her bed companion.
Faced with the choice, and with her purpose blunted,
she will prefer to be called coward than murderess,
and it is she who will give birth in Argos
to a race of kings. It would take many words
to tell it clearly. But from this seed
shall spring a hero, famous for his bow,
who will release me from this suffering.
Such was the prophecy my ancient mother,
the Titan Themis, revealed to me.

Related Characters: Prometheus (speaker), Io, The Chorus, Heracles, Themis
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Prometheus Bound LitChart as a printable PDF.
Prometheus Bound PDF

Io Character Timeline in Prometheus Bound

The timeline below shows where the character Io appears in Prometheus Bound. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prometheus Bound
Power vs. Reason Theme Icon
Suffering, Compassion, and Hope Theme Icon
Freedom and Confinement Theme Icon
...too much honor to mortals,” the chorus says to Prometheus, “this is your punishment.” Suddenly, Io appears. “What land is this?” she asks. “What tribe?” She looks to Prometheus but doesn’t... (full context)
Power vs. Reason Theme Icon
Suffering, Compassion, and Hope Theme Icon
Freedom and Confinement Theme Icon
“Who are you?” Io asks Prometheus again. “Tell me, tormented one, who you are, speak to my misery. /... (full context)
Suffering, Compassion, and Hope Theme Icon
“Better for you to not know than to know,” Prometheus says to Io of her suffering. “Do not be kinder to me than I want,” Io says. “Since... (full context)
Power vs. Reason Theme Icon
Suffering, Compassion, and Hope Theme Icon
Freedom and Confinement Theme Icon
Io tells Prometheus and the chorus of the “hideous mock of [her] appearance,” which she says... (full context)
Power vs. Reason Theme Icon
Suffering, Compassion, and Hope Theme Icon
Freedom and Confinement Theme Icon
Io told her father about the voice and he sought guidance in the oracles, whose prophecies... (full context)
Power vs. Reason Theme Icon
Suffering, Compassion, and Hope Theme Icon
Freedom and Confinement Theme Icon
And so, Io’s father “shut his doors against [her], weeping.” It was, of course, not of his own... (full context)
Power vs. Reason Theme Icon
Suffering, Compassion, and Hope Theme Icon
Freedom and Confinement Theme Icon
“Ea, ea, stop!” the chorus shrieks. They had not anticipated that Io’s story would be so awful. “Horror / freezes my heart with a double-edged point,” they... (full context)
Power vs. Reason Theme Icon
Suffering, Compassion, and Hope Theme Icon
Prometheus tells Io she must continue to Mount Caucasus, “the highest mountain,” and then walk until she finds... (full context)
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Freedom and Confinement Theme Icon
Io is distraught. “What is the good of life to me now?” she asks Prometheus. “It... (full context)
Power vs. Reason Theme Icon
Freedom and Confinement Theme Icon
...if he frees Prometheus from his chains. “But who will free you against Zeus’s will?” Io asks. “My savior will descend from your own womb,” he answers. In “ten generations, then... (full context)
Suffering, Compassion, and Hope Theme Icon
“Since you’re so eager,” Prometheus says to Io and the chorus, “I won’t disappoint you.” He begins with Io. Once she crosses the... (full context)
Suffering, Compassion, and Hope Theme Icon
“Beware as well / of Zeus’s sharp-toothed barkless dogs, the gryphons,” Prometheus says to Io, “and the one-eyed horsemen called the Arimaspians.” Stay clear of all them, Prometheus warns. Io... (full context)
Power vs. Reason Theme Icon
Suffering, Compassion, and Hope Theme Icon
Freedom and Confinement Theme Icon
...willingly. “I have more time than I would like,” he says. According to Prometheus, after Io arrives at “Thesprotian Zeus’s shrine of prophecy,” she will meet Dodona “on her lofty ridge.”... (full context)
Power vs. Reason Theme Icon
Suffering, Compassion, and Hope Theme Icon
Freedom and Confinement Theme Icon
In the town of Canopus, Prometheus tells Io and the chorus, Zeus will “cause [Io] to conceive, simply by touching [her].” Io will... (full context)
Power vs. Reason Theme Icon
Suffering, Compassion, and Hope Theme Icon
Freedom and Confinement Theme Icon
From this “seed,” says Prometheus to Io and the chorus, “shall spring a hero, famous for his bow, / who will release... (full context)
Power vs. Reason Theme Icon
Freedom and Confinement Theme Icon
...all his arrogance / will be brought low.” Zeus is already planning his marriage to Io, which “will throw him / from his omnipotence into oblivion.” When Zeus drove Kronos to... (full context)