Greek and Roman Mythology > Io and Callisto

Io and Callisto


Jupiter and Juno, although husband and wife, did not live
together very happily. Jupiter did not love his wife very much,
and Juno distrusted her husband, and was always accusing him of
unfaithfulness. One day she perceived that it suddenly grew
dark, and immediately suspected that her husband had raised a
cloud to hide some of his doings that would not bear the light.
She brushed away the cloud, and saw her husband, on the banks of
a glassy river, with a beautiful heifer standing near him. Juno
suspected that the heifer's form concealed some fair nymph of
mortal mould. This was indeed the case; for it was Io, the
daughter of the river god Inachus, whom Jupiter had been flirting
with, and, when he became aware of the approach of his wife, had
changed into that form.

Juno joined her husband, and noticing the heifer, praised its
beauty, and asked whose it was, and of what herd. Jupiter, to
stop questions, replied that it was a fresh creation from the
earth. Juno asked to have it as a gift. What could Jupiter do?
He was loth to give his mistress to his wife; yet how refuse so
trifling a present as a simple heifer? He could not, without
arousing suspicion; so he consented. The goddess was not yet
relieved of her suspicions; and she delivered the heifer to
Argus, to be strictly watched.

Now Argus had a hundred eyes in his head, and never went to sleep
with more than two at a time, so that he kept watch of Io
constantly. He suffered her to feed through the day, and at
night tied her up with a vile rope round her neck. She would
have stretched out her arms to implore freedom of Argus, but she
had no arms to stretch out, and her voice was a bellow that
frightened even herself. She saw her father and her sisters, went
near them, and suffered them to pat her back, and heard them
admire her beauty. Her father reached her a tuft o gras, and she
licked the outstretched hand. She longed to make herself known
to him, and would have uttered her wish; but, alas! words were
wanting. At length she bethought herself of writing, and
inscribed her name it was a short one with her hoof on the
sand. Inachus recognized it, and discovering that his daughter,
whom he had long sought in vain, was hidden under this disguise,
mourned over her, and, embracing her white neck, exclaimed,
"Alas! My daughter, it would have been a less grief to have lost
you altogether!" While he thus lamented, Argus, observing, came
and drove her away, and took his seat on a high bank, whence he
could see in every direction.

Jupiter was troubled at beholding the sufferings of his mistress,
and calling Mercury, told him to go and despatch Argus. Mercury
made haste, put his winged slippers on his feet, and cap on his
head, took his sleep-producing wand, and leaped down from the
heavenly towers to the earth. There he laid aside his wings, and
kept only his wand, with which he presented himself as a shepherd
driving his flock. As he strolled on he blew upon his pipes.
These were what are called the Syrinx or Pandean pipes. Argus
listened with delight, for he had never heard the instrument
before. "Young man," said he, "come and take a seat by me on
this stone. There is no better place for your flock to graze in
than hereabouts, and here is a pleasant shade such as shepherds
love." Mercury sat down, talked, and told stories until it grew
late, and played upon his pipes his most soothing strains, hoping
to lull the watchful eyes to sleep, but all in vain; for Argus
still contrived to keep some of his eyes open, though he shut the

Among other stories, Mercury told him how the instrument on which
he played was invented. "There was a certain nymph, whose name
was Syrinx, who was much beloved by the satyrs and spirits of the
wood; but she would have none of them, but was a faithful
worshipper of Diana, and followed the chase. You would have
thought it was Diana herself, had you seen her in her hunting
dress, only that her bow was of horn and Diana's of silver. One
day, as she was returning from the chase, Pan met her, told her
just this, and added more of the same sort. She ran away,
without stopping to hear his compliments, and he pursued till she
came to the bank of the river, where he overtook her, and she had
only time to call for help on her friends, the water nymphs. They
heard and consented. Pan threw his arms around what he supposed
to be the form of the nymph, and found he embraced only a tuft of
reeds! As he breathed a sigh, the air sounded through the reeds,
and produced a plaintive melody. The god, charmed with the
novelty and with the sweetness of the music, said 'Thus, then, at
least, you shall be mine.' And he took some of the reeds, and
placing them together, of unequal lengths, side by side, made an
instrument which he called Syrinx, in honor of the nymph."
Before Mercury had finished his story, he saw Argus's eyes all
asleep. As his head nodded forward on his breast, Mercury with
one stroke cut his neck through, and tumbled his head down the
rocks. O hapless Argus! The light of your hundred eyes is
quenched at once! Juno took them and put them as ornaments on
the tail of her peacock, where they remain to this day.

But the vengeance of Juno was not yet satiated. She sent a
gadfly to torment Io, who fled over the whole world from its
pursuit. She swam through the Ionian Sea, which derived its name
from her, then roamed over the plains of Illyria, ascended Mount
Haemus, and crossed the Thracian strait, thence named the
Bosphorus (cow-bearer), rambled on through Scythia and the
country of the Cimmerians, and arrived at last on the banks of
the Nile. At length Jupiter interceded for her, and, upon his
promising not to pay her any more attentions, Juno consented to
restore her to her form. It was curious to see her gradually
recover her former self. The coarse hairs fell from her body,
her horns shrunk up, her eyes grew narrower, her mouth shorter;
hands and fingers came instead of hoofs to her forefeet; in fine,
there was nothing left of the heifer except her beauty. At first
she was afraid to speak for fear she should low, but gradually
she recovered her confidence, and was restored to her father and

In a poem dedicated to Leigh Hunt, by Keats, the following
allusion to the story of Pan and Syrinx occurs:--

"So did he feel who pulled the boughs aside,
That we might look into a forest wide,
* * * * * * * *
Telling us how fair trembling Syrinx fled
Arcadian Pan, with such a fearful dread.
Poor nymph poor Pan how he did weep to find
Nought but a lovely sighing of the wind
Along the reedy stream; a half-heard strain,
Full of sweet desolation, balmy pain."


Callisto was another maiden who excited the jealousy of Juno, and
the goddess changed her into a bear. "I will take away," said
she, :"that beauty with which you have captivated my husband."
Down fell Callisto on her hands and knees; she tried to stretch
out her arms in supplication,-- they were already beginning to be
covered with black hair. Her hands grew rounded, became armed
with crooked claws, and served for feet; her mouth, which Jove
used to praise for its beauty, became a horrid pair of jaws; her
voice, which if unchanged would have moved the heart to pity,
became a growl, more fit to inspire terror. Yet her former
disposition remained, and, with continued groaning, she bemoaned
her fate, and stood upright as well as she could, lifting up her
paws to beg for mercy; and felt that Jove was unkind, though she
could not tell him so. Ah, how often, afraid to stay in the
woods all night alone, she wandered about the neighborhood of her
former haunts; how often, frightened by the dogs, did she, so
lately a huntress, fly in terror from the hunters! Often she
fled from the wild beasts, forgetting that she was now a wild
beast herself; and, bear as she was, was afraid of the bears.

One day a youth espied her as he was hunting. She saw him and
recognized him as her own son, now grown a young man. She
stopped, and felt inclined to embrace him. As she was about to
approach, he, alarmed, raised his hunting spear, and was on the
point of transfixing her, when Jupiter, beholding, arrested the
crime, and, snatching away both of them, placed them in the
heavens as the Great and Little Bear.

Juno was in a rage to see her rival so set in honor, and hastened
to ancient Tethys and Oceanus, the powers of ocean, and, in
answer to their inquiries, thus told the cause of her coming; "Do
you ask why I, the queen of the gods, have left the heavenly
plains and sought your depths. Learn that I am supplanted in
heaven,-- my place is given to another. You will hardly believe
me; but look when night darkens the world, and you shall see the
two, of whom I have so much reason to complain, exalted to the
heavens, in that part where the circle is the smallest, in the
neighborhood of the pole. Why should any one hereafter tremble
at the thought of offending Juno, when such rewards are the
consequence of my displeasure! See what I have been able to
effect! I forbade her to wear the human form,-- she is placed
among the stars! So do my punishments result,-- such is the
extent of my power! Better that she should have resumed her
former shape, as I permitted Io to do. Perhaps he means to marry
her, and put me away! But you, my foster parents, if you feel
for me, and see with displeasure this unworthy treatment of me,
show it, I beseech you, by forbidding this guilty couple from
coming into your waters." The powers of the ocean assented, and
consequently the two constellations of the Great and Little Bear
move round and round in heaven, but never sink, as the other
stars do, beneath the ocean.

Milton alludes to the fact that the constellation of the Bear
never sets, when he says,

"Let my lamp at midnight hour
Be seen in some high lonely tower,
Where I may oft outwatch the Bear."
Il Penseroso

And Prometheus, in James Russell Lowell's poem, says,

"One after one the stars have risen and set,
Sparkling upon the hoar-frost of my chain;
The Bear that prowled all night about the fold
Of the North Star, hath shrunk into his den,
Scared by the blithsome footsteps of the dawn."

The last star in the tail of the Little Bear is the Pole star,
called also the Cynosure. Milton says,

"Straight mine eye hath caught new pleasures
While the landscape round it measures.
* * * * * * * *
Towers and battlements it sees
Bosomed high in tufted trees,
Where perhaps some beauty lies
The Cynosure of neighboring eyes."

The reference here is both to the Pole-star as the guide of
mariners, and to the magnetic attraction of the North. He calls
it also the "Star of Aready," because Callisto's boy was named
Arcas, and they lived in Arcadia. In Milton's Comus, the elder
brother, benighted in the woods, says,

"Some gentle taper!
Through a rush candle, from
the wicker hole
Of some clay habitation,
visit us
With thy long levelled rule
of streaming light,
And thou shalt be our star of Aready,
Or Tyrian Chynsure."

Myth Collection

Achelous and HerculesAcis and GalateaAdmetus and Alcestis
Agamemnon, Orestes, and ElectraAmphionAmphitrite
AntigoneApollo and DaphneApollo and Hyacinthus
Aurora and TithonusBacchusBaucis and Philemon
CadmusCastor and PolluxCephalus and Procris
Ceyx and HalcyoneClytieCupid and Psyche
DaedalusDiana and ActaeonDryope
Echo and NarcissusEndymionErisichthon
Glaucus and ScyllaHebe and GanymedeHercules
IbycusIo and CallistoLeucothea dnd Palaemon
LinusMarsyasMedea and Aeson
MelampusMenelaus and HelenMidas
Minerva and ArachneMonstersMusaeus
NeptuneNereus and DorisNiobe
Nisus and ScyllaOrionOrpheus and Eurydice
Pegasus and the ChimaeraPenelopePerseus and Medusa
PhaetonPluto and ProsperinePrometheus and Pandora
PygmalionPyramus and ThisbePython
ThamyrisThe Calydonian HuntThe Camenae
The CentaursThe Golden FleeceThe Graeae and Gorgons
The Griffin, or GryphonThe IliadThe Myrmidons
The PygmiesThe Rural DeitiesThe Sphinx
The Trojan WarThe Water DeitiesThe Winds
TheseusThetisVenus and Adonis
Vertumnus and Pomona

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