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Oil Painting on panel, polychrome carved wood, antique Mancala game board
Io was one of Zeus’s many loves, a princess of Argos, and priestess of Hera. It was perhaps in that capacity that Zeus first saw lovely Io, wooed and pursued her. In order to deceive his justifiably jealous wife, Goddess Hera, Zeus cloaked the earth and his liaison with Io in clouds. The clouds however only served to rouse Hera’s suspicion and through the Cumulus, Cirrus and Stratus she descended to find Zeus standing next to a lovely white... heifer.
Guilty Zeus, sensing Hera’s approach, had turned poor Io into a cow. Hera immediately saw through this deception but chose only to remark upon the beauty and obvious purity of Io and requested the lovely cow as a present. Philandering Zeus was unwilling to admit the ruse or deny Hera’s request and so Io the heifer was led away to be chained to the sacred olive at the temple Heraion in Argos where Argus Panoptes, Hera’s loyal servant, was appointed her guard.
The Titan Argus was a particularly appropriate choice to watch over Io. Argus had a hundred eyes and when he did sleep only a few of his many eyes actually closed. While Argus watched and Io wept, Zeus enlisted Hermes help in freeing Io. Hermes eventually lulled Argus to sleep with song and story and when the last of his many eyes closed, he killed him.
Hera, perhaps as tribute or plain practicality took the many eyes of her faithful servant Argus and placed them in the tail of the bird that would become her totem, the Peacock.