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Myth: Jupiter, Juno, and Little Io Illustration

Roman Myth

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This is the story of Jupiter, Juno, and Little Io

Jupiter was the king of all the gods.  Ably assisted by his two brothers, Pluto (who Jupiter put in charge of the underworld) and Neptune (who Jupiter put in charge of the seas), Jupiter ruled the heavens, the earth, and all life.  No god was more powerful than Jupiter.  And no major decision was made without Jupiter's approval.

It was nice being in charge, but sometimes Jupiter found things a bit boring.

Jupiter thought about what he could do.

He could turn himself into an octopus and visit his brother Neptune under the sea, but he didn't feel much like a swim.

He could visit Pluto under the earth, but Pluto was such a gloomy fellow.

He could hurl thunderbolts, but it wasn't much fun without a target.

He could hunt up one of the other gods.  But the truth was, all the other gods were terrified of Jupiter.  He did have a terrible temper, but only when someone lied to him.  Since the gods often lied, they mostly avoided Jupiter.

He could call for his wife, Juno.  But the truth was, Juno was very busy.  It was nearing the day of her festival (March 1st), when all the married women in Rome celebrated her and thanked her for all she did for them.  Juno was busy whispering suggestions in many a matron's ear.

Jupiter almost never visited earth.  But he did watch over it.  From the heavens, Jupiter spotted two men walking along a lane.  Jupiter threw his voice down to earth, making it sound like someone speaking.  He was very good at that.

"Hey stupid," Jupiter cast his voice loudly, hoping to start a fight.

One man turned to the other angrily.  "What did you say?"  And before you could say Jupiter, the two men were fighting.  Jupiter found that very funny.

A glint on the river caught his eye.  It was Io, a lovely river nymph.

"What a lovely young woman," Jupiter said.

Jupiter covered heaven and earth with some really thick clouds and brought Io up to visit him.  The thick coat of clouds made Juno suspicious.

Jupiter looked up.  "It's Juno!"  he blinked.

Quickly, Jupiter changed Io into a cow.  When Juno appeared by his side, all she found was an innocent looking Jupiter standing next to a little white cow.

"This little cow appeared out of nowhere," he told his wife, acting surprised.

Juno wasn't fooled.  "What a beautiful cow," she gushed admiringly.  "May I have it as a present?"

Jupiter had to agree.  Juno sent the cow away under guard.

Jupiter arranged for Io to be rescued and set free.  He sent his son Apollo to sing the guard asleep.  When the guard closed his eyes, Apollo flew Io back to her river.  But he forgot to change Io back into human form.

When Juno heard that Io had escaped, she sent a gadfly after Io.  A gadfly is a fly that bites.

"Moo moo," Io screamed, when the gadfly found her.

Io swam awkwardly to the mouth of the river, where it joins the sea, hoping the gadfly would not follow her.  (Cows are not the best of swimmers.)

"Moo moo," Io screamed, when the gadfly found her again.

Feeling very sorry for herself, a dispirited Io traveled next to Egypt.

Egypt was a dismal place for a river nymph.  There are no crocodiles in the Tiber as there are in the Nile.  When Juno heard about it, she flew to Egypt and changed Io back into human form.

"Thank you, Juno!"  Io cried humbly.

"Yes, well," mumbled Juno, her mind on her festival.  "Find a husband, child."  She flew quickly away, leaving poor Io in Egypt.

Io, after all, was a river nymph.  Sighing heavily all the way, Io swam home.


The Question:
This story is remarkably similar to an ancient Greek story about Zeus, Hera, and Little Io - very similar indeed.  What is the same and what is different, and why is that?

The Answer:

The Romans worshiped thousands of gods.  As they expanded their empire, they discovered new gods worshiped by other cultures.  They adopted the ones they liked.  They gave most of their adopted gods Roman names, and acted as if they had been Roman gods all along.

When they discovered the Greek gods, they adopted them all!  Zeus became Jupiter.  Hera became Juno.  Apollo was one of the few Greek gods whose name did not change.  (Io was not a god.  She was a water spirit, and thus not very important, which is why she got to keep her name.)

The Romans changed some of the personalities of the gods to better reflect Roman beliefs.  They also changed some of the myths to better reflect the Roman way of life.

In Roman mythology, for example, Jupiter rarely, if ever, came down to earth.  He was always King of the Gods, ruler of the heavens.  In Greek mythology, Zeus was forever down and about on earth in various disguises, causing all kinds of trouble.

Hera, the Greek Queen of all the Gods, was a vindictive and jealous wife, who spent a great deal of her time keeping an eye on her husband, Zeus.  Juno, the Roman Queen of all the Gods, was more concerned with watching over the women of Rome and her own children and household than she was with her husband's activities, although she had her thoughtless and jealous moments, as do we all.

Did the Romans have gods of their own?

Jupiter, Juno & Apollo

Roman Myths


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