“The Transformation of Io into a Heyfer” (III) – Ovid


     Io Recognised by Her Father 


          Victor Honoré Janssens





               The head of Argus (as with stars the skies)
               Was compass’d round, and wore an hundred eyes. 


not only did [t]he head of Argus have

an hundred eyes, but they circled,

compass’d, round his head, as with

stars the skies, as with stars the

geocentric firmament 


note the passive form of the verb to 

compass in the two lines above 

standing in for the inverted sentences

I earlier made mention of as literary 

devices Ovid, or Dryden, uses 

throughout the poem


the standard sentence, the active

sentence,  should read, an hundred

eyes compass’d [t]he head of Argus


compass’d, encircled


               But two by turns their lids in slumber steep;
               The rest on duty still their station keep;
               Nor cou’d the total constellation sleep. 


never could all the eyes, the total

constellation, sleep, or in slumber 

steep, since only two of them would 

turn[ ] their lids, close, at a time, 

while the others continued diligently

to keep watch


steep, incidentally, is a verb here, 

as in to put the kettle on, not an 

adjective, as in dauntingly

pitched, threateningly angled 


               Thus, ever present, to his eyes, and mind,
               His charge was still before him, tho’ behind. 


even when she was standing behind

him, Argus could still see Io, [h]is

charge, with the eyes he had in the

back of his head

               In fields he suffer’d her to feed by Day,
               But when the setting sun to night gave way,
               The captive cow he summon’d with a call;
               And drove her back, and ty’d her to the stall.
               On leaves of trees, and bitter herbs she fed,
               Heav’n was her canopy, bare earth her bed:
               So hardly lodg’d, and to digest her food,
               She drank from troubled streams, defil’d with mud. 


hardly lodg’d, given difficult living 


               Her woeful story fain she wou’d have told,
               With hands upheld, but had no hands to hold. 


fain, gladly

               Her head to her ungentle keeper bow’d,
               She strove to speak, she spoke not, but she low’d: 


to low is to make the sound that 

cows do, to moo

               Affrighted with the noise, she look’d around,
               And seem’d t’ inquire the author of the sound. 


the sound that she herself was making 

not only [a]ffrighted her, frightened her, 

but had her wondering where could 

it possibly be coming from 

               Once on the banks where often she had play’d
               (Her father’s banks), she came, 


Her father, Inachus, god of rivers


                                                    and there survey’d
               Her alter’d visage, and her branching head;
               And starting, from her self she wou’d have fled. 


much as the sound of her altered

voice had [a]ffrighted Io, now her 

reflection in the water chastened 

her as well, enough to make her

start, be startled, and want to run 

away from her self

               Her fellow nymphs, familiar to her eyes,
               Beheld, but knew her not in this disguise.
               Ev’n Inachus himself was ignorant;
               And in his daughter, did his daughter want. 


no one recognized Io, not even 

her father, who, in his daughter, 

the one who stood before him, 

the altered Io, could not make 

her out 


did his daughter want, as in to 

be found wanting, in the cow, 

to not even be suggested in

the, however conspicuous, 

heifer, not at all part of the 



Io is there but, simultaneously, 

disconcertingly, not there

               She follow’d where her fellows went, as she
               Were still a partner of the company: 


it should be remembered that 

Io was a beautiful heifer, even 

Juno had been impressed, so

that her fellows, her companions,

only other maidens, I’ll point out, 

fellows taking on its sexually 

indiscriminate meaning here, 

not at all restricted to males, 

would have easily let her follow


note the symmetry, incidentally, 

between follow’d and fellows, 

the nearly hidden alliteration, 

a delightful literary effect, 

though if you blinked you’d 

miss it


               They stroak her neck; the gentle heyfer stands,
               And her neck offers to their stroaking hands.
               Her father gave her grass; the grass she took;
               And lick’d his palms, and cast a piteous look;
               And in the language of her eyes, she spoke. 


her lowing would’ve had no effect,

would’ve let no one in on the fact

that beneath the animal exterior 

there might be an Io

               She wou’d have told her name, and ask’d relief,
               But wanting words, in tears she tells her grief.


and here we get the punchline,

the plot twist, which turns this

story into, relatively speaking,

a total enchantment, as though 

Ovid were giving us, prefiguring

in fact, Walt Disney, our own 

20th Century mythologist


                            with her foot she makes him understand;
               And prints the name of Io in the sand. 


see above



R ! chard