SHARKPACK Poetry Review

An imprint of FATHOMBOOKS.

Aeschylus’ Io

Io. A moon of Jupiter now. Before that—a young princess, a nymph, daughter to Inachus, the King of Argos.

Ocean’s Daughters, the Chorus of Prometheus Bound, request:

let’s hear from her own lips
what fate wastes her

From her own lips:

Always at night, haunting softspoken dreams
would wander into my bedroom
(where no man has ever entered)
whispering whispering
“Happy, happy girl
you could marry the greatest One of all,
why wait so long

She takes these dreams to her father, dutiful & concerned—and he drives her from his castle! Granted, it’s prophesied that Zeus will exterminate all of his people, but this is not the first occasion a Greek father sacrifices his daughter. There is no succor in Man for Io, for the nymph.

How one suffers for attention!—Nabokov’s nymphets in Lolita come similarly to mind.

In Io’s case, this ‘attention’ is from the founts of Zeus, of Argus Panoptes (below), and the gadfly, which, though not gendered, utilizes a decidedly phallic ‘Arrowhead’ sting.

Io’s exile (and can we see here a shame in these horns?) by her father has notable consequences:

My body, my mind
my head
look at me!

Let’s look briefly at her pursuer, Argos Panoptes:

Suddenly Argos the earthborn herdsman
was following me: his rage the rage
of raw wine, staring with thick packt eyes
he crowded my every step.

The earthborn herdsman. Made from the land. The land is Argos. The ‘rage of raw wine’—I imagine ruddy cheeks, gushes of violence kin to crushing grapes.

Panoptes—’All-seeing,’ an epithet granted Argos (Argus) with his ‘thick packt eyes.’ He’s a herdsman who doesn’t sleep, but if we think again on this attention, this ogling, he takes on a form not unlike the persistent whispering dreams of Zeus or the recurring sting of the gadfly.

The bulk of summarized sites indicate she’s chained to a tree with Argos on duty, but where does that leave ‘was following me’?

A cow walking around a tree until her leash is too short with a hundred-eyed giant walking right behind her.


Io reaches Prometheus.

Both are bound to suffer, one prodded to keep moving, the other shackled to his immortal fate.

Prometheus prophecies that Io will reach an end to her suffering, though he does so in a recurrently pessimistic manner, a sort of ‘Oh! You want me to tell you more of how you’ll suffer?’ that reflects the bitterness of his character throughout PB; he describes an incredibly long journey—in distance and time—fraught with more torment. Always the gadfly.

But he does know the truth of the matter:

He [Zeus] merely
touches you. Yet that’s enough
to father your black child
Epahpos (or Touchborne)
who’ll harvest
as much of the land
as is watered by the broad flooding Nile.

Epahpos will sire children, they will do the same, and again, again, down through the Danaids, all the way to Hercules who, thirteen generations later, in the exaggerated swing of a pendulum, will come ’round to free Prometheus.

Naturally, on hearing the end of her prophecy, Io is driven into madness and pounds off.

Spasm! again
what manias
beat my brain
hot I’m hot
where’s the fire?
here’s horsefly
his Arrowhead
not fire forged
but sticks: heart
struck with fear
kicks at my ribs
eyeballs whirl
spirally wheeld
by madness, madness
stormblasted I’m
blown off course
my tongue my tiller
its unhinged, floppy
words words thrash
dashed O at doom
mud churning up
breaking in waves

This collapse of structure has the frenzied quality of an oracle or of an artist on a bender. The ‘unhinged, floppy / words,’ ‘stormblasted,’ ‘words words thrash’—it has a Dionysian quality, surely.

There doesn’t seem much else like it in Prometheus Bound; perhaps the altitude is climbed to once again when Zeus tosses his thunderbolt down on Prometheus, but this pitched thrashing is totally unharnessed and powerful.

The power isn’t in the sting of the gadfly but in the large, bucking body of the heifer and more broadly, of the sufferer. How dangerous are the flailing hooves of anyone stung by misfortune so long? I’ve seen provocation turn my world’s Io’s from sullen woe to fangs-bared snarling & snapping. The archetypes fit neatly.

For the parallel she provides to Prometheus and the hounded vision of afflicted virgin beauty she presents, she’s been given a moon.

Unfortunately for her, however, that planet still lies close to ever-lusting Jupiter.

One response to “Aeschylus’ Io”

  1. Lovely work. What singular punctuation from Aeschylus here—and I’m agog over ‘wheeld’ and dem ‘thick packt eyes.’ Thanks.

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