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Io: Generations of Pain from Beauty

Updated on July 1, 2014
The Fury of Athamas
The Fury of Athamas
Hera - Queen of the Gods
Hera - Queen of the Gods | Source

Inachus: Father of Io

It is difficult to be loved by Zeus. In the case of the beautiful priestess Io, it would result in not only her suffering, but in a series of misfortunes for her children for generations to follow. Io's father was Inachus, himself a river god and the son of Titans Oceanus and Tethys. He was also the king of Argos, and to one of his sisters, accounts vary, he became the father of several children, one of them a daughter named Io.

Inachus was a staunch follower of Hera and even sided with her in a dispute between she and her brother Poseidon over patronage of the city-state Argos. This, however, would not make a difference when his daughter caught the eye of the king of the gods, Zeus, Hera's husband.

Zeus seducing Io
Zeus seducing Io | Source
Hera catching Zeus with Io
Hera catching Zeus with Io | Source
Hermes lulling Argus to sleep
Hermes lulling Argus to sleep | Source

The Seduction of Io

Following the lead of her father, Io also worshiped Hera and served as a priestess to the queen of the gods, but when Zeus comes to seduce you, there is apparently no way to deny him. Zeus, of course, knew his wife would cause trouble if she caught him with yet another female. Trying to avoid this, he surrounded Io in a dark cloud to hide their activities.

Hera was not fooled. She knew her husband far too well and appeared in the cloud. Zeus attempted again to put one over on his wife and turned Io into a beautiful white heifer. His wife was still not fooled. She asked her husband to make the creature a gift to her. Zeus at first, resisted giving his lover to his wife, but when Hera insisted, he had no choice. Io was now forced to live as a cow forever.

Hera took Io to her trusted servant, Argus, the hundred-eyed giant. She ordered the giant to tie her prize to a tree and keep his eyes on her. Argus, ever loyal to Hera, did as she commanded, but Zeus did not want his lover to suffer at his wife's hand, so he sent his trusted son Hermes to obtain Io's release.

Hermes knew it would not be easy to steal Io from a giant with one hundred eyes, so quick thinker that he was, he devised a plan. He would put all of Argus's eyes to sleep then kill him. The god, disguised as a simple shephard, pulled out his pan flute, just like the ones he created and gave to brother Apollo and son Pan. The playing was so soft and beautiful that soon Argus was fast asleep. When all of his eyes were closed, Hermes pulled out his sword and cut off the giant's head.

Once Io was freed, she wondered the land, but she was not free of the torment of Hera who sent a gadfly to constantly bite her. No matter where Io went, she could not lose the gadfly. At one point, Io came upon Prometheus. The Titan was still chained to the Caucuses Mountains as punishment for tricking Zeus. Prometheus told Io that if she crossed the sea and made her way to Egypt, she could once again become human. He also told her that her descendants would become the greatest heroes of all time. The cow made its way to the sea that would forever bear her name, the Ionian Sea. After crossing into Egypt, she settled along the Nile River and was returned to her female form by Zeus. There, she gave birth to a son named Epaphus.

According to Greek legend, Epaphus married a girl named Memphis and started a city along the Nile that would bear her name. The Egyptians do not quite follow this line of thinking, however. The two of them became parents of one daughter they named Libya. Her name would be taken by the land through which her grandmother passed on her way to Egypt.

Io's descendants would in fact include some of the greatest heroes ever known. Who were they? Read on.

Eurotas-King of Laconia
Eurotas-King of Laconia | Source

The Children of Libya

Libya would go on to catch the eye of Poseidon. The two became parents of three sons, Agenor, Belus and Lelex.

Lelex had four sons by his nymph wife Cleocharia. These were Polycaon, Pterelaus, Cleson and Myles. Myles would become the king of Laconia and his family would rule the territory for some time. He became the father of Eurotas who also ruled over Laconia. Eurotas had a daughter named Sparta. She would go on to marry Lacedaemon. He was the son of Zeus and Taygete, a daughter of Atlas and sister of Hermes's mother Maia. The two of them would found the city-state of Sparta and have two children, a son Amyclas and a daughter named Eurydice. Eurydice would go on to marry Acrisius the king of Argos by whom she would become the mother of Danae.

Eternal punishment of the Danaides
Eternal punishment of the Danaides | Source

Daughters of Danaus

Belus would rule in Egypt when he became of age, and he married Achiroe, a daughter of Nilus - god of the Nile River. The two of them became the parents of Aegyptus and Danaus. Aegyptus would go on to have fifty son while his brother Danaus would have fifty daughters. Naturally Aegyptus thought his fine sons should marry his brother's fine daughters. His brother, however, had other ideas. Danaus took his girls and returned to Argos, the land of their ancestors. Aegyptus would not have his sons be denied. He took them and went to Argos after their brides-to-be. Danaus did not want to start a war, as he had since become king, so he allowed the wedding, but he advised his daughters to kill their grooms on their wedding night.

The girls were more than happy to oblige their father, and all but one of them killed their respective husband. Only his daughter Hypermnestra did not follow Daddy's instructions because her husband Lynceus was sweet and did not force himself on her. Danaus was outraged at his daughter for failing to follow his orders. He had her charged in the courts, but Aphrodite was so taken by the love between Hypermnestra and Lynceus that she stepped in and saved the girl.

Understandably, no one wanted to marry the other girls now. Eventually, Hermes arranged a gymnastics competition where by each of the winners would receive one of Danaus's daughters. I am sure you are thinking that it must be nice to be the daughters of the king and get away with murder, however, the forty-nine murderesses would have an eternal punishment upon their deaths. They were forced to fill a cauldron with water in order to be cleansed for killing their first husbands, however, the cauldron was full of holes, and the water was always leaking out before they could ever get the cauldron full. This meant they would carry the water forever.

The Sons of Abas

Hypermnestra and Lynceus became the parents of a son, Abas. Both he and his father would serve as King of Argos. Abas was very renowned for his war skills, so much so that eventually all he had to do was hold up his shield, the shield of his grandfather Danaus given to him by his father Lynceus, and his opponents would flee. A little of this might have been passed on to his twin sons Acrisius and Proetus who were said to fight one another while still in their mother Ocaleia's womb. When the boys became men, they fought over their father's kingdom, and Acrisius exiled his brother. Eventually the young men would come to terms with sharing rule over their family land, but their troubles had only begun.

Proetus is said to have had several daughters who were driven to madness and wondered around Greece. Some say that their illness was caused by Dionysus, as he was the god of madness. Others say Hera was to blame, as it was one of her favorite types of punishment. Their father sought treatment to cure the girls but was continuously asked to give up parts of his kingdom for the cure. The girls became more out of control as time went by, and their father continued to refuse the demands. Eventually, Proetus had no choice. He gave up some of his kingdom to save them.

Danae and Eros with Zeus as a shower of gold
Danae and Eros with Zeus as a shower of gold | Source
Danae and Perseus found by Dictys
Danae and Perseus found by Dictys | Source
Perseus and the Graeae Sisters
Perseus and the Graeae Sisters | Source
Perseus with Medusa's Head
Perseus with Medusa's Head | Source
Perseus saves Andromeda from Cetus
Perseus saves Andromeda from Cetus | Source
Perseus fighting Phineus for Andromeda
Perseus fighting Phineus for Andromeda | Source
Athena with the Aegis
Athena with the Aegis | Source

Danae's Son

Acrisius's trouble was far worse. The king, and his wife the afore mentioned Eurydice of Sparta, had a daughter, Danae, but no sons. As he aged, he became so concerned about having a male heir that he went to the Oracle of Delphi and asked if he would ever have one. Pythia replied that if Danae were to give birth to a son, the boy would one day kill Acrisius. The king would have none of that. He locked his daughter away out of the sight and reach of all men. Zeus, however, is not a man and found a way. One night the king of the gods rained down in a shower of gold and entered the chamber where Danae was being kept. There she conceived a son she named Perseus.

When Acrisius learned his daughter had given birth to a son despite his best efforts, he had both his daughter and grandson cast out to sea hoping they would die of exposure. Instead, the two drifted to the island of Seriphos where they were found by a fisherman named Dictys. Dictys was the brother of King Polydectes, and the young mother and her son became subjects of the kingdom.

Once Perseus had grown to become a young man, Polydectes sent him away on an impossible quest, so the young man would not be able to stop him from having his way with Danae. This task was to obtain the head of Medusa the Gorgon. Athena, who had put Medusa in her hideous state, assisted Perseus by telling him where she had stashed the monster away. The son of Zeus then found his way to the Graeae sisters. At first they refused to help him, but after he snatched the one eye the three of them shared, they told him the way to the Stygian nymphs, nymphs of the River Styx. The nymphs gave Perseus the winged sandals of Hermes, so he could fly, the helm of Hades, so he would be invisible and the shield of Athena, which he could use as a mirror to see without looking directly at Medusa. Perseus used the tools he had been given and the strength inherited from his father and tracked down the monster. He careful crept up on her using the shield to see where he was going. When Medusa appeared behind him, he sliced off her head.

While returning with Medusa's head, he happened upon the city-state of Aethiopia. Aethiopia, in the upper Nile area, was currently having some problems of its own, as their queen, Cassiopeia, had boasted that her daughter was more beautiful than any of the Nereids, nymph daughters of Nereus, a sea god. Poseidon took offense on behalf of his friend and threatened the city with destruction. King Cepheus sought advice from the Oracle at Amun, near Libya, and was told that if he sacrificed his daughter Andromeda to the sea monster, Cetus, the city would be spared. Not knowing what else to do, he had his daughter chained to the cliffs at the sea. Before anything could happen to her, however, Perseus came along and defeated Cetus. The young hero then married Andromeda.

Do not for one moment think that Perseus is completely innocent of all wrong doing throughout his journey. He used Medusa's head to defeat Phineus, Andromeda's former betrothed. Upon returning to Seriphos, he found his mother hiding to escape the advances of King Polydectes. Perseus turned the king to stone then allowed his mother to stay with Dictys who was now the king.

He eventually returned all the tools he had been loaned to Hermes and gave Medusa's head to Athena for her assistance. The goddess of warfare placed the Gorgon's head upon the shield she shared with her father, the Aegis.

You might now be asking yourself, but what happened with Acrisius and that prophecy. Perseus set out to find his grandfather in Argos, but not to kill him. Acrisius still fled not knowing his grandson's intentions. He went to Larissa to hide out, but once Perseus found him and explained that he had no hard feelings, King Teutamidas decided to celebrate by hosting an athletic competition. Perseus, son of Zeus, was invited to compete and did. What happened next is not clear. Some say Perseus while competing in a discus throw, accidentally hit his grandfather in the head and killed him. Others say that during a foot race, Perseus ran into his grandfather, and this is how he died. Either way, it was completely accidental that Perseus brought about Acrisius's death.

Perseus and Adromeda
Perseus and Adromeda | Source

The Children of Perseus and Andromeda

Perseus and Andromeda eventually founded the city-state of Mycenae and settled down to have a family. The two had many sons with the oldest being Perses. Perses was said to have been born when his parents were still in Aethiopia. Because his father still had work to do in saving his mother, it is believed that the infant was left with his grandparents, King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia. According to Pluto he eventually founded a race of people who assumed his name, the Persians.

Their daughter Gorgophone, meaning Gorgon slayer after her father, had two sons. Tyndareus would become the husband of Leda and father/stepfather, since Zeus was involved, of Helen of Troy, Clytemnestra, Castor and Pollux. Her other son was Icarius, the father of Penelope, the wife of Odysseus of Ithaca.

Electryon became the king of Mycenae after his father Perseus. He married his brother's daughter, Anaxo. The two of them had nine sons, but it was their daughter, Alcmene, who would become the most famous. As with so many royal families, a battle ensued over Mycenae. Cattle were stolen, sons were killed, the entire thing got out of control, but eventually Amphitryon, the son of Perseus's son Alcaeus, returned the cattle and was given Electryon's beautiful daughter to marry. Remember, however, that this is still Io's family, so things never end peacefully. Amphitryon accidentally killed Electryon and was driven out of town taking his betrothed Alcmene with him.

Canis Major and Canis Minor
Canis Major and Canis Minor | Source
Alcmene giving birth
Alcmene giving birth | Source
Hera with Alcaeus creating Milky Way
Hera with Alcaeus creating Milky Way | Source
Baby Alcaeus kills Snakes
Baby Alcaeus kills Snakes | Source
Heracles | Source

Alcmene and Amphitryon

Alcmene refused to marry him unless or until he took revenge on the men who killed all but one of her brothers. It was not easy. He had to make some alliances along the way including the Thebans who would only help if he killed the Teumessian fox Dionysus had set upon the territory. This, as you can guess, was no ordinary fox. It was actually the child of Echidna and Typhon, and it was destine never to be caught. Amphitryon was apparently a very ingenious fellow and remembered another creature named Laelaps. Laelaps was a dog that was destine to catch anything it chased. Talk about your catch-22. Zeus was dumbstruck. What could he do, neither of the animals could fulfill its destiny without the other failing to meet its own. His answer was to place both creatures into the heavens, Laelaps became Canis Major while the Teumessian fox became Canis Minor. All that mattered to the Thebans was that the threat of the fox was gone and they assisted Amphitryon.

While Amphitryon was on his way home to marry Alcmene, Zeus beat him to it. He disguised himself as Amphitryon and had his way with the beautiful bride-to-be. When Amphitryon returned for real later that night and bedded his bride, Alcmene was confused, but it did not take long to figure out what had happened. Amphitryon paid a little visit to the blind prophet Tiresias, and everything became clear.

Now poor Alcmene was pregnant with twins, one the son of her husband and the other a son of Zeus. This, of course, made her a target of Hera just as her great ancestor Io had been. When it was time, however, for Alcmene to give birth, Zeus, quite proud of himself, made an interesting proclamation. He announced that on that day, a descendant of his would be born and rule all those around him. Being careful to use the world descendant instead of son so Hera would not catch on, he set his own son up for an entire life of troubles without even knowing it. Hera, knowing all about his expectant son, made Zeus swear the proclamation on the River Styx. None the wise to her plotting, he did.

Hera now went to work ruining the son of Zeus. Her first act was to force Nicippe, the wife of Sthenelus, another son of Perseus and Andromeda, give birth several months early. The baby, a son named Eurystheus, would go on to play an important role in the queen of the gods future torment of Alcmene's son. Hera also prevented Alcmene from delivering her twins. You might ask how Hera could control another woman's labor and delivery, but being herself the mother of Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth, has its advantages. According to Ovid, Hera ordered Eileithyia to sit with her legs crossed to stop the delivery of Zeus's son. Alcmene labored for days and was close to death when one of her maids realized what was happening. The maid then ran to Eileithyia announcing the birth of the baby. Eileithyia was quite surprised and jumped up to see this for herself, thereby uncrossing her legs. The infant, originally named Alcaeus, was then born while the poor maid was turned into a weasel by Hera.

Now Alcmene was the mother of two sons, Iphicles by Amphitryon and Alcaeus by Zeus. Mother and father are now terrified of what Hera might do to them and expose, abandon, the larger baby who was obviously the son of Zeus. Athena, who was also a child of Zeus not from Hera, decided to play a trick on her stepmother and collected the abandoned infant taking it to Hera who was a protector of children. Hera had no idea who the baby actually was because as far as she was concerned, Alcmene's sons were never to be born. She decided to nurse the hungry newborn from her own breast, but Alcaeus bit down on her causing her great pain. Hera yanked herself from the newborn and her milk sprayed across the heavens creating the Milky Way galaxy. Those ancient Greeks think of everything.

Hera sent the baby away now, mad that he hurt her, so Athena took him back to his parents. What Hera did not realize is that by breastfeeding the boy, she gave him strength no mortal would ever be able to match. She also now realize that this infant was the son of Alcmene, the one she failed to destroy, but she would not stop trying. Her next attempt would come swiftly when she sent two snakes into the nursery where the babies, Iphicles and Alcaeus, were napping. Alcaeus grabbed both serpents in his hands and crushes them to death saving himself and his brother. Everyone now knew that baby Alcaeus was the extremely powerful son of Zeus who was breastfed by Hera. Trying to get the goddess to let up on the boy, his name was now changed in honor of her, Heracles, Hera's glory.

Twelve Labors of Heracles
Twelve Labors of Heracles | Source
Heracles and Cerberus
Heracles and Cerberus | Source
Heracles and Omphale
Heracles and Omphale | Source
Heracles resues Deianira from Nessus
Heracles resues Deianira from Nessus | Source
Hebe and Heracles
Hebe and Heracles | Source


What Hera would do to Heracles, is an article in and of itself. The abridged version is that Heracles married Megera and had several children, the exact count and sex of the kids varies. Hera now comes back to torment Heracles by driving him to madness in which he kills his entire family. When he comes to his senses, he is devastated and wants to do whatever is necessary to be forgiven. He is sent to his cousin, King Eurytheus, told you he would be important. Eurytheus is just a puppet of Hera to whom he owes his entire kingdom. Hera instructs Eurytheus in the punishments for Heracles which would become known as the Twelve Labors of Heracles. Neither Hera nor Eurytheus believes the son of Zeus can accomplish any of these tasks, but when he keeps coming back for more, Eurytheus starts to fear Heracles. The labors are:

  1. Kill the Nemean Lion (whose coat is unpenetrable to all weapons)
  2. Kill the Lernaean Hydra (whose spit is poison and cutting off a head makes two grow back)
  3. Capture the Ceryneian Hind of Artemis (a golden deer so fast it could outrun an arrow)
  4. Capture the Erymanthian Boar (another creature of Artemis that could destroy a city)
  5. Clean the stables of Augean in one day
  6. Kill the Stymphalian Birds (man-eating metal birds that belonged to Ares)
  7. Capture the Cretan Bull (a large bull believed to be the father of the Minotaur)
  8. Capture the Mares of Diomedes (flesh-eating horses)
  9. Capture the girdle of Hippolyta (the Queen of the Amazons and daughter of Ares)
  10. Capture the cattle of Geryon (the three-headed grandson of Medusa by her son Chrysaor)
  11. Steal Hera's apples from the Garden of the Hesperides (avoiding Ladon the dragon)
  12. Capture Cerberus (the three-headed guard dog of Hades

The exact order of the twelve labors varies between writers, but the Cerberus labor is always the final one, which terrifies Eurytheus to the point he does not want to deal with Heracles any longer.

Once finished with the Labors, Heracles joins Jason on the hunt for the Golden Fleece and becomes one of the Argonauts. He found love again, with the daughter of King Eurytus, but again Hera drove him mad causing him to kill her brother, Iphitus, who had become his best friend. Now having killed again, he served a year as a slave to Omphale, the Queen of Lydia. As part of his punishment, she wore his lion skin while he did house work, but she soon fell in love with him and married him. Heracles would travel the world performing tasks that only his strength could accomplish.

In the end, it would again be love that would be his downfall. Heracles would again marry, this time Deianira. She attracted the attention of a lecherous centaur name Nessus who tried to steal her by offering to carry her across a fast moving stream while her husband swam. Heracles killed Nessus, of course, but his choice of weapon would come back on him. He used an arrow coated with the poisoned blood of the Hydra. As he lied dying, Nessus took off his blood-soaked shirt and told Deianira that it would excite her husband in the bedroom. Deianira held on to the shirt until years later when she feared her husband was losing his desire for her. She asked him to put the shirt on, and even he was not immune to the Hydra poison. Upon his death, his father Zeus deemed that his son had suffered enough and brought him to Olympus as a god. He went on to marry his half-sister, Hebe, the goddess of youth, who bore him two immortal sons.

Europa and Zeus
Europa and Zeus | Source

The Children of Agenor

Coming back around to the children of Libya, it is a big family, there is one more son not yet discussed. Agenor, in case you have forgotten, was the son of Poseidon. He was born in Memphis, Egypt, and eventually married Telephassa. The two ended up founding the city-state of Tyre. There seems to be a recurring theme that if you have many sons and only one daughter, you had better watch out for Zeus. Agenor also suffered losing his daughter to his uncle. Europa, for whom all of Europe is named, had several brothers that include Phoenix, Cilix and Cadmus.

One day Europa was out picking flowers when she was spotted by the king of the gods. Not wanting to pull a snatch and grab, as his brother Hades had done with his own daughter Persephone, Zeus transformed himself into a white bull. He blended in with her father's cattle but, of course, he stood out and captured the girl's attention. Eventually, Europa climbed onto the bull's back, and Zeus took off running to the sea. He did not stop running until he had gone all the way to Crete.

Agenor was upset, to put it mildly, and ordered his sons to go find their sister and not to return without her. The boys, with their mother, set out to find Europa, but since none of them ever found their sister, none of them returned to Tyre. Cadmus went to the Oracle of Delphi to seek knowledge of his sister. He was told to keep looking until he found a cow. He was instructed to follow this cow until she laid down then start a city there. The cow laid down in what became Thebes. Cilix searched in Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, and eventually gave up to start his own city of Cilicia. Phoenix did his searching a little closer to home. When he gave up looking for his sister, he settled down and founded Phoenicia.

Twin gods, Hypnos (sleep) and Thanatos (death) carry Sarpedon to the Underworld
Twin gods, Hypnos (sleep) and Thanatos (death) carry Sarpedon to the Underworld | Source
Minos, Sarpedon and Rhadamanthys - Judges of the Underworld.
Minos, Sarpedon and Rhadamanthys - Judges of the Underworld. | Source

Sons of Europa

Meanwhile, in Crete, Europa gave birth to three sons to Zeus. I have found no detail to explain if this means she gave birth to triplets or if Zeus kept coming back to her, but Zeus usually only mated with mortals once. The sons were Minos, Sarpedon and Rhadamanthys. Zeus also gave her three gifts, one for each son I suppose, Talos, a giant bronze man that protected Europa, Laelaps, the afore mentioned dog who always caught her prey and a javelin that always hit its mark. Though well protected, Europa eventually married Asterios, the first king of Crete. He raised the sons of Zeus as his own, and when he died, Minos became king. The other two boys did not like this, of course. If they were triplets, it would sting a bit not to be chosen when you are all the same age. Minos eventually kicked both of his brothers off the island.

Rhadamanthys was sent packing because he was more popular than Minos. He went to Boeotia and eventually married Alcmene after the death of Amphitryon. Throughout his life Rhadamanthys was so well known for his integrity, that he was chosen by Hades to serve as one of three judges of the dead.

Sarpedon was kicked off the island because both he and Minos fell in love with the same girl. He first went to Cilicia, the kingdom of his uncle. He went on to conquer the nearby territory he named Lycia after Lycus, one of the sons of King Pandion II of Athens, who was exiled from the great city-state by his brother, King Aegeus (co-father, with Poseidon, of Theseus ) who would play an important role in the life of King Minos in the future. Lycus followed Sarpedon as king. Sarphedon lived a very long life, which was unusual in the ancient world, but when he did go to the Underworld, at the hands of Patroclus during the Trojan War, Hades also appointed him to be a judge of the dead with his brothers Rhadamanthys and Minos.

Daedalus assisting Pasiphae
Daedalus assisting Pasiphae | Source
The Minotaur
The Minotaur | Source
Theseus kills the Minotaur
Theseus kills the Minotaur | Source
Children of Athens celebrate the victory of Theseus over the Minotaur
Children of Athens celebrate the victory of Theseus over the Minotaur | Source
Sleeping Ariadne
Sleeping Ariadne | Source
Dionysus claims Ariadne
Dionysus claims Ariadne | Source

King Minos and his Trouble with Bulls

Minos, in an attempt to prove to his kingdom that he was the rightful heir to the throne, by the will of the gods, made a deal with his Uncle Poseidon that if the god would send a white bull, the same form assumed by his father, that he would sacrifice it to the god of the sea, which was appropriate since Crete was an island. Poseidon did his part and produced the bull, but Minos thought it was too splendid a creature to sacrifice, so he tried to pull one over on his uncle. He sacrificed another bull instead thinking the sea god would not notice. Of course, it did not work. Poseidon knew what he had done and devised a plan to get back at his nephew. He decided that if Minos loved the bull so much, he'd make his life love it too. Poseidon sent Eros, god of love, to strike Pasiphae, daughter of Helios the sun god and wife of Minos, so she would fall madly in love with the bull.

Pasiphae went to Daedalus, her husband's resident genius inventor, and requested that he create some way for her to mate with the bull. Daedalus created a cow costume of some sort that Pasiphae climbed into and mated with the bull. When Minos learned what happened and that his wife was pregnant by the bull, he was furious. He instructed Daedalus to create a labryrinth then he locked the inventor and his son, Icarus, away in a tower. When the infant was born, it was half-man and half-bull. Pasiphae named her baby Asterion, after the stepfather of her husband, but the creature would forever be known as the Minotaur, Minos's bull. Minos locked his stepson away inside the labyrinth where no one would see it.

Now in case you do not know what happened with the Minotaur, Minos decided to use his stepson as a punishment for the Athenians. He held them responsible for the death of his son Androgeus, who was killed after he cleaned up in the Panathenaic Games. The Athenians insisted they did not kill the boy, but Minos went to war with Athens. When he did not conquer them, he prayed to the gods to avenge his son's death. Drought reigned down on Athens then famine set in. The people went to the Oracle of Delphi and were told to sacrifice the virgin daughters of Hyacinthus, a man from Lacedaemon, Sparta. The daughters were sacrificed, some say to Athena, patron of Athens, others say to Persephone, the vegetation goddess of spring. Still the famine continued. They went back to the Oracle, and she told them to give Minos anything he wanted to reverse the curse. What he wanted was fourteen virgins, seven boys and seven girls, every nine years to send into the labyrinth for the Minoraur to eat.

The children were sacrificed twice before Theseus, the son of King Aegeus and Poseidon, went with the third set of children to slay the Minotaur. To do this, he enlisted the help of Ariadne, the daughter of Minos and Pasiphae. She provided him with a sword and a ball of string provided by Daedalus. The sword was to kill the Minotaur while the string was to find his way back out of the labyrinth. For her help, Ariadne wanted Theseus to take her with him and marry her. He agreed, but left her sleeping on the island of Naxos. Why he did it was debated, but she was not alone for long. Dionysus, god of wine, found her there and married her making her a goddess.

Theseus returned to Athens successful, but he forgot one little thing he was supposed to do. His father requested that if Theseus was returning successfully, to change his sail from black to white. No one on the ship remember this, and when the ship became visible off the coast of Athens, his father King Aegeus saw the black sail and threw himself into the sea where he drowned. Theseus returned to land as King of Athens, and the sea was renamed for his father, the Aegean.

Cadmus killing the Dragon
Cadmus killing the Dragon | Source
Cadmus and Athena with Spartoi
Cadmus and Athena with Spartoi | Source
Hephaestus - God of Forges
Hephaestus - God of Forges | Source

The Family of Cadmas

Now Europa was not the only child of Agenor who had an interesting life. When Cadmus gave up on looking for his sister and started following that cow, he surely had no idea what he was in for with the gods. It was a simply act that got him in deep trouble, for all he wanted was to make a sacrifice of the cow to Athena, but it had to be cleansed first, so he sent some of his followers to a local well to collect some water. What he did not know was that a dragon was guarding the water. The men were killed, and Cadmus instinctively went to the well and killed the dragon. The only problem with this is that the dragon was the son of Ares, and the war god does not appreciate having his children slain even if they are monsters. Athena suggested that he take the teeth of the dragon and plant them in the ground. It might have sounded crazy, but when the goddess of wisdom recommends something, you do it. From the teeth, a group of armed men grew. They were known as the Spartoi, which means sown. There were too many of them for Cadmus to control, so he threw a stone in the middle of them and they fought over it until only five men were left. Cadmus then instructed them to build the city of Thebes. For their efforts, they were named the founding fathers of the city.

This was not good enough for Ares, however. He ordered that Cadmus be his slave for eight years. Not much is known about Cadmus during this time except that he met a beautiful girl, a goddess named Harmonia, and he fell in love. Some say the gods gave the goddess to Cadmus after his time of servitude, others say he stole her just as Zeus had his sister Europa. Regardless of how he got her, Cadmus married his goddess, who just happened to be the daughter of Ares and Aphrodite.

The gods threw a lavish wedding for the pair. People brought gifts, including a necklace created by the bride's stepfather Hephaestus, god of forges. No one would take credit for the Necklace of Harmonia, as the piece of jewelry came to be known, but despite its beauty, it was a nasty piece of work, as someone cursed it. Despite their love for one another and their children, Cadmus and Harmonia had a less than harmonious life together. The pair had one son, Polydorus, and four beautiful daughters, Agave, Autonoe, Ino and Semele who all suffered from the curse of the necklace.

Ino and Athamas

The trouble young Ino found herself in all started when she fell in love with a married man. Athamas was the king of Boeotia and found himself married to the cloud nymph Nephele. Some sources claim he was forced into the marriage by Hera, Queen of the Gods. If this is the case, it might be understandable that he would fall in love with another, Ino. It is just as likely that he was fickle. The problem was that Athamas and Nephele had children, twins Phrixus and Helle. When Nephele found out about the other woman in her husband's life, she was understandably furious. She fled to Olympus and begged the gods to kill her husband to avenge her humiliation. While they did not bring forth his death, they did bring hard times to Boeotia.

Ino and Athamas soon had a son, Learchus, and certainly Ino wanted her own child to be in line for her husband's throne over that of his half-brother Phrixus. More than that, she hated her stepchildren. They were a constant reminder of her husband's first wife, a goddess, and she wanted them gone. It was said that Ino caused a drought to hit their kingdom, but it is more likely that she just took advantage of yet another hardship brought about by the gods against her husband. Regardless of what caused the drought, Athamas set out to seek advice from the Oracle of Delphi on ending the drought. He sent messengers to speak to Pythia, the oracle, but Ino bribed them to return with the message she wanted her husband to receive - Phrixus must be sacrificed at the altar of Zeus at the foot of Mount Laphystius.

Hermes and Nephele
Hermes and Nephele
Helle falling from the Golden Ram and her brother Phrixus
Helle falling from the Golden Ram and her brother Phrixus | Source

Athamas might not have approved of the prophecy, but he had already angered the gods and was not about to do it again. If they wanted his first born son sacrificed, he was prepared to do it. Nephele, however, caught wind of the preparations before her son could be killed, she pleaded to Hermes to rescue her children. He created Crius Chrysomallus, or the golden ram, and sent the animal to collect the children.

The plan was for the ram to carry both children all the way to Colchis, but the girl Helle fell from the animal as they flew between the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara. Because of the girl's death, the body of water was named the Hellespont. After reaching Colchis, the ram told Phrixos that he, the ram, was to be sacrificed to the gods. Phrixos did as he was told and made the sacrifice. The golden fleece of the ram was then placed over the branches of a tree in the sacred grove of Ares by Aeetes the king of Colchis. The fleece would later be sought by Jason and the Argonauts.

Ino now had her wish. Her stepchildren were gone. She and Athamas would have another son, Melicertes, and hope that she and her husband would now have a peaceful life. This is Greek mythology, however, and it was not their destiny.

The Death of Semele
The Death of Semele | Source
Hermes delivers Dionysus to Ino
Hermes delivers Dionysus to Ino | Source
An insane Athamas killing his sons
An insane Athamas killing his sons | Source
Leucothea and Palaemon
Leucothea and Palaemon
Leucothea with Odysseus
Leucothea with Odysseus | Source

Semele has a Son

Once again, Lord Zeus saw something he liked in Cadmas's daughter Semele. When Hera caught wind of her husband's affair, she disguised herself as a priestess and went to Semele. She insisted that the girl was being duped, and it was not truly the king of the gods she had slept with. When Semele began to wonder, Hera suggested that the girl ask her lover to prove that he was Zeus by showing her his true self. When Zeus next appeared to Semele, she asked if he would do anything for her. He promised he would, but when she made her request, he begged her to ask for something else, as mortals cannot survive the true appearance of an immortal god. Semele, remembering what Hera had told her, insisted. Zeus had no choice, as he had promised her anything. Semele, of course, burst into flame at the sight of Zeus's immortal form, but the god grabbed their baby from her burning womb. The fetus was not yet old enough to survive in the outside world, so Zeus cut open his own thigh and placed the infant inside.

When the infant was ready to be born, Zeus again opened his leg and brought the child into the world, but there was no way he would be able to raise the boy himself. Gods did not raise their mortal children, and even if they did, Hera would never allow him to raise this one. Zeus did the only thing that he could, he called upon his son Hermes to carry the infant Dionysus to Semele's sister, Ino.

Hermes, who always did his father's bidding, took the baby down into the mortal world to his aunt, but he knew Hera would never relent in her anger. For this reason, he suggested that the baby boy be raised as a girl to throw their stepmother of track.

Hera could not be fooled and was furious that Zeus's child was being raised by the king and queen of Boeotia. As always, the queen of the gods could not take her frustration out on her husband, so she turned her anger against the children, Learchus and Melicertes. Athamas was hit with a bought of insanity in which he mistook his oldest boy, Learchus, for a dear then hunted him down and killed him. Athamas then filled a large pot with water and started it to boil. His plan was to cook Melicertes, but Ino grabbed her youngest son and fled. She ran to the cliffs and threw herself and Melicertes into the sea below.

Why the gods never step in to save anyone being punished by Hera before tragedy strikes is beyond me, but after Ino and Melicertes went into the sea to drown, the gods gave them both immortality. Ino became Leucothea, a sea goddess whose duty it was to rescue sailors. She would go on to assist Odysseus during his long journey home from Troy after he left Calypso's island on a raft. Her young son, Melicertes became Palaemon, also a sea god and patron of sailors.

Pentheus and the Maenads
Pentheus and the Maenads | Source
Oedipus and the Sphinx
Oedipus and the Sphinx | Source

Pentheus and Oedipus

Despite his best efforts, Thebes was always mired in trouble. Eventually, Cadmus gave up on the city and left it to his grandson Pentheus, son of his daughter Agave. Agave and Autonoe eventually became obsessed with their nephew, Dionysus, and they along with Agave's daughter Epirus became members of the Maenads. These ladies were so insane for the god that they actually tore people apart, even Pentheus, who thought they were doing something naughty and wanted to catch them, was pulled from the tree where he hid. His own mother carried his head on a stick back into town, but she sobered up real quick when she ran into her father Cadmus.

Before his death, Pentheus fathered a son named Menoeceus. Menoeceus's grandson was Oedipus who would receive a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother Jocasta, Menoeceus daughter. Oedipus was abandoned out of fear and raised by a shepherd. Since he never knew his parents were not his real parents, he thought nothing of it when he fled from them after learning of the prophecy when he became a man. Having no idea who his father King Laius was when he got into a fight with the stranger on the road, he killed him. When he arrived in Thebes and found it being destroyed by the sphinx, Oedipus answered the riddle and saved them. The widowed queen was so grateful she married the town's savior and fulfilled the prophecy. Four children later, when they figured out what had happened, Jocasta hanged herself and Oedipus gouged out his own eyes.

What was the riddle you ask? What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon and three legs in the evening. Oedipus knew it was man.

Harmonia with Cadmus
Harmonia with Cadmus | Source

Transformation of Cadmus and Harmonia

Cadmus, despite leaving Thebes and starting a new city-state in Macedonia called Lychnidos, got so fed up with how the gods saw fit to mess with his life that he eventually mouthed off about it. He complained that since the gods were so hung up on the life of a stupid serpent, that he should like to be one himself. Of course, the gods turned him into a snake leaving Harmonia devastated. She prayed to her mother, Aphordite, to let her join her husband, so they would always be together. Aphrodite, impressed by the love between the two, honored her daughter's wishes, and she too became a snake. Both of them were taken to Elysium, the Underworld version of Heaven, and allowed to be together forever.

Family Tree
Family Tree | Source


So Prometheus was correct. Io's descendants did go on to become some of the greatest heroes of the ancient Greeks. Together they founded many of the city-states of the Mediterranean and battled most of the monsters faced by mortal men. While they all faced hardships, mostly at the hands of Hera, many of them had themselves to blame for some of their problems. Like the descendants of Tantalus, which Io's family eventually married into (see The Children of Perseus and Andromeda) they proved that it was extremely hard to be mortal children of the gods.


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    • bethperry profile image

      Beth Perry 

      4 years ago from Tennesee

      This certainly a lovely and entertaining re-visitation of these gods, well done. Have you ever thought of writing a book on the subject?

      Voted up.


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