Once upon a time, there was a god named Zeus. As you may recall, fidelity was not high on Zeus’ priority list and he was often out in the world cheating on Hera. As you may further recall, Hera did not appreciate or approve of these adventures.
This upon a time, Zeus happened to have become infatuated with Io (pronounced Eee-oh, not E-I-E-I-O). Io was wise and kind and beautiful even if her parents were so poor they couldn’t afford consonants. Throwing on a quick disguise, Zeus began hanging out with Io. And by “hanging out” I mean something else entirely.
Hera, like most gods and goddesses was big on revenge. But she wasn’t stupid and she realized she couldn’t really get back at Zeus except by putting her cold feet in the middle of his back on winter nights. So she went after the floozies. And by “floozy” I mean girls who had no idea that the dude paying attention to them was married much less head chief number one god.
Hera headed down to punish Io. Zeus wasn’t the greatest guy in the world, but he really liked Io and so to save her, Zeus turned Io into a white cow. Yes, there probably would have been better solutions. No one is claiming Zeus is a genius. Also, the whole cow bit didn’t fool Hera for a minute.
Hera said she wanted the cow and Zeus couldn’t really keep the cow without admitting why so after a short argument, Hera took the cow. (Saw that coming, didn’t you?)
Zeus didn’t like the situation at all, but he was afraid of Hera and didn’t say anything. Io didn’t like the situation at all, but all she could say was “moo.” It amounted to the same thing.
Hera had a watchman named Argus who had a hundred eyes. It would have been tough to fit him with glasses but he had great eyesight so it didn’t matter. Argus never closed all his eyes—only half of his eyes fell asleep at any one time, so Io couldn’t escapes and Zeus couldn’t rescue her. (Don’t ask why he didn’t smite Argus because I don’t know.)
Eventually, Zeus bellowed for Hermes (who, as we all know is the messenger of the gods, the god of business men and thieves, and the symbol of the Columbia School of Business). Zeus sent Hermes down to Do Something as he so eloquently put it.
Hermes played his flute and put Argus to sleep. Then Hermes cut off Argus’ head (which was messy but effective) and took Io the Cow into town.
Hera was mightily upset (and you should probably take a moment to imagine what a mightily upset queen of the gods might be capable of). First she took all of Argus’ eyes and put them in the tail of a peacock (now you know where those eyes came from). Then she got mad.
Hera found a gadfly. A big gadfly. A huge gadfly. A gadfly as big as a bat. And she sent the giant gadfly to pester (and by “pester” I mean drive just short of insane) Io. The gadfly buzzed, stung, nipped, and otherwise tormented Io.
The gadfly’s name was Bob. But no one ever remembers that part of the story.
Have you ever been chosen by a mosquito to be the Meal of the Day? That was nothing compared to what Io endured.
Io ran. She became the long distance runner of cows, but no matter how far she ran the gadfly kept up.
Eventually Io came to a place in the mountains where she found Prometheus (Prometheus was just hanging out having his liver eaten daily because Zeus was annoyed that he had given fire to man).
Io felt sorry for Prometheus and Prometheus felt sorry for Io. Big pity party. Prometheus told her (being one of the Titans he could remember into the future) to go south and then west and that she’d get her original body back and eventually be the mother of a race of heroes, one of whom would free him.
Io said, “Moo” but she meant it nicely.
On she trotted. And eventually she got to the Nile where she collapsed in a heap of Tired Cow (she’d been running for more than a year, so you can see why she might need a small snooze).
Right about that time, Hera decided to take a beauty nap. As soon as she began to snore little godess-like snores, Zeus went down to Egypt. He didn’t bother talking to Pharaoh, but he let Io go out of her cow body and back into her sweet girl body. Then he zoomed off, getting home before Hera woke up. You’d think the king of the gods might not worry about getting in trouble, but you’d be wrong.
Sooner or later, the king of Egypt married Io and she lived happily ever after. Many, many generations later (there are too many “greats” involved for me to want to draw a family tree), a hero was born who freed Prometheus. Extra points if you know who that particular hero was.
The Prometheus-freeing hero in question was Hercules.