The Many Loves of Zeus: Io and Semele

Possessing the power of being a supreme god made the charming ways of Zeus pretty hard to resist. Many stories and myths that we hear about Zeus show him secretly meeting other maidens, engaging in many well-known and infamous extramarital affairs. One in particular that is often told involves Io , who suffers a cruel fate because of Zeus. In this article, you will meet her and another love of Zeus that came after his marriage to Hera.


Another maiden that Zeus famously fell in love with and seduced was Io. In an attempt to hide his affair with Io, Zeus covered the world with thick clouds, but Hera was not easily deceived. She left Mount Olympus and started clearing away the clouds. When Zeus caught wind of what his wife was doing, he quickly changed the appearance of Io. When the clouds disappeared, Hera saw Zeus standing by a white heifer. He told her that he had never seen the cow before and that it suddenly appeared out of the earth. Hera was still suspicious and remarked how lovely the cow was. She asked that he give it to her as a present. Since rejecting her request would have confirmed Hera’s suspicious, he gave her the cow.

She took the away the cow and assigned Arges (one of the one-eyed monsters known as the Cyclopes) to watch over the cow. With 100 eyes, he was the best man for the job of guarding her new prize. Zeus was desperate to rescue Io, so he sent Hermes (with his speedy feet) to bring back his maiden. Putting on a disguise of a shepherd, Hermes befriended Arges with his talent of music and story telling. Soon, Arges was lulled to sleep, which gave Hermes the perfect opportunity to kill the Cyclops. Upset with his death, she used his eyes to decorate the tail of her favorite bird , the peacock.

With the escape of Io, Hera was infuriated. She sent a gad-fly to constantly sting the maiden, who was still in the form of a cow. Io grew nearly insane and frantically tried to flee the fly. This would take her throughout the world and during one of her travels, she happened upon Prometheus, who was bound in chains. He told her that she would have to roam the earth for many years, but that she would eventually gain back her human form and even give birth to a child. He predicted that her child would have a descendant that would become a respected hero , who would also eventually set him free.

All of this came true. She wandered until she finally came upon the Nile, where Zeus brought her back to human form. She gave birth to Epaphus, who would later found the city of Memphis in Egypt. After 11 generations had passed, her family tree included Hercules, who would later set Prometheus free.


Semele is special in the sense that she became the only mortal give birth to god. The Thebian princess was mother to Dionysus (the god of the vine who was mostly associated with wine and grapes). Fueled by jealous hatred, Hera killed Semele moments after given birth to a child that Zeus swooped in and rescue. Later on, Dionysus (who had never laid eyes on his mother) was able to rescue her from the Underworld and make arrangements for her to stay on Mount Olympus.