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Journal Article

Io's World: Intimations of Theodicy in Prometheus bound

Stephen White
The Journal of Hellenic Studies
Vol. 121 (2001), pp. 107-140
DOI: 10.2307/631831
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/631831
Page Count: 34

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Topics: Theodicy, Classical Greek drama, Descendants, Theater, Marriage, Hades, New family, Fathers, Violence, Sympathy
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Io's World: Intimations of Theodicy in Prometheus bound
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Abstract

The conflict between Prometheus and Zeus has long dominated critical discussion of the play and diverted attention from the only mortal to appear onstage. Prometheus is widely applauded as humanity's saviour and Zeus condemned as an oppressive tyrant, but the fate of the maiden Io is largely discounted. Her encounter with Prometheus, however, is the longest and most complex episode in the play, and it provides a very different perspective on events. The elaborate forecast of her journeys delivered by Prometheus deploys the 'discourse of barbarism' to picture a primitive world ravaged by savage violence and hostile monsters. The lands through which Io is to travel are devoid of the civil and religious institutions of the classical Greek polis and oikos. Yet the episode also fore-tells how this barbaric world will evolve under the aegis of Zeus. Argive Io, as 'wife' of Zeus, will found a 'new family' of mortals who will introduce and champion the norms of Greek civic culture in his and her name alike. Prophecy, allusion and foreshadowing thus reveal the Zeus of this play to be not the harsh and destructive despot imagined by most today, but the benevolent source and ultimate arbiter of justice for both gods and humanity.

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