This is a preview of the content in our Greek Islands app. Get the app to:
  • Read offline
  • Remove ads
  • Access all content
  • Use the in-app Map to find sites, and add custom locations (your hotel...)
  • Build a list of your own favourites
  • Search the contents with full-text search functionality
  • ... and more!
iOS App Store Google Play

The Cow and the Gadfly

How the Ionian Sea got its name

540–530 BC vase showing Hermes and Io (as a cow).

Although Ionia (in Asia Minor) is named after Ion, son of Apollo and ‘father’ of the Ionian people, the Ionian Sea and Ionian Islands are named after lovely priestess Io, who caught the eye of Zeus. When the jealous Hera was about to catch the couple in flagrante delicto, Zeus changed Io into a white cow, but Hera was not to be fooled. She asked Zeus to give her the cow as a present, and ordered the sleepless hundred-eyed Argus to watch over her.

When Hermes charmed Argus to sleep and killed him, Io the cow escaped, only to be pursued by a stinging gadfly sent by Hera. The first place the hapless cow fled to was named after her: the Ionian Sea.

Sidelights and Myths

Text © Dana Facaros

Image by Bibi Saint-Pol, Creative Commons License