The Odyssey’s Ino as hero

“But the daughter of Cadmus, Ino of the beautiful ankles, saw him, that, Leucothea, who formerly was a mortal of human speech, but now in the depths of the sea has won a share of honor from the gods. She was touched with pity for Odysseus, as he wandered beset with troubles, and she rose up from the waters like a sea mew on the wing, and sat on the stoutly bound raft, and spoke, saying:
‘Unhappy man, how is it that Poseidon, the earth shaker, has so astoundingly willed your pain, in that he sows for you the seeds of so many evils?’”
Odyssey 5.333-341, Loeb edition

I’ve always loved this scene in the Odyssey, Ino rising out of the tumultuous sea to gift her immortal veil and life-saving advice to Odysseus. Having spent so much time with this image of her—as the benevolent “white goddess” (Leucothea) saving a hero in distress—I sometimes forget her larger story in myth. According to snippets of references in Euripides (Bacchae and Medea) and Pindar (Olympian II), Ino was the mortal daughter of Theban king Cadmus and sister of Agave and Semele (Dionysus’ mother). Hera drove Ino mad, causing her to kill her children, then to throw herself into the sea. Taking pity on her, Zeus turned her into a sea goddess. This seems to make her a hero similar in experience to Heracles, who was immortalized after death also resulting from Hera-induced madness that impelled him to kill his children and undergo trials.

Variations on her story also appear in Ovid and Pausanias. But I’m more drawn to archaic and classical sources. The references to Ino in Euripides capture my imagination, and I wish his play Ino had survived in full, along with the trilogy in which it was performed.

What’s one figure from myth that you would love to know more about?

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