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Libretto. Moonologue

Io is a moon, named after the mythological character Io. But ‘io’ is also the Italian word for ‘I.’ Through the Italian, Io is me.

       I was discovered by Galileo Galilei on January 8th – my due date. I was not redeemed on that date, however – lunar being supersede human finitude; my sufferings are eternal. 

       Galileo was in a tight race with German astronomer Simon Marius leading up to the discovery of what has later been termed Jupiter’s ‘Galilean moons:’ Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, and me. 

       Galileo won the race, and came up with the names ‘Jupiter I’ – me – ‘Jupiter II,’ ‘Jupiter III,’ and ‘Jupiter IV,’ but Marius’ names were the ones that stuck: Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, and me. 

       However, for my story-telling I ascribe my naming to Galileo: I think there is such striking beauty in the idea of the Italian Renaissance man, famed astronomer Galileo Galilei, fixing his eyes on a lunar unknown in the vast universe, calling it ‘I.’ I am a moon, and Galileo is me. It fits so well that if it doesn’t fit I’ll make it fit: Galileo is a puppet in my play, and I am a puppet in Jupiter’s – pulled as I am between this gaseous giant and my lunar siblings causing the exorbitant tidal bulge around my waist line. While tidal forces on planet Earth primarily affect liquid substances with the maximal difference between high and low tide being 18 meters, my bulge is 100 meters solid rock! I repeat: 100 metres solid rock, rising and fading with the tide. This orbital marring of my form forces my iron core to melt and prompts what is the highest level of volcanic activity in our solar system. 

       I am dry, I am volatile, and I smell like rotten eggs. NASA spacecrafts have documented mountains and valleys on my surface, but those are already a million times gone: lava erupts and puts my surface in a state of constant collapse, as it gives way to other configurations. And other. And other. And other…

       My orbit is eternal, but I am always new. Therefore I think I’m an interesting metaphor for ideas of subjectivity, my Self encompassing the man and the moon. But before this eternity and infinite universe – or, multiverse – in which I’m Jupiter’s moon, I was a priestess of Juno’s house. 

       And even if I’m ashamed, I will tell you about the marring of my form, and of the source from which it swooped upon me, wretched that I am. For visions of the night, always haunting my maiden chamber, sought to beguile me with seductive words, saying: “O damsel greatly blessed of fortune, why linger in your maidenhood so long when it is within your power to win a union of the highest? Jupiter is inflamed by passion's dart for you and is eager to unite with you in love.”

       By such dreams was I, to my distress, tormented night after night, until at last I gained courage to tell my father, who then sent numerous messengers to find out what to do. At last he received the unmistakable command to expel me from home and native land…

       Passing through the meadows of Lerna, I was raped by Jupiter disguised as a cloud – but even if it was against my will, Juno got jealous, and I was transformed into a cow by Jupiter in a meagre attempt to hide me from the goddess. Immediately my form and mind were distorted, and with horns, as you see, upon my forehead, she sent a sharp-fanged gadfly to sting me every time I stopped to rest. 

       In this way I was doomed to wander restlessly, just like a moon circles its planet. I reached the Molossian plains, where I passed the talking oaks, who saluted me as the bride-to-be of Jupiter. But then, stung by the gadfly, I was tossed in backwards-wandering course and turned toward the rising sun to make my way across the river Hybristes and the Kaukasos crests, which neighbour the stars. Turning south from there, I reached the Amazones, who loathe all men. Me, however, they gladly guided on my way to the narrow portals of the harbour, where I passed through the channel of Maiotis; and ever after, among mankind, it is called after me the Bosporus, meaning ‘the passage of the heifer’ – cow-crossing. 

       Thus leaving the soil of Europe, I came to the Asian continent, where the sun walks. Here I encountered the Phorkides, ancient maids, three in number, shaped like swans, possessing one eye amongst them and a single tooth; neither does the sun with his beams look down upon them, nor ever the nightly moon…


Auw!! Oh! Once again convulsive pain and frenzy, striking my brain, inflame me. I am stung by the gadfly's barb, unforged by fire. My heart knocks at my ribs in terror; my eyeballs roll wildly round and round. I am carried out of my course by a fierce blast of madness; I've lost all mastery over my tongue, and a stream of turbid words beats recklessly against the billows of dark destruction. The journey is out of my control now, and I cannot make the fears go away. They demand acceptance as I tumble down the river flowing further underground, gasping for air and fighting the tide. I see pairs of eyes in the darkness, they say, “We are your fears.” I get close to naming one of them – it might be death. As each wave of pain courses through, I fight, try to conquer, wish it were gone. Oh! Oh! But this is necessary pain, useful. Stand back and let the pain do its work. Breathe into it. Surrender to this pain, just watch it. Go deeper inside. Where death gives way to life. I am already so far underground, where the forces of the moon tug and pull, shift her sands, heave her waters. Now I flow with the pain, pulse outward and inward. Flow down the river to an unknown place, my body drawing strength from the journey…



Finally, at the second hour of the night, the clouds give way and I see Jupiter in the sky with three stars exactly on a straight line through him. 

       I thought I’d died. Now he reaches out to touch me. 

       Something has changed, and, moving from doubt to astonishment, I find that the change is not in Jupiter but in me: a little star, but growing. At the fifth hour, I’m occupying a place precisely in the middle between Jupiter and the three stars I had spotted in the sky. I’m still very small; yet by the sixth hour I am almost equal in magnitude to the others. Jupiter places his hand on me, and with his touch he restores me to my senses, and brings forth from me my touch-born son, Epaphos, named so from the manner of his engendering.

       In the same instant, I regain my maiden-form. Hooves give way to feet; muzzle to mouth. However horns remain on my forehead, for it is so: I am the crescent moon. 


Marie Kølbæk Iversen


Freely after Aeschylos’ “Suppliant Women;” Galileo Galilei’s “Siderius Nuncius;” Lynn Madsen’s “Rebounding from Childbirth,” and NASA/Wikipedia sites on Io (moon).

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