Fresco with the Arrival of Io in Egypt, Roman, AD 62–79; found in the Temple of Isis, Pompeii, Italy, plaster and pigment
Museo del Sannio, Benevento, 1903
[Strums of ancient stringed instrument, ancient trills]
Female Narrator: This Roman fresco fragment shows a mythological scene featuring the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis. Ken Lapatin.
Ken Lapatin: It shows a myth that bridges the classical world and the Egyptian world. It's the myth of Io, who was one of the lovers of Jupiter And all of these young women who were the lovers of Jupiter had to hide from his wife Juno or Hera. Io was unfortunate, and she was unable to hide very well, and she was transformed into a cow or a heifer, and she wandered the world in this form unhappily until she reached Egypt, where she was turned back into a human by the Egyptian god Isis, who is the seated figure holding a snake here, who touches her. Io is the woman in the blue and purple drapery half-draped, being supported by the river god Nile. At the top of her head, you'll see there are little horns that are an allusion to her having been a cow.
Female Narrator: The snake was a contemporary reference at the time.
Ken Lapatin: We have Isis, who's holding a big snake. Remember Cleopatra and the snake?
Female Narrator: The last Ptolemaic ruler of Egypt, Cleopatra, killed herself by snakebite after her country fell to the Romans.
Ken Lapatin: This painting was found in Pompeii, we can date it to before the eruption of Vesuvius buried the city in AD 79, so that's about a hundred years after the suicide of Cleopatra with the snake.