All-seeing Argus

He had 100 eyes, yet, he was no match for Hermes’ quick wit.

January 07, 2020 11:07 am | Updated 11:07 am IST

Illustration: Satheesh Vellinezhi

Illustration: Satheesh Vellinezhi

Have you heard of the idiom, Argus-eyed ? It means someone who is keen sighted, observant and vigilant. Let me tell you how this expression came to be.

Argus Panoptes is a character in Greek mythology. He was a giant with 100 eyes on his body. Panoptes means all-seeing.

Argus was a servant of the goddess Hera and he made an excellent watchman because he never fell asleep. When some of his eyes closed for a nap, others were open; so, Argus knew what was going on around him.

Argus was sent to kill the Echidna, a fearsome creature that was half human and half serpent. She lived in a cave and would kill travellers for food.

She was also the mother of some of the most scary and fiercest monsters in Greek mythology like Cereberus and the Learnean Hydra. Argus crept into her cave and killed her while she slept.

He also killed a savage bull that was running loose in Arcadia, and made a cloak from its skin. He came to the rescue of the Arcadians once more to kill a cattle-stealing satyr.

One of his tasks from goddess Hera led to his death. Zeus, Hera’s husband, was in love with a woman called Io. Hera was always on the lookout to catch Zeus with Io. Once, Hera was too close for the lovers to escape. So, Zeus turned Io into a beautiful white cow. When Hera arrived, she knew what had happened and asked for the cow as a gift. Not knowing what to do, Zeus agreed. Hera then handed the cow over to Argus and ordered him to guard her. Argus chained her to a tree.

All eyes

Knowing of Argus’ 100 eyes, Zeus wondered what to do. Finally, he sent Hermes, the messenger of the gods, to rescue Io. Hermes went to the garden where the cow was chained. Argus sat there with at least one eye on the cow at all times. This made Hermes’s task all the more difficult, even though he was a thief par excellence. So, he disguised himself as a herdsman and began chatting with Argus. Slowly he began to tell him stories and played music on his reed pipes. One by one, Argus’ eyes began to close. Hermes stuck to his task and continued to play softly on his pipes till Argus fell asleep. Once he was sure that all of Argus’ eyes were shut, Hermes cut off his head. Quickly he untied Io and set her free.

Hera was upset about the death of her guard. She removed his eyes and set them on the tail of the peacock. From this, the peacock became a symbol of the goddess Hera as she recognised Argus for his service to her.

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