Argus Panoptes

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Io (as cow) and Argus, black-figure amphora, 540–530 BC, Staatliche Antikensammlungen (Inv. 585).

Argus Panoptes (or Argos) is a 100-eyed giant in Greek mythology.


Argus Panoptes (Ἄργος Πανόπτης), guardian of the heifer-nymph Io and son of Arestor,[1] was a primordial giant whose epithet, "Panoptes", "all-seeing", led to his being described with multiple, often one hundred, eyes. The epithet Panoptes was applied to the Titan of the Sun, Helios, and was taken up as an epithet by Zeus, Zeus Panoptes. "In a way," Walter Burkert observes, "the power and order of Argos the city are embodied in Argos the neatherd, lord of the herd and lord of the land, whose name itself is the name of the land."[2]

The epithet Panoptes, reflecting his mythic role, set by Hera as a very effective watchman of Io, was described in a fragment of a lost poem Aigimios, attributed to Hesiod:[3]

And set a watcher upon her, great and strong Argos, who with four eyes looks every way. And the goddess stirred in him unwearying strength: sleep never fell upon his eyes; but he kept sure watch always.

In the 5th century and later, Argus' wakeful alertness was explained for an increasingly literal culture as his having so many eyes that only a few of the eyes would sleep at a time: there were always eyes still awake. In the 2nd century AD Pausanias noted at Argos, in the temple of Zeus Larissaios, an archaic image of Zeus with a third eye in the center of his forehead, allegedly Priam's Zeus Herkeios purloined from Troy.[4] According to Ovid, to commemorate her faithful watchman, Hera had the hundred eyes of Argus preserved forever, in a peacock's tail.[5]

Argus dozes off: Velázquez renders the theme of stealth and murder in modern dress, 1659 (Prado)

Argus was Hera's servant. His great service to the Olympian pantheon was to slay the chthonic serpent-legged monster Echidna as she slept in her cave.[6] Hera's defining task for Argus was to guard the white heifer Io from Zeus, keeping her chained to the sacred olive tree at the Argive Heraion.[7] She charged him to "Tether this cow safely to an olive-tree at Nemea". Hera knew that the heifer was in reality Io, one of the many nymphs Zeus was coupling with to establish a new order. To free Io, Zeus had Argus slain by Hermes. Hermes, disguised as a shepherd, first put all of Argus's eyes asleep with spoken charms, then slew him by hitting him with a stone, the first stain of bloodshed among the new generation of gods.[8]

The myth makes the closest connection of Argos, the neatherd, with the bull. In the Library of pseudo-Apollodorus, "Argos killed the bull that ravaged Arcadia, then clothed himself in its skin."[9]

The sacrifice of Argos liberated Io and allowed her to wander the earth, although tormented by a gadfly sent by Hera.

In popular culture[edit]

  • Alternative rock band Ween's eighth studio album Quebec has a song entitled "The Argus", which refers to the Argus' many eyes.
  • Argus is the title of the Wishbone Ash's third album.
  • Argus is mentioned in the Irish poet Antoine Ó Raifteiri's poem 'An Pótaire ag Moladh an Uisce Beatha'.
  • The fifteenth colossus from the video game Shadow of the Colossus is called Argus and nicknamed "The Sentinel" and "Vigilant Guard". The hundreds of eyes carved into the temple that he resides in refers to the omnividence (all-seeing ability) of Argus Panoptes and the watchful colossus himself.
  • A once highly sought Notorious Monster from the video game Final Fantasy XI is called Argus. It has close to a dozen visible eyes and drops an accuracy enchanting necklace.
  • Argus is the name of Jack's pet peacock on the NBC TV show 30 Rock. Jack believes Argus to be Don Giess' spirit watching over him.
  • In the novel "Luka and the Fire of Life", by Salman Rushdie, Argus Panoptes is one of the five appointed guardians of the 'Fire of Life'.
  • Argus is the name of a Macedonian heavy metal band, formed in 1987.
  • In the video game Skullgirls, a character named Peacock is equipped with the Argus System. It allows her to see as well as use her blockbuster, Argus Agony.
  • In indie game La-Mulana, Argos appears as a blue giant that can only be defeated by weapon called Serpent Staff.
  • Argus was the name of a character created for DC Comics "Bloodlines" event, appearing in Flash Annual #6 and later his own limited mini-series. He was depicted as a vigilante who turned completely invisible when not in direct light, and his eyes could see every spectrum of light, including X-ray and ultraviolet.
  • Argus Panoptes was featured in Marvel Comics. He was revived by Hera to be in charge of the Panopticon (a computer surveillance system that was set up to help defend New Olympus).[11]
  • A.R.G.U.S. (Advanced Research Group Uniting Superhumans) is the name of a government organization in the fictional DC Universe. The name stems from the secondary objective of the organization, which is to watch for threats should the Justice League ever fail.[12]
  • Argus is the fictional name of a magician who appears in Satyajit Ray's Professor Shonku's "Corvus" adventure. He is described as an Spanish magician whose real name is "Domingo Barteleme Sarmiento"
  • Argus, spelled Arrghus, is a floating jellyfish boss with one central eye from the popular video game, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.


  1. ^ Therefore called Arestorides (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca ii.1.3, Apollonius Rhodius i.112, Ovid Metamorphoses i.624). According to Pausanias (ii.16.3), Arestor was the consort of Mycene, the eponymous nymph of nearby Mycenae.
  2. ^ Walter Burkert, Homo Necans (1972) 1983:166-67.
  3. ^ Hesiodic Aigimios, fragment 294, reproduced in Merkelbach and West 1967 and noted in Burkert 1983:167 note 28.
  4. ^ Pausanias, 2.24.3. (noted by Burkert 1983:168 note 28).
  5. ^ Ovid I, 625. The peacock is an Eastern bird, unknown to Greeks before the time of Alexander.
  6. ^ Homer, Iliad ii.783; Hesiod, Theogony, 295ff; Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca ii.i.2).
  7. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke, 2.6.
  8. ^ Hermes was tried, exonerated, and earned the epithet Argeiphontes, "killer of Argos".
  9. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke, 2.4.
  10. ^ Rowling, J.K. (1997). Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. 
  11. ^ Incredible Hercules #138
  12. ^

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