Argus Panoptes

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Drawing of an image from a 5th-century BC Athenian red figure vase depicting Hermes slaying the giant Argus Panoptes. Note the eyes covering Argus' body. Io as a cow stands in the background.

Argus Panoptes (or Argos) is a many-eyed giant in Greek mythology. The figure is known for having spawned the saying "the eyes of Argus", as in to be "followed by", "trailed by", "watched by", et cetera the eyes; the saying is used to describe being subject to strict scrutiny in one's actions to an invasive, distressing degree. The monstrous entity has been either directly included or indirectly alluded to in a wide variety of works influenced by Greco-Roman thought over the past several centuries.


Argus Panoptes (Ἄργος Πανόπτης), guardian of the heifer-nymph Io and son of Arestor[1] and probably Mycene.[2] He 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."[3]

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

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:[4]

And set a watcher upon her, great and strong Argus, 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.

Juno receiving the eyes of Argus from Mercury. by Hendrik Goltzius (1615), Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

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.[5]

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. The messenger of the Olympian gods, disguised as a shepherd, first put all of Argus' 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 sacrifice of Argus liberated Io and allowed her to wander the earth, although tormented by a gadfly sent by Hera.

According to Ovid, to commemorate her faithful watchman, Hera had the hundred eyes of Argus preserved forever, in a peacock's tail.[9][10]

The myth makes the closest connection of Argus, the neatherd, with the bull. In the Library of pseudo-Apollodorus, "Argos killed the bull that ravaged Arcadia, then clothed himself in its skin."[11]


Argus, Io and Hermes[edit]

Argus and Hera[edit]


  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. ^ According to Pausanias (ii.16.3), Arestor was the consort of Mycene, the eponymous nymph of nearby Mycenae.
  3. ^ Walter Burkert, Homo Necans (1972) 1983:166-67.
  4. ^ Hesiodic Aigimios, fragment 294, reproduced in Merkelbach and West 1967 and noted in Burkert 1983:167 note 28.
  5. ^ Pausanias, 2.24.3. (noted by Burkert 1983:168 note 28).
  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. ^ Ovid I, 625. The peacock is an Eastern bird, unknown to Greeks before the time of Alexander.
  10. ^ Impelluso, Lucia; Zuffi, Stefano (2003). Eroi E Dei Dell'antichità. Getty Publications. p. 28. ISBN 0892367024. Retrieved 10 September 2015. 
  11. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke, 2.4.

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