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Argus (2)  (AR-gus)

A hero from Arcadia with more than the usual number of eyes; also called Argus All-Seeing to differentiate him from others named Argus. Argus All-Seeing got his nickname from his unorthodox number of eyes. In a classical case of mythological inconsistency, some say he had four eyes - two in the standard placement and two in the back of his head - while others claim he had up to a hundred eyes all over his body.

This excess ocular equipment made Argus an excellent watchman, a talent which the goddess Hera used to good effect in the case of Io. Io was a young priestess with whom Hera's husband Zeus had fallen in love. Needless to say, Hera was jealous and angry, so she changed Io into a cow.

Or maybe Zeus himself brought about the transformation to hide the object of his passion from Hera. In any case, once Io had become a heifer, Hera asked Argus to so-to-speak keep an eye on her and let Hera know if Zeus came near. Argus was able to perform this watch around the clock since he could always keep a lid or two peeled while the rest caught a little shut-eye.

But Zeus told Hermes, god of thieves, to snatch Io away, and Hermes resorted to a clever ruse. Disguising himself as a shepherd, he bored Argus with long-winded stories, beguiled him with song and eventually lulled him to sleep by playing tunes on a shepherd's pipe, recently invented by Pan.

Or so, at least, goes one version of the tale. In another, Hermes killed Argus with the cast of a stone.


Greek red-figure stamnos: the cow Io, Hermes, and Argus. (zoom)

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