Hermes and Argus in Greek Mythology

The story of Hermes and Argus is one of the many fascinating tales from Greek mythology. It involves the god Hermes, known as the messenger of the gods and the deity of various domains, and the character Argus, a giant with numerous eyes.

Hermes and Argus by Spanish painter Velázquez

According to the myth, Zeus, the king of the gods, had a love affair with the nymph Io. To protect Io from his jealous wife Hera, Zeus transformed her into a heifer.

However, Hera was not fooled and suspected Zeus of infidelity. To find out the truth, she appointed the giant Argus Panoptes (also known as Argus with “Panoptes” meaning “all-seeing” or “many-eyed”) to watch over Io.

Read More: The different types of nymphs and their specific roles or associations

Argus was depicted as a giant with a hundred eyes, or sometimes even a thousand eyes, all over his body. He was never fully asleep because some of his eyes would always be open, allowing him to constantly surveil his surroundings.

To rescue Io, Hermes devised a plan. He approached Argus in the disguise of a shepherd and played his lyre skillfully, captivating the giant with his music. As Hermes played, Argus became drowsy, and one by one, his eyes began to close in sleep.

Mercurius and Argus by Dutch Golden Age painter Jan van de Velde (1615-1641)

Seizing the opportunity, Hermes used his golden wand, the caduceus, to lull Argus into a deep slumber. With all of Argus’s eyes closed, Hermes swiftly slew him with a single stroke of his sword. This act freed Io from her captor’s watchful gaze and allowed her to escape.

In Hera’s sorrow and grief over Argus’s death, she took his eyes and scattered them across the tail of the peacock, creating the stunning “eyes” on its feathers.

Significance and Interpretation

The tale of Hermes and Argus showcases Hermes’s cunning and quick thinking as the god of messages and travelers.

It also serves as an explanation for the origin of the peacock’s extravagant plumage in Greek mythology.

The story is a classic example of the often intricate and morally ambiguous tales found throughout Greek mythology, where gods and mortals interact in ways that shape the world and its natural phenomena.

READ MORE: Who were the Olympian Deities in Greek Mythology?

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