The Myth of Argus
The mythical story of Argus
by Lilian Stoughton Hyde
The Myth of Argus
Argus was a watchman with a hundred eyes, set in a circle all around his head. When he slept, he closed only two eyes at a time; the other ninety-eight were always wide open. So it could not have been easy to steal away anything that Argus was watching.
Now it happened that Juno, the wife of Jupiter, was very jealous of a beautiful river-nymph, called Io. Jupiter, in order to save Io from the jealous anger of Juno, changed her into a white heifer. Juno, suspecting that the white heifer was really Io, set Argus with his hundred eyes to watch her.
Poor Io was very unhappy. Her father, the river-god, did not know her, neither did her sister-nymphs; but they used to pat the white heifer and feed it grass from their hands. At last Io wrote her name with her hoof in the sands of the river bank, and then her father and sisters knew that the pretty white heifer was their own Io.
She had no sooner revealed herself to her family in this way than Argus drove her away to a field that lay far back from the river, where the river-god and the nymphs could not come, and then set himself down on the top of a high hill, meaning to watch her more closely than ever.
Jupiter felt sorry for Io, still he did not dare change her back into her natural form while Argus was watching her. But remembering how Mercury, when he was less than a day old, had stolen away the cattle of Apollo, he now set this prince of thieves, this mischief-loving Mercury, to steal Io away from Argus.
Picture of Argus and Mercury
Mercury thought there could be no better fun. He laid aside his winged cap and his winged shoes, and dressed like the shepherds in that country. He carried his golden wand, the caduceus, in his hand, and as he walked along, played carelessly on a shepherd's pipe; then, finding a few goats feeding at the side of the road, he drove them slowly before him.
Argus found his watch rather tiresome, and was glad enough to talk to any one who happened to pass by. He was very glad when he saw Mercury coming with the goats, and he invited the pretended shepherd to come and sit by him, under the trees in the shade, and play on his pipe and tell stories.
Mercury sat down on a stone by the side of Argus, and began to play - very softly, so softly that the music was like the sighing of the wind through the branches of the trees. The day was warm, and there was no other sound except the shrill singing of the cicadas. Two of Argus's eyes soon closed. The others might have remained open if there had not been a drowsy magic in Mercury's piping. The soft notes came soothingly, slower and slower, and one after another Argus's other eyes began to close, till only two remained open. These two eyes were very bright; they fairly twinkled, and they kept their watch on Io through all Mercury's playing. Then Mercury began to tell stories, and at last the two twinkling eyes closed, like the others. Argus, with all his hundred eyes, was fast asleep. To make him sleep more heavily, Mercury just touched him lightly with the dream-giving caduceus, and then he triumphantly led Io away.
Juno was very angry when she found that her wonderful watchman had slept at his post, slept with all his eyes at once. She said he did not deserve to have so many eyes, if he could not keep some of them open. So she took all of his hundred eyes away from him, and set them in the tail of her pet peacock, who was very proud to wear them. Ever since that day all peacocks have had eyes in their tails.
The Legend and Myth of Argus