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mercury-and-argus_Diego VelazquezMercury and Argus by Diego Velazquez

1659, now in Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

In Greek mythology, Argus Panoptes or Argos, guardian of the heifer-nymph Io and son of Arestor, was a primordial giant whose epithet, “Panoptes”, “all-seeing”, led to his being described with multiple, often one hundred, eyes.

Argus was Hera’s servant. 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.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.

According to Ovid, to commemorate her faithful watchman, Hera had the hundred eyes of Argus preserved forever, in a peacock’s tail.

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