Argos Panoptes – The All-Seeing Giant of Greek Mythology
Argos Panoptes was one of the primordial giants of Greek mythology. His epithet Panoptes means “the one who is all-seeing” and reminds us of the symbol of the all-seeing eye of God. Although Panoptes was a moniker that was also used for the god Zeus, the eyes of Argos Panoptes were not enough to protect him from the meddling gods and his untimely demise at the hands of Hermes the the Argus-slayer.
Attic red figure from circa 490 BC depicting Hermes killing the many-eyed Argos who was guarding Io. (ArchaiOptix / CC BY-SA 4.0)
The Family Tree of Argos Panoptes
Argos Panoptes was the son of Arestor, whose wife was Mycene from whom the Mycenaean civilization and the Homeric city of Mycenae got its name. Argos is described as having 100 eyes, according to the Greek mythology, although this was probably a feature attributed in an allegoric way in order to describe his ability to perceive everything from any angle.
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Legend had it that when Argos slept, not all of the eyes would be closed, as he always kept at least one eye open. Because of this, Argos is usually depicted with multiple eyes on his body. Although he was described as a monster, he was actually a giant god with superpowers.
Argos was helpful thanks to his skill at killing the many monsters who attempted to create problems for the citizens of Peloponnese, in southern Greece. In truth, nothing bad is said about him in the ancient texts.
Painting Peter Paul Rubens showing Argos Panoptes being lulled to sleep by Hermes, aka Mercury. (Public domain)
Argos Panoptes and the Death of Echidna
One of Argos’ greatest achievement was to kill Echidna, an ancient monster that was half snake half woman and was known as the Mother of All Monsters. Her children were some of the most famous monsters: Cerberus, the Sphinx of Thebes, The Lion of Nemea, the Lernean Hydra and many others.
Echidna was an immortal and ageless goddess and half-nymph, daughter of Tartarus and Gaia, a drakaina or she-dragon, who lived inside a deep cave. Even if she was a dragon, Echidna was one of the first generation of ancient Greek gods and had the support of the Olympian gods. Although the wife of the 100-headed Typhon, Zeus allowed her to live even after Typhon was punished and sealed under Mount Etna. The gods gave Echidna a glorious house to live in according to Hesiod’s Theogony.
Argus and Hermes, as Mercury, by Diego Velázquez. (Public domain)
Hermes, Io and the Death of Argos Panoptes
At some point, the goddess Hera assigned Argos Panoptes the task of guarding Io. A priestess of Hera in Argos, Io had become the mortal mistress of Zeus and had then been transformed into a beautiful white heifer by either Hera or Zeus, depending on which version of the myth you read. Argos Panoptes was a pretty good choice for a guardian, considering his all-seeing capabilities.
Argos Panoptes was to keep Io chained to a sacred olive tree and guard her from the advances of Zeus. But, keeping a lustful and all-powerful Zeus away from one of his many mistresses was never going to end well for Argos Panoptes.
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In the end, Zeus asked the god Hermes to steal goddess Io away. Disguised as a shepherd, a sneaky Hermes approached Argos Panoptes and put him to sleep with his music before killing him, thus earning the title Argeiphontes, meaning “the Argus-slayer.” It is said that in gratitude for his sacrifice, Hera had the eyes of Argus preserved for eternity within the feathers of a peacock.
Greek mythology has it that the eyes of Argus were preserved for eternity by Hera by placing them within the feathers of a peacock. (pirotehnik / Adobe Stock)
There are countless tales of giants with superhuman abilities throughout the mythological legends of all cultures and religions. Is this just a coincidence, or was there some basis to these stories?
Top image: Argos Panoptes, the all-seeing giant of Greek mythology. Source: matiasdelcarmine / Adobe Stock
By John Black