How the peacock got its look!

From the New York Times crossword, August 6, 2015

68 Across  One of many for Argus

Work the crosswords or watch Jeopardy, and almost every week there is a reference to mythology – sometimes Norse, sometimes Egyptian, but most commonly Greek or Roman.  If you’re like I am, you studied mythology at some point while in school but have long since forgotten many of the references.  Such is the case for the clue above – now in the puzzle, the answer was revealed by solving the surrounding clues:  eye.

Back to our mythology lesson:  Argus was a monster, sometimes called Panoptes because of his many eyes – by many reports at least one hundred of them.  As he always had at least a few eyes open even when asleep, he was considered the master watchman.  Hera, the wife of Zeus, appointed him to guard Io, who though in the guise of a heifer, was actually a nymph Zeus planned to seduce to create a new order of gods.

So, Argus was the beast of a hundred eyes, servant of Hera and guardian of Io – got it?  Zeus, even though, he was the king of the gods, could not get close to Io, so he hired Hermes to slay Argus.  Hermes was a god that was both divine and mortal and able to travel to both worlds.  In traditional mythology, he is known as the trickster, the herdsman, and the transporter of souls between the two worlds.  His counterpart in Roman mythology is Mercury.

PeacockHermes, once hired by Zeus, decided to disguise himself as a shepherd.  By using charms, Hermes managed to lull Argus to sleep and then killed him by hitting him with a stone – a rather anticlimatic end to the beast, it seems.  At any rate, Hera, according to Ovid, memorialized her faithful servant by putting his eyes into the peacock’s tail.

 

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