Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Mythological Monster of the Month: Argus

September’s Roman Calendar Feature

The 2019–2020 Roman Calendar features twelve mythical monsters from the 2019 edition of Martia Dementia, Bolchazy-Carducci’s annual spring bracket tournament. Visit us on social media (Facebook, Twitter, and our blog) for announcements regarding the 2020 Martia Dementia.

Argus by Pintoricchio (Bernardino di Betto, 1454–1513) (Public Domain)
September’s Roman Calendar image highlights Argus, sometimes called Panoptes (Greek for “all-seeing”), famous for his hundred eyes. Argus is perhaps best known for his role in the story of Io, a young woman turned into a heifer because of Jupiter’s lust for her. Some sources say that Jupiter transformed Io in an effort to hide her from Juno, while others say that Juno transformed her as punishment. Regardless, Juno charged Argus with watching over Io in the form of the heifer to prevent Jupiter from visiting her again. Jupiter then sent Mercury to slay Argus and free Io.

Pintoricchio (1454–1513), whose name means “little painter” in Italian, was a Renaissance painter known for his frescoes. Though his real name was Bernardino di Betto, he acquired the nickname Pintoricchio due to his short stature. This fresco appears in the Room of the Saints in the Vatican’s Borgia Apartment. The room takes its name from large frescoes depicting seven Christian saints. Smaller frescoes of scenes from Egyptian and classical mythology feature bulls (or, in Io’s case, a heifer) in reference to Pope Alexander VI (1431–1503), whose heraldic emblem was a bull. Please note that for the calendar, the border of the image (including Io) was cropped to better display Argus’s features.

Sixth-century bce Greek vase depicting Argus and Io (Public Domain)
Depictions of Argus don’t always feature extra eyes, as in this sixth-century bce Greek black-figure vase. Found in Italy, it is now in the collection of the Staatliche Antikensammlungen in Munich, Germany.

Teachers may wish to ask students to compare and contrast the images above with Ovid’s description below, using the Latin or English texts as appropriate for the class.

Ovid describes Argus in his Metamorphoses (1.622–629)

Latin (text and notes from A. G. Lee’s Ovid: Metamorphoses Book I)

paelice donata non protinus exuit omnem
diva metum, timuitque Iovem et fuit anxia furti
donec Arestoridae servandam tradidit Argo.
centum luminibus cinctum caput Argus habebat;         625
inde suis vicibus capiebant bina quietem,
cetera servabant atque in statione manebant.
constiterat quocumque modo, spectabat ad Io;
ante oculos Io, quamvis aversus, habebat.
(p. 62)

exuit: cf. Am. 3, 4, 43-4: 'vultusque severos / exue', Cic. Att. 13, 2, 1: 'humanitatem omnem exuimus'.

-que: 'but'; cf. 15 n.
furti: cf. 606 n.

Arestoridae: the only occurrence of this patronymic in Latin poetry. Arestor was a shadowy Argive hero.

centum . . . cinctum: for the similarity of sound cf. 489: 'vetat votoque', 633: 'toro terrae', 739: 'fitque quod ante fuit'.

inde: 'of these'; cf. Plaut. Mil. 711: 'dant in de partem mihi', Met.13,829: 'lac mihi semper adest niveum: pars inde bibenda / servatur . . . ' The French en derives from this word.
suis vicibus: 'in their turn', cf. 4, 218: 'noxque vicem peragit', 'night takes her turn, completes her round'.

servabant: the word is used absolutely as in 684, cf. Pl. Most. 451: 'nemo in aedibus servat'; it is prob. from the military vocabulary. serva is frequent in the comedians in the sense of 'look out, take care', cf. Gk. φυλάττου.
in statione: 'on duty, at their post'; another military phrase. Cf. Caes. B.C. 1, 43 : 'quae in statione pro castris erant Afranii cohortes'; Cic. Sen. 73: 'de praesidia et statione vitae decedere'.

Ovidian repetition to drive the point home.      
(p. 133)


Juno regardful of Jove's cunning art,
lest he might change her to her human form,
gave the unhappy heifer to the charge
of Argus, Aristorides, whose head                               
was circled with a hundred glowing eyes;
of which but two did slumber in their turn
whilst all the others kept on watch and guard.

translation by Brookes More (1922) available at Perseus

—Laurel Draper, Editor

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