Argive King

Argus (son of Zeus)

Etymology

The name “Argus” (Greek Ἄργος, translit. Árgos) seems to be derived from the word ἀργός (argós), which means “shining, brilliant” as well as “quick, agile.” This word in turn comes from the Indo-European *h₂rǵ-, meaning “white.”[1] There were several mythological figures with this name, many of them (unsurprisingly) associated with the city of Argos in the Peloponnese.

Family

Argus was a son of Zeus, the chief deity of the Greek pantheon, and Niobe, the mortal daughter of Phoroneus. He had one brother, Pelasgus, who was the first ruler of the region later known as the Argolid.[2]

Argus married either Evadne, the daughter of Strymon,[3] or the Oceanid Peitho.[4] In some traditions, the nymph Ismene, daughter of the river god Asopus, was also named as Argus’ consort (though she seems to have been his lover rather than his wife).[5]

Argus had several children by his various consorts. With Evadne, he was said to have fathered Ecbasus, Piren (also known as Piras, Piransus, or Piranthus), Epidaurus, and Criasus.[6] Another source, however, made Argus the father of Criasus and Phorbas by Peitho.[7]

With Ismene, Argus was sometimes called the father of Iasus[8] or of a many-eyed monster, also named Argus.[9] One source added Tiryns (the eponym of the Peloponnesian city of the same name) to the list of Argus’ children.[10]

Mythology

Argus was the son of Zeus, the ruler of the cosmos, and Niobe, the mortal daughter of Phoroneus (himself an early Argive culture-hero). Niobe was the first of many mortal women whom Zeus took as a lover, and Argus was his first mortal son. The last of Zeus’ lovers was actually a descendant of Argus—Alcmene, mother of Heracles.[11]

Argus had a brother named Pelasgus, who gave his name to the early Greek peoples known as “Pelasgians.” Pelasgus also ruled over the Argives who lived in the northeastern Peloponnese. 

When Pelasgus died, he was succeeded by Argus, who named the city of Argos (as well as the entire region of the Argolid) after himself. He thus became the eponymous hero of Argos and the Argolid.[12] Argus was also said to have introduced the practice of importing grain from Libya to Greece.[13]

Worship

Argus was worshipped as a hero in the Argolid. He had a tomb in Argos, located in a dense sacred grove.[14] This grove was burned down by the notorious Spartan king Cleomenes I when he invaded Argos in 494 BCE.[15]

References

Notes

  1. See Robert S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 1:126.

  2. Acusilaus, Fragmente der griechischen Historiker (FGrH) 2 frag. 25; Apollodorus, Library 2.1.1; Hyginus, Fabulae 145; etc.

  3. Apollodorus, Library 2.1.2; Hyginus, Fabulae 145.

  4. Pherecydes, FGrH 3 frag. 66.

  5. Hesiod, Aegimus frag. 294 Merkelbach-West; Apollodorus, Library 2.1.3.

  6. Apollodorus, Library 2.1.2; scholia on Euripides’ Orestes 932. Cf. Hyginus, Fabulae 145, who names Ecbasus, Piren (whom he calls Piranthus), and Criasus, but not Epidaurus. Epidaurus is also named as a son of Argus in Hesiod, frag. 247 Merkelbach-West. Piren is named in Pausanias, Description of Greece 2.16.1.

  7. Pherecydes, FGrH 3 frag. 66. Phorbas is also named as a son of Argus in Pausanias, Description of Greece 2.16.1.

  8. Apollodorus, Library of History 2.1.3. According to some traditions, Iasus went on to father Io, another lover of Zeus.

  9. Hesiod, Aegimus frag. 294 Merkelbach-West. See also Apollodorus, Library 2.1.3, who cites Cercops as his source, probably another name for the author of the Aegimus.

  10. Pausanias, Description of Greece 2.25.8.

  11. Apollodorus, Library 2.1.1; Hyginus, Fabulae 145.

  12. Apollodorus, Library 2.1.2; Pausanias, Description of Greece 2.16.1.

  13. Polemon of Ilium, Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum (FHG) 3 frag. 12 (p. 119).

  14. Pausanias, Description of Greece 2.22.5.

  15. Herodotus, Histories 6.78ff; Pausanias, Description of Greece 3.4.1. Cleomenes I was supposedly prone to fits of madness.

Primary Sources

Argus was present in Greek literature from a relatively early period. He is known to have appeared in the historical works—now lost—of Acusilaus (sixth century BCE) and Pherecydes of Athens (mid-fifth century BCE).

Our most important surviving source for the mythology and genealogy of Argus is the Library (2.1.1–2), a mythological handbook attributed to Apollodorus or “Pseudo-Apollodorus” (first century BCE or later). 

Argus’ cult in Argos was also mentioned by Herodotus (ca. 484–420s BCE) in his Histories (6.78) and by Pausanias (ca. 115–ca. 180 CE) in his Description of Greece (2.22.5). The Fabulae, a Roman mythological handbook by Hyginus or “Pseudo-Hyginus” (first century CE or later), likewise references Argus.

Additional information on Argus, including his role in works that are now lost, can be found in texts, reference works, and commentaries produced during the Byzantine and medieval periods. For further references, see the notes.

Secondary Sources

  • Dowden, Kenneth. “Argus (1).” In The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 4th ed., edited by Simon Hornblower, Antony Spawforth, and Esther Eidinow, 150. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

  • Engelmann, R. “Argos (1).” In Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie, edited by W. H. Roscher, vol. 1, 537. Leipzig: Teubner, 1884–90.

  • Graf, Fritz. “Argos (I.1).” In Brill’s New Pauly, edited by Hubert Cancik, Helmuth Schneider, Christine F. Salazar, Manfred Landfester, and Francis G. Gentry. Published online 2006. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1574-9347_bnp_e134630.

  • Smith, William. “Argus (1).” In A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Spottiswoode and Company, 1873. Perseus Digital Library. Accessed May 12, 2021. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0104%3Aentry%3Dargus-bio-1.

  • Wernicke, Konrad. “Argos (18).” In Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, edited by Georg Wissowa and August Friedrich Pauly, vol. 2.1, 791–95. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1895.

Citation

Kapach, Avi. “Argus (son of Zeus).” Mythopedia, September 11, 2023. https://mythopedia.com/topics/argus-son-of-Zeus.

Kapach, Avi. “Argus (son of Zeus).” Mythopedia, 11 Sep. 2023. https://mythopedia.com/topics/argus-son-of-Zeus. Accessed on 6 Jun. 2024.

Kapach, A. (2023, September 11). Argus (son of Zeus). Mythopedia. https://mythopedia.com/topics/argus-son-of-Zeus

Authors

  • Avi Kapach

    Avi Kapach is a writer, scholar, and educator who received his PhD in Classics from Brown University

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