When Hera drove out to investigate the earth-shrouding cloud that Zeus had created to cover his plan to seduce the river nymph Io, she drove out in style. Her chariot was drawn by her favorite birds – peacocks – which in those days, apparently, were rather dully colored -- at least as imagined in this classic painting by Pieter Lastman.
Pieter Lastman, “Juno discovering Io with Jupiter” (1618)
After Zeus surrendered Io to Hera, she put the little bovine goddess into the hands of the many-eyed Argus, who never fully slept. Hera intended Argus to keep constant vigil so that Zeus could not reclaim his lover. But this time, Zeus outwitted his clever wife, sending his son Hermes to lull Argus to sleep by --depending on which version of the legend you read -- either playing soothing melodies on his flute or telling him stories. When Argus finally closed his last eye, Hermes cut off his head.
According to legend, Hera then removed Argus’s eyes and placed them into the tails of her peacocks, giving them the brilliant color that we know today.
By Divine Ms. Moon
In astronomy, the many eyes of Argus are said to symbolize the vault of the stars. The peacock is immortalized in the southern constellation called Pavo, which literally means peacock in Latin.
Since those days, the peacock has developed something of a reputation. I wonder if they were thinking of Zeus, as he approached the unwary Io in the meadow that fateful day.
He approaches her, trailing his whole fortune,
Perfectly cocksure, and suddenly spreads
The huge fan of his tail for her amazement.
Each turquoise and purple, black-horned, walleyed quill
Comes quivering forward, an amphitheatric shell
For his most fortunate audience: her alone.
He plumes himself. He shakes his brassily gold
Wings and rump in a dance, lifting his claws
Stiff-legged under the great bulge of his breast.
And she strolls calmly away, pecking and pausing,
Not watching him, astonished to discover
All these seeds spread just for her in the dirt.
~ David Wagoner