Juno's Bird, The Peacock
A Roman Legend
"Oh, isn't it a pity the peacock doesn't know that he can't sing? Why doesn't he stop that fearful screeching?"
Little Katie put her hands over her ears to keep out the sound.
"You know the peacock was once an animal that hasn't a very sweet voice," said Jack.
"No, I don't know, but Charlie Green's pet donkey makes a better noise than this bird. There, I am glad he has stopped."
"Shall I tell you a story?" asked Jack.
"Once upon a time a donkey felt that he was much abused just because his coat was rough and his face and shape were so homely; so he begged of Jupiter to make him into something beautiful. In a short time he was changed into a peacock and, looking down upon his fine feathers, began to sing. But, oh, the trouble he was in then! He had forgotten to have his voice changed, too, and it was the same old donkey voice that he had always had."
"That's a funny story, Jack. It seems to me that mother told us that a long time ago."
"Then I know another story of how the eyes came into the peacock's feathers."
"You are a queer boy, Jack. Those eyes were always there."
"Oh, no, they were not, Kate. You watch the young peacock chickens, and I'll prove my story, or part of it, anyway. Don't you remember that at first they are a dull brown, and then, when they are about a year old, they begin to show a little green? They are three years old before the eyes begin to show in the feathers. You are a queer girl to forget that."
"Well, tell your story, and I will see if it is a good one." So Jack began:
"Argus was a watchman. His great eyes were like green balls, but with fifty little eyes in each. Yes, he had a hundred eyes, and never more than two went to sleep at once. He could see even better in the night than in the daytime, so he was a fine watchman.
"Once Argus was told to watch a certain prisoner who could not be shut in a room, but had to be left in a field. Not once was he to lose sight of this prisoner. If he did, every one of his hundred eyes would be taken from him.
"Day and night Argus watched, never sleeping except with two eyes at a time. He was as faithful as fifty soldiers.
"But he loved music, and the friends of the prisoner knew it. So they sent some one to him who could play upon the harp and sing, thinking that perhaps Argus might be charmed to sleep.
"This player's name was Mercury, and he was so quick that some thought he wore wings on his feet. If he did wear them, he could take them off when he liked, for he was just a plain shepherd in a sheepskin coat and sheepskin sandals when Argus saw him.
"If he had come with a spear, or with bow and arrow, Argus would have been ready to keep him out, but Mercury was too bright for that.
"No, he was just a plain shepherd, and he sat down in a field near the one Argus was in, to watch his sheep. While he sat there, he played such sweet music that Argus said, 'Bring your sheep into my field and we will watch together.'
"That was just what Mercury had planned. So he was not very long in getting his sheep into the field with Argus. There the two lay in the shade of the trees and told stories, and Mercury played and watched the green eyes of Argus, while Argus watched the prisoner.
"One night Mercury played so softly, so sweetly, that for one minute every one of the hundred green eyes of Argus closed, the watchman nodded, and in that minute Mercury struck him on the neck and cut off his head. Then the prisoner was free. Juno took the green eyes of Argus and put them on her pet bird, the peacock."
"Oh, Jack, I don't believe a word of it."
"I don't, either," said Jack, "but these stories are both more than two thousand years old, and I shouldn't wonder if some one did believe them a long time ago."
Sources And Further Reading
Project Gutenberg Classic Myths Retold by Mary Catherine Judd with drawings entirely from classic sources