This week’s interesting word may be familiar to Greek mythology and ancient history enthusiasts. It is usually applied to figures such as Charon, Hecate, Hermes, Apollo and Anubis.
A psychopomp is a mythical guide of souls to the place of the dead. It can also be a spiritual guide of a living person’s soul.
Psychopomp is pronounced just as you would expect (you can listen to it here). The word is derived from the Greek word psukhopompos meaning ‘conductor or guide of souls’ – psukhē means ‘soul’ and pompos means ‘conductor’. According to the OED, the first recorded usage was in 1603.
Psychopompal and psychopompous can be used as adjectives and psychopompically is the adverb:
“I, Hermes-like, am coming to fetch you psychopompically to Hell.”
– Rupert Brooke, The letters of Rupert Brooke (1968). 1908
If you have an interest in psychology, you might recognise psychopomp as the term Jung used for the anima or animus (the link between the true inner self and the unconscious).
- The Oxford English Dictionary Online
Argus-eyed means ‘vigilant’ or ‘extremely observant’.
It refers to Argus (or Argos), a Greek mythological giant with a hundred eyes. He is usually pictured as a man with eyes all over his body.
There are slightly different versions of the story but the following is the basics of it.
Argus served the goddess Hera, and he was famous for slaying the monster Echidna (she was half-woman, half-snake).
Hera’s husband Zeus had been ‘romantically pursuing’ a nymph named Io. When Hera nearly discovered them together, Zeus transformed Io into a white cow. He claimed it was just a cow – definitely not a woman he had pestered into having sex with him. Hera was not fooled and she asked to keep the cow. Zeus had no choice but to agree.
Argus was tasked with guarding the cow. To help him, Hera gave Argus the gift (or curse) of sleeplessness. His eyes would never tire.
Zeus wasn’t going to let that stop him. He sent the god Hermes (also his son) to free Io. Hermes lulled the giant to sleep by playing music, and then killed him.
Hera honoured Argus by placing his eyes on the tail of her favourite bird, the peacock.