At the end of The Odyssey, Odysseus returns home in disguise after two decades of war and wandering; his old swineherd, Eumeaus, taking him for a stranger, walks him across his property and nearby his old dog, occasioning one of the earliest sentimental descriptions of the human-canine bond…
I’ve always loved this passage for exactly the reason Mills points out. It’s also interesting to place it in its context of recognition scenes as Odysseus comes home, noting how it happens for each character, some of whom require a great deal of evidence, while others—such as Argos—don’t. Someone once argued that the sequence of recognition scenes is patterned after a social hierarchy.
The word argos in Greek usually means “shining”, but appears often of dogs in Homer, in the phrases πόδας ἀργοί, “swift-footed”, and κύνες ἀργοί, “swift dogs.” The usual explanation is that swift motion can appear to flicker or shine. This connection is supported by the Sanskrit cognate ṛjrá-, which also means both “shining” and “fast.” There is an epithet of the god Hermes, Argeiphontes, which is usually explained as the slayer of Argus, but Martin West has argued that in fact it refers to his function as a god of thieves, helping them past guard dogs, and that argos here refers to dogs, the slayer of dogs. If so, it’s interesting to consider the etymology of his dog’s name in the Odyssey
This is the moment when Odysseus finally achieves his νόστος (nostos), his true homecoming.
Before arriving in Ithaca, Odysseus encounters Circe’s enchanted mountain wolves. These insidiously magical creatures lurk in the periphery like any temptation to falsehood and estrangement.
We also see the silver and gold pseudo dogs guarding Alcinous’ palace. They are artifice and beauty: always and only the objects of contemplation, and thus false.
Things change when Odysseus arrives in Ithaca. Maintaining his disguise in Eumaios’ cave, Odysseus is pleased to see that the swineherd’s dogs do not bark at Telemachos as he arrives. A dog’s ability to recognize the identity of his master, to pierce through the layerings of disguise and self-invention mark out the animal’s nobility.
Argos is the culmination of that nobility. And a wonderful reminder of the strong correlation between perception and loyalty.