Disclaimer: This is not a story… but rather an analytical view of Xena and Argo and their relationship to each other. I found this to be a fascinating subject, and through this research discovered a lot of depth in their relationship that I didn't realize before. Many of us use this relationship to our advantage when writing our stories, and I bet most of us don't even realize that we are doing it… but I challenge each of you to think about this special relationship and how Argo really effects the portrayal of Xena.
To Argo or To Argonaut:
Questioning the Bond between a Warrior and Her Horse
A mighty warrior and their noble steed is the stuff of legend, and although the relationship between a warrior and their steed is often overlooked, it is an ever-present part of the story. The very idea of the connection of a warrior to their mount is ancient. The Greeks of antiquity believed that the horse was a higher form than other animals, and according to the website, Hippoi Anthanatoi (Immortal Horses), the horse was sacred to both Poseidon and Athena, making it one of the few animals depicted (in a non-sacrificial way) on temples as well as featured in myths (Astma). Xena, from the television show Xena: Warrior Princess, is one of these myths, who lived and breathed in ancient Greece and therefore would be subject to these same beliefs, but at the same time she is influenced by modern day in the way that she was written and portrayed. Xena and her bond with her mount, Argo, follow the ideal of both the ancient and modern idea of "the hero myth," but at the same time their connection goes beyond the stuff of legend. The bond they share is multileveled, for throughout the series and continuing into fan fiction, Argo not only is a source of transportation, but also becomes a companion, a friend, and a symbol used to define and characterize the Warrior Princess.
Seán Hemingway in his article, Horse and Man in Greek Art states "since the horse was first introduced into Greece, horses have held a special place in ancient Greek art and society" (Hemingway). Greek myth and history are riddled with tales of horses, from the ones that draw Apollo's chariot across the sky each day, to Pegasus, to Alexander the Great and his horse, Bucephalus. The horse was an active part in the Olympian Games as well as a powerful ally for the military, such as the Calvary of Athens, which is depicted on a massive freeze in the Parthenon (Hemingway). Horse ownership was not common among the masses, for only the upper class could afford to feed and maintain them. Ownership became a symbol of status. (Hemingway). Xena and Argo fit into this mold, for although Xena was born a peasant, she built an army and an empire, earning the right and the wealth to support such an animal. Her reputation as military leader was unparalleled, for she was not only a brilliant strategist, but also the chosen prodigy of Ares, God of War. At one point she had hundreds of horses and men in her command, but that changed the day she changed her way of life. Xena left her evil ways and with only Argo by side, she began her quest for the "Greater Good," becoming both a hero and a legend.
While Xena is no doubt a hero, her gender influenced the way that she was seen, specifically with Argo, making their relationship different than if she was male. In the early episodes Argo's very gender was questioned, as she is referred to as a "boy." After some fan debate, the writers concreted the feminist ideals of Xena with the episode "The Greater Good," proclaiming that Argo was indeed female. Through this declaration, Argo's gender further pushed the feminist role of Xena, as it was made apparent that on the occasions that she is seen being "evil" or "darker" she would ride a male horse.
The gender comparison can be further explored in an article entitled Women and Their Horses, where the author Jess comments that although "the horse is not a symbol of femininity…the horse fits into the role of masculinity as well as it does into femininity" (Jess). In this way, Argo can be seen very much like Xena, fitting both the masculine and feminine roles. A horse can be sleek, sexy, and beautiful in movement and form, in an idealized female, but at the same time can also be powerful, hard, and a warrior, like an idealized male. Jess goes on to quote Melissa Holbrook in her book, Dark Horses and Black Beauties: Animals, Women, A Passion, stating "that the woman on horseback presents a picture of power over-ruled by gentleness" (Jess). This image fits that of Xena and Argo almost perfectly; for Xena is power, and for those who know her and have seen into her heart, know her capacity for gentleness.
Besides being a symbol for femininity and a fusion of gender roles, Argo also helped to define who Xena was in how her character is balanced and portrayed. In the opening credits of Xena: Warrior Princess, Argo is seen twice. The first time she is only partially shown, as Xena sits on her and smiles. The second time she is running with only her reflection being mirrored in water. This image of the reflection suggests that the way that Argo is portrayed is almost like a reflection of Xena. According to Warrior Princess Magazine, Argo was not only courageous and strong, but complemented Xena's skill on the battlefield as well as serving along side her as a worthy partner (Breyer 21-22). In this way Argo serves as a mirror, reflecting Xena's image. Argo becomes not only a battle horse, but is given personality where she is allowed to break the mold of what is expected of a horse, just as Xena did with what is expected of a warrior and a woman.
In an article from Woosh! Magazine, Horse as a House, the author Edward Mazzeri discuses another way that Argo is used as an extension of Xena. As Xena and her partner, Gabrielle, travel across Greece fighting evil, righting wrongs, and fulfilling Xena's quest for redemption, they do not have a physical place to call home. By association, Argo becomes that home. Mazzeri claims that the items stored in Argo's saddle bags make "Argo a mobile kitchen, and mobile bedroom. She fulfils the function of attic, carrying odds and ends, like maps and bits of treasure and other trinkets. Argo is also a library, carrying the scrolls [which] detail the adventurous life and times of a certain warrior princess" (Mazzeri). He goes to use Argo's physical presence as symbolic of a home, such as when Xena and Gabrielle walk in front of Argo and talk as "characters who were "sweet" on each other traditionally used to talk to each other on the front porch" (Mazzeri). In this respect, Argo becomes more than just a physical place, where "things" are stored. She becomes a home, where memories are made and where life takes place.
In this same article, Mazzeri also comments on Argo's history and the meaning of her name. He states that Argo's name could mean "being "swift" (like a running river), "fair-complexioned," and "bright, shining" (like the city of Argos in ancient Greece)" (Mazzeri). The more popular idea is that Argo was named after the ship that carried Jason and the Argonauts on the quest to find the Golden Fleece. In a fan-fiction story entitled, "What's in a name?" the bard, Firefly, explains Xena's reasoning to naming Argo when Xena comments, "There was a story… about the bravest men who sailed the most powerful ship ever built. And it wasn't because of its size, but because it was quick and stable… but I know its name will be forgotten in a few years. You remind me of it and I'm afraid, my friend, you are gonna get the same life and treatment as that ship with me around" (Firefly). The idea of what Argo's name means brings up different images and the fact that Xena would name her horse after a ship brings up questions how she viewed her relationship with Argo.
Argo's name may in fact have many meanings, and reflected not only how Xena related to Argo, but also how Argo was used symbolically, as in the opening credits, to reflect Xena's image. It is established in the episode "Destiny," that Xena was a pirate. She spent quite a bit of time aboard ships, proving that she felt comfortable and at home on them, as was illustrated in the episodes "Ten Little Warlords," "Ulysses," "Lost Mariner," "Tsunami," and many others. Naming Argo after a ship that "carried the bravest men" was Xena's way of saluting Jason and the Argonauts as heroes as well as expressing her own love of the ocean. The name also equates her own greatness as Argo, like the ship, "carried the bravest men," or woman in her case. The idea that Argo was "powerful, quick, and stable" also equates to her own image, as she viewed Argo as superior to other horses.
Looking at Mazzeri's analysis of the name, however, a different picture is formed, using the color of Argo – a golden hue, as an allegory for the Golden Fleece. This view would be more in line with the writers, and the underlying messages that tend to run rampant with in the series itself. Argo would have to be a light, golden color, to counteract the darkness that Xena is both physically in her dark leathers, as well as mentally with her evil past. In combining these two different aspects, according to Bruce Meyer, author of Heroes, from Hercules to Superman, the formula for what an epic hero is emerges, as he states that according to tradition, "most epic voyages focus not on where a hero is going, but what he will learn along the way" (Meyer 202). Argo, in this respect, is used as a vessel that propels Xena on her journey, or quest for redemption.
In another article by Woosh! Magazine, written by Gregory R. Swenson, entitled Alexander the Great: Blueprint for Xena? he discusses how the writers purposely used the lightness of Argo's coat to counterbalance Xena's darkness. He uses the example of Alexander the Great and his horse, Bucephalus, who was "so skittish he was afraid of his own shadow," and how Alexander learned that if he faced his mount toward the sun, the horse was no longer afraid. (Swenson). Argo is the same for Xena, but the roles are almost reversed. Argo is Xena's sun, her past being the shadows of which she is afraid of. With Argo, she can look into the sun, making it easier for her to deal with her shadows.
This idea of color and contrast between good and evil is a main theme through the Xena series which continues on in fan fiction. There are many categories of fan fiction in the Xenaverse, and one of the most popular is based on the Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, episode "Armageddon Now." This episode highlights a different timeline where Xena, as the Conqueror, never leaves her old ways and ends up instead conquering the known world. In these stories there is no Argo, and the mount that Xena usually rides is a large black horse, who incidentally, is usually male. Examples of this are in two of the most loved and accomplished conqueror tales: Melissa Good's Xena: The Merciless Tales, where Xena has a black stallion named Tiger, and LJ Maas' Journey's End, where she rides a midnight black stallion named Tenorio. Interestingly enough, Xena is still protective and caring for these animals, but none of them have the bond that she and Argo share, as in these alternate time lines they are "just horses."
In another category of fan fiction, Uber, this idea is also present. Uber, according to Woosh! Magazine, "refers to episodes and/or fan fiction stories that deal with the reincarnations and/or descendents of Xena and Gabrielle." "Déjà vu all over again," "Soul Possession," and "Between the Lines" are the episodes that established in the formula for "Uber." In these stories there is often a pet, usually a dog or sometimes a horse, that represents Argo. Popular examples of "Argo-like pets" can be found in Melissa Good's Dar and Kerry series, in a yellow lab named Cappuccino, and in Colleen's At First Sight series, where Argo is represented by a golden retriever named Artemis. In this same respect as the conquer stories, the Uber ones where "Xena" tends to be evil or dark, such as when she is a lawyer or secret agent, she tends to have a dark colored pet, like in Cephalgia and MJ's Black's Magic series, where Argo is represented by a small black dog named Spike.
Fans may tend to equate Argo to a pet, as seen in the fan-fiction, but does Xena? Mazzeri argues that Argo, like her mistress, has "many skills" in the way that she is portrayed (Mazzeri). In this suggestion, Mazzeri is equating Argo to Xena, as an equal character and not a subordinate. Argo brings her own skills to her relationship with her warrior, for she demonstrates personality, and the ability to choose her actions, even if they sometimes go against Xena's wishes. According to the website, The Argo Archives, Argo appeared in 77 of the 134 episodes, and played more then just a "passing" role in 43 of them, being involved in the plot and showing an ability to make decisions independently often affecting the outcome of the situation (Aurora). Besides Xena and Gabrielle themselves, Argo appeared in more episodes then any other character. "The Greater Good," "The Quest," "Intimate Stranger," "In Sickness and in Hell," and "Punch Lines" are considered a few of the best "Argo" episodes, where her unusual skills were put to the test.
Perhaps the best example is in the episode "The Greater Good," which opens with Gabrielle practicing her staff, using Argo as a target. Xena catches her and whistles, causing Argo to answer with a kick, relieving the staff from Gabrielle's hands. After Xena scolds Gabrielle for messing with her horse, the following dialog occurs:
Gabrielle: "It's not like we're at constant war or anything. Argo just doesn't like me."
Xena (stroking Argo's mane):"Sometimes you have to have patience with things that annoy you."
Gabrielle: "I never said she annoyed me."
Xena: "I wasn't talking to YOU" (The Greater Good).
This brief scene demonstrates the relationship between the trio, and how both Xena and Gabrielle feel about Argo. Xena is talking to her, as if she has feelings and can understand what the warrior is saying. This is a common practice for Xena, as she often gives Argo verbal commands or dialogs with her, as exampled in the episode "Animal Attractions," where Argo is the first to learn that Xena is pregnant. The scene from the "Greater Good" also verbalizes the fact that traditionally Gabrielle and Argo don't get along. As this episode progresses, however, they are forced to come to an understanding and work together after Xena is "killed" by a poison dart.
Argo performs two key actions in "The Greater Good" that sets her apart from other horses. The first is when Gabrielle pretends to be Xena and confronts an invading army. Argo seems to take pleasure in purposely disobeying her orders, causing Gabrielle's cover to be blown, but when she is threatened and the army attacks her, Argo switches gears and runs in after the bard, rescuing her. In the second scene, Xena's "dead" body is tied between Argo and another horse. Both horses are whipped mercilessly with the intention of drawing and quartering (or halving) the Warrior Princess (Mazzeri). Argo "talks" to the other horse, and neither one moves. When the army finally agrees to kill Argo, Xena wakes up from the "dead," for as she told Gabrielle at the beginning of the episode, "no one messes with my horse" (The Greater Good).
"The Greater Good" is just one example of some of the extraordinary things that Argo is capable of doing, but the horse's role in the series runs much deeper as Argo continually shows her ability to move beyond what is expected of a horse. Another prime example is in the episode "The Quest." Argo recognizes Xena's soul inside of Autolycus' body, and her acceptance and obeying of Autolycus' orders convinces Gabrielle that it is indeed Xena. Argo shows even more "skills" in the episode, "Intimate Strangers," as she recognizes that Xena and Callisto have switched bodies. This episode also gives a good example of how far Xena will go for Argo. While Callisto is in Xena's body she hurts Argo, almost killing her. Xena takes time to stop and care for Argo, even though her time is limited and doing so may cost her an eternity in Tartarus, the Greek equivalent of hell. Another episode where Xena shows how much Argo means to her is "Been There, Done that," where Xena gets trapped in a Groundhog Day like scenario. Argo is accidentally killed and Xena takes the time to build a pyre, giving Argo a proper funeral, even though she knows she'll repeat the same day over again tomorrow. During this same episode Gabrielle and Joxer are also killed. Xena prepares and performs the same rituals with them as she did with Argo, because to Xena, Argo is more than just a pet; she is also a friend.
The tag line for The Argo Archives is "because is it not just the people in Xena's life that mattered," and it sums up the way that Xena felt about Argo perfectly (Aurora). At first glance one would see Argo as merely a mode of transportation, but there is much more to the horse than that. Argo was symbol used to expand Xena's character. She helped not only define what Xena believed in, but also how the Warrior Princess was interpreted as both a warrior and a woman. Argo was by Xena's side when she was at her worst. She served as a confidant, a source of comfort, and was, like her mistress, blessed with "many skills." She was a constant, and with her warrior throughout the best and worst of times, and through it all, Argo was always more than just a beast of burden; she was Xena's friend.
Author's note: Not that anyone cares, but the sources quoted here are incomplete because this site edits and doesn't allow web address to be shown. I've gotten some good feedback on this essay and thought I'd share a bit about it. It was written as an assignment foran English class and I enjoyed doing it so much I wanted to share. Plus I wanted to give props to my teacher who actually let me use Argo as a subject matter... now how cool is that ;).
I personally found the connections.. like the dark and light and the reflection stuff fascinating, and found it interesting... in reading the hundreds of fan fiction stories that for the most part it holds true. Of course there is anyways an exception, but I found it curious that even in my own work... like my "honey-colored" Great Dane in "The Price" and "Cave Art," to follow this same formula... he's light colored because of the relationship he has with Alex and Kasey, but he's male because Alex and Kasey are both "darker" characters. Also in my story "Blue Eyes, White Horse, and a Chakram," I took extra time to make sure that Argo was taken care of. We all know how Xena feels about her and we know that her heart would be broken if anything every happened to her. Btw... I got an A- on this paper... because I "focused too much on the fan fiction." But all grumbling aside, I'm still happy with the results.
"Armageddon Now." Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Dir. Mark Beesley. Perf. Kevin Sorbo, Michael Hurst, Lucy Lawless. USA Network. Aired 9 February 1998.
Atsma, Aaron J. . Hippoi Anthanatoi. 2008. The Theoi Project. 3 Jun. 2010. ..
Aurora. The Argo Archives. 10 Mar. 2007. 8 Jun. 2010. .net/.
Breyer. "Xena and Argo." Warrior Princess Magazine. –May/June 1999: 20-21.
Cephalgia and MJ. Black's Magic. 1 Feb. 2004. The Athenaeum. 17 Mar. 2010. /styles/athenaeum_deepblue/author_.
Colleen. At First Sight. 1 Sep. 2001. The Royal Academy of Bards. 21 May 2010. .org/fanfic/c/colleen_.
Firefly. "What's in a Name?" 1999. Argo and Friends Awards. 5 Jun. 2010. .net/xena/argo/What%27s_In_a_.
Good, Melissa. Dar and Kerry Series . 15 Apr. 2010. 21 May 2010. ..
Good, Melissa. Xena: The Merciless Tales. 15 Apr. 2010. 21 May 2010. ..
Groundhog Day. Dir. Ramis, Harold. Perf. Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell. Movie. Columbia Pictures Corporation. 1993.
Hemingway, Seán. "The Horse and Man in Greek Art." Sculpture Review 55 (2006): 8-13.
Jess. "Women and Their Horses." 14 Oct. 2006. The Tack Room - A City of Horses. 20 May 2010. ./women-and-their-horses/.
Maas, LJ. Journey's End. The Royal Academy of Bards. 19 May 2010. .org/fanfic/l/lj_journeys_.
Mazzeri, Edward. "Horse as a House: Equine Iconography and Domesticity in Xena: Warrior Princess." Woosh! Online Addition. -1 Feb. 2004: no pages. .
Meyer, Bruce. Heroes: from Hercules to Superman. Toronto, Canada: Harper Perennial, 2007.
Swenson, Gregory R. "Alexander the Great: Blueprint for Xena?" Woosh! Online Addition.- 1 Dec 1996: no pages. .
Young, Cathy. "The God Who Loved Her: The Xena-Ares Storyline on Xena: Warrior Princess."
1 Apr. 2002. Woosh! Online Addition. 11 Jun. 2010. .
Xena: Warrior Princess. Created by Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi. Perf. Lucy Lawless, Renee O'Connor. USA Network. Aired from March 13, 1995- May 21, 2001.
Episodes cited (season: episode)
Opening credits (seasons 1-5), "The Greater Good" (1:21), "Death Mask" (1:23),
"Intimate Stranger" (2:7), "Ten Little Warlords" (2:8), "Destiny" (2:12),
"The Quest" (2:13), "Ulysses" (2:19), "Lost Mariner" (2:21),
"Been There, Done That" (3:2), "Tsunami" (3:19), "In Sickness and in Hell" (4:4), "Between the Lines" (4:15), "Déjà vu all over again" (4:22), "Animal Attraction" (5:4), "Punch Lines" (5:11) , "Soul Possession" (6:20),