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Automatons in Greek Mythology

Updated on May 17, 2015
Colin Quartermain profile image

Having travelled through Italy, Greece and the Aegean in his youth, Colin quickly became interested in the ancient mythology of the region.

Many people might think that the idea of robots and automatons is a 20th Century concept, but in truth, there were automatons in Ancient Greece, and such machines were also talked of in Greek mythology.

Hephaestus

Guillaume Coustou the Younger (1716–1777) Jastrow (2006) Released into PD
Guillaume Coustou the Younger (1716–1777) Jastrow (2006) Released into PD | Source

Ancient Automatons

Historical records show the use of automatons in a number of sanctuaries, temples and theatres across the ancient world; with Hero of Alexandria being a famous inventor of such devices.

Hero would invent a three-wheeled cart with automatons onboard, which, with the use of string and a falling weight, would see the automatons perform for the theatre audience. Hero would also build the first vending machine, which would see holy water dispensed when a coin was put into it.

Other historical records tell of moving statues in temples, and also flying chariots in the same buildings.

Surviving texts of Greek mythology though, also tell of even more elaborate automatons.

Bulls of Aeetes

Jean François de Troy (1679–1752) PD-art-100
Jean François de Troy (1679–1752) PD-art-100 | Source

Stories of Automatons

Daedalus, the Athenian/Cretan inventor was said to have crafted statues that could walk by themselves, and some might even have been able to dance. Daedalus though was a mortal, and whilst a great artisan, had but limited ability.

The most spectacular automatons of Greek mythology were instead crafted by a god, Hephaestus, the metalworking god of Mount Olympus.

Talos

Talos is probably the most famous of the automatons in Greek mythology, and was a gigantic bronze sculpture manufactured by Hephaestus.

Talos would be one of the three gifts given to Europa by Zeus, along with a magical javelin and Laelaps (a hound that always caught its prey), after the supreme god had abducted her and taken her to Crete.

The gigantic bronze automaton would become not just the protector of Europa though, for he was destined to patrol the shoreline of Crete, protecting the island against invaders. Talos could throw boulders and approaching ships, but anyone who landed would be killed in a fire hot bear hug.

Talos would also famously appear in the story of Jason and the Argonauts, for when Talos tried to keep the Argo away, Medea used sorcery to remove the bronze stud that kept the automatons lifeblood in place, and so Talos bled to death.

Bronze Bulls of Aeetes

Talos was not the only creation of Hephaestus that was encountered by Jason and the Argonauts in their quest, for the metalworking god also created several bronze bulls for the king of Colchis, Aeetes. Hephaestus did this, for Aeetes father, Helios, had once rescued him from a field of battle.

Before Aeetes gave up the Golden Fleece, he commanded that he yoke up two of the automatons and plough the four acre field of Ares with them. Aeetes believed that Jason would die in the attempt for the automatons of Hephaestus had hooves of bronze, and breathed fire from their nostrils.

Jason though of course would succeed in yoke the beasts, for he was protected by the magical charms of Medea.

Talos Guardian of Crete

The Golden Tripods

It was not just on the earthly world though where the creations of Hephaestus could be found, for Homer also told of automatons on Mount Olympus.

The Greek poet would tell of 20 golden wheeled tripods that were put to use during the feasts of the gods. During the feasts they could wheel themselves in and out of the palaces carrying and fetching.

Alcinous’ Dogs of Gold and Silver

Homer, in the Odyssey, would also tell of a pair of watchdogs made by Hephaestus that sat either side of a door in the palace of King Alcinous. One dog was made of gold, and the other of silver, and would sit for all time guarding the entrance against unwanted guests.

Celedones

In Greek mythology, Hephaestus was said to have crafted Pandora before Zeus breathed life into her, but Pandora was not the only woman created by Hephaestus, for he also created maidens for Apollo’s temple at Delphi.

As well as being beautiful female automatons, Hephaestus had also given them the ability to sing, and the songs of praise of Apollo were said to rival in beauty even those of the Sirens and the Muses.

Cabeirian Horses

Hephaestus would also make two fire breathing horses made from metal as gifts for his twin sons, the Cabeiri. The Cabeiri presided over the ritualistic dances on Samothrace, but the gift of automatons, came as thanks for the twins working the forge on Lemnos for their father.

Golden Maidens

Hephaestus though, didn’t just make automatons for others, and he was also said to have crafted beautiful maidens out of gold to act as his own attendants. These beautiful golden maidens, were imbued in intelligence and speech, and were able to learn new skills.

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  • Colin Quartermain profile image
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    Colin Quartermain 2 years ago

    daydreamer, many thanks for taking the time to read

  • daydreamer13 profile image

    daydreamer13 3 years ago

    I printed this for future reference. Thank you. Well done.

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