In discussing Hesiod yesterday, I briefly mentioned the story of Talos (Latin: Talus), the last man of the Bronze Age who protected the island of Crete. Regular readers might remember him from David Childress’s Technology of the Gods (2000) where Childress claims he is an android robot. Or, rather, he asked whether it was possible: “The metallic creature appeared, threatening to crush the ship Argo with rocks, if they drew near. A robot?” (p. 92). The year before, Erich von Däniken simply asserted that the bronze man was “the Talos robot” or “the robot Talos” (Odyssey of the Gods, pp. 58, 59, 61, 93).
As we saw yesterday, Hesiod’s description of the Bronze Race that preceded that of the race of the Heroes was sometimes understood as referring to creatures literally made of bronze and other times as referring to an inferior moral quality relative to the preceding generations.
But this is relatively unimportant because Talos isn’t what Childress and von Däniken thought he was.
These authors primarily conceptualize Talos from his depiction in the 1963 Jason and the Argonauts movie, where he is a bronze automaton guarding a golden treasure.
However, this is not his classical depiction. His story is told primarily in Apollonius’ Argonautica (4.1639-1693), (parallel to the Orphic Argonautica 1358-1360), and Apollodorus (1.9.26), though he is mentioned in several other authors more briefly. In the Orphic Argonautica he is literally “a bronze giant,” as he is to a lesser degree in Apollonius:
In Apollonius, Talos was clearly born, not built, and his bronze seems to be a coating over skin, muscle, and blood. Pausanias (8.53.5) confirms this when he states that Talos was the son of Kres, the god of Crete, and the father (!) of the god Hephaestus. The mistaken impression that this living being was a robot derives from Apollodorus’ summary, where he records a tradition unrepeated elsewhere that his vein was sealed shut with a nail, which later writers imagined was some kind of rivet or bolt:
But Apollodorus, drawing on older traditions than the Hellenistic poet Apollonius, also notes that this version is not the only one: “Some say that he was a man of the Brazen Race, others that he was given to Minos by Hephaestus; he was a brazen man, but some say that he was a bull.”
On Cretan coins, Talos was neither bull nor robot, but a man with angel wings!
So who was Talos?
It probably would have been a good idea for alternative writers to check what the Cretans thought of Talos before assigning him the role of Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still. In Crete, the word talôs meant “the sun,” which Hesychius of Alexandria confirms in his lexicon. On Crete “solar Zeus” was worshipped as Zeus Tallaios, identifying the god with the older Cretan solar figure. His orbit of Crete seems to derive from the sun’s daily transit, with the Greeks somewhat diabolizing the conquered Cretans’ sun god as a monstrous bronze bull—the symbol of the old Minoan gods. (This is little different from Christians turning the Classical gods into demons, or the Jews making the Mesopotamian heroes into giant monsters.)
(For those of you interested in this topic, I've added to my Library A. B. Cook's exhaustive survey of the history and origins of the Talos myth.)
So, in sum, we can see that the ancient texts clearly state that Talos was a living creature, and one that had a father and had children and therefore could not be a robot of any kind. The only way to make Talos into a robot is to declare that some parts of the stories are “true” while others are false, in contradiction to alternative authors’ stated claims that ancient peoples accurately recorded information about the past in their texts.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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