In Greek mythology, Talos — also spelled Talus (/ˈtlɒs/;[1] Greek: Τάλως, Tálōs) or Talon (/ˈtlɒn, ən/; Greek: Τάλων, Tálōn) — was a giant automaton made of bronze to protect Europa in Crete from pirates and invaders. He circled the island's shores three times daily.

Winged "ΤΑΛΩΝ" armed with a stone. Obverse of silver didrachma from Phaistos, Crete (c. 300/280-270 BCE). (Cabinet des Médailles, Paris)

NarrativeEdit

 
The death of Talos depicted on a 5th century BCE krater now in the Jatta National Archaeological Museum in Ruvo di Puglia

Talos is usually said to have been made by Hephaestus at the request of Zeus, to protect Europa (consort of Zeus) from people who would want to kidnap her. (According to B.A. Sparkes (1996),[2] "The most detailed treatment in literature is to be found in the Argonautica [3rd century BC] ... however, we have detailed images of the episode, 150 years earlier, dated to around 400 BCE."[2][a])

According to (pseudo-)Apollodorus, however, there were three theories regarding Talos:

  1. Talos may have been a survivor from the Age of Bronze, a descendant of the brazen race (χαλκοῦ γένους) that sprang from meliae "ash-tree nymphs" according to Argonautica (The conception that Hesiod's men of the Age of Bronze were actually made of bronze is extended to men of the age of gold by Lucian for humorous effect).
  2. Talos was a brass man who was forged by the god Hephaestus and was given to Minos
  3. Talos was a brass bull who was forged by the god Hephaestus and was given to Minos[5]

The pseudo-Platonic dialogue Minos rationalized the myth, thrice yearly showing at each village in turn the laws of Minos inscribed on brass tablets.

Talos had one vein, which went from his neck to his ankle, bound shut by only one bronze nail. The Argo, transporting Jason and the Argonauts, approached Crete after obtaining the Golden Fleece. As guardian of the island, Talos kept the Argo at bay by hurling great boulders at it. According to (pseudo-)Apollodorus,[6] Talos was slain when Medea the sorceress either drove him mad with drugs, or deceived him into believing that she would make him immortal by removing the nail. In Argonautica, Medea hypnotized him from the Argo, driving him mad with the keres (female death-spirits) that she raised, so that he dislodged the nail, and "the ichor ran out of him like molten lead", exsanguinating and killing him. Translator P. Green,[7] notes that the Argonautica's Talos story is somewhat reminiscent of the story of Achilles' heel.[7]

Variations and interpretationsEdit

 
Talos, a sculpture by Michael Ayrton in Cambridge, England

In the Cretan dialect, talôs was the equivalent of the Greek hêlios, the Sun: The lexicon of Hesychius of Alexandria notes simply "Talos is the Sun".[8]:126 In Crete, Zeus was worshipped as Zeus Tallaios,[9] "Solar Zeus", absorbing the earlier god as an epithet in the familiar sequence.[b]"Zeus Tallaios" is discussed in Cook (1964).[11] The god was identified with the Tallaia, a spur of the Ida range in Crete. On a coin from Phaistos he is winged; in Greek vase-paintings and Etruscan bronze mirrors he is not.

The ideas of Talos vary widely, with one consistent detail: in Greek imagery outside Crete, Talos is always being vanquished.[c] He seems to have been an enigmatic figure to the Greeks themselves.[d] Talos is described by Greeks in two versions:

  • In one version, Talos is a gift from Hephaestus to Minos, forged with the aid of the Cyclopes in the form of a bull.[6]
  • In the other version, Talos is a gift from Zeus to Europa.[e]

Or he may have been the son of Kres, the personification of Crete;[f] in Argonautica, Talos threw rocks at any approaching ship to protect his island.[g] In the Byzantine encyclopedia called the Suda (10th century), it is said that according to the Simonides of Keos when the Sardinians did not wish to release Talos to Minos, he heated himself – by jumping into a fire – and clasped them in his embrace.[h]

A.B. Cook (1914)[17] first suggested that the single vein closed by a nail or plug referred to the lost-wax method of casting.[17] Robert Graves — whose interpretation of Greek mythology is controversial among many scholars — suggests that this myth is based on a misinterpretation of an image of Athena demonstrating the lost-wax process of casting steel, which Daedalus would have brought to Sardinia.[18]

See alsoEdit

FootnotesEdit

  1. ^ Two late fifth-century vase paintings depicting the death of Talos are discussed by Robertson (1977).[3] The ancient literary and artistic references are collected in Mayor (2018).[4]
  2. ^ M.P. Nilsson noted that "Talos is evolved out of an old Cretan god, who became identified with Zeus" and concluded that, like Cronus, Zeus Tallaios belongs certainly to the pre-Greek stratum.[10](p 148)
  3. ^ In a note in Bibliothēkē, vanquished by an arrow shot by Poeas to his vulnerable heel; in Argonautica, vanquished by the magical arts of Medea. In Attic and South Italian vase-paintings, the Dioscuri, flank his falling figure, but no literary source mentions them in connection with Talos.[12]
  4. ^ Pausanias, noting the unorthodox genealogy of Talos given by Cinaethon, remarks "The legends of Greece generally have different forms, and this is particularly true of genealogy."
  5. ^ Talos is a gift to Europa only in Argonautica 4 and in Eustathius, according to de Mirmont (1892)[13] cited in Bruce (1913).[14]
  6. ^ According to a fragment of the early poet Cinaethon of Sparta, for whom Talos was the father, not the creation, of Hephaestus; noted by Pausanias.[15]
  7. ^ The Talos episode is in Argonautica 4.
  8. ^ Nilsson (1923)[10] compares the stories told by Hellenes of the bronze Molech at Carthage.[16]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Talos". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. ^ a b Sparkes, Brian (1996). The Red and the Black: Studies in Greek pottery. Routledge. p. 124. ISBN 0-415-12661-4, ISBN 978-0-415-12661-8
  3. ^ Robertson, M. (1977). "The death of Talos". Journal of Hellenic Studies. 97: 158–160, esp. 159. doi:10.2307/631029. JSTOR 631029.
  4. ^ Mayor, Adrienne (2018). Gods and Robots : Myths, machines, and ancient dreams of technology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 7–30. doi:10.2307/j.ctvc779xn.
  5. ^ (pseudo-)Apollodorus. Bibliothēkē Βιβλιοθήκη [Library]. 1.9.26.
  6. ^ a b Pseudo-Apollodorus. Bibliothēkē Βιβλιοθήκη [Library]. 1.9.26; this is the source of the later impression that Talos was an automaton.
  7. ^ a b Apollonius of Rhodes (2007). Green, Peter (ed.). The Argonautika: Apollonios Rhodios. Translated by Green, Peter. pp. 355 ff, notes to 4:1638.
  8. ^ Hesychii, Alexandrini (1861). Alberti, Johannes (ed.). Lexicon. Leiden.
  9. ^ Kerenyi, Karl (1951). The Gods of the Greeks. p. 110.
  10. ^ a b Nilsson, M.P. (1923). "Fire-festivals in ancient Greece". The Journal of Hellenic Studies. 43 (2): 144–148, esp. 148.
  11. ^ Cook, A.B. (June 1964). Zeus: God of the bright sky. A Study of Ancient Religion. I. Biblo-Moser. pp. 729 ff. ISBN 978-081960148-3.
  12. ^ Howe, Thalia Phillies (October 1957). "Sophokles, Mikon, and the Argonauts". American Journal of Archaeology. 61 (4): 341–350, esp. 347 and notes.
  13. ^ de Mirmont, H. de la Ville (1892). Apollonios de Rhodes: les Argonautiques: traduction française suivie de notes critiques. Paris, FR & Bordeaux, FR. p. 402.
  14. ^ Bruce, J. Douglas (April 1913). "Human automata in classical tradition and Mediaeval romance". Modern Philology. 10 (4): 511–526, esp. 513 and footnote.
  15. ^ Pausanias. Description of Greece. VIII 53.2–5.
  16. ^ "sigma 124". Suda.
  17. ^ a b Cook, A.B. (1914). Zeus. vil. I p 723 ff.
  18. ^ Graves (1955) The Greek Myths §92.8 .

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