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Talos: The Giant Mythological Robot Protecting Crete

Talos the Ancient Greek Robot
The death of the ancient Greek robot Talos as depicted on a 5th century BC vase now displayed in Jatta Archaeological Museum, Italy. Credit: Forzaruvo94/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

The legend of Talos, the ancient Greek robot, can be given an impressive distinction: it birthed the first humanoid robot in history. The myth of the bronze giant and protector of Minoan Crete is relevant even to this day.

Ancient Greek robot

In a modern world obsessed with technology, it might be surprising to know the first humanoid robot was to be found in ancient Greece. He was not born but was made—either by Zeus himself, the craftsman Daidalos, or Hephaestus, the god of fire and iron, on the order of Zeus, according to ancient legend.

Talos Ancient Greek Robot
The ancient Greek robot as portrayed on a Cretan coin from around 300 BC. Credit: Jastrow /Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

In a coin found in the Minoan palace of Phaistos, Talos is portrayed in the nude, like most gods and warriors, and as a young man with wings. Myth has it that the wings were to give him the speed to circle the whole of Crete three times a day.

Talos’ body was made of bronze. He had one single vein that gave him life, starting from the neck and ending in his ankles. Instead of blood, however, molten metal flowed in his veins. In his ankle, a bronze nail acted as a stopper to retain this life-giving liquid.

Protector of Crete

Talos’ job was to protect Crete from outside attacks. He would not allow ships to approach the island, hurling giant rocks at potential invaders. Invaders at the time would have included pirates, as well as other assorted enemies of the Minoans.

If an enemy managed to land on the island, Talos’ body would heat up into a glow, and he would kill the invader with a fatal embrace. Myth has it that after killing Crete’s enemies, the ancient Greek robot would break into sarcastic laughter.

Talos did not only protect Crete from outside enemies but also its citizens from all kinds of injustice that might befall them. He would tour Cretan villages three times annually, carrying bronze plates inscribed with divinely-inspired laws on his back. Their purpose was to ensure these laws were observed in the province.

The bronze hero symbolizes the technological development in metallurgy in the prehistoric Minoan years. Metallurgy had reached such a high level that Minoans created a bronze superhero to protect them using their imagination and knowledge of metal.

Another very important property of Talos was that he was a servant of justice, much like today’s superheroes, such as Iron Man, revealing the importance ancient Cretans attached to justice.

Talos imagined in film

Talos, the ancient Greek robot, gained notoriety in modernity due to the movie industry. Brought to life in the 1963 film production Jason and the Argonauts, he was portrayed as 70 meters (230 feet) tall and a fearsome mechanized warrior.

The film is based on the tale of Jason and the Golden Fleece, wherein the Argo approaches Crete after obtaining the fleece. Talos attempted to keep the Argo far from Crete by throwing boulders at it, doing his job well as protector of the island.

A video excerpt from the 1963 film follows.

A TED-Ed talk on the myth of Talos by Adrienne Mayor is shown below:

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