Talos - The First Robot in History

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen1, Jan 5, 2019.

  1. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Dear friends!

    This article too I have posted on Forum Ancient Coins before. But because I think that Talos is unknown for most collectors I want to post it here again.

    The coin:

    Crete, Phaistos, 3rd c. BC
    AE 17, 3.70g, 17.1mm, 225°
    obv. Talos, winged, advancing r., hurling stone in raised r. hand, holding another in l. hand
    rev. Hound on the scent to r.
    ΦΑΙΣ / ΤΙΩΝ in 2 lines, beginning above, ending in ex.
    ref. Svoronos Crète 74; SNG Copenhagen 520; BMC Crete p. 64, 27-28
    rare, F, a bit rough
    Talos was a bronze man at the island of Crete. As giant he was described only by Orpheus in his Argonautika. He was a gift of Zeus to Europa when he has abducted her from Sidon, together with a bronze dog and other magical things, to protect her. He lived in the cave of Melidoni and it was his task to walk round the shores of the island and keep them free of pirates and invaders. Agressors he killed from a distance by hurling stones. In Crete he was depicted as young man, with wings, probably to show his great velocity.

    There is another story too that he was created by Hephaistos in Sardinia (Simonides) and handed over to Minos as a present. Minos, Rhadamanthys and Sarpedon were the three children that were born by Europa to Zeus. Later on he has introduced the boy's love in Crete, has been the lover of Rhadamanthys and was together with him a guardian of Justice (Ibykos).

    Apollodor, author of the Bibliotheka, suggested, that the bronze nature of Talos shows, that he could have been a survivor of Hesiod's mythical Bronze Age. Lukian, the satirist, has mocked about that.

    When the Argonauts under Jason and Medea came to Crete on the voyage to the Golden Fleece came, he was throwing stones on their ship, the Argo, as usual. They can't come ashore until Medea, who has magic forces, as you know, has made him innoxious. Talos owned only a single blood vessel, running from his neck down to his ankles. There the vessel was closed by a bronze nail. On Medea's advice - may be that she has made him mad by her evil glance or has promised him immortality - he removed this nail and his Ιχωρ (Ichor) poured out like melted lead (Apollod.; Apoll. Rhod. ). So Talos died. Other authors report that it was Poias, father of Philoktetes, who has shot an arrow in his heel and he died like Achilles.

    Excursion: Blood Circulation
    Ichor was a colourless or golden liquid flowing in the vessels of gods and immortals, the very blood of gods. It was hold as poisonous for mortals so that they die immediately after contact. Homer (Ilias 5) describes it as dark or black. The Giants should have possessed it too (Strabo). It's etymology is unclear. Originally it was synonomical with Αιμα (Haima, Greek blood).
    In ancient times the blood circulation was unknown. Because after death normally no blood is found in the arteries, they were hold for channels for the essential pneuma, the breath of life. Arteria is folk-etymological "air vessel". The mighty Aorta was hold for the suspension of the heart. Hippokrates (460-c.370 BC) has described by Aorta the Trachea with the 2 main bronchi, from which the 2 lungs were hanging down. Since Aristoteles (384-322) it was the main artery like today.

    It was the British physician and anatomist William Harvey (1578-1657) who published in 1628 his famous work "De Moti Cordis", in which he described the blood circulation and became the founder of physiology. How and in which way the blood comes from the arteries into the veins first the Italian Marcello Malpighi (1628-1694) could show with the aid of a microscope by which he discovered the capillaries in 1661.

    The bronze dog:
    The bronze dog on the reverse of the coin was initially a companion of Talos and helped him to find intruders. After the death of Talos he became the guardian of the sanctuary of Zeus in Crete. But there was a golden dog too, who has guarded Amaltheia, the goat which has brought up the little Zeus, and who became later the guardian of the temple of Zeus. Anyway this dog was stolen by Pandareus. Pandareus was the example of a prankster who was able to cheat even Zeus himself. He took the dog to the mountain of Sipylos and handed him to Tantalos for safekeeping. Whe he wants to take him back Tantalos swore that he never have had a dog. As punishment Zeus throw the Sipylos over him. Pandareos was transformed into a stone.

    Ταλως (Talos) is the old name for the Cretan sun god. Αλως (Halos, beginning with digamma) = Ηλιος (Helios, beginning with spiritus asper). This derivation matches the regular intervals of his circuits arround the island, typically for the course of the sun.

    The cult of Talos is known only from coins of Phaistos. Roscher writes: But one should not look at the south of Crete alone. He seems to have been a mountain god and on the highest mountain of the Taygetos the top was sacred to Helios, the sun god. That Talos was throwing stones is known as the most archaic kind of defence and is originated from the times of the heroes.
    Referring to Plato, he was the guardian of laws. Three times a year he went through the villages of Crete and proclaimed the laws of Minos, which were laid down on bronze plates. Rhadamanthys was responsible for the cities, Talos for the villages. Three times a year matches the 3 Greek seasons where the autumn was not known.

    Altogether the reports about Talos are very vague. More precise details are known only from his death. This confirms the opinion that his mythology belongs to a an older, pre-Greek time. In Attika for instance he has never taken root. And the tradition which connects him with Sardinia doesn't match well his role as guardian in Crete. Possibly it was the attempt to explain the "sardonic laughter" that has made difficulties already to the ancients. Similar can be seen his genealogy which made him the son of Kreas and so the father of Rhadamanthys.

    It is reported that he embraced his victims after he has made his body red-hot; dying they (or he?) show the σαρδανικος γελως called distorted grin (Lat. risus sardonicus = sardonic laughter), meaning a painful grin. It is told that in Sardinia (Sardoni = inhabitants of Sardinia) in this way delinquents and old people were killed. Today it is suggested that it was the poison of the hemlock water dropwort (Oenanthe crocata) by which they were killed and which caused a spasm of the facial muscles. In medicine the risus sardonicus is the typical symptom of tetanus.

    The death by a red-hot bronze figure is reported too for Baal and the Canaanite moloch whose cult has spread out to Carthago. That speaks for an originally oriental cult with human sacrifice, a cult that later was replaced by the cult of helios. An equivalent process we know of the anthropophagic cult of Kronos which was replaced by the milder cult of Zeus. Then the bronze nature of Talos is not ascribed to his invulnerability but rather to the bright glance of the bronze. The relation of Talos to Helios is caused not only etymologically but has remained too in Zeus Tallaios, who was venerated in Crete and was nothing else as the Cretan sun god. Orientally is surely the ambiguity ofv the sun, that on one side is responsible for the fertility of the vegetation, but on the other side by its consumptive ardour this vegetation destroyed.

    Ranke-Graves writes, that it is too little noted that in Bronze Age each tool, each weapon and each object of utility has been ascibed magical attributes, and that the smith in that time was seen as a kind of magician with magical forces. In that way he was linked to poets and physicians. Often it is told that they were lamed. We know that from Hephaistos or Daidalos. Possibly this was done intentionally to prevent running away, as it is told for Weland the Smith in the Saga of Thidrek.
    Pauly writes: Talos seems to be the imagination of a robot which is playing with the possibilities and dangers of bronze casting. I think that is very interesting and leads me relaxed to my next excursion "Man and Machine", which will come soon.

    History of art:
    There are only few descriptions of Talos in ancient times. Strictly speaking I have found only one! This too is an indication that the mythology of Talos is pre-Greek. I have added:

    (1) The red-figured vase painting of the so-called Talos-painter on an Apulian velute krater, c.400-390 BC, today in the National Archaeological Museum Jatta in Ruvo di Puglia, Italy.
    The front shows Talos, slain by the magician Medea. The Dioscures are sitting on their
    horses, holding his arms, Poseidon and Amphitrite (upper r. corner) are witnesses.

    L6_1Talos Jatta.jpg

    (2) A picture of Sybil Tawse from the book "Stories of Gods and Heroes", 1920, by Thomas Bulfinch. Sybil Tawse (1886-1971) was at that time a famous illustrator of the so-called golden age of illustration at the begin of the 20th century.

    Medeia und Talus Tawse Sybil.jpg

    (3) A pic of the cave of Melidoni, as shown to tourists today. This cave is a national symbol too for the resistance of the Greek against Turkish occupation. In 1824 in this cave aspyxiated 340 inhabitants and 30 Cretan partisans by fire, laid by the Turks, because they denied to surrender.


    (1) Apollodor, Bibliotheka
    (2) Apollonius Rhodios, Argonautika
    (3) Hesiod
    (4) Hesychios, Lexikon
    (5) Homer, Ilias
    (6) Lukian
    (7) Orpheus, Argonautika (actually published by J. M. Gesner, Leipzig 1764)
    (8) Pausanias, Voyages through Greece
    (9) Strabo, Geographika
    (10) Suda (Byzantinisches Lexikon)
    (11) Thidrekssaga

    Secondary literature:
    (1) Der Kleine Pauly, Lexikon der Antike in 5 Bänden, dtv 1979
    (2) Benjamin Hederich, Gründliches mythologisches Lexikon, 1770 (Reprint), auch online
    (3) Robert von Ranke-Graves, Griechische Mythologie, rororo 2003
    (4) Karl Kerenyi, Die Mythologie der Griechen, Band II, Die Heroen-Geschichten, dtv 1966
    (5) Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher, Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Literatur, 1884-1890, auch online
    (6) Voss-Herlinger, Taschenbuch der Anatomie, Gustav Fischer Stuttgart 1963

    (1) daratheodoraart.com/ (Sybil Tawse)
    (2) theoi.com
    (3) Wikipedia

    Excursion: Man and Machine

    Pauly has written: Talos seems to be the imagination of a robot which is playing with the possibilities and dangers of bronze casting. We see that already in ancient times there were people that have had a critical look at the progress. That reminds me immediately of the Chinese story of Zhuangzi (365-290 BC) about the dangers of machines which I want to share.
    In his book "Zhuangzi", probably the most important work of Daoism he writes:
    When Dsi Gung came through the region north of the Han river he saw a man in his vegetable garden. For watering he had digged ditches. He went down himself into the well and brought up in his arms a vessel with water that he poured out. He laboured extremely and achieved so little.
    Dsi Gung said: "There is a device with that you can water hundred ditches a day. Do you like to use it?"
    The gardener stood up and said: "And what should that be?" Dsi Gung said: "You take a wooden lever arm that is weightened behind and light at the front. In this way you can scoop water so that it is bubbling extremely well. It is called a draw well."
    There his anger was writ large in his face and he said: "I have heard my teacher saying: If somebody uses a machine he is running all his affairs like a machine; who is running his affairs like a machine will have got a machine heart. But if somebody has a machine heart in his breast he looses the pure simplicity. Who has lost his pure simplicity will be uncertain in his emotions. Uncertainty of emotions does not get along well with the true mind. It is not that I don't know such things but I am ashamed of using them."

    You can laugh at that. Especially because it was only about a draw well and the true mind. And where we were today with our civilization (not culture!) if the machine breakers in England at the beginning of the industrialisation would have succeeded, or if the Silesian weavers in 1844 would have stopped the modern weaving looms?

    kaethe kollwitz Weberzug_1.jpg
    We see that progressophobia has existed all the way. The problem in that times was that the industrial progress was not cushioned socially and has led to pauperism what is not so today at least in our countries.
    But today the problem is not the social cushion of the technical progress but much more: It is the dismissing of dignity of man (Precht). It is the uncritical faith in progress that threatens not only us but the whole world.

    One of the first important critics was Joseph Weizenbaum, Co-founder and developer of artificial intelligence at the MIT. He writes that the governmental big computers couldn't be serviced today because nobody has the overview About their inner working after so many years. They are a big black box especially if interconnected with each other. Turning a adjusting screw has effects that can't be foreseen in its entirety. And at the peak of the Cold War these monsters were provided to make the decision between war and piece automatically, because of the short advance warning time and because the human mechnisms of decision making have become too long. Thankfully the USA have said goodbye to this horror idea.

    In December 2018 German chancellor Angela Merkel had to turn back of her way to the G20 summit in Buenos Aires because the entire electronic of her aeroplane has been fallen out. A speaker of the Bundeswehr (German Army) explained in tv news: "It was just the classical complete failure of one electronical device that regulary can happen. But this occurs only in under 2 percent of flights and we have had all under control." I can say only: Great!

    But when we speak about self-driving cars we have a dilemma that we didn't have before: How shall the car (the algorithm) decide when there is only one alternative: to run somebody over? The little child or better the old lady, or better the little child than 5 ladies? I hope you see what I mean. It's a question of ethics. And ethics is not computable. There is no algorithm. All human beings are equally, Nobody is less worthy. The German philosopher Precht: To program artificial intelligence how it shall act in ethical borderline cases is an attack against the dignity of man.
    Stephen Hawking: Artificial intelligence can become the worst occurence of mankind.

    Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad!

    (1) Daoism beside Confucianism and Buddhism is one of "The Three Teachings", that have shaped China until today. Dao means such as "the right way". Its meaning is
    especially in its ethics.
    (2) Dilemma: In logics a kind of syllogism in which the opponent is trapped indepentedly of his decision (double mill). In this way too a situation with 2 possibilities which both lead to an unwanted outcome. Hopelessness.

    I have added:
    (1) The pic of a draw mill from Kiung valley, Khakassia, Siberia (Autor: Dr. A.Hugentobler)
    (2) Käthe Kollwitz "Weberzug", aus "Ein Weberaufstand", 1893/97, Käthe Kollwitz Museum, Cologne

    (1) Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Flight to Arras
    (2) Stephen Hawking, The Dangers of Artificial Intellligence (Internet)
    (3) Aldous Huxley, Brave new world
    (4) Richard David Precht, Maschinen ohne Moral, Spiegel Nr.48, 24.11.18
    (5) Sophokles, Antigone
    (6) Joseph Weizenbaum, Computer Power and Human Reason
    (7) Joseph Weizenbaum, Kurs auf den Eisberg, Piper 1987
    (8) Wikipedia

    Best regards
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 5, 2019
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  3. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus Supporter

    A wonderful writeup. Thanks for posting this here. I had never heard of Talos.
    Ryro and Hookman like this.
  4. Ryro

    Ryro You'll never be lovelier than you are now... Supporter

    Poor Talos:( Twas beauty killed the beast.:kiss:
    Great write up, wonderful art and fantastic coin! Thanks so much for sharing!
    Hookman likes this.
  5. Hookman

    Hookman Well-Known Member

    Ryro likes this.
  6. paddyman98

    paddyman98 No Common Cents! Supporter

    @Jochen A little off topic but I am into Japanese Anime and there is one story of a Super Robot called Mazinkaiser, a spin-off to Mazinger Z, who battles ancient evil robots called Titans that were discovered on a Greek Island!
    I wonder if the creator of this Anime was inspired by the story of Talos? :wideyed:
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2019
    Bayern and Hookman like this.
  7. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Another fabulous post! Thanks, Jochen :).
  8. chrsmat71

    chrsmat71 I LIKE TURTLES! Supporter

  9. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Thank you all for your comments.

  10. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    Great article, Jochen, thanks for sharing it.

    I have a vivid mental image of Talos from my childhood thanks to Ray Harryhausen's 1963 classic Jason and the Argonauts. The death of Talos from the movie...

  11. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    As I was reading the article, this movie from my childhood was in my head also!

    Excellent writeup @Jochen and great coin! I want one too!
  12. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the hint to "Jason and the Argonauts". I have met Ray Harryhausen 2008 on the Salo del Comic in Barcelona where I got a personal dedication.

    Theodosius and zumbly like this.
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