GODS & ROBOTS cover“The artistic decision to show Prometheus constructing the first human starting with the bone structure likens the Titan to a sculptor who constructs a statue upon a model skeleton. Kanaboi, skeletal forms, usually of wood, were used by ancient sculptors as the internal core around which they would attach clay, wax, or plaster in the first states of creating statues….

In all the variants of the Prometheus creation myth, the realistic forms of humans become the reality they portray: they become real men and women. This paradoxical perspective taps into the timeless idea that humans are somehow automata of the gods. The almost subconscious fear that we could be soulless machines manipulated by other powers poses a profound philosophical conundrum that has been pondered since ancient times: If we are the creations of the gods or unknown forces, how can we have self-identity, agency, and free will?’ – “Pygmalion and Prometheus”

‘The passages about the tripods and the automatically opening gates of Olympus (Iliad 5.749 and 18.376) are the earliest appearances of the ancient Greek word…automaton, “acting of one’s own will.” In the fourth century BC, Aristotle quoted the Homeric verse and referred to the tripod-carts as automata… Among the thaumata, “wonders,” were tripodes de automatatoi and automated cupbearers that attended royal banquets. As many modern historians have remarked the self-moving tripods serving the Olympian gods calls to mind modern self-propelled, laborsaving machines, driverless cars, and military-industrial robots. Homer’s myth reminds us that the impulse to “automate” is extremely ancient.

The tripods created by the blacksmith god were mindless machines. But Hephaestus also fabricated wondrous automata in the shape of human beings with special abilities. One example appears in a fragment of a lost poem by Pindar. The scrap of poetry tells how Hephaestus made a bronze temple for Apollo, god of music, at Delphi. The pediment of the temple was graced by the Keledones Chryseai, “Golden Charmers,” six golden statues of women who could sing. In the second century AD, the Greek traveler Pausanias (10.5.12) investigated the existence of the singing statues. He visited the site but learned that the bronze temple and the statues had long ago either toppled into a chasm during an earthquake or melted in a fire.

… “Hephaestus’s Golden Maidens set the standard for artificial life,” remarks a scholar of classical and modern fiction. With “human intelligence and bodies indistinguishable from the real thing,” the Golden Maidens are exceptional “divine artifacts in that they are composed of metal but have human-like abilities.” The mythic gold helpers seem to presage modern notions of thought-controlled machines and AI. Like other automata made by Hephaestus, however, their inner workings are cryptic “black boxes.”’ – “Hephaestus.”


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On Reading the Talos Myth:

Talos was said to have been created by Hephaestus, killed by Medea’s knowledge. She knew to take out a bolt at his foot, causing him to die similarly to Achilles (the killing machine of The Iliad).

One account claims that Talos was actually a bull and not a humanoid figure, but, if we know anything about robots, it is that they can sometimes transform (so we won’t hold that as discrepancy):

On Talos, Adrienne Mayor, author of Gods and Robots, has this to say:

‘The “imaginary significance” of automata like Talos ‘in the premodern period had little to do with mechanistic ideas,” asserts Kang, who claims that Talos was “not a mechanical being but very much a living creature.” But ancient sources describe Talos as “made, not Born.” As we saw, Talos’s internal anatomy and movements were explained through mechanistic concepts, and this was echoed in ancient artistic depictions: What living creature has a metallic body and nonblood circulatory system sealed with a bolt? Moreover, the mythic accounts and fifth-century BC artworks illustrating the destruction of Talos show that his demised required technology, specifically the removal of the bolt.’ – Adrienne Mayor, “The Robot and the Witch.”

We have been asked in the past why Talos isn’t one of the Automata in the Circo del Herrero / The Blacksmith’s Circus Series. We had attempted to answer it here, but want to note that just like new phones, even “made, not-borns” can get an upgrade. Not all technology serves the same purpose or is powered the same. The Automata in The Automation do not have bolts in their ankles that can spill “nonblood.” They’ve a much sleeker design. They are an exclusive line of tech for a specific purpose that does not disregard previous iterations, but improves upon them.

Talos’s purpose was to protect Europa, throwing stones at any who came near. Zeus, in the form of a bull, kidnapped her and gave her Talos, so it is fitting that the robot would also have a bull form. If I had written the myth, perhaps it would have been Talos who kidnapped her for Zeus and held her captive. Anyone doing Zeus’s bidding would be an extension/avatar of Zeus himself, so not much recorded myth would be undermined except the fact the bull was said to be white. But what is color when the Greeks didn’t even have blue?

This would not be the only example of a bull being used “in stead” of someone else. It is a common motif. Daedalus’s bull for Pasiphae, mother of the Minotaur (through bestiality) is one, the Brazen Bull, perhaps, another.

What’s most interesting to me about Talos is how he is depicted in imagery. In the two most famous of his images, he has genitals. The Automation’s Automata do not so much have full genitals (read: sex), but they do have gender. Infertile they may be, I wonder if Talos was? Or are gentials, here, merely an expression of gender for the ancients (clothes lacking as indicators – pun intended)? Better yet, what if they are a symbol that reproduction can mean more than biological offspring? Aren’t all robots replicable in theory? That hardly seems unproductive to me.

By G.B. Gabbler

On Mythic Robots:

‘With a few exceptions, in the myths as they have survived from antiquity, the inner workings and power sources of automata are not described but left to our imagination. In effect, this nontransparency renders the divinely crafted contrivances analogous to what we call “black box” technology, machines whose interior working are mysterious. Arthur C. Clarke’s famous dictum comes to mind: the more advanced the technology, the more it seems like magic. Ironically, in modern technolculture, most people are at a loss to explain how the appliances of their daily life,  fro smartphones and laptops to automobiles, actually work, not to mention nuclear submarines or rockets. We know these are manufactured artifacts, designed by ingenious inventors and assembled in factories, but they might as well be magic. It is often remarked that human intelligence itself is kin of a  black box. And we are now entering a new level of pervasive black box technology: machine learning soon will allow Artificial Intelligence entities to amass, select, and interpret massive sets of data to make decisions and act on their own, with no human oversight or understanding go the process… In a way, we will come full circle to the earliest myths about awesome, inscrutable artificial life and biotechne.’  – Adriene Mayor, “Made, Not Born.”


BookTuber Tuesday – Adrienne Mayor ‘Gods and Robots’

“When a book is weird in all the right ways but it’s also just wtf weird”

I’m not sure where it’s headed myself because I’ve barely seen volume 3. – Gabs