BookTuber Tuesday – Adrienne Mayor ‘Gods and Robots’

On Ovid’s Metamorphoses:

“It is hard to be sure how much Ovid is in control of his own effects. Is it that he cannot resist a clever turn of phrase, as some readers already thought in antiquity? Or is it the ethos of the poem that cheerfulness should keep breaking in? But perhaps this uncertainty is part of the tease.

The Metamorphoses was very widely read in the Middle Ages and after, and it thus became for many centuries Europe’s chief source for classical mythology: Ovid’s, essentially, are the gods who crowd those Renaissance canvases and sprawl across those Baroque ceilings. It is easy, therefore, to get the impression that classical mythology was normally like this, but it was no. Ovid’s way of handling the gods was new. We have seen Aristophanes making fun of them, but still with the sense that at the back of it all that they are real and powerful beings. Ovid turns them into counters in a game’ he invites the reader, as a sophisticate like himself, to look down upon them, a little as Theocritus invited his friend to look down on Polyphemus, but with less human sympathy. The game is to suck all the numen out of them. An Olympian god is turned into an awkwardly boastful swain, a goddess into a naive ingenue.

Some of the humour is cheerfully broad. When Daphne is fleeing from Apollo, he suggests to her that if she runs more slowly he will pursue more slowly too; it is as though the pursuit were a game played for the reader’s amusement. (Ovid also notices that she looks even prettier in flight.) Apollo also boasts of the important places where is is worshiped and points out that Jupiter is his father. Jupiter himself, courting the maiden Io, observes that he is not one of your plebeian gods but the one who holds the sceptre and launches the thunderbolts. Sometimes the humour is slyer: when one of the nymphs, ravished by a god, becomes pregnant, the virgin goddess Diana is too innocent to realize what has happened. Ovid adds wryly, ‘The nymphs are said to have noticed.’

His account of Daedalus and Icarus shows his narrative at its most engaging. The tale of the youth who flew too high, so that the wax of his wings melted and he fell to his death, lends itself to either of two morals: on disobedience (his father, Daedalus, had told him not to), or on pride (flying too high). For a moment it seems that Ovid will take the moral path: Daedalus tells his son to take the middle course, for whereas the sun is a danger if he goes too high, if he goes too low over the sea the spray will weigh the wings down. This sounds like a metaphor for the idea of virtue as the mean between two opposite virtues. But Ovid gestures at this possibility only to toss it aside. He makes Icarus a child, an innocent: the picture of him getting in his inventor father’s way as he works on the wings in charmingly done. And Icarus flies high because he is ‘touched with desire for heaven’; that is sheer glorious aspiration, and we can hardly resist it. But as we are preparing to shed a tear Ovid suddenly turns the tale into a just so story (why the partridge flies low to the ground), and Daedalus turns from sympathetic victim into a past murderer. There was a partridge in a bush by the place where he was burying his son; and by strange coincidence it had previously been his nephew, Partridge, whom he had killed from jealousy by throwing him from the Acropolis in Athens, which is why the bird avoids heights. The switch from heroic myth to animal fable, from sentiment to quaintness, is deliberately incongruous. It is easy to think of a smoother way of moving from Icarus to Partridge, but Ovid prefers the comic deflation.” – Classical Literature, Richard Jenkyns, 2016.


Combines two things we love: WheezyWaiter and robots in myth.

[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name – singular) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, goodreads, and Vulcan’s shit list.]

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On Pandora and animate statues:

“Moreover, the creation of Pandora, the first woman, as narrated by Hesiod…is similar to that of a statue, in as much as Hephaestus fashions her of clay, though she is nevertheless a living being. The diffusion of the belief in animate, moving statues led to the practice of restraining statues representing deities of good fortune so as to prevent them from running away…However, this habit is evidence across many cultures dominated by magical thinking. This practice was also adopted at Rome, where the feet of Saturnus’ image were fastened with woolen bonds.

The attribution of life to statues may perhaps have paved the way for the belief, attested on Thasos, in the early fifth century BCE, that statues could commit murder and other crimes and therefore be tried and convicted in courts of law; but this conclusion is far from certain. In fact, inanimate objects could also be tried under Draconian law, which was adopted at Thasos; thus the fact that a statue was tried does not necessarily imply that the statue was seen as an animate object. The topos of live statues often concerns statues of the classical and especially late-classical periods: the largest body of evidence of this pattern are the epigrams of the Greek Anthology which describe works of art, especially of the fifth and even more often of the the fourth century. The prevalence of the ‘animistic’ way of regarding works of art was due partly to a ‘theatrical mentality’ (to use J. Pollitt’s phrase), which strove to show figures as plausible equivalents to the subjects represented. It was also due to the success of late classical sculpture, whose favorite subjects were naked deities, such as Aphrodite or Eros, and whose styles gave emphasis to the smoothed surfaces of the figures. These surfaces became plausible as renderings of the skin and were made even more credible usually through the smearing of transparent wax on them. These representational trends have paved the way for what was the most daring outcome of the belief in living statues: agalmatophilia, or the desire of certain men to make love to statues.”

– Greek Magic: Ancient, Medieval and Modern. Edited by J.C.B. Petropoulos.

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Hephaestus’s Automata invade the modern world in this prose poem “novel.” Out now.

[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, and goodreads.]

On the Automatons in THE AUTOMATION

In ancient mythology, Hephaestus/Vulcan created robotic helpmates of animal, human, and monster form. Daedalus created some too, but they were never as dope-ass divine, probably. Probably.

Anyways, there were a few – about ten – of such god-forged creations that didn’t make it into classical mythology (they’re old, but not THAT old). That’s why there’s a new modern epic devoted to them here:



[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, and goodreads.]