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

BookTuber Tuesday – Adrienne Mayor ‘Gods and Robots’

GABBLER RECOMMENDS: ‘A Quiet Hero’s Journey: Processing Trauma in Fantasy’ by Leah Schnelbach

‘The more I thought about these two books the more I saw how unique they were in their approach to storytelling. Rather than a typical quest arc, or bildungsroman, or boarding school tale, or even picaresque, what struck me about both books is that they center trauma and grief as their true subjects. Each novel mines the inner life of an introvert who has been forced into a terrible situation, and then each protagonist is given the page space to quietly, honestly, process their trauma and begin to recover.

In much the same way, Among Others uses its structure to tell a shadow story of Mori’s recovery. Walton’s story unfolds as a series of dated diary entries, so we know that the book’s prologue shows us a healthy and comparatively happy pair of twins in 1975, before skipping up to 1976 and reintroducing us to an older, shattered Mori, alone and furious. The entries cover the first three years of Mori’s new life, from 1976 until 1980, and the thing that comes through constantly is pain.

Among Others could have been a book about a girl fighting her evil mother with magic, and it could have been a standard, “nerdy girl finds unlikely friendships at boarding school”-type story. Instead, it’s about pain. It’s about what constant physical pain does to the human mind, and how to build up defenses against it.

…A book that could have just been a boarding school story has become a true bildungsroman, as Mori has to decide who she is, and who she wants to become.

These two novels show a different path for fantasy writing than the usual quest or heist tale. Instead they focus on tiny, quiet pockets of time—moments spent with a book, or in meditation—and look at how those moments can ripple out into a personality. They give us two very different characters who are, in the end, defined by their desire for quiet and stillness, defined by their own choices rather than the violence that was done to them. Rather than following their expected paths to become Vengeful Emperor or Murderous Witch, they draw on their inner lives to grow into real complex adults, and use their experience of trauma to embrace lives of empathy.


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To regender the monomyth:

“Le Guin believes in the ‘necessity of myth for culture’ – for our culture – yet she recognized that traditional myth and traditional definitions of myth, such as Jung’s and Campbell’s, have excluded women as speaking subjects, as heroes, as active – and that this exclusion has failed us. Her ow ‘poetic fabulations’ she offers as ‘part of the process of developing a new mythology for the future.’…Le Guin says myth uses her to reveal its truth, and through her own revisioning and reimagining she revitalizes myth to contain its essential truths and the contemporary reinterpretations of such truths. Her use of myth becomes rhetorical as she argues for an alternative way of seeing, thinking and being that connects rather than separates, includes rather than excludes, gives voice rather than silences.

It is worth noting here that the language used by both Jung and Campbell indicates the universality of the myth and its psychological parallel. Gender is not mentioned, but as Le Guin notes in Earthsea Revisioned, the hero-tale, a human universal, is male-gendered: ‘The hero is a man.’ After all, until farily recently, when a writer wrote of anything that was meant to be a human universal, the gender pronoun used to include everyone was male. And as the hero’s quest is typically a public event and on a large scale, little attention, if any, was paid to the small and the personal and the feminine.” …As an ideal, the quest becomes an assumed truth about the human experience of coming of age. Le Guin questions this assumption in her examination of the myth and expands its paradigm to include other kinds of quests, other ways to come of age, particularly female ways.

And it is the language of fantasy and myth – expressed in the monomyth – that gives us the exterior shape to these journeys. But Le Guin is not simply retelling – she is reimagining the monomyth: by asserting that gender is a force in the quest, by  making the personal and the public connect, by giving value to the small, the private, the feminine. The essential elements are all there, the journey, the quest and the hero, but as her reimagining subverts and inverts these elements, the monomyth becomes rhetorical. Or, in other words, to regender the myth, to leave it open-ended and to give value to both personal and private deeds as well as public ones, is to argue what has been changed is a s much of worth as what has been taken out.”

Communities of the Heart: The Rhetoric of Myth in the Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin by Warren G. Rochelle