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I've been playing "The Talos Principle". In it, Talos is presented as a symbolic representation of an intelligent artificial being (a robot, if you're feeling less pretentious). The bronze giant from the Argonautica is certainly a reasonable symbol to choose for the themes of the game. However, is this representation, of an construct with human-like intelligence, accurate, with regards to the mythology?

I suppose I'm asking two questions in a sense:

  • Is he artificial? (that is, not a member of some ancient natural race of metal giants, for instance)

  • Is he intelligent? He is presented as having wishes and desires of his own, and at one point this very quality is said to have been the cause of his downfall.

    May we not then say that Talos, though created as a machine or a toy, had all the essential properties of a man? He moved of his own volition. He spoke and could be spoken to, had wishes and desires. Indeed in the tale of the Argonauts, that was the cause of his downfall.

    Attributed in game to "Straton of Stageira", who is fictional.

    What does that refer to?

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    A similar concept would be the golem. They aren't usually smart, but they obey orders and serve their masters loyally. – user93 Jun 23 '15 at 20:18
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The more popular version of the Talos story can be found in the Argonautica. In it, Talos was an automaton, a self operating machine. He was forged by Hephaistos and was tasked by Zeus to guard Europa's hideout in mount Dikti (in Crete):

And Talos, the man of bronze, as he broke off rocks from the hard cliff, stayed them from fastening hawsers to the shore, when they came to the roadstead of Dicte's haven. He was of the stock of bronze, of the men sprung from ash-trees, the last left among the sons of the gods; and the son of Cronos gave him to Europa to be the warder of Crete and to stride round the island thrice a day with his feet of bronze. Now in all the rest of his body and limbs was he fashioned of bronze and invulnerable; but beneath the sinew by his ankle was a blood-red vein; and this, with its issues of life and death, was covered by a thin skin. So the heroes, though outworn with toil, quickly backed their ship from the land in sore dismay.

Source: The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Argonautica, by Apollonius Rhodius

Pseudo-Apollodorus' version differs a bit; Talos is tasked by king Minos to patrol Crete, and he might be shaped like a bull:

Putting to sea from there, they were hindered from touching at Crete by Talos. Some say that he was a man of the Brazen Race, others that he was given to Minos by Hephaestus; he was a brazen man, but some say that he was a bull. He had a single vein extending from his neck to his ankles, and a bronze nail was rammed home at the end of the vein. This Talos kept guard, running round the island thrice every day; wherefore, when he saw the Argo standing inshore, he pelted it as usual with stones. His death was brought about by the wiles of Medea, whether, as some say, she drove him mad by drugs, or, as others say, she promised to make him immortal and then drew out the nail, so that all the ichor gushed out and he died. But some say that Poeas shot him dead in the ankle.

Source: Book 1, Apollodorus, Library, Sir James George Frazer, Ed.

Regardless of these differences Talos doesn't appear to be intelligent in either version. He is following instructions mechanically, similarly to Hephaistos' other automatons (e.g. the Khalkotauroi or the Cabeirian Horses).


As a sidenote, these coins from Phaistos tell us the Cretans thought Talos had wings.

coins depicting Talos with wings

Unfortunately a tale of a flying Talos didn't survive.

  • Thank you. Loaded up the game to get the quote I was thinking of about Talos having intelligence. Not that I imagine it changes anything about your answer, but as a point of interest. – femtoRgon Jun 23 '15 at 3:27
  • ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​@femtoRgon Hm, I guess it could be argued that Talos is somewhat intelligent for a machine. His sensory abilities are exceptional, which means he is capable of at least basic pattern recognition. And of course he is capable of taking appropriate action when a threat is detected. That said, I don't know any version of the legend where Talos speaks. As for the cause of his downfall, see: How and why was Talos killed? – yannis Jun 23 '15 at 3:48
  • Definitely seems to me that Apollodorus was the source in use here. If we accept him being created by Hephaestus, and that he was brought low after Medea promised him immortality (which carries some implication of his independent desires and capacity for speech), and ignore all the rest of it, then I think that establishes the Talos that the "Straton of Stageira" quote if referring to. – femtoRgon Jun 23 '15 at 19:19
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    @femtoRgon Apollodorus is probably the source, yes. While the Argonautica is the more famous story, Apollodorus Library, being a compendium of myths, is where I'd look first to get the basis of a constructed quote. Btw "Straton of Stageira" is probably a reference to Aristotle: Stageira was his birthplace (and all its known for), and Stratonikeia (Stratoni today) was the closest city to Stageira. – yannis Jun 24 '15 at 6:53
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No. The original myths are based more on ideas of "divine magic" as an explanation for the existence of various characters, rather than scientific logic as we know it today. So the explanation for Talos, to the ancient Greek reader, would have been that he was a bronze statue endowed by the gods with a living soul & they would have considered him a man, but with a body of bronze instead of flesh, & not a machine at all.

The idea of Talos as a machine, intelligent or otherwise, is a only modern one, influenced by modern scientific logic & inventions, as well as pop culture depictions of "robots", "cyborgs", etc.

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