Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines, and Ancient Dreams of Technology by Adrienne Mayor reviewed

Peter Stothard:

Among the myths of Ancient Greece the Cyclops has become forever famous, the Talos not so much. While both were monsters who hurled giant boulders at Mediterranean shipping, the Cyclops, who attacked Odysseus on his way home from Troy was a monster like us, the son of a god, an eater, a drinker, a sub-human with feelings. The Talos was more alien, by some accounts a mere machine, manufactured in metal by a god and pre-programmed only to sink ships and roast invaders alive, a cross between a Cruise missile launcher and an automatic oven.

Talos began its existence just as early as the Cyclops. But it was only described with drama in the epic poem the Argonautica, by Apollonius of Rhodes some 500 years later. Homer’s readers have always been the more numerous. Only a few fans now read how Jason’s Argonauts overcame Talos with the help of the princess Medea, using thought-rays and her knowledge of Talos’s one weak mechanical spot.

In Gods and Robots, Adrienne Mayor, an American historian best known for her work on Amazons, aims to rescue the neglected automata of antiquity from the fleshy allure of goddesses and nymphs. For anyone probing the history of biotechnology and artificial intelligence, she suggests that Talos, defender of Crete for the famed King Minos, should be the star of Chapter One.