Web Theoi
AUTOMATONES
 
Greek Name Transliteration Latin Spelling Translation
Αυτοματων
Αυτοματονες
Automatôn
Automatones
Austomaton
Automatones
Self-Acting
(automatos)
Αυτοματος
Αυτοματοι
Automatos
Automatoi
Automatus
Automati
Self-Acting
(automatos)
Talos, the bronze giant, & the Argonauts | Athenian red figure krater C4th B.C. | Jatta Museum, Ruvo
The Automaton Talos, Athenian red figure
krater C4th B.C., Jatta Museum, Ruvo

THE AUTOMATONES were metalic statues of animal, men and monsters crafted and made animate by the divine smith Hephaistos. Automatons were also manufactured by the great Athenian craftsman Daidalos.

PARENTS
Forged by the god HEPHAISTOS (various sources)

LIST OF AUTOMATONS

HIPPOI KABEIRIKOI, THE A pair of fire-breathing horses which Hephaistos cast out of bronze for his sons, the two gods known as Kabeiroi.

KAUKASIAN EAGLE A giant eagle cast out of bronze by Hephaistos to torture the chained Titan Prometheus.

KELEDONES KHRYSEAI, THE Singing maidens sculpted out of gold by Hephaistos for the first mythic shrine of Apollon at Delphoi.

KOURAI KHRYSEAI, THE A pair of beautiful golden maidens which Hephaistos sculpted out of gold to attend him in his own household.

KUONES KHRYSEOS & ARGYREOS A pair of watchdogs one crafted out of gold and the other out of silver by Hephaistos for the palace of King Alkinous of the Phaiakians.

TALOS A giant sculpted out of bronze by Hephaistos and presented to Europa Queen of Krete as a wedding present. The giant patrolled the island of Krete protecting it against pirates.

TAUROI KHALKEOI, THE Two fire-breathing bulls scupted out of bronze by Hephaistos for Aeetes King of Kolkhis. One of the hero Jason's labours was to rope these beasts to a ploughshare and sow a field with magical dragon's teeth.

TRIPODES KHRYSEOI, THE A set of twenty wheeled tripods crafted by Hephaistos out of gold for the feasts in the Olympian gods. They were endowed with self-animation and wheeled themselves in and out of the halls of the gods as they were required.


THE GOLD & SILVER DOGS OF KING ALCINOUS

Homer, Odyssey 7. 87 (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"Golden doors closed the palace in [the palace of Alkinous King of the Phaiakians], and silver posts rose above the threshold; the lintel was of silver, the door-handle was of gold. Each side of the door were gold and silver watchdogs, deathless for ever and unageing, which Hephaistos with his wit and cunning had fashioned as guardians for the great house."


THE GOLDEN TRIPODS OF OLYMPUS

Homer, Iliad 18. 371 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"[Hephaistos was] sweating as he turned here and there to his bellows busily, since he was working on twenty tripods which were to stand against the wall of his strong-founded dwelling. And he had set golden wheels underneath the base of each one so that of their own motion they could wheel into the immortal gathering, and return to his house: a wonder to look at. These were so far finished, but the elaborate ear handles were not yet on. He was forging these, and beating the chains out."


THE AUTOMOTONS OF DAEDALUS

The mythical Athenian craftsman Daidalos created statues endowed with movement. The most famous of these was the Bull of Pasiphae (see Pasiphae for more information).

Plato, Euthyphro 11d (trans. Lamb) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
"I am a more clever artist than Daidalos, inasmuch as he made only his own works move."

Plato, Meno 97d :
"Sokrates : You have not observed with attention the images of Daidalos. But perhaps there are none in your country.
Meno : What is the point of your remark?
Sokrates : That if they are not fastened up they play truant and run away; but, if fastened, they stay where they are . . . To possess one of his works which is let loose does not count for much in value; it will not stay with you any more than a runaway slave: but when fastened up it is worth a great deal, for his productions are very fine things." [N.B. Socrates pretends to believe the old legend according to which Daedalus, the first sculptor, contrived a wonderful mechanism in his statues by which they could move.]

Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 1. 16 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
"[From a description of an ancient Greek painting :] Pasiphae is in love with the bull and begs Daidalos to devise some lure for the creature; and he is fashioning a hollow cow like a cow of the herd to which the bull is accustomed . . . This is the workshop of Daidalos; and about it are statues, some with forms blocked out, others in a quite complete state in that they are already stepping forward and give promise of walking about [i.e. Daidalos crafted animate statues]. Before the time of Daidalos, you know, the art of making statues had not yet conceived such a thing."

Callistratus, Descriptions 3 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C4th A.D.) :
"As I gazed on this work of art, the belief came over me that Daidalos had indeed wrought a dancing group in motion and had bestowed sensation upon gold."

Callistratus, Descriptions 8 :
"Daidalos, if one is to place credence in the Kretan marvel, had the power to construct statues endowed with motion and to compel gold to feel human sensations."

Callistratus, Descriptions 9 :
"Daidalos did indeed boldly advance [in sculpture] as far as motion, and the materials of which they were made and to move in the dance; but it was impossible and absolutely out of the question for him to make statues that could speak."


Sources:

  • Homer, The Iliad - Greek Epic C-8th B.C.
  • Homer, The Odyssey - Greek Epic C8th B.C.
  • Plato, Euthyphro - Greek Philosophy C4th B.C.
  • Plato, Meno - Greek Philosophy C4th B.C.
  • Philostratus the Elder, Imagines - Greek Rhetoric C3rd A.D.
  • Callistratus, Descriptions - Greek Rhetoric C4th A.D.