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Talos

by Dr Alena Trckova-Flamee Ph.D.

Talos Talos was a gigantic bronze creature, the guardian of the island Crete, variously connected to Zeus. According to one version of the myths he was created in Sardinia by Hephaestus on Zeus' command, who gave him to the Cretan king Minos. In another version Talos came to Crete with Zeus to watch over his love Europa, and Minos received him as a gift from her. There are suppositions that his name Talos in the old Cretan language meant the "Sun" and that Zeus was known in Crete by the similar name of Zeus Tallaios. Since Talos was a bronze man, his blood was lead, which they believed was a divine fluid (ichor), identical to that what runs in the veins of the gods. Talos' single vein was leading from his neck through his body to one of his heels, which was closed by a bronze nail or a bronze peg or a pin.

Talos' purpose was to run from his seat in Phaestos around the island three times a day and to throw rocks at any foreign ship coming to Crete without permission. When people from Sardinia tried to invade Crete, Talos made himself glow in the fire and he kept everyone in a fiery embrace with a wild grimace. This led to the term "sardonic grin."

The Argonauts, returning from Colchis, attempted to stop in Crete to obtain some drinkable water for their next journey. Jason tried to convince Talos that they were in an emergency situation and that they were going to leave immediately, but Talos refused to let them stop in Crete. With the help of Medea the Argonauts devised a trick, which meant the end of Talos. Medea made Talos inattentive and by looking at her he stumped on the rocks and he fell down. During his fall the nail closing the vein came out and Talos lost all his blood and died. There are more stories related to his death. According to one, Medea paralyzed him by casting a spell on him and drew the bronze nail from his heel and led the blood flow out. A third story tells that Talos died when he was hurt by one of the Argonauts, Poias, who shot a poisoned arrow in his heel.

Talos was represented together with the Argonauts and Medea on various vases from the 5th century BCE. The brothers Castor and Pollux accompanied by Medea are depicted capturing Talos (the collection of M. Jatta in Ruvo, Muzeo di Spina in Ferrara).Talos was portrayed on the coins of Phaestos in the 4th century BCE as a youthful nude figure with long wings hurling the stones from his hands. The wings, never mentioned in literature by the ancient authors, symbolized his fast movement (three times a day) around the whole island of Crete.

From ancient times various versions of this myth existed. First of all this bronze creature Talos and his special anatomy represented a mythological transformation of a technique used for creating bronze statues which was called "lost wax." This process of making bronze figures was common after the 16th century BCE in Crete, especially at Phaestos, which was believed to be the mythical dwelling of Talos.

Also the regular rushing of Talos around Crete can have a logical background. According to Plato, Talos' task was to walk through the Cretan villages three times each year to display the laws of Minos inscribed on a bronze tablet. There is an assumption that Talos was a judge, walking through the towns and villages, deciding the disputes of inhabitants in harmony with the law, which he carried with him on this big bronze tablet.

Occasionally the bronze guardian of Crete is confused with another Talos, who was a nephew of the artist and inventor Daedalus. This Talos was born with a great talent using it to invent a saw, a pair of compasses and a potter's wheel. But his life and death represent another mythical story completely different from Talos.


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