THE VIRTUAL HISTORY OF ARTIFICIAL BEINGS
metal. The story involved the deity who could be called the Greek god of technology—Hephaestus, who was in charge of fire and the forging of metal, and whom the Romans calledVulcan.
According to Homer, Hephaestus was the son of Hera and Zeus. Others say Hera alone conceived and bore Hephaestus,with no inter- vention from Zeus or any other partner, to spite Zeus after he had fathered Athena alone.Whatever his origin, Hephaestus was the limp- ing god, born with a lame leg and a clubfoot, who walked with a crutch.As artificer to the gods, he made marvelous contrivances such as Achilles’ shield and Apollo’s chariot.This legend of a handicapped being with a crutch foretells connections between prosthetic assis- tance and artificial creatures because Hephaestus constructed his own golden handmaidens to aid him as he stumped around his forge. He also knew how to reduce ordinary day-to-day toil because he made tables that moved by themselves to and from the feasts on Mount Olympus.
His great robotic achievement was Talos, a giant bronze creature that Hephaestus is said to have presented to King Minos of Crete. Talos guarded the island by pacing its perimeter and throwing rocks at threatening ships when they neared shore. In its metal construction, superhuman strength and mobility, and ability to discern, select and target specific objects, Talos embodied features that are among the goals of modern robotics researchers.
Talos’s construction also foretold another thread in the modern science of artificial creatures because it had an organic component. Ichor, the blood of the gods, ran through a vein in its ankle. Talos perished when Medea pierced the vein, allowing the ichor to flow out. (In another version, the Argonauts attacked it, as dramatized in the 1963 movie Jason and the Argonauts.) With its bronze construction combined with a vital bodily fluid, Talos is a precursor to different styles of artificial beings: jointed metal creatures (fittingly called “clankers” by the science-fiction writer Mack Maloney), organic or organic-seeming beings, and bionic beings that combine the natural with the artificial.