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Talos, the Divine Bronze Guardian of Crete


Talos, the Divine Bronze Guardian of Crete

The people of Crete often tell the story of Talos, the great bronze automaton that once guarded their island from invaders.  Tales about Talos abound, telling of his might, how he protected Crete, and how he died.

Talos, as mentioned above, is a giant creature made fully of bronze.  He has one single vein that runs from his neck down to his ankle, and this vein has a stopper in the form of a bronze peg or nail.  This vein is full of lead, called in myth as the divine ichor that also runs in the veins of the gods.

The name of Talos is said to be the Cretan equivalent for the Greek word "helios," which means the sun.  In many ancient artworks, Talos is depicted as a young bronzed man with long, white wings.

Talos as a Gift from Zeus

The creation of Talos was said to have come as an order from Zeus to Hephaestos, the god who ruled over the forge.  But for whatever purpose Talos may have been built, he is always said to be part of the three gifts of Zeus.  The other two gifts were Laelaps, a dog who never misses his prey; and a javelin that never misses its aim.

One version of the story of Talos as a gift from Zeus states that the three gifts were given to Europa.  Europa was a Phoenician princess who was kidnapped by Zeus while he was in bull form and whom he had taken to Crete.  She became the first queen of Crete and was the mother of King Minos.  Another version of the story of Talos as a gift from Zeus held that the gifts were given directly to King Minos himself.

Talos as the Guardian of Crete

However Talos came to Crete, he served a single purpose.  This purpose is to guard Crete from invaders.  He would run around the island three times a day and hurl boulders at ships that sailed to Crete without permission.

Some stories also say that Talos circled Crete bearing a bronze tablet upon which the laws of King Minos were inscribed.  Talos made the rounds of Cretan towns and villages to remind the people of these laws.

There was also a story where Talos had thwarted the attempts of Sardinian sailors to invade Crete by gathering them in his embrace and jumping into a fire to make his body red-hot, all the while bearing a terrible grin.  This grin is said to be the origin of the term "sardonic grin."

The Death of Talos

The death of Talos is narrated in the tale of Jason and the Argonauts.  According to that tale, Jason is said to have tried to convince Talos to let his ship anchor on Crete so that his men may rest and gather water to continue their journey.  However, Talos had refused.

In order for Jason and his men to get what they needed, Medea thought to trick Talos.  She made Talos believe that the bronze peg on his ankle that is sealing the ichor inside his body is stopping him from achieving full immortality.  Believing her, Talos removed the bronze peg and thus all the divine ichor in him came flowing out of his body.  This left Talos crumbling into a heap on the shores of Crete.  And so died Talos, the guardian of Crete.

Read more about Talos, the giant protector of Crete

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