by Dr. Alena Trckova-Flamee, Ph.D.
Talos was a gigantic bronze creature, the guardian of the island of Crete, variously connected to Zeus. According to one version he was created in Sardinia by Hephaestus at Zeus' command, who gave him to the Cretan king Minos. In another version Talos came to Crete with Zeus to guard his lover Europa, and Minos received him as a gift from her. There are suppositions that the 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 led 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 walk from his seat in Phaestos around the island thrice a day, and to keep strangers from approaching Crete without permission. When people from Sardinia tried to invade Crete, Talos made himself red-hot in fire, and then kept them in a fiery embrace with a wild grimace, which led to the term "sardonic grin."
The Argonauts, returning from Colchis, attempted to stop in Crete to obtain fresh 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 set foot on Crete, so they devised a stratagem to dispose of him. Medea used her magic powers to throw him into a state of madness, or, according to others, under the presence of making him immortal, she took the nail out of his vein and thus caused him to bleed to death. A third story tells that Talos was killed when one of the Argonauts, Poeas, shot him with an arrow in his ankle.
Various versions of this myth existed from ancient times. 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 sixteenth century BCE in Crete, especially at Phaestos, which was believed to be the mythical dwelling of Talos.
The daily journey of Talos around Crete can also have a logical explanation. According to Plato, Talos' task was to walk through the Cretan villages three times a 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, settling the disputes of the inhabitants in accordance with the law, which he carried with him on this big bronze tablet.
Talos was represented together with the Argonauts and Medea on various vases from the fifth century BCE. On a red-figure volute krater (ca. 400 BCE) the brothers Castor and Pollux, accompanied by Medea, are depicted capturing Talos (in the collection of Museo Jatta in Ruvo, Italy). White paint is used to distinguish Talos' metal body from the flesh of his opponents.
Talos was portrayed on the coins of Phaestos in the fourth century BCE as a youthful nude figure with long wings hurling stones with his hands. The wings, which are never mentioned in literature by the ancient authors, symbolized his fast movement (three times a day) around the entire island of Crete.
- Apollonius Rhodius. Argonautica iv, 1638 ff.
- Plato. Minos, p. 320.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library i, 9.26.