Hephaistos and his robotic gadgets

In my house I have been allocated the task of vacuum cleaning. I have often thought that it would save me a lot of time and effort to have one of those automatic cleaners that find their own way around the house. But I realise they would be useless because most of my time is spent in moving things out of the way so I can vacuum under them. The idea of these robot cleaners is basically flawed because to be of any use you would have to live in a clutter free environment.

Now Hephaistos the smith god didn’t invent a robot vacuum cleaner but he did invent a robot tripod which was probably used as tables in the feasts of the Gods.

τὸν δ᾽ εὗρ᾽ ἱδρώοντα ἑλισσόμενον περὶ φύσας
σπεύδοντα: τρίποδας γὰρ ἐείκοσι πάντας ἔτευχεν
ἑστάμεναι περὶ τοῖχον ἐϋσταθέος μεγάροιο,
χρύσεα δέ σφ᾽ ὑπὸ κύκλα ἑκάστῳ πυθμένι θῆκεν,
ὄφρά οἱ αὐτόματοι θεῖον δυσαίατ᾽ ἀγῶνα
ἠδ᾽ αὖτις πρὸς δῶμα νεοίατο θαῦμα ἰδέσθαι.

She (Thetis) found him sweaty and busy working with his bellows. For he was making twenty tripods to stand around the wall of his well-built house. He had fixed golden wheels under each base so that they could enter the assembly of the gods automatically and come back again to his house – a marvellous sight.

Iliad 18.372

So how come the idea of automatic tripods didn’t fail because they kept bumping into the clutter in Olympus – for example the lightning bolts that Zeus had forgotten to put away, the aegis that Athene had just thrown on the floor instead of hanging it on its correct peg, the balls of wool that Hera was using to knit herself a new cardigan or all the toys left around when the gods invited their grandchildren to play.

Well if the gods were anything like Hephaistos they were extremely tidy. Hephaistos was halfway through a job when Thetis called round. He didn’t leave his tools out so he could complete the job when she had gone. Instead he put them all away. And as an extra help he had invented robot maids. He had the deluxe version made of gold. I imagine that when Apple produce the equivalent (the IMaid?), you will be able to get the cheaper but still expensive version made out of bronze or the very expensive gold version. Because he was lame he used them to help him walk, but they did have other accomplishments one of which no doubt was tidying up clutter.

φύσας μέν ῥ᾽ ἀπάνευθε τίθει πυρός, ὅπλά τε πάντα
λάρνακ᾽ ἐς ἀργυρέην συλλέξατο, τοῖς ἐπονεῖτο:
σπόγγῳ δ᾽ ἀμφὶ πρόσωπα καὶ ἄμφω χεῖρ᾽ ἀπομόργνυ
αὐχένα τε στιβαρὸν καὶ στήθεα λαχνήεντα,
δῦ δὲ χιτῶν᾽, ἕλε δὲ σκῆπτρον παχύ, βῆ δὲ θύραζε
χωλεύων: ὑπὸ δ᾽ ἀμφίπολοι ῥώοντο ἄνακτι
χρύσειαι ζωῇσι νεήνισιν εἰοικυῖαι.
τῇς ἐν μὲν νόος ἐστὶ μετὰ φρεσίν, ἐν δὲ καὶ αὐδὴ
καὶ σθένος, ἀθανάτων δὲ θεῶν ἄπο ἔργα ἴσασιν.
αἳ μὲν ὕπαιθα ἄνακτος ἐποίπνυον: αὐτὰρ ὃ ἔρρων
πλησίον, ἔνθα Θέτις περ, ἐπὶ θρόνου ἷζε φαεινοῦ,

He put his bellows away from the fire and collected all his tools he used for his work into a silver chest. He wiped his face and both his hands and his thick neck and hairy chest with a sponge and put on his robe. He took a sturdy stick and went limping to the door. Golden maid servants quickly moved to support their lord. They were like living girls and had the power of speech and strength and had learnt their accomplishments from the immortal gods. They were busy supporting their lord but he came unsteadily near Thetis and sat her on a bright chair

Iliad 18.412

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One Response to Hephaistos and his robotic gadgets

  1. Yes; but stairs? I think of the many, many stairs in glorious Olympus. Of course, Hephaestus may have planned for this by making the tripod legs retractable. This solution thought of or not, I find it fascinating that adding wheels to some thing makes it automatic. It is fun to think that self-movement, even though needing an original push, may have been a wonder to the ancients. Either way, Hephaestus’ servant automatons seem far more advanced than the tripods.
    All that aside, the fact hat the ancients thought of robotics 3000 years ago makes me happy.

    Liked by 1 person

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