Friday, 11 January 2019 22:25

Technology in Homer

Technology in Homer

Now, after the "happy end" of Theomachy, the Greeks continued to nourish their myths with technological details reflecting to a certain extent their own technical development, as well as their technological dreams (the concept of Automats, for instance). It is accepted that a considerable part of these facts and beliefs are portrayed in the homeric epics. It is therefore interesting to revisit Iliad and Odysseay seeking for technical stories - very briefly though.

a) Metals: Besides gold and silver, bronze (copper + tin) was the basic metallic material in Iliad Iron will furiously invade Odyssey - in the form of quenched steel as well. Metal workshops are vividly described.

b) Weapons: The significance of this basic subject of fabrication of weapons is shown by the fact that almost the entire rhapsody “Σ” of Iliad is devoted to this Besides, weaponry is a frequent subject of homeric epics: Arrows, shields, cuirasses, chariots - and above all, the famous weapons of Achilles. More specifically regarding the structural (not the artistic) aspect of shields, including that of Achilles and Ajax, I wish to refer to the original work of S. Paipetis et al. who have reconstructed layer by layer these defensive weapons, and they have submitted them in rigorous testing - both experimentally and analytically, concluding that the nature, the sequence and the number of these layers were in fact optimal for absorbing the piercing energy of a spear. These findings tend to belie Sarah Morris (1992) stating that "no such shield ever protected a Mycenaean" ...

c) Buildings: It is worth noting that in Iliad, mainly the rich and complex palaces of gods are described, whereas in Odyssey building technology is landed on earth, describing human buildings. In the house (and ship) building technology, it is interesting to include also the structural miracle of the Wooden Horse - that complex and solid artifact of chief-carpenter Epeios: A giant mobile work, with a body measuring something like 8 by 16 by 32 meters (in order to be able to accommodate three thousand well hidden hoplites, as it is said).

d) Automata: Here we find ourselves in the summit of ancient Greeks' technophilia. Such is their confidence to their technical knowledge, that they rush to the future of Technology.

  • Moving automats: Self moving tripods, entering and leaving the Palaces, automatic bellows of metallurgical kilns, gates automatically opening when hearing a whip. This is an Epic of Technology ...
  • Animal and Human-like automata: Guardian dogs (made of gold and silver, living girls-robots ("in them is mind and wits, in them too a voice and strength"), etc.
  • Traps: Elaborate grips, hidden above and underneath the bed, in order to catch the illegal lovers.
  • Automat ships: The ships of the inhabitants of Scheria exceed the achievements of modem Automat Technology - they are «διανοούμενα» (thinking) ships: They have no captains, but they recognise "what men have in mind", and they travel them very rapidly across the clouds - and they are unsinkable.

It is the first time that the technomythical thought of the Greeks dares to figure out h u m a n robotic achievements, whereas up to that moment automata were thought only to be in the service of gods. Later on, I will reexamine this clearly humanistic attitude of the Greeks.

e) Artifacts-artistic objects: In fact, the gods had initially taught humans the technical skill and crafts; Hephaistos himself «επεφάνη» (was shown) to humans and lived nine years with them, whereas, later on, Prometheus will take Technology from Athena and Hephaistos, he will transfer it to humans, and thus will save mankind. Subsequently, a more specifically human characteristic will appear on human artifacts: In the homeric epics we observe that every technical object was an artistic object too; afterall, in greek language, both are called «τεχνήματα»: The shield of Achilles, a perfect defensive weapon, was a densely elaborated work too described in no less than 128 verses of Iliad!

Tassios T. P., On Technology In Ancient Greece, 2018 Angelakis, Athens

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