Talos was a giant bronze man who guarded the island of Crete by throwing stones at the ships of unwanted visitors. He was most probably created by Hephaestus and given to either Minos or Europa as a gift. Talos’ only weakness was his ankle, where the single vein containing all of his life-fluid (ichor, the blood of the gods) was sealed with a thin membrane of skin or a bronze nail. Medea exploited this weakness and killed Talos by bewitching him to graze his ankle on a sharp rock.
The Nature of Talos
There are two conflicting stories as to the origin of Talos.
An Automaton Cast by Hephaestus
It’s only natural that the most common one links Talos with Hephaestus. After all, the celestial artificer was famed for his automata, and Talos, a single-veined giant made of bronze, certainly looks like one. In this case, poets say that Talos was a gift from Hephaestus to Minos, constructed by the former to help the first king of Crete guard the island from invaders.
The Last of the Brazen Men
However, it may be that Talos wasn’t created by Hephaestus and that he was, in fact, the very last of the great men who had once sprung by themselves from ash-trees, i.e., the only remaining survivor of the Brazen Race, the third of the five ages of man. As such, he was presented to Europa by Zeus as a token of his love for her.
Some say that Talos wasn’t a man at all and that he was, in fact, fashioned as either a bronze bull or a man with a bull’s head.
Either way, his body had a single vein, which ran all the way from his neck to his ankle, sealed there with either a bronze nail or a thin membrane of skin.
Through this vein, all of Talos’ life-fluid, ichor – the blood of the gods – ran, making the giant vulnerable the same way Achilles was: for all of his frame of bronze, and all of his strength and might, he faced certain death if one merely punctured his ankle.
Medea and the Death of Talos
Talos’ task was relatively simple: to run around Crete three times a day and repel unwelcomed visitors by either hurling huge stones at their ships or by heating himself red hot and then enfolding them in a fiery embrace.
As Jason and the Argonauts approached the shores of Crete, Talos noticed their ship and tried warding it off in his usual, ever effective manner. And who knows – he might have been successful yet again, had Medea not traveled on the Argo as well!
Fearless, she mounted on the deck of the ship, and after invoking the Death-spirits (the Keres) several times, she bewitched the eyes of Talos in such a manner that the bronze man was unable to see before him a sharp crag on which he, subsequently, grazed his ankle. The ichor gushed forth like melted lead, and Talos fell on the ground with the mighty thud of a huge pine.
Others say that Medea was even more courageous, climbing down from the Argo and bravely walking toward the bronze giant. Once near him, she tricked Talos by either promising him immortality or giving him some of her herbs, after which she quickly pulled out the bronze nail beneath the sinew by his ankle.
Yet a third group claims that Medea had nothing to do with Talos’ death and that the guardian of Crete was actually killed when Poeas, an Argonaut and a brilliant archer, shot Talos dead in the ankle.
Read the most famous account of the story of Talos in the fourth book of Apollonius’ epic poem “Argonautica” (it’s near the end of the book). For a summary of all versions not unlike ours, check Apollodorus’ “Library.”