Friday, August 18, 2023

Cunning Intelligence, Chapter 9

Summary of Chapter 9: The Feet of Hephaestus

Having spent much of the book focusing on Athena, and to a lesser extent Poseidon, as gods associated with technology, D&V turn now to another [and more obvious] great god of technology, Hephaestus. They approach this through the myth of the Telchines, the original inhabitants of Cyprus, who are sea creatures and renowned metal workers. D&V argue that the Telchines can be identified as, or at least closely linked to, seals, and to the Old Man of the Sea, who they argue is also a seal. Ancient Greek understandings of seals are discussed at length, in particular three sets of ambiguities they embody: 1) they are physiologically both like and unlike humans; 2) the inhabit both dry land and water; and 3) they are both like quadruped mammals, and also like fish. In addition they possess the evil eye, and for this same reason, due to the logic of ancient Greek magic, are also lucky and possess the ability, as amulets, to ward off the evil eye and other dangers.

The one affinity with the Telchines which seals do not obviously possess is metalworking; D&V thus turn to the subjects of crabs, who are strongly associated with Hephaestus. Many homologies in how crabs and seals were written of by ancient Greeks, showing their commonalities; in particular the unusual gait of seals is compared to the unusual gait of crabs. These both, then, link to the deformed legs of Hephaestus, showing that this deformity is a sign of his metic character. Along the way the liquidity and malleability, hence metis, of both water and heated metal are discussed.

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