3.1354 Golems (48)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Thu, 3 May 90 17:05:25 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 1354. Thursday, 3 May 1990.

Date: Wed, 2 May 90 19:16 EST
From: Terrence Erdt <ERDT@VUVAXCOM>
Subject: golems & robots

Regarding Sarah Higley's query about medieval robots, we appear to be
laboring in neighboring fields, obscure yet fertile as they may be.
Some of my own work, though not focused by any means on medieval robots,
does take up the subject in passing.

Among the Arthurian romances of the thirteenth century, for example,
Mordrain, in the Estoire del Saint Graal, lies with a automaton
simulating a beautiful woman:

"This idol was of the most beautiful wood which there ever was in the
guise of a woman, so that the king used to lie with her carnally and
dress her as richly as he could, and he had made for her a room where he
took care that no mortal man could find her."

(Sommer, H. Oskar. The Vulgate Version of the Arthurian Romances.
Washington, D.C.: The Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1909, vol.
I, 83. Prof. Joel D. Goldfied of Plymouth State College, Associate
Professor of French, and frequent voice on Humanist, kindly translated
this passage for me.)

Another story of possible interest is entitled "Virgil, the Wicked
Princess and the Iron Man." Here a princess "beautiful beyond words but
wicked beyond belief" feasts young men, then sleeps with them, and
finally poisons them at breakfast next day. To avenge the death of a
young friend who has so perished, Virgil makes an Iron Man, "with golden
locks, very beautiful to behold as a man, with sympathetic, pleasing
air, one who conversed fluently and in a winning voice..., and the
spirit who was conjured into him was one without pity or mercy." The
Iron Man is sent to walk before the palace of the princess, who sees it
and is "more pleased than she had ever been before." She sends for the
automaton, treats it with a "great display of love," and in the morning
hesitates to give it the poisonous drink, "for she had at last fallen
madly in love." The Iron man of course is impervious to the poison and
to her wiles, and it carries her to a cavern and to the ghosts of the
lovers, where she is forced to drink wines alternately hot as the fire
of hell and freezing cold. Charles Godfrey recounted the tale in his
Unpublished Legends of Virgil. New York: Macmillan, 1900.

Pinto Smalto in Basile's Pentamerone foreshadows Joanna Russ's "An Old
Fashioned Girl." Also in a similar vein are, of course, the popular
stores/films the Stepford Wives and Making Mr. Right.


Terry Erdt
Villanova University