The Religious Life of Greek Automata.

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This paper examines the religious lives of Greek automata. An automaton is an object that has been constructed to move on its own.¹ I argue that ancient Greek automata at first had a solely magical life, later attained a mechanical life, and that this change from magical to mechanical allowed automata to proliferate in religious contexts. While automata were originally imagined as purely magical, the advent of advanced mechanics later in antiquity made it possible for automata to be realized and also caused Greeks in the Hellenistic and Roman ages to reinterpret magical automata as mechanical. Later Greeks' projection of mechanical knowledge onto the magical automata of the past mirrors twentieth and twenty-first century scholars' tendency to reinterpret ancient automata as 'robots' in line with technological advances in their own time. Changes in mechanics in antiquity and the response of people to those changes leads me to advance the concept of 'relative modernism.' I argue that modernism is a mind-set that recurs throughout history rather than one that emerges in a unique period of history.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)123-136
Number of pages14
JournalArchiv fur Religionsgeschichte
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016


  • RELIGIOUS life
  • ROBOTS in literature
  • TECHNOLOGICAL innovations
  • GREEK language, Hellenistic (300 B.C.-600 A.D.)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies


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