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Automaton

- plural, automatons or automata. Machines which imitate the actions, etc., of living creatures. The most famous are the following:—(1) The pigeon that could fly, made, B.C. 400, by Archy tas, of Tarentum; (2) the wooden eagle of Regiomontanus, the German, which flew from the city of Koenigsberg to meet the emperor, saluted him, and returned, 1436–1476; (3) the duck of Vaucanson of Grenoble, which could eat and drink, and even in a way digest food; its wings, viscera, bones, etc., minutely resembled those of a living animal. Vaucanson also made an image of Pan, which, at the beck of Syrinx, rose from his seat, played on his pipe, bowed when applauded, and sat down again. He also made an asp which, on being touched by an actress, in the character of Cleopatra, flew at her breast with a malignant hiss. Louis XV set him to make a human figure, but he died before he had completed it. (Greek, autos-mao , I self-move.) (See Android.)

Pierre Droz and his son Louis were noted for their automatons; so was Frederick of Knause (Vienna). The chess-player of Wolfgang, baron of Kempelen, in 1784, created quite a furor in Paris. Napoleon on one occasion played chess with this automaton. (See Brazen Heads.)

Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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