His hands were hot, body strained, chest constricted. There wasn’t enough air, heart thundering, lungs heaving, he couldn’t breathe.
Thiseas Anthiadis was a copper miner. The foreman couldn’t protest once the man took up his axe and swung, it seemed as though the rock cleaved before him. Day in, day out, he drove his axe into the solid earth, searching for those green veins of metal that ran deep in the belly of the ground. When the stone grumbled in protest, Thiseas Anthiadis would rumble right back. Never once did that mine crumble while Thiseas Anthiadis dug that rock. The earth was his to command, and everyone knew it.
Then came the time when the first golem arrived. It had no hands, instead armed with a pick and spade. Like an automaton it was, hailed as the next great stage in excavation.
Now the people of the mining town knew what this was. This golem was the end of their livelihoods. The contractors and merchants poked Thiseas Anthiadis with pointed jabs, “You’re full of vinegar now but you bout' through! We gonna get a golem to do your share of minin'
Then what's all them muscles gonna do? Huh? Thiseas Anthiadis?”
But Thiseas Anthiadis squared his shoulders and looked them right in the eye.
“I feed for little brothers, and baby sisters' walkin' on her knees. Now did the gods say that golems ought to take place of livin'? And what's a substitute for bread and beans? I ain't seen it! Do pséftikos(^1) get rewarded for their work?
“A man ain't nothin' but a man, but if you'll bring that pséftikos'round I'll beat it fair and honest. I'll die with that axe in my hand but, I'll be laughin', 'cause you can't replace a livin’-bleedin' man.”
So each was given a tunnel, the golem and the man, to mine as far they could before the week was out. And as the sun came up, the order was given and the axes fell.
No torch did Thiseas bring, for it would only slow him down. A cart lay behind him, a wagon behind the golem.
At first, the competition could be clearly seen. The walls of stone and earth were cleft by the man’s axe, the ore and rock falling deftly into the cart, where he pushed it out and emptied it. The golem swung its tools into the rock haphazardly, listening not to the weaknesses and stress of the rock but using sheer brute strength. The two tailing piles, one on each side of the entrance, grew and grew. It was clear that the golem had the upper hand, till Thiseas got into his rhythm. Echoing from the entrance you could hear his voice sing, keeping time with the rapid strikes of his axe. Deeper, deeper he went into the dark, till only the strikings of his axe could be heard. Cart after cart was wheeled out, his face set in a line of determination and strain. He would not be beat. The golem did the same, its face emotionless. It too was showing signs of stress, dents in its metal skin and bent tools. Still it, like Thiseas, would not give up. They continued through the night, the owner of the golem disregarding the warnings about doing so. The golem was just barely ahead of Thiseas Anthiadis now, and it had to maintain the pace to avoid losing to the man. The golem and the man ate and drank as they wheeled their wagons and carts, resting for nothing, stopping for nobody. Each competitor’s tools broke on the third day, the bronze unable to cope with the strain. Thiseas cast down his loyal axe and took up the steel one offered by the foreman. It was old and worn, but it was an heirloom of the foreman’s family. Thiseas nodded his thanks as he delved back into the shadows. The golem’s hands were painstakingly replaced and its lead slipped away. The master of the golem replaced the bronze with steel, newly forged in the fires of Filicudi. As the golem was sent back, the watchers could see the deep scores it had in its skin and the damage to its helmet. It marched back into the dark, forgoing the torch it had carried with it, acting as Thiseas was with the only light the sparks of steel. Deeper and deeper they each dug, man and golem. Ever their tailings grew, and ever Thiseas slightly higher.
At long last, the sun rose on the eighth day, and no sounds or lights could be seen from the mine. Thiseas Anthidias limped from the entrance of his mine, the steel axe in his hand blunt and near broken. His vision vacant, blind from the sparks and dark. The onlookers were silent, stunned. He made his way to the front of his pile, where he staggered to his knees and leaned back against the hard rock. He had won. He closed his eyes and the crowd surged forward, surrounding him and cheering his name. Thiseas Anthiadis had proved that the will of man could, and would, always be greater than any automaton.
Yet, when the cheers finally died down, they noticed that Thiseas had not stirred. A pulse was felt for, and it wasn’t found. For all the work that had been done, Thiseas Anthiadis was no god.
The mine that the man had dug was over a mile in length, and just as tall and wide as the golem had delved. The golem was found at the end of its own tunnel, where its body had broken to pieces with its head crushed by a boulder. The winner was clear, as sorrowful as it was. Instead of following Thiseas’ lead and carving out his mine for the rich veins he had uncovered, the town decided that it would best be served as his tomb. So the stonemasons chiseled out a mighty mausoleum at the end of the tunnel, where they placed his body. Once the town paid their respects and left the entrance, a mighty rumble was heard from the earth. The entrance to Thiseas’ Tomb had collapsed, the rock and stone claiming the one they had obeyed for their own.
Legend has it that Thiseas Anthiadis continues to protect miners to this day, knocking on walls to warn them of a gas leak, or an incoming collapse.
- pséftikos - fumbling/fumbler, used in a derogatory fashion by Aiolians towards golems without hands. It has grown from this use into implying a human is as clumsy as a golem and less than human.
Inspirational credit and dialogue credit to Johnny Cash's The Legend of John Henry's Hammer and the legend of John Henry as a whole.