One of the most well-known ancient Greek myths is the one of Daedalus and Icarus. You might remember these two as the architects who designed the labyrinth, the huge maze that was the home of the Minotaur in Crete. We talked about the birth and destruction of the legendary beast in another Greek mythology video. Today, we will be following the tragic story of a talented father and son duo: Daedalus and Icarus.
Who Were Daedalus and Icarus?
Daedalus was a legendary ancient Greek hero who possessed many talents. He was an inventor, an architect, and craftsman. Rumor had it that he had god Hephaestus’ blood running through his veins, giving him the ability to create innovative constructions. There is no proof that there was a real craftsman bearing the same name in ancient Greece. Therefore, Daedalus is considered a mythical figure.
The talented man was an Athenian of aristocratic background. His name derives from the Greek verb “δαιδάλω” meaning “to work cunningly”. He was reportedly the creator of a wooden cow for queen Pasiphae of Crete. The latter was attracted to bulls after meeting god Poseidon in this form and used the wooden cow to… attract bulls. Daedalus’ less weird and most admired creation, however, was the Cretan labyrinth of the Minotaur. A huge maze with countless traps and dead ends.
Icarus, on the other hand, was the son of Daedalus. His mother was a slave. The young man possessed many of his father’s talents and followed him around his trips. Father and son once travelled to the island of Crete, where they were hired by king Minos to construct the labyrinth, the wooden cow, and many other items.
Creators and Prisoners of the Minoan Labyrinth
King Minos was very impressed by the works of Daedalus and Icarus. But everything changed when an Athenian prince, who we have seen in a previous video, visited Crete. Prince Theseus wanted to end a barbaric tradition that wanted young Athenian men and women to be sent to the labyrinth of King Minos as a sacrifice to the beast that resided there: the Minotaur.
Daedalus and Icarus were from Athens and rooted for Theseus. One night, Minos’ daughter, princess Ariadne visited the two men and asked for their advice. She was in love with Theseus and wanted to protect him. Was there a way to find his way through the labyrinth and destroy the beast? Daedalus then recommended that she utilized her yarn. Theseus would attach it at the entrance of the labyrinth and use it to explore the maze safely.
Daedalus recommendations were indeed very useful. Once Theseus destroyed the Minotaur and escaped, King Minos ordered the prosecution of the two craftsmen. Father and son were thrown into the maze with no tools or weapons to use. But cunning Daedalus was able to come up with a new plan, after watching the birds flying above their heads.
According to the Bibliotheca of Pseudo-Apollodorus, Daedalus utilized the only two things he could find in the maze: feathers from the birds flying above him and wax from the numerous candles that would light up their way. After days of collecting feathers and hard work, Daedalus was able to create two sets of wings by gluing the feathers together with the wax.
He then instructed his son how to wear the wings on his hands and what movements to make in order to fly. He also warned him of how dangerous it would be to fly too high. The sunlight could melt the wax and the feathers would be scattered around.
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Escaping Crete | Icaria and the Icarian Sea
The two men were successful. They were able to fly high over the maze they had built and look over Crete. Daedalus instructed Icarus to hurry up; they needed to reach Sicily now that their wings were intact. They couldn’t reach Athens, because Daedalus was unwanted there after committing a crime.
But Icarus was completely blown away – literally and metaphorically. He was ecstatic seeing the whole world from above and continued flying higher and higher. But the sunlight was also getting stronger and stronger. Icarus wanted to be at the top of the world. But his wings started losing all their feathers as the wax started melting away. The young man fell from the sky and his short life ended in an area that we now call Icarian Sea, where the island of Icaria is found.
Daedalus was shocked at the sight but managed to travel to Sicily safely. His life, however, ended there, since he was murdered by the daughters of a local king. It is worth mentioning that, before the Bibliotheca, there were many other variations of the myth which are less popular nowadays. Some of them, for example, want Daedalus and Icarus to successfully escape Crete on a boat.
What Does Icarus’ Myth Represent?
Icarus’ myth and specifically the ending is a story of hybris. The latter is extreme or foolish pride and dangerous overconfidence. Ancient Greeks believed that there was nothing that Olympian gods disliked the most than arrogance.
Icarus was a young person who was able to escape a dead-end situation with his and his father’s cunningness. However, instead of being thankful for making it alive, he wanted to show-off. He flew aimlessly in the sky and even tried to reach the sun. He paid for this with his life. This is not the first time we encounter this. We have seen stories of hybris in the past, especially in the Odyssey, but also in the story of Atlantis.
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One of the most fascinating ancient Greek myths is the one of Theseus. The young Athenian hero is a legendary figure, although many scholars believe that he might had been a real king during the Late Bronze Age. But let’s see his story from the beginning.