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Daedalus and Icarus

Daedalus and Icarus - Constructors of Flying machines?


Daedalus was a great and respected architect, inventor and sculptor, and descendant of the royal family of Cecrops, the founder and first king of Athens. Half man and half snake (or dragon), Cecrops was born from the soil and directly related to the gods, specifically Poseidon and Athena. He was alive before goddess Athena was born and was the first to offer her sacrifices. He was said to have taught the people how to read and write, also about marriage and many other things. Being of this lineage makes Daedalus and Icarus descendants of the royal blood line.

To the public Daedalus is best known for his most famous work, the labyrinth of Crete. He was an inventor and a renowned craftsman. He married Naukratis, handmaiden of Minos, with whom he had his son Icarus.

According to mythology, Daedalus was once condemned by the Supreme Court for killing his nephew, whom he had trained, for becoming a better artist than him. Later, he migrated to Crete where, at the command of King Minos, he built the maze that entombed the Minotaur. When Minos discovered that Daedalus had helped his wife Pasiphaë to mate with the bull of Poseidon and thus give birth to the Minotaur, the Maze became Daedalus and his son’s prison.

During their imprisonment, Daedalus never stopped working and trying to engineer ways to escape. Their escape by sea was impossible because the Minoan ships would capture them. The only way seemed to be through the air. According to the myth, he built two large pairs of wings that were made of wicker twigs and pieces of cloth (or feathers) glued them together with wax. He placed the wings on their shoulders and advised Icarus not to fly too high because the rays of the sun would melt the wax, nor too low to prevent the wings from soaking up the sea’s humidity.

Once the flying device was ready, father and son started flying away from Crete when Icarus became overwhelmed by his youthful enthusiasm and disregarded his father’s instructions. He began to fly very high, resulting in the melting of the wings’ wax and causing him to plummet into the sea and drown. The corpse of the unfortunate child was found on the shores of an island by Hercules and returned to his father. The marine area is now called the Icarian Sea and the island Ikaria.

If we see this tale in an allegorical way, we see the flight and the transcendence of human limits. On the other hand, if we view the word ‘myth’ in a literal way, then we see the creation of flying machines at a time that it was thought impossible. We need to remember that people must translate unfamiliar technology using terms they are familiar with. From this perspective, we must wonder if it was possible for Daedalus—who was a skilled inventor—to have created some sort of technological device permitting a single human to fly?

By Myriam

Related Links

The Myth of Daedalus and Icarus

Daedalus and Icarus

Theseus and Daedalus

Related Books

World Mythology   The Greek Myhts      


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Kiki Nioti

Myriam was born in Athens, Greece. She grew up reading philosophy and ancient Greek mythology. In the last few years her exploration has expanded to include mythologies of other civilizations.  She is particularly interested in the common patterns... Read More

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