Daedalus and Icarus - Greek Mythology - The story of Daedalus and Icarus

Daedalus and Icarus - Greek Mythology - The story of Daedalus and Icarus


Daedalus and Icarus (1778-1779)
Antonio Canova (1757-1822), marble statue, Venice (Italy), Correr Museum

Maze, son of Eupalamus (or of Eufemio or according to others of Mezione), was a man of extraordinary talent so much so that it is said that he was a pupil of the godHermesor according to others of the goddess Athena. He enjoyed extraordinary fame throughout the known world due to his skills as an architect, sculptor and inventor.

He lived in Athens, where he had an established workshop. Many apprentices worked with him and his nephew was among them Acale (also known as Talo or Perdice), son of his sister. Acale, already demonstrated incredible skill at the age of twelve and was so brilliant that one day while on the beach with his companions he noticed a fish bone (according to others the jaw of a snake) which gave him the idea to build a saw with iron. His was the invention of the compass to draw circles; the potter's wheel and others so much that Daedalus, worried that his nephew was darkening his fame, decided to kill him.

One morning he went with Acale to the Acropolis, to the roof of the Temple of Athena and pushed him down.

The goddess Athena, seeing the scene, took pity on Acale and decided to support him in the air and transformed him into a partridge from which the name of Perdice derives.

Daedalus, ancient sculpture

Thus Ovid narrates in Metamorphoses, VIII, 236-259: "While Daedalus was placing the body of the unfortunate Icarus in the tomb, a talkative partridge, hidden among the leafy undergrowth, spotted him, and rejoiced at the show flapping his wings and manifesting his joy with singing.
This bird, never seen before, had recently become such a perpetual reproach for you, Daedalus.
In fact, his sister, unaware of destiny, had entrusted to him, to instruct him, her own son (Acale), a boy of only twelve years, but well disposed to learn. the model to engrave sharp teeth on the sharp iron, thus inventing the saw. (...) Daedalus, driven by envy, threw him from the sacred rock of Minerva, pretending a misfortune. But Pallas, protector of the arts, covering him with feathers during the fall supported him and changed him into a bird. It still retained its name, but the vigor of its wits, once ready, passed into the wings and legs.
In fact, this bird cannot hover its body high nor make its nest in the branches or on high tops; it flutters down to earth, laying its eggs in the hedges, and, mindful of the ancient fall, it fears too high flights ».

Daedalus tried to make believe that Acates had accidentally fallen but was not believed. A long trial followed and in the end, given his fame, he was sentenced to exile.

So he went to Crete, and presented himself to the king Minos, offering him his services. The king was happy to host him and began to entrust him with various tasks.

In that timePoseidonhe had sent to King Minos a white bull of incredible beauty to be sacrificed because Minos had prayed to the god of the sea to send him a sign of the predilection he had towards him compared to his brothers who wanted to reign with him on Crete. Poseidon granted his request but Minos, struck by the beauty of the bull, did not have the heart to kill him and in his place he had another bull killed. Poseidon, angered by the insult immediately, made him fall madly in love Pasiphae, wife of Minos, of the white bull. The woman, in the grip of the most blind love, turned to Daedalus so that he could build her a wooden cow in which she could hide in order to have the much desired embrace. Daedalus built a cow so similar that the bull was misled and joined Persiphae who was hiding inside the cow.

Theseus kills the Monotaur, Attic amphora 5th cent. B.C.

From this union was born the Minotaur, being with the head of a bull and the body of a man. King Minos, frightened and horrified by that monstrous looking child, ordered Daedalus to build such a complex labyrinth, so that whoever entered it could no longer find the exit and imprisoned the Minotaur inside. Minotaur ate human flesh, Minos periodically provided him with slaves and Athenian children (which the same city gave him as a tribute following a defeat).

At that time the hero These came to Creteto fight the Minotaur. Arianna, daughter of King Minos and Parsifae, fell in love with the young man and decided to help him in the enterprise by asking Daedalus to show her a way out of the labyrinth. Daedalus then provided her with a ball of wool that had to be unwound as you entered the labyrinth. Theseus then entered, killed the Minotaur and managed to get out thanks to the ball of yarn. Once out of the labyrinth, he fled with Ariadne who then abandoned on the island of Naxos.

When Minos discovered that Theseus had succeeded in his enterprise thanks to the help of Daedalus, he imprisoned in the labyrinth the same Daedalus together with his son Icarus (1) whom he had had from Naucrates, one of Minos' slaves. Daedalus, at first he was desperate but after a short time he had a brilliant idea: to build two pairs of wings to escape from the labyrinth. Thus he began to weave feathers by welding the smaller ones with wax.

The fall of Icarus, Pompeian fresco

Before taking off, Daedalus ordered his son not to fly nor too high as the heat of the sun would melt the wax that held the weaves together, nor too low as the sea waves could wet the wings weighing them down. But Icarus, once in flight, taken by the thrill of this extraordinary experience, did not take into account his father's advice and flew so high that the wax melted and rushed into the sea. Daedalus, realizing that his son was not following him, went back and the only thing he saw were feathers that floated. Having recovered his son's body, Daedalus took him to a nearby island which he named Icaria, in honor of Icarus.

Thus Ovid narrates in Metamorphoses, VIII, 183-235: «(...) Daedalus, bored with Crete, and stung by the nostalgia of his native place, did not suffer long the imprisonment imposed on him. "The sea and the earth may preclude me - he said - but the sky is certainly free: we will go away. May Minos possess everything he wishes but he will certainly not be master of the air" He then turned his mind to limbs until the hour unknown, and renewed nature; in fact, he arranged the feathers according to a given order, then, with some thread, he stopped the middle parts, then fixed the lower ends with wax and bent them, bending them slightly so as to imitate real birds. (...) After giving the final touch to his work, the architect hovered his body on the two wings, and remained suspended in the agitated air. Then he instructed his son saying: "keep the middle way or Icarus, I recommend; so if you go low the wave will weigh down the feathers, if too high, the sun will burn them .. Fly between one and the other: take the road that I will show you ". (...) And they had already left the island of Samos on the left, and passed Delos and Paros; on the right was already Lebinto and Calimno fertile with honey.

The fall of Icarus (1636-1638)
Jacob Peter Gowy, from a sketch by P. P. Rubens, oil on canvas, Museo del Prado, Madrid (Spain)

«When the boy began to enjoy the daring flight and abandoned his guide; attracted by the desire of heaven, he held a higher path. The proximity of the burning sky softened the perfumed wax that held the feathers together, and he, beating his bare arms, without paddling, found no grip that could support him in the air. His mouth as he invoked his father's name, it was closed by the blue sea that took its name from him ... the unhappy father now no longer a father, said: "Icaro Icaro, where are you? Where will I look for you, Icaro?" He kept calling Icarus but when he saw the feathers scattered on the waves he cursed his art. Then he set up a sepulcher, from the name of the deceased, that land was called Icaria ».

After burying his son Daedalus he resumed flying until he decided to stop in Cuma, Italy, near Naples, where he built a splendid temple in honor of the god Apollo and at whose foot he laid his wings.

Minos that there was no peace for the escape of Daedalus. He had set up a large fleet with which he looked for him everywhere, taking with him a Triton shell and a thread, promising, in every place where he stopped, a great reward to anyone who knew how to pass the thread between the coils of the shell. Minos knew that no one would be able to solve the problem, except Daedalus.

In the meantime, Daedalus had taken refuge in Camico in Sicily, as a guest of King Cocalo.

Minos arrived in Camico, proposed the dilemma also to Cocale who asked for help from Daedalus. Daedalus, attached the thread to an ant and introduced it into the shell at the end of which he had placed a drop of honey. When the king brought the shell to Minos, he immediately understood that the author was Daedalus and demanded that it be delivered to the king. But both the king and his daughters did not want to deprive themselves of Daedalus' company because he gladdened their days by building incredible toys. So it was then that while Minos was bathing, the young princesses poured boiling water into the tub, killing him. They then justified his death by attributing it to his distraction, saying that he had accidentally fallen into a tub of boiling water (2).

Minos's corpse was then returned to the Cretans saying that the king tripping over a carpet, had fallen into a cauldron of boiling water. Legend has it that Minos for his moral integrity and rectitude was hired by Zeus as the supreme judge of Hades together with his enemy Aeacus and his brother Radamanto.

Gustave Doré (1832 - 1883)

Dante in Hell (V, 5-15) represents him in this way:
"Stavvi Minos, horribly, and growls,
Examine the faults in the entrance,
Judge and send, according to which he clings.
I say that when the ill-born soul
He comes before him, everyone confesses;
And that connoisseur of sins
He sees what place of Hell he is from it;
Cignesi with the tail many times,
Although degrees it wants to be put down.
Always, before him, there are many;
They go each other to judgment;
They say and hear and then they are down times ».

Daedalus lived several more years in Sicily which he left to join Iolaus (3), grandson of Heracles, in Sardinia (Italy) where he continued his profession. The many of the works he helped build were called dedalic constructions or dedalea(4).

Dr. Maria Giovanna Davoli

(1) According to others because he had discovered that he had helped his wife Pasiphae to mate with the white bull.
(2) Another version has it that it was Daedalus who passed a pipe on the roof of the bathroom by pouring boiling water or pitch into it.
(3) Son of Ificle (half-brother of Heracles) Iolaus was the grandson of Heracles. He helped his uncle in the fight against the Lernaean Hydra, providing him with the inflamed trunks with which to burn the necks of the monster so that his head would not be reborn. According to some, he also participated in the expedition of the Argonauts and in the hunt for the Calydonian boar. After the death of Heracles, he allied himself with Theseus in the fight against Eurystheus then migrated to Sardinia where he died.
(4) How they handed down to us Pausanias Greek historian, geographer and scholar of the mid-second century. A.D. is Diodorus Siculus, Greek historian of about 90 BC.

Video: The myth of Icarus and Daedalus