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Daedalus and Icarus

Daedalus and Icarus - origins

Who was Daedalus?

Icarus and Daedalus by Charles Paul Landon 1799
  • Icarus and Daedalus by C.P. Landon 1799
  • Daedalus appears as a character of opposites in most of the myths about him. When our story starts he is already on Crete. However, all accounts agree that he fled there after murdering his own nephew, who was also his apprentice.

    Daedalus was already a famous inventor of craftsmen’s tools and a sculptor (his statues seeming to be alive!). However, his nephew was becoming as good an inventor as his uncle; the story goes that, getting an idea from a snake’s jaw, the boy invented a saw. In a fit of jealous rage, his uncle threw him from the top of the Acropolis in Athens. Daedalus then had to flee for his life and ended up in Crete, where he created a number of objects for Minos’ wife and daughters, including Ariadne’s dancing floor before planning and creating the Labyrinth for Minos himself. A very different character from the caring and grieving father in our story.

    Daedalus was famous all through the land for his talent, and was credited with inventing the axe, the awl, the bevel, the plumb line, sails for ships and a folding chair. He created numerous wooden statues, among them ones of Heracles, Athena and Aphrodite – maybe the first ones of gods. He was the architect for the Oracle of Trophonius at Lebadeia, the Temple of Apollo in Cumae, the Holumbethra (a swimming bath) and a sauna – as well as turning a King’s palace into an impregnable fortress.

    Was Daedalus real?

  • Labyrinth
  • As in so many legends, the deeds of many people, appear to have been attributed to one character by the time stories begin to be written down. It is possible that Daedalus was a name given by the later Greeks to the inventors and creators of the wonders left to them from the Mycenaean Age. The name Daedalus meant 'ingenious'. (However, some of the inventions, such as the axe, had been invented thousands of years before even the Mycenean age - stone axes are found in 100,000 year old sites, in East Africa).

    However, Daedalus is also famous for his wanderings and his misfortunes. Throughout the stories told about him, his ingenuity is both a blessing and a curse, well illustrated by the stories of his being imprisoned in the Labyrinth which he had designed and the flight from Crete with his son. There may be a moral about paying eventually for your misdeeds, but his story also embodies many themes found throughout other myths and legends: statues that seem to come to life, headlong flights, murder and, of course, man’s constant desire to be able to fly.

    What about Icarus?

    Palace of Knossos today
  • Palace of Knossos today
  • Unlike his father, we know little about Icarus. He was born on Crete, his mother being one of the king’s servants. The character of Icarus mostly seems to serve as a warning to children, to take notice of the advice of parents and elders or else they too may end up in a lot of trouble!

    When was the story first written down?

  • Acropolis of Athens
  • Stories of Daedalus are told by Apollodorus, (born circa 180BC, died after 120 BC) a Greek scholar, historian and grammarian, Ovid,(43BC – 17 AD), a Roman poet, Diodorus of Sicily (1st century BC) a Greek Historian, and Pausanias (2nd century AD) a Greek traveller and geographer, and Virgil (70 BC – 19 BC) a Roman poet.

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