Updated: Jun 20
Man has forever pushed himself to the limits trying to achieve the impossible. Discoveries and inventions are perhaps man's way to escape from the mundane or simply to alter his life. Such an effort is the myth of Daedalus and Icarus, a brilliant story of how necessity facilitated the invention of something that was never meant for man and how it led to his downfall. Myth though it may be, the story of Daedalus and Icarus wants to show us that the power of man has no limits but also that we should be very careful how to use this power.
The story of Deadalus
The intelligence of Daedalus was known far and wide. He was accredited as the finest artificer ever, with a sharp and clever mind. Daedalus was living and working in Athens and he had a young apprentice in his workroom, his nephew, Talus. Talus was an extraordinarily talented boy and had begun showing traces of being a craftsman far surpassing his uncle's skill. As it is to the nature of man, Daedalus was highly envious of his nephew's proficiency. One day while on a visit to the Acropolis, Daedalus pushed him off the edge. Some say that the boy whom Daedalus had pushed off the edge of the Acropolis was not Talus but his sister's son Perdix, who was apprenticing to him. To stop Perdix from being dashed upon the ground below, the benevolent Goddess Athena transformed him into a bird that flew away to safety. Legend has it that this bird has since been known as the Partridge and wary of its tragic past avoids high places and nestles in hedges. Whoever was the victim, the artificer was put into trial by Areios Pagus, the supreme court of Athens, and charged with murder. His punishment was to get banished from Athens to the island of Crete.
Deadalus in Crete
Crete was ruled by King Minos and there, in his palace of Knossos, Daedalus found work as an architect. Years passed and he fell in love with Naucrate, a mistress-slave of the king and married her. They were blessed with a child whom they named Icarus. Life went on without incident until one fine day Minos called upon Daedalus. He wanted the architect to design and build an enclosure for the Minotaur, acreature with the body of a man and the head and tail of a bull. This monster in truth was the son of Pasiphae, Minos' wife, but not by the King. Years ago, following his ascension to the throne of Crete, there had been much squabbling amongst King Minos and his brothers. Minos had fervently prayed for a sign from Poseidon to assert his claim to the throne. The sea god, impressed with Minos' devotion, had sent him a snow-white bull as an omen that he should be ruler supreme. Overjoyed, Minos had vowed that he would sacrifice the bull to the sea god but consumed by avarice, he kept the bull for himself. Angered at Minos' disrespect and betrayal of trust, Poseidon avenged himself by cursing Pasiphae to fall in love with the bull.
Building the Labyrinth
Delirious with desire for the bull, Pasiphae asked Daedalus to construct for her a hollow wooden cow. Getting into the strange contraption, she made amorous advances towards the bull. Their bizarre union resulted in the birth of the Minotaur which was half-man, half-bull. Ashamed at his wife's deed, Minos wanted to hide the monster which was growing violent and gigantic day after day. For this reason, he asked Daedalus to build a labyrinth for the beast, a structure with many twists and turns where a person could get lost interminably. Such was the intricacy of the edifice that even Daedalus had a tough time finding his way out. In fact, Ovid makes worthy mentions of Daedalus in his works. In Metamorphoses, Ovid says that the labyrinth was constructed with such shrewdness that even the master-craftsman barely found his way out. The Minotaur was kept at the center of the labyrinth, hidden away from prying eyes. It had to be fed with young people and was the horror of Minos’ enemies and subjects.
The conception of the unbelievable
Unfortunately for Daedalus, the King had imprisoned him and his young son, Icarus in a high tower, so that they couldn't reveal the secret of the labyrinth to anyone. Daedalus and Icarus were languishing in their prison atop the tower. Every day the master craftsman was pondering over their escape and how they could work such a miracle. He suddenly realized that their only escape route was by air since King Minos had control over every vessel that left the island. Moreover, Minos had issued strict orders to search thoroughly every ship leaving Crete. Instead of growing impassivity over their fate, Daedalus received a marvelous plan. He had observed the birds that were flying around the tower. He studied in great detail their mannerisms and hit upon his idea of how to escape.
For a large period of time, he was gathering all the feathers he could find lying around and joining them together with wax he fashioned two pairs of wings, one for himself and the other for his son. The day arrived when they were to execute their escape plan but Daedalus had a grave warning for his son. He forbade Icarus to fly too close to the sun for that would melt the wax, or to fly to close to the sea for that would dampen the feathers. Father and son both then perched on the edge of the tower parapet and leapt off. Flapping their wings furiously, they were able to emulate the birds and in no time, while flying over the sea, put great distance between themselves and Crete.
The fall of Icarus
Unfortunately, Icarus soon forgot his father's warning and filled with the exhilaration of flying, he flew too high and too close to the sun. The intense heat melted the wax on the wings, the feathers came loose. A few minutes later, poor Icarus plummeted down into the sea and was drawn. Daedalus was struck with horror but there was nothing he could do to save his son. Aggrieved at his loss, he named the sea-spot where his son had drowned and the close by island after his name. The sea was named the Icarian Sea and the island was named Ikaria. Some sources mention that at the time Icarus fell into the sea, the mighty Hercules was passing by and he gave the fallen Icarus a befitting burial. Berating himself for his tragic loss, he continued to fly towards Sicily where he sought refuge in the Court of King Cocalus of Camicus. With the King's help, he constructed a temple dedicated to Apollo and as an offering to the god hung up his wings for good.
Solving the trick-puzzle
At Crete, an irate King Minos seethed and fumed over Daedalus' incredible escape. The only thought on his mind was to recapture the skilled artificer and bring him back to Knossos. Minos knew that Daedalus would have disguised himself to avoid recognition and therefore hunting him out would be no easy task. However, he did know that the artificer couldn't refuse a challenging riddle or a puzzling task. Minos set out from Crete in search of Daedalus and wherever he went he offered a handsome reward to anyone who could run a thread through a spiral sea-shell. He knew that this was a very complex puzzle and Daedalus would be challenged to solve it. One day, Minos reached Camicus and announced the same reward and task. Many people came and tried to solve the puzzle but had no avail.
The news reached King Cocalus and he immediately asked for Daedalus for he knew that if anyone could solve the puzzle, it would be him. His old age hadn't affected the brilliant mind of Daedalus and when he saw the puzzle, he knew exactly what to do. At one end of the sea-shell, he placed a drop of honey and then tying a string to an ant, let the insect in from the other end to wander through the myriad spirals of the shell. Drawn by the sweet smell of honey, the ant emerged at the other end, stringing the shell through and through. Minos knew that he had found his man. Immediately, he demanded that the wily old fox be handed over but Cocalus had other plans. He coaxed King Minos to stay a while in Camicus to rest from the long trip. Seeing no harm in it, Minos consented and waited while the chambermaids were getting his bath ready. In the meantime, Cocalus' daughters, who for years had been charmed by Daedalus' inventions and stories and couldn't bear to see him taken away, conspired to kill Minos. When it was time to take his bath, they poured scalding hot water on him. In his soul, this could have been the revenge of Daedalus: he saw the death of the man who led, in some point, to the death of his son.
Feeling guillty till the end
Knowing well that his disguise had been seen through, Daedalus decided to leave Camicus, much to the disappointment of the King and his daughters. He was last seen in Sardinia in the company of Iolaus, who was nephew to Hercules. Since then, no one knows what happened to this great engineer, what places he saw, what inventions he created, what miracles bore his mind. Today Daedalus represents for us a brilliant person who had been cursed to suffer because of his special talent. The peak of his misfortune was living with the guilt that he caused the death of his son.