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Jacob Peter Gowy's The Flight of Icarus (1635–1637)
Jacob Peter Gowy's The Flight of Icarus (1635–1637)
Icarus and Daedalus ancient red relief plastic pottery beaker, Roman-Greece
Icarus and Daedalus ancient red relief plastic pottery beaker, Roman-Greece

In Greek mythology, Icarus (the Latin spelling, conventionally adopted in English; Ancient Greek: Ἴκαρος, Íkaros, Etruscan: Vikare[1]) is the son of the master craftsman Daedalus, the creator of the Labyrinth. Icarus and his father attempt to escape from Crete by means of wings that his father constructed from feathers and wax. Icarus' father warns him first of complacency and then of hubris, asking that he fly neither too low nor too high, so the sea's dampness would not clog his wings nor the sun's heat melt them. Icarus ignored his father's instructions not to fly too close to the sun; when the wax in his wings melted he tumbled out of the sky and fell into the sea where he drowned, sparking the idiom "don't fly too close to the sun".

This tragic theme of failure at the hands of hubris contains similarities to that of Phaëthon.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • ✪ The myth of Icarus and Daedalus - Amy Adkins
  • ✪ Miscellaneous Myths: Icarus


In mythological ancient Greece, soaring above Crete on wings made from wax and feathers, Icarus, the son of Daedalus, defied the laws of both man and nature. Ignoring the warnings of his father, he rose higher and higher. To witnesses on the ground, he looked like a god, and as he peered down from above, he felt like one, too. But, in mythological ancient Greece, the line that separated god from man was absolute and the punishment for mortals who attempted to cross it was severe. Such was the case for Icarus and Daedalus. Years before Icarus was born, his father Daedalus was highly regarded as a genius inventor, craftsman, and sculptor in his homeland of Athens. He invented carpentry and all the tools used for it. He designed the first bathhouse and the first dance floor. He made sculptures so lifelike that Hercules mistook them for actual men. Though skilled and celebrated, Daedalus was egotistical and jealous. Worried that his nephew was a more skillful craftsman, Daedalus murdered him. As punishment, Daedalus was banished from Athens and made his way to Crete. Preceded by his storied reputation, Daedalus was welcomed with open arms by Crete's King Minos. There, acting as the palace technical advisor, Daedalus continued to push the boundaries. For the king's children, he made mechanically animated toys that seemed alive. He invented the ship's sail and mast, which gave humans control over the wind. With every creation, Daedalus challenged human limitations that had so far kept mortals separate from gods, until finally, he broke right through. King Minos's wife, Pasiphaë, had been cursed by the god Poseidon to fall in love with the king's prized bull. Under this spell, she asked Daedalus to help her seduce it. With characteristic audacity, he agreed. Daedalus constructed a hollow wooden cow so realistic that it fooled the bull. With Pasiphaë hiding inside Daedalus's creation, she conceived and gave birth to the half-human half-bull minotaur. This, of course, enraged the king who blamed Daedalus for enabling such a horrible perversion of natural law. As punishment, Daedalus was forced to construct an inescapable labyrinth beneath the palace for the minotaur. When it was finished, Minos then imprisoned Daedalus and his only son Icarus within the top of the tallest tower on the island where they were to remain for the rest of their lives. But Daedalus was still a genius inventor. While observing the birds that circled his prison, the means for escape became clear. He and Icarus would fly away from their prison as only birds or gods could do. Using feathers from the flocks that perched on the tower, and the wax from candles, Daedalus constructed two pairs of giant wings. As he strapped the wings to his son Icarus, he gave a warning: flying too near the ocean would dampen the wings and make them too heavy to use. Flying too near the sun, the heat would melt the wax and the wings would disintegrate. In either case, they surely would die. Therefore, the key to their escape would be in keeping to the middle. With the instructions clear, both mean leapt from the tower. They were the first mortals ever to fly. While Daedalus stayed carefully to the midway course, Icarus was overwhelmed with the ecstasy of flight and overcome with the feeling of divine power that came with it. Daedalus could only watch in horror as Icarus ascended higher and higher, powerless to change his son's dire fate. When the heat from the sun melted the wax on his wings, Icarus fell from the sky. Just as Daedalus had many times ignored the consequences of defying the natural laws of mortal men in the service of his ego, Icarus was also carried away by his own hubris. In the end, both men paid for their departure from the path of moderation dearly, Icarus with his life and Daedalus with his regret.



Icarus /IK-uh-russ/, Ikaros Ἴκαρος Greek: ‘mallet, chopper’. Compare with ἴκαρ (= τακέως) ’at a strike, immediately’ and ἴκρια ‘wooden partition (as on a stage), compartment; abatis, entanglement’ and Latin īco ‘to strike, hit, smite, stab, sting’; ictus ‘a blow, stroke, thrust, bite, sting, a beat’. Daedalus /DED-uh-luss/, /DEED-uh-luss/, Δαίδαλος anciently /DIGH-dah-lohs/, ‘art, skill, craft, trade, profession’ (German Kunst);[2] thus 'cunningly wrought'.

The legend

Icarus's father Daedalus, a very talented and remarkable Athenian craftsman, built the Labyrinth for King Minos of Crete near his palace at Knossos to imprison the Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull monster born of his wife and the Cretan bull. Minos imprisoned Daedalus himself in the labyrinth because he gave Minos's daughter, Ariadne, a clew[3] (or ball of string) in order to help Theseus, the enemy of Minos, to survive the Labyrinth and defeat the Minotaur.

Modern street art of Icaria island and falling Icarus just outside the village of Evdilos in Icaria, Greece
Modern street art of Icaria island and falling Icarus just outside the village of Evdilos in Icaria, Greece

Daedalus fashioned two pairs of wings out of wax and feathers for himself and his son. Daedalus tried his wings first, but before trying to escape the island, he warned his son not to fly too close to the sun, nor too close to the sea, but to follow his path of flight. Overcome by the giddiness that flying lent him, Icarus soared into the sky, but in the process he came too close to the sun, which due to the heat melted the wax. Icarus kept flapping his wings but soon realized that he had no feathers left and that he was only flapping his bare arms, and so Icarus fell into the sea and drowned in the area which today bears his name, the Icarian Sea near Icaria, an island southwest of Samos.[4][5][6]

Hellenistic writers give euhemerising variants in which the escape from Crete was actually by boat, provided by Pasiphaë, for which Daedalus invented the first sails, to outstrip Minos' pursuing galleys, and that Icarus fell overboard en route to Sicily and drowned. Heracles erected a tomb for him.[7][8]

Classical literature

The Sun, or the Fall of Icarus (1819) by Merry-Joseph Blondel, in the Rotunda of Apollo at the Louvre
The Sun, or the Fall of Icarus (1819) by Merry-Joseph Blondel, in the Rotunda of Apollo at the Louvre

Icarus' flight was often alluded to by Greek poets in passing, but the story was told briefly in Pseudo-Apollodorus.[9] In the literature of ancient Rome, the myth was of interest to Augustan writers. Hyginus narrates it in Fabula 40, beginning with the bovine love affair of Pasiphaë, daughter of the Sun, resulting in the birth of the Minotaur. Ovid narrates the story of Icarus at some length in the Metamorphoses (viii.183–235), and refers to it elsewhere.[10]

Medieval and Renaissance literature

Ovid's treatment of the Icarus myth and its connection with that of Phaëthon influenced the mythological tradition in English literature[11] as received and interpreted by major writers including Chaucer,[12] Marlowe,[13] Shakespeare,[14] Milton,[15] and Joyce.[16]

Bruegel's Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (ca. 1558), famous for relegating the fall to a scarcely noticed event in the background
Bruegel's Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (ca. 1558), famous for relegating the fall to a scarcely noticed event in the background

In Renaissance iconography, the significance of Icarus depends on context: in the Orion Fountain at Messina, he is one of many figures associated with water; but he is also shown on the Bankruptcy Court of the Amsterdam Town Hall – where he symbolizes high-flying ambition.[17] The 16th-century painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, traditionally but perhaps erroneously attributed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder, was the inspiration for two of the 20th century's most notable ecphrastic English-language poems, "Musée des Beaux Arts" by W. H. Auden and "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" by William Carlos Williams. Other English language poems referencing the Icarus myth are "To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph" by Anne Sexton, "Icarus Again" by Alan Devenish, "Mrs Icarus" by Carol Ann Duffy, "Failing and Flying" by Jack Gilbert, and "Icarus Burning" and "Icarus Redux" by Hiromi Yoshida.


17th-century relief with a Cretan labyrinth bottom right (Musée Antoine Vivenel)
17th-century relief with a Cretan labyrinth bottom right (Musée Antoine Vivenel)

Literary interpretation has found in the myth the structure and consequence of personal over-ambition.[18] An Icarus-related study of the Daedalus myth was published by the French hellenist Françoise Frontisi-Ducroux.[19] In psychology there have been synthetic studies of the Icarus complex with respect to the alleged relationship between fascination for fire, enuresis, high ambition, and ascensionism.[20] In the psychiatric mind features of disease were perceived in the shape of the pendulous emotional ecstatic-high and depressive-low of bipolar disorder. Henry Murray having proposed the term Icarus complex, apparently found symptoms particularly in mania where a person is fond of heights, fascinated by both fire and water, narcissistic and observed with fantastical or far-fetched imaginary cognition.[21][22] Seth Godin's 2012 The Icarus Deception points to the historical change in how Western culture both propagated and interpreted the Icarus myth arguing that "we tend to forget that Icarus was also warned not to fly too low, because seawater would ruin the lift in his wings. Flying too low is even more dangerous than flying too high, because it feels deceptively safe."[23]

See also

  • Icarus imagery in contemporary music
  • Kua Fu, a Chinese myth about a giant who chased the sun and died while getting too close
  • Bladud, a legendary king of the Britons, purported to have met his death when his constructed wings failed
  • Etana, a sort of "Babylonian Icarus"[24]
  • Sampati, an Indian myth about a bird which lost its wings while trying to save its younger brother from the sun


  1. ^ Larissa Bonfante, Judith Swaddling, Etruscan Myths, p. 43
  2. ^ Wilhelm Pape [1807-1854]: Wörterbuch der griechischen Eigennamen [von] W. Pape [und] G[ustav] Benseler, ed. 3, Braunschweig, 1911, Verlag von Friedrich Vieweg & Sohn.
  3. ^ clew – a ball of yarn or thread. The etymology of the word "clue" is a direct reference to this story of the Labyrinth.
  4. ^ Graves, Robert (1955). "92 – Daedalus and Talus". The Greek Myths. ISBN 0-14-007602-6.
  5. ^ Thomas Bullfinch - The Age of Fable Stories of Gods and Heroes & The Internet Classics Archive by Daniel C. Stevenson : Ovid - Metamorphoses - Book VIII + Translated by Rolfe Humphries - KET Distance Learning 2012-01-24.
  6. ^ Translated by A. S. Kline - University of Virginia Retrieved 2005-07-03.
  7. ^ Smith, William (ed.). A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
  8. ^ Pinsent, J. (1982). Greek Mythology. New York: Peter Bedrick Books. ISBN 0-600-55023-0.
  9. ^ Epitome of the Biblioteca i.11 and ii.6.3.
  10. ^ Gareth D. Williams, Banished voices: readings in Ovid's Exile Poetry (Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 132 online.
  11. ^ Peter Knox, A Companion to Ovid (Blackwell, 2009), p. 424 online.
  12. ^ Jane Chance, The Mythographic Chaucer (University of Michigan Press, 1995), p. 65 online.
  13. ^ Troni Y. Grande, Marlovian Tragedy (Associated University Presses, 1990), pp. 14 online, 40–42 et passim; Frederic B. Tromly, Playing with Desire: Christopher Marlowe and the Art of Tantalization (University of Toronto Press, 1998), p. 181.
  14. ^ Coppélia Kahn, Man's estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare (University of California Press, 1981), p. 53 online.
  15. ^ Su Fang Nu, Literature and the Politics of Family in Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 154 online; R.J. Zwi Werblowsky, Lucifer and Prometheus (Routledge, 2001, reprinted from 1952), p. 32 online.
  16. ^ R. J. Schork, Latin and Roman Culture in Joyce (University Press of Florida, 1997), p. 160 online.
  17. ^ E. H. Gombrich, Symbolic Images; Studies in the Art of the Renaissance (London, 1972); p. 8.
  18. ^ Jacob E. Nyenhuis - Myth and the creative process: Michael Ayrton and the myth of Daedalus, the maze maker - 345 pages Wayne State University Press, 2003 Retrieved 2012-01-24 ISBN 0-8143-3002-9 See also Harry Levin, The Overreacher, Harvard University Press, 1952 [1]
  19. ^ Frontisi-Ducroux, Françoise (1975). Dédale: Mythologie de l'artisan en Grèce Ancienne. Paris: François Maspero. p. 227.
  20. ^ Wiklund, Nils (1978). The icarus complex. Lund: Doxa. ISBN 91-578-0064-2.
  21. ^ Michael Sperber 2010 - Dostoyevsky's Stalker and Other Essays on Psychopathology and the Arts, University Press of America, 2010, p. 166 ff, [2] ISBN 0-7618-4993-9
  22. ^ Pendulum - The BiPolar Organisation's quarterly journal Bipolar UK Retrieved 2012-01-24.
  23. ^ results, search (31 December 2012). The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? (1st ed.). Portfolio.
  24. ^ Comparion noted by W.H.Ph. Römer, "Religion of Ancient Mesopotamia," in Historia Religionum: Religions of the Past (Brill, 1969), vol. 1, p. 163.

Further reading

  • Graves, Robert, (1955) 1960. The Greek Myths, section 92 passim
  • Smith, William, ed. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology
  • Pinsent, J. (1982). Greek Mythology. New York: Peter Bedrick Books


This page was last edited on 12 July 2019, at 04:23
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