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The Story of Icarus in Greek Mythology

Updated on January 19, 2017

The name of Icarus is one of the most famous to come out of Greek mythology, and many people today will recognise it as the name given to the boy who flew too close to the sun. There is of course much more to the Greek myth of Icarus than that.

The Story of Icarus Begins

The story of Icarus begins on Crete, for Icarus is the son of the noted inventor Daedalus. Daedalus had found refuge in the court of King Minos after his exile from Crete, and the master craftsman had worked hard for his new patron.

As a reward for his hard work, King Minos had allowed Daedalus to sleep with one of the palace’s beautiful slave-girls, Naucrate, and as a result Daedalus had found himself father to a new son, Icarus. It should be noted that the mother of Icarus is only named in one main source from antiquity The Bibliotheca (Pseudo-Apollodorus).

Icarus Warned

Daedalus and Icarus - Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641) - PD-art-100
Daedalus and Icarus - Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641) - PD-art-100 | Source

The Downfall of Daedalus

A number of years passed, Daedalus building and inventing, but the downfall of his patron was at hand, for Theseus was soon to arrive on Crete. Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, would help Theseus in his quest, and the daughter of King Minos enlisted the help of Daedalus, so that the Athenian hero could navigate the lair of the Minotaur, the Labyrinth.

After Theseus had killed the Minotaur, the hero and Ariadne fled Crete, but arguably, King Minos was angrier about the part Daedalus played in the slaying of the Minotaur, than the part paid by his daughter. As a result, Daedalus and Icarus were imprisoned; their prison either being the Labyrinth or a tall tower.

The Escape Plan

Escape from their prison was not really a problem for an inventor like Daedalus, but the craftsman realised that even if they escaped from the prison they would still be on Crete, and at the mercy of King Minos. Sailing away from Crete also seemed an unlike method of escape, for it was the Cretan navy that had made Minos powerful.

Daedalus therefore came up with a plan which would see Icarus and himself fly away from Crete.

Daedalus gathered together all of the shed feathers that he could find, and then with wax, the inventor glued the feathers to wooden frames, creating two sets of wings.

Daedalus had faith in his design but also recognised its weaknesses, and before Icarus and himself set flight, Daedalus warned his son about the perils of flying to high, as the wax glue would melt, or flying too low, where the seawater would make the wings too heavy.

Icarus Falls

Icarus Falls - Jacob Peter Gowy - PD-art-100
Icarus Falls - Jacob Peter Gowy - PD-art-100 | Source

Icarus and Daedalus Escape

The moment of escape arrived, and Daedalus and Icarus leapt from a ledge, and the pair then started to flap their wings, just as birds do. By flapping their wings and then gliding, father and son managed to leave the island of Crete far behind them

Mile after mile passed, but as the pair neared Samos, almost 200 miles from their point of departure, Icarus suddenly seemed to forget the warnings of his father, and the son of Daedalus flew higher and higher.

The fears that Daedalus had had about the melting of the wax proved justified, for the feathers quickly came unstuck as the sun melted the wax, and Icarus plunged seawards with nothing to break his fall, with deadly results.

The area of water in which Icarus landed would become known as the Icarian Sea, and the unnamed island nearby, where the body of Icarus washed ashore, would afterwards be named Icaria.

Icarus' Body Recovered

Lament for Icarus - Herbert James Draper (1863–1920) - PD-art-100
Lament for Icarus - Herbert James Draper (1863–1920) - PD-art-100 | Source

Daedalus Grieves

Some ancient sources would write of the body of Icarus was buried with full burial rituals for the Greek hero Heracles was said to be passing by at that time, and recognising the son of Daedalus, performed the rites for the father.

Daedalus himself of course saw his son Icarus plummet to his death, but their was nothing that the inventor could do to save him; and so the grieving father would continue to fly to safety.

Eventually, Daedalus would turn up in Sicily, and make a new home for himself within the court of King Cocalus; and whilst the escape method of Daedalus and Icarus had left no tracks to follow, Minos would not give up on trying to bring Daedalus back to Crete.

The Icarus Myth Rationalised

The story of Icarus and Daedalus is one of the most famous myths of Ancient Greece, but even in antiquity, some people tried to rationalise the tale, not believing in the story of flight. Instead they told of how Daedalus invented wing shaped sails, the very first of their kind, which allowed the boat they were fitted to, to easily distance itself from the oar powered navy of Minos. At some point near to Samos though, Icarus had fallen overboard, and unable to swim, the son of Daedalus had drowned.

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  • daydreamer13 profile image

    daydreamer13 

    2 years ago

    I again printed this this to read later. Thank you for your teachings. Truly!!

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