Icarus

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In Greek mythology, Icarus (the Latin spelling, conventionally adopted in English; Greek: Ἴκαρος, Íkaros, Etruscan: Vikare[1]) is the son of the master craftsman Daedalus. The main story told about Icarus is his attempt to escape from Crete by means of wings that his father constructed from feathers and wax. He ignored instructions not to fly too close to the sun, and the melting wax caused him to fall to his death. The myth shares thematic similarities with that of Phaëton, and is often depicted in art.

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Escape from Crete

Icarus' father, Daedalus, a talented and remarkable Athenian craftsman, attempted to escape from his exile in the palace of Crete, where he and his son were imprisoned at the hands of King Minos, the king for whom he had built the Labyrinth to imprison the Minotaur (half man, half bull). Daedalus, the superior craftsman, was exiled because he gave Minos' daughter, Ariadne, a clue[2] in order to help Theseus, the enemy of Minos, survive the Labyrinth and defeat the Minotaur.

Daedalus fashioned two pairs of wings out of wax and feathers for himself and his son. Before they took off from the island, Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sun, nor too close to the sea. Overcome by the giddiness that flying lent him, Icarus soared through the sky curiously, but in the process he came too close to the sun, which 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 in the area which bears his name, the Icarian Sea near Icaria, an island southwest of Samos.[3]

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.[4][5]

References in classical literature

Icarus' flight was often alluded to by Greek poets in passing, but was related briefly in Pseudo-Apollodorus.[6] In the literature of ancient Rome, the myth was of interest to Augustan writers. Hyginus narrates it in his 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; his implicitly comparative treatment of the myths of Icarus and Phaethon[7] influenced the mythological tradition in English-language literature[8] as received and interpreted by major writers such as Chaucer,[9] Marlowe,[10] Shakespeare,[11] Milton,[12] and Joyce.[13]

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