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The myth of Icarus

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, by Joos de Momper the Younger

(Stockholm, Nationalmuseum)

Icarus was the son of a very talented Athenian craftsman, named Daedalus, the inventor of the Minotaur labyrinth in King Minos's mansion, in the island of Crete. Little did he know that he himself would have ended up being imprisoned in the same labyrinth he had built! Kind Minos got him imprisoned for having helped his daughter Ariadne. Princess Ariadne had helped Theseus, his father's enemy, escape the labyrinth using a ball of red yarn, following an advise given her by Daedalus, so that she would easily find her way back once she entered the labyrinth, letting both herself and Theseus free.

So, now that he found himself imprisoned in the labyrinth with his son, Daedalus thought of another stratagem to flee the island: one day he made a pair of wings out of wax and animal feathers, that they would both wear in order to fly away and finally be free. Before leaving the island of Crete, Daedalus warned his son not to get too close to the sun nor to the sea, but to follow a straight path.

Once they flew the island of Crete, Icarus was soon attracted by the sun's light and started flying off his path towards the sun, unconcerned with his father's warnings. As he came closer and closer to the sun, the heat started doing his work on the wings, by slowly melting the wax that was holding the feathers together. As the wings come apart, Icarus inevitably started his fall, that would lead him into the sea beneath him, making him drown. His father Daedalus, overwhelmed by sorrow and pain, decided to name the island that was nearest after him: that is were the Greek island Icaria got his name from.

Since then, artists favourite scene of the myth has been Icarus's fall into the sea, as a reminder of how the recklessness of men that do not fear nature can lead to awful events and, eventually, even death.


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