The Tragic Story of the Fall of Icarus



Jacob Peter Gowy’s The Flight of Icarus.(Source Jacob Peter Gowy – Museo del Prado, Public Domain ).

The story of Icarus is one of those legends of Greek mythology that fascinates audiences especially because of the character’s desire to go beyond human boundaries as well as for the tragic consequences this brought about.

The myth of Daedalus and Icarus tells the story of a father and a son who used wings to escape from the island of Crete. Icarus has become better-known as the flyer who fell from the sky when the wax that joined his wings was melted by the heat of the sun.

The legend of the mythological Icarus is closely related to a number of other narrations centered on Crete, the place where Dedalus worked as a craftsman and built a maze to keep the feared Minotaur under control.

The tragic fall of Icarus begins with his father, in fact, he suffered and paid for Daedalus deeds.

The Lament for Icarus by H. J. Draper (Source Herbert James Draper, Public Domain).

Daedalus used to work as an artisan in Athens, together with a skillful apprentice named Talus. In a moment of rage and jealousy, Daedalus pushed Talus off the rock of the Acropolis but was unable to kill him. Goddess Athena turned the apprentice into a bird and Dedalus, charged with murder, was forced to seek refuge on Crete.

Once on the island of the Minotaur, Dedalus started a new life working in the palace of King Minos. He married Naucrate, a slave, who gave birth to Icarus.

Under King Minos’ orders, Daedalus was asked to build a space able to contain the Minotaur. But instead of coming up with a prison cell, Dedalous decided that a complex labyrinth would be the best place to hide the monster. It was such a perfect construction that those entering the maze were never able to leave.

17th-century relief with a Cretan labyrinth bottom right (Musée Antoine Vivenel) – (Source Wmpearl [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons).
However, the existence of a Minotaur was secret to most of the inhabitants of the island and wanting the monster to remain so, the king locked up Daedalus and his family so that the secret would never be revealed.

Cunningly, Dedalus elaborated an idea to escape that did not require going through land or sea. The only possible way that they could leave the island would have been to be able to fly. Thus, Dedalus started gathering feathers from birds which later transformed into wings stuck together with wax. One pair of wings was going to be for him and the other for Icarus, his son.

When the moment to escape arrived, Dedalus warned Icarus not to fly too close to the sun, but he did not listen to his father and fell into the sea when, after getting to close to the sun, the wax in his wings melted and fell apart.

Modern graffiti on Icaria island and falling Icarus just outside the village of Evdilos in Icaria – Greece (Source George Tsiagalakis CC BY-SA 4.0 from Wikimedia Commons)

Expressions of human fears and nature, symbols represent deep intuitive wisdom and truth. They put into words everything that is hard to comprehend by reason.

The flight of Icarus might be seen under the light of balance, equilibrium, and moderation. A compromise between the risk for flying too high, thus melting the wax with the sun, or too low, weighing down the wings by the spray of the water.

The moral of the myth warns against the needless search of instant satisfaction, in a way underlying the idea of sophrosyne (Greek: σωφροσύνη), a term that stands for healthy-mindedness, implying self-control guided by knowledge and balance.