Daedalus and Icarus

Daedlus and Icarus 3 One of mankind’s earliest known attempts to fly is known through the mythology of Daedalus and his son Icarus.

Born in Crete (and later that was transferred to Athens, Greece to make him more attractive to Greek audiences), Daedalus was renowned throughout the known world as a brilliant creator of puzzles. He was called to Crete by King Minos to design and build of the Labyrinth of Crete that was built to house the monstrous Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull creature – a creature that was the son of King Minos’ wife.

Even after the Labyrinth was completed, it was supposedly so confusing a maze that even poor Daedalus had a bugger of a time finding the exit. But he did.

I’ll skip the story of the Labyrinth itself, because it is not pertinent to our story, but… suffice to say, there are many versions of the tale… this is supposed to be the earliest version:

According to legend, in order to keep the secrets of the Labyrinth hush-hush, King Minos imprisoned Daedalus and his son Icarus in a tall tower.

Now… because King Minos was a paranoid fellow, to ensure his secret remained a secret and that no one would try and rescue Daedalus to reveal the secrets of the Labyrinth, he made sure to search all ships on the sea entering and leaving his port and the caravans coming and going by land.

That only left the sky… and no one could enter that way…

And so, Daedalus thought he should create wings for his young son and himself to fly from their tower prison.

Following the example of bird wings, Daedalus tied found feathers from the smallest to largest, building up the surface of the wings. According to the myth, eagle feathers were used.

The wings were tied together at the mid-point with string and yarn, and he applied a coating of wax at the base, and seeing the wings of the gull, he gave the wings a gentle arc.

When a set of wings were created, Daedalus himself placed his arms into the grips – though to resemble the handles on a defensive shield, and beat his arms/wings up and down. Thanks to the curvature of the wings, he was able to use the air to lift himself up off the ground! He then flew about teaching himself how to fly.

A Greek stamp depicting Daedalus working on the second set of wings for his son Icarus.

Now… I myself have tried to fly in this manner… it doesn’t work in real life. Perhaps because I was using a form of Wild Turkey. Glug-glug. Do not try this at home. Unless… no… do not attempt this. This is a myth.

So… having mastered the intricacies of flight, Daedalus built a second set of wings for his son Icarus and taught him to fly.

Now… when you are learning to fly, it is very important to listen to the words of one’s instructor. As such, Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly to high up in the sky where the heat of the sun could melt the wax helping to hold the wings together. He also warned him not to fly to close to the sea as the water could soak the feathers making them heavy and incapable of flight.

Now… off in to the air our intrepid fliers went! Soaring like birds above the waters, as they attempted to fly back home.

They flew for quite some time, air blowing in their face – the exhilaration of freedom coursing through their veins… passing the islands of Samos (a rich and powerful isle in the Aegean Sea and home of Pythagoras), Delos (near Mykonos and the supposed birthplace of Apollo and Artemis – as well, the original inhabitants were expelled by the King of Minos!) and Lebynthos (a very small island with a 2009 population of three).

But… boys will be boys, and the sheer joy of flying got to Icarus as he decided to fly higher ever higher to see how high he could go – all the while his father Daedalus shouted to him to not to fly so close to the heat of the sun.

And, like many an aircraft to come in the far future, Mother Nature began to work her spell as the hot sun began to melt the wax holding the feathered wings together causing the feathers to fall off as Icarus flapped his arms.

And so, Icarus plummeted down… down… past his screaming father who could do naught but watch in agony as his son fell loudly into the Aegean Sea and drowned. He probably died on impact, but the story says he drowned.

Daedalus and IcarusIn grief, Daedalus called the land near where Icarus fell Icaria… located 19 kilometers southwest of Samos.

Eventually, Daedalus flew to Sicily (and boy, were his arms tired)(sorry), where he undertook the royal care of King Cocalus of Kamikos. There he built a temple to Apollo (the God who would carry the sun across the sky with his chariot to bring light to the world), and hung up his pair of wings as an offering to the God.

And here our story ends… though I am sure you are all wondering if that King of Crete, Minos, actually gave up his search for Daedalus.

Well… he didn’t.

Knowing that a smart man like Daedalus couldn’t resist a challenge, he searched the islands himself… perhaps because he thought Daedalus might tell others the secret of the Labyrinth.

The challenge was that he wanted a piece of string to be strung through the inner workings of a spiral seashell.

He knew he had the brilliant Daedalus when a man (Daedalus) attached the string to an ant, and poured honey down through the shell’s spiral.

I personally do not know how he knew the ant was at the end of the spiral or how the string was secured – but it was still a lovely story.

And so… King Minos of Crete went to the court of King Cocalus of Kamikos and demanded Daedalus be handed to him. He agreed… but said Daedalus would be presented to him after King Minos had a bath to freshen up after his long journey.

Agreeing, King Cocalus had his daughters kill him – by drowning – in the baths.

Daedalus – his name in Greek means ‘Clever Worker’ (My own name of Andrew means “Peaceful Leader Dragon” in Japanese – I chose the kanji to be used) – was a brilliant inventor, and is credited with having created carpentry, including: the saw, axe, plumb-line, drill, glue and isinglass (a form of collagen used in the clarification of wine and beer – yay!)

And… just so you all know…

In the real world, Crete does tall cliffs that overlook the Aegean Sea. And… there are strong thermal updrafts there. While eagles are not believed to have flown in the area, sea gulls are plentiful and do use the thermal updrafts to glide for long periods. So… if it were possible for a human to fly with bird wings held together with wax, the updrafts could have been seen as an asset.

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About mreman47

Andrew was born in London, UK, raised in Toronto, Canada, and cavorted in Ohtawara, Japan for three years. He is married, has a son and a cat. He has over 35,000 comic books and a plethora of pioneer aviation-related tobacco and sports cards and likes to build LEGO dioramas. Along with writing for a monthly industrial magazine, he also writes comic books and hates writing in the 3rd person. He also hates having to write this crap that no one will ever read. Along with the daily Japan - It's A Wonderful Rife blog, when he feels the hate, will also write another blog entitled: You Know What I Hate? He also works on his Pioneers Of Aviation - a cool blog on early fliers. He also wants to do more writing - for money, though. Help him out so he can stop talking in the 3rd person.
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