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Daedalus and Icarus

In a Nutshell

Make your bed. Eat your veggies. Never invite a vampire into your home (unless, of course, he's an upstanding gentleman like Edward Cullen).

Parents are full of advice. And while some of it is total bunk (fact: you don't need to wait 30 minutes after you've eaten to go swimming—10 minutes is fine), some of it is spot-on. That triple axel you did while rollerblading? Probably not worth the broken arm. And that extra scoop of ice cream you ate for dessert? A steep price to pay for the terrible stomach ache you ended up with. As much as we hate to admit it, sometimes parents are right.

Unfortunately for Icarus—the son of genius inventor Daedalus—ignoring his dad's words of wisdom came with catastrophic consequences. Before embarking on a father/son hang gliding adventure with a pair of wax wings, Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly too high. Icarus obeyed his father's advice for a little while, but eventually he soared too close to the sun, and his wings melted like M&Ms in your mouth. Oops.

So yeah, this is an age-old tale of parents always know best. But don't worry, it's not just boring adult stuff. With its dangerous journey and clever solutions to tricky problems, the tale of Daedalus and Icarus reads like a really intense episode of the Amazing Race… except with a much more tragic ending.


Shmoop Connections

Explore the ways this myth connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop

During his tour through Italy, Aeneas stops at a temple built by the crafty Daedalus. Read all about it in Shmoop's summary of Virgil's Aeneid.

Ovid, that fanciful poet, wrote one of the more beautiful and compelling versions of the Daedalus and Icarus story in his The Metamorphoses.

Vladmir Nabokov references the myth in his sensual short story "Spring in Fialta." Nina, one of the story's most beguiling characters, dies in a car that Nabokov refers to as "a long yellow-bodied Icarus." Hmmm, symbolic! Shmoop has something to say about that connection.

British poet W.H. Auden mentions Icarus' descent in "Musee des Beaux Arts", a poem about humanity's indifference to suffering. If you have three minutes, it's short and well worth a read.

In Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451, Captain Beatty is a book-burner who secretly loves books. He even knows about Greek mythology, as evidenced by his name-dropping of Icarus.

James Joyce got in on the action, too. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,the last name of one of the main characters pays homage to Daedalus. Stephen Dedalus (note the small spelling difference) is a young man with artistic aspirations. In many ways, the ancient craftsman Daedalus was the ultimate artist, so it's symbolic that Stephen shares his name.

Stephen Dedalus makes another appearance in James Joyce's Ulysses, which is chock-full of mythological references (just check out the title, which is the Roman name for the hero Odysseus). At one point, a character named Buck Mulligan even mocks Stephen's last name for its Greek connection.

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