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  • Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
  • Winged Man
  • Mad Scientist

Mad Scientist

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

The Inventor

You know the evil genius hard at work inside his laboratory, laughing manically to himself as he concocts his latest creation? That's Daedalus. With his amazing inventing skills, he created the famous wings, the Labyrinth, a cow suit, the folding chair, and countless beautiful statues and images. That's a pretty hefty résumé.

Like the mad scientists who followed him, Daedalus doesn't pay too much attention to the consequences of his inventions. When King Minos' wife asks him to build her a cow suit so that she can strike up a relationship with a bull, Daedalus goes ahead and does it without stopping to wonder whether this would anger his buddy King Minos.

And of course, when he's escaping Crete, Daedalus decides to build wax wings for himself and his son Icarus, not bothering to consider what would happen if Icarus disobeyed his father (like young boys do) and flew too close to the sun. Oops.

The Invention

The fact that Daddy Daedalus chose to build wings is particularly important, because, well, people are not designed to fly. Daedalus' wax wings were his ultimate attempt to overcome the laws of nature—to do something "unnatural." In fact, his feat is so incredible that people on the ground who see him fly overhead decide that he must be a god, because no human should ever be able to soar through the air. (The Wright Brothers would sure have something to say about that.)

This scientific gamble doesn't work out so well for Daedalus: his son flies too close to the sun, which melts his wings and causes him to plummet into the ocean. And of course, Daedalus curses himself for trying to fly. Sound familiar? That's because this is pretty much Dr. Frankenstein's story: just like Daedalus, the doctor curses himself for trying to defeat death with his reanimated monster. Both crazy inventors learn the hard way about the danger of disobeying nature.

Daedalus' inventive influence can be found all over pop culture. Basically, anytime you see a genius scientist inventing amazing things—especially contraptions that defy nature—we can trace that guy back to Daedalus. Some of Shmoop's favorite mad scientists? Doc Brown from Back to the Future, Dr. Bruce Banner from The Incredible Hulk, and Dr. Horrible from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along are all great examples of people trying to play God in the laboratory… and often suffering disastrous consequences for it.

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