Study Guide

Daedalus and Icarus Characters

  • Daedalus

    First, a quick bio: Daedalus lived in Athens and was rumored to have descended from Erechtheus, one of the first Athenian kings. Pretty good genetic make-up.

    Daedalus is the Steve Jobs of Greek mythology. If something cool and new needs inventing, he's the man to do it. Various Greek writers credit Daedalus with inventing the axe, boat sails, a big maze called the "Labyrinth," statues that depict people with separated legs and hands (this was a big deal at the time), and of course, fake wings for humans.

    Unfortunately, in addition to being brilliant, creative, and amazingly logical, Daedalus can also be jealous, cold-hearted, and impulsive. At one point, he throws his nephew (called Talos by some, Perdix by others) off the Acropolis after the poor kid invents a few contraptions that are cooler than Daedalus' (like the saw). After this incident, Daedalus is forced to leave Athens and finds himself in Crete—and we all know how that ends.

    Despite all of his successful inventions, Daedalus' faulty wax wing prototypes have probably gained him the most fame. When his son Icarus sails too close to the sun, the wings melt into puddles, and Icarus falls to his death. Talk about career getting in the way of family. So what do you think: is Daedalus a good dad? He does try to protect his son (helping him escape and giving him those parental warnings we all love) but he also risks his kid's life in the meantime. We're on the fence.

    Mad Scientist

    The quick-tempered guy who invents things just for the sake of inventing them, giving little thought to the consequences of his creations—does that remind you of anyone? Sounds like a mad scientist to us. And when you think about it, constructing a pair of wax wings and trying to fly a hundred miles over the ocean is a pretty crazy thing to do. Humans, by design, are not meant to fly, so sailing into the air symbolizes a huge act of pride (a.k.a. "hubris") on Daedalus' part.

    In a situation where others might have balked (or even used a tiny ounce of caution), Daedalus fully commits himself to his wacky idea, going so far as to risk his son's life in order to test the boundaries of his inventions. Of course, with the death of Icarus, Daedalus pays a steep price for his pride. His reckless wax-wing adventure has since become a cautionary tale, warning others of what might happen if they dare to challenge the laws of nature. It's a common theme throughout a lot of Greek myths—in the battle of mortals versus nature, nature almost always wins. Don't forget it!

    Daedalus' cultural descendants include mad scientists like Dr. Frankenstein and Doc Brown (you know, the Back to the Future guy), whose creations wreaked unintended havoc. Daedalus is also associated with great artistry, which may be the reason why James Joyce named one of his characters (an aspiring artist named Stephen Dedalus) after him. J.K. Rowling also joined in the fun, naming one of the members of the Order of the Phoenix Daedalus Diggle in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

    This guy also seems to have an astounding number of real and fictional spacecrafts named after him. Something about flying maybe? "Project Daedalus" was a spacecraft project done by the British Interplanetary Society, "Daedalus" was the name of the spaceship in the movie Space Cowboys, and Star Trek had a whole category of Starfleet ships called "Daedalus." And in terms of celestial bodies, the inventor has an asteroid and moon crater named after him! Whew.

  • Icarus

    You know that kid who insists on riding his skateboard down the steepest hill in the neighborhood, even though you're sure he's going to crash and skin his knee? That's Icarus. The young son of Daedalus and a beautiful slave named Naucrate, Icarus was curious, adventuresome, and reckless. A daredevil in the making, you can bet that his modern day heroes would have included Tony Hawk and Evel Knievel.

    Like any young boy, Icarus liked to test the limits of his father's patience. According to Ovid, while Daedalus diligently crafted his famous wings, Icarus goofed around, playing with the wax and generally getting in the way. And of course, when Daedalus tells Icarus not to fly too high, what does the boy go and do? He takes the express route towards the sun, and ends up melting his wings. It's kind of like when your dad says "Don't touch the stove, it's hot," and you immediately touch the stove and burn yourself. Lesson learned.

    Not surprisingly, Icarus has become a symbol for excessive aspiration and the danger of ignoring your parents' advice. The lesson is twofold: (1) don't try to reach your loftiest goals too quickly, because you might burn out (this is what people mean when they say, "Don't try to fly too close to the sun!); and (2) always listen to your parents, especially in situations involving wax wings and celestial bodies.

    Icarus's descent has inspired dozens of poems, songs, and paintings. W.H. Auden and Anne Sexton both immortalized him in short poems, and even Shakespeare namedrops Icarus in Henry VI, Part III. Icarus is also the name of a publication put out by the American Astronomical Society, in celebration of the boy's adventurous spirit.

  • King Minos

    Ruler of the island Crete, King Minos is powerful, vengeful, and often kind of childish. For example, when Poseidon sends him a beautiful bull, he declines to sacrifice it, because he thinks it is too handsome. This angers the sea god so much that he punishes Minos by causing his wife, Pasiphae, to fall in love with the bull. Oops. That'll teach him.

    King Minos isn't especially forgiving, either, especially when it came to personal stuff. He and Daedalus were great buddies until the inventor got mixed up in Minos' personal affairs. According to different stories, Minos is angry with Daedalus for one of two things:

    (1) helping his wife seduce the handsome bull by building a cow suit for her

    (2) aiding Theseus in his escape from the Labyrinth (thanks to Daedalus, Theseus is able to navigate the Labyrinth and run off with King Minos' daughter)

    And of course, rather than have a heart-to-heart with Daedalus to talk about his feelings, King Minos imprisons the inventor and his son. Next best option, we guess. And Minos doesn't let go of a grudge either—too bad because his hunt for Daedalus is what leads to his death. On the bright side, once he's dead, King Minos becomes a judge of the dead down in the Underworld.

    King Minos isn't as popular as Daddy Daedalus and Punk-Son Icarus, but he does make an appearance as a villain in Percy Jackson: The Battle of the Labyrinth.