Study Guide

Daedalus and Icarus Daedalus

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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.

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