Study Guide

Daedalus and Icarus Icarus

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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.

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