How It (Supposedly) Went Down
The Short Story
Daedalus is a brilliant inventor—the Thomas Edison of his day. Unfortunately, he angers King Minos, the ruler of the island Crete, and he has to hightail it out of there. Desperate to flee the island, Daedalus uses wax to build some wings for himself and his son Icarus. Daddy Daedalus warns his son to fly at a middle height: the seawater will dampen the wings and the sun will melt them. (Not good either way.)
Icarus heeds his father's advice for a bit, but then he gets cocky. He's having so much fun flying that he forgets the warning and flies too close to the sun. Sure enough, his wings melt, and Icarus plummets into the sea and drowns. Daedalus is (of course) devastated by his son's death, but the show must go on. He flies on to Sicily, where he mourns Icarus and builds a temple in honor of the god Apollo.
The Less Short Story
- Daedalus is an Athenian craftsman, famous for his ability to invent and build things. Think Leonardo da Vinci, but with more powers.
- Unfortunately, he also has a jealous streak. When his nephew (Talus) invents the saw, Daedalus realizes that the boy might be more talented than he is. Not good.
- In a fit of jealousy, Daedalus throws Talos off the Acropolis, a tall monument in Athens. That'll teach him not to invent any more carpentry tools.
- Some people say that Athena saw the boy falling, and transformed him into a partridge. But others argue that Talos died and that Daedalus tried to hide the murder by burying him. Well those are very different endings.
- Either because he was feeling guilty or because he was banished, Daedalus leaves Athens and heads to the island of Crete.
- While he's hanging out there, Daedalus befriends King Minos, the island's ruler. (It pays to have friends in high places.)
- Daedalus still has the touch in Crete and he continues his building streak. First, he builds a cow suit so that Crete's queen (Pasiphae) can get it on with a bull. Yes, we said bull.
- Pasiphae's union with the bull results in a horrible half-man, half-beast called the Minotaur. Heard of him?
- Next up, King Minos (the half-beast's step-dad) asks Daedalus to design a maze (the Labyrinth) in which to put the terrible Minotaur. The Minotaur demands human sacrifices, and every nine years, King Minos sends seven young men and women into the Labyrinth to meet their doom.
- One of these victims sent to his death is the hero Theseus. This guy is tough and he decides to fight back and try to kill the Minotaur.
- King Minos' daughter, Ariadne, falls madly in love with Theseus. And since Daedalus built the Labyrinth, she asks him to help Theseus safely navigate it.
- Always the helpful one, Daedalus gives Theseus a ball of yarn and tells the hero to trail it behind him, creating a roadmap for how to get back out. Genius, we say! And sure enough, after Theseus kills the Minotaur, he is able to escape. (He and Ariadne leave Crete together.)
- King Minos is not happy with Daedalus for helping Theseus, so he locks Daedalus and his son, Icarus, in the Labyrinth. (This seems to be his punishment of choice.)
- (Some versions of the story say that King Minos actually imprisoned them in a tower. Still others say that Minos just ordered every ship surrounding the island to be searched, making it impossible for Daedalus and Icarus to escape. Any way you look at it, Daedalus and Icarus are trapped on Crete.)
- Clearly our genius inventor won't take this sitting down. Knowing that the land and water are guarded by King Minos' army, Daedalus decides to escape by air. Brilliant.
- Daedalus uses twine, feathers, and wax to build large wings for himself and his son.
- (According to Ovid, Icarus goofed around while Daddy Daedalus was making the wings. He played with the feathers and wax and just generally got in his dad's way. Ah, kids.)
- Finally, the wings are finished. Daedalus tries his set on and—OMG—they totally work. He hangs in the air for a few seconds, flapping his fake wings. Nice!
- Before putting wings on Icarus, Daedalus gives his son some warnings: he should follow him closely and fly at a middle height. If he flies too low, the seawater will dampen the wings, and if he flies too high, the sun will melt them. Got it? Good.
- Daedalus is still a little scared about the journey: the big softy cries while tying the wings onto his son, and gives his little guy a hug.
- And off they go! Daedalus looks back at his son, cheering him on.
- A bunch of people on the ground, including a shepherd and a plowman, stop their work to gaze up at Daedalus and Icarus. They're completely blown away at the sight of two people flying in the air—they figure that Daedalus and Icarus might be gods, since no human has ever achieved flight before. What's up now, humans?
- In all the excitement, Icarus forgets his father's warning and starts to fly higher.
- Sure enough, he gets too close to the sun: the heat softens the wax, and his wings fall apart.
- Icarus plummets into the sea, crying "Father, father!" on his way down. (We'll wait while you break out the tissues.)
- Daedalus tries to save his son, but it's too late—he has drowned. The only thing Daedalus can find are feathers floating in the water.
- For the first time ever, Daedalus curses his "art" (i.e., his crafting skills). That's what got him into this mess to begin with.
- Daedalus names the part of the ocean where Icarus fell the "Icarian Sea." A nice honor for a not-so-well-behaved boy.
- Still mourning, Daedalus flies onward to the Italian island of Sicily. When he gets there, he performs funeral rites for his son (these were super important back then). Oh, and according to Ovid, a partridge watches Daedalus as he does all this. This is no ordinary partridge, but Talos, the nephew that Daedalus once tried to murder.
- Next, Daedalus constructs a temple to Apollo (NBD), where he hangs his wings.
- While living in Sicily, Daedalus strikes up a friendship with King Cocalus, the ruler of the island. When King Minos comes searching for Daedalus, Cocalus takes pity and hides the inventor. Oh, and even better, King Cocalus' daughters kill King Minos with scalding water, freeing Daedalus from his hunt forever.