Magical tales of mythical monsters and legendary heroes

Daedalus and Icarus

Written By on in Europe

1,650 words, estimated reading time 8 minutes.

In this age-old tale of parents always know best, Daedalus warns his son, Icarus, not to fly too high as the heat will melt the wax holding his wings together. Ignoring his father's words of wisdom, Icarus flies too high, with catastrophic consequences.

Daedalus was sorry that he had to shake his son so roughly, but it was important that he woke up quickly. He and his father were in great danger. Any moment now, King Minos' guards would be outside the door. Daedalus shook his son again.

"Come on, Icarus!" he cried. "Wake up! By all the gods, why does the boy have to sleep so soundly?" Daedalus muttered. But then, everyone in the palace of Minos had been sound asleep the previous night when cunning Prince Theseus of Athens entered the labyrinth and killed the Minotaur imprisoned there. Everyone was fast asleep when Theseus sailed with the fourteen young Athenians who had come with him to the island of Crete.

Moreover, Theseus had taken Princess Ariadne, King Minos' daughter, with him.

Next morning, when the King discovered what had happened, there was uproar throughout the entire palace. The first person the enraged King had called for was Daedalus, the craftsman who had made the labyrinth in which the Minotaur was kept.

"Where is that wretched Daedalus? Where is he?" King Minos raged. "I will tear him apart! I will burn him with hot coals! I will fling him off the cliff! The wretch, the liar! He told me that no one could get out of the labyrinth alive! Now the Minotaur is dead and Theseus has escaped with my hostages and my daughter!"

Daedalus heard the shouting and raving coming from the King's rooms and realised that the time had come to leave Crete - and to leave immediately! It was only a matter of time before Minos' soldiers came to arrest Daedalus - to drag him to the King.

"Icarus! Wake up! Wake up!"

Daedalus shook Icarus' shoulder again, more violently this time. Icarus opened his eyes and murmured sleepily, "What is it, Father? Why do I have to wake up now?"

"We have to escape, my son," Daedalus whispered urgently. "I will explain why later. But if we don't go now, it could mean death for both of us."

Icarus was wide awake now. His father was obviously worried, very worried indeed.

"You know you've always wanted to fly," Daedalus said. "Well, now's your chance."

Daedalus went over to a large box in the corner of the room. Somehow, Daedalus had always known that one day, he and Icarus might have to escape from Crete. So he had made wings from bird feathers and set aside four balls of wax with which to stick them to their bodies.

Daedalus lifted the wings from the box and attached one pair on to Icarus' back. "Poor Icarus," Daedalus thought. "He believes it's all a game."

This was the second time he and his son had been forced to escape from danger together. The first time, Daedalus had to flee from his native city of Athens after he had thrown his nephew, Perdix, over a cliff in a fit of jealousy.

Although Perdix was only a young boy, he was already a very clever inventor and craftsman. He was much cleverer, people said than Daedalus himself. As Perdix tumbled over the cliff, the goddess Athene had saved him from death by turning him into a partridge. Even so, Daedalus was afraid of what would happen when his crime was discovered, so he took Icarus and fled by night to the island of Crete. There, King Minos had given him shelter. Now Daedalus and Icarus had to run away

At last, Daedalus was satisfied with Icarus' wings. They were well fixed and should carry him safely across the sea. However, as Daedalus fixed his own larger Wings on to his own back, he had a strong warning for Icarus.

"Remember your wings are stuck on with wax," Daedalus said. "Wax melts in heat, so take care not to fly too near the sun, or your wings will fall off! You understand, don't you, Icarus?"

"Oh yes, Father, of course I understand," Icarus replied, only half-listening.

Icarus was too excited at the thought of flying like a bird to think of anything else. The wings on his back were made of beautiful snow-white feathers, just like those of the birds he had often Watched flying over the island. Already, Icarus felt very proud of them. With his great white wings, he would fly far better and further than his cousin Perdix, who had become a partridge.

"Partridges are only small, grey birds." Icarus thought scornfully.

Daedalus looked at the eager, excited face of his son and prayed that no harm would befall him.

"Just follow me," he told Icarus. "Don't fly any higher than I do, and you will be all right!"

Just then, Daedalus heard a sound in the corridor outside. It was the tramp, tramp, tramp of soldiers' feet marching speedily towards his rooms.

"Quickly, Icarus!" Daedalus spoke urgently, as he led his son on to the balcony. "Jump up into the air when I tell you, and don't look down!"

Daedalus gave Icarus a quick, anxious kiss, then said, "Now, Icarus! Jump!"

Icarus did as he was told and together with his father, he rose slowly into the air. The Wings attached to his back moved up and down, and before long, Icarus and Daedalus were flying high above the grounds of the palace over the golden sandy beaches along the shore and out to sea. The sun shone warm and bright around them, the sea below sparkled and the air felt fresh and clean on their faces as they flew along.

Every now and then, Daedalus looked around anxiously, to ensure Icarus was behind him. Every time, Icarus waved excitedly at his father. He was enjoying himself.

An hour or so passed. Below there was nothing to be seen but the sea and an occasional fishing boat. The island of Crete had long since disappeared below the horizon. By this time, Icarus was getting bored with just flying along behind his father. He wanted to do as the birds did - swoop downwards, turn and zoom upwards, perhaps move sideways in the wind currents that were blowing around him.

Icarus decided to try something. He glanced ahead to see that his father was not looking, then spread his wings out straight. He waggled them a little at the tips and found himself flying sideways.

"It works!" Icarus cried, in excitement.

Next, Icarus leaned downwards and swooped for a second or two, then zoomed upwards again so that he was once more flying behind Daedalus. Now Icarus could almost believe that he had never been anything but a flying creature.

Just then, a flock of birds came zooming up, right in front of Icarus. They were making for greater heights, before levelling out again. Icarus followed them. Up, up he went, hardly noticing that it was becoming hotter and hotter as he got higher and higher. The sun was shining more and more brightly, but Icarus did not stop.

"I can fly as high as the birds," he said. "I know I can."

Suddenly, far below, Daedalus turned round again. He found the sky behind him was empty. Greatly alarmed, Daedalus looked up and saw to his horror, that Icarus was nothing but a small dot high in the sky.

"Icarus! Icarus!" Daedalus cried out in great fear. "Icarus, come back!"

Icarus was far too high to hear him. Besides, he was feeling rather faint from the heat of the sun. He also grew more and more frightened as the wind currents took hold of him and shot him upwards at tremendous speed.

Suddenly Icarus felt two burning patches on his back. The wax! It was melting! Suddenly, instead of flying, Icarus was falling. Below him as he fell, he saw his two wings being thrown about by the wind. They had come off.

Down, down Icarus plunged, faster and faster. Daedalus was turning this way and that, trying to see where his son was.

Suddenly, the boy fell past him, arms flailing wildly, hands trying to clutch at the air. Daedalus turned cold with fear and grief. He was helpless. All he could do was to watch Icarus falling away from him, getting smaller and smaller until a splash of foam in the sea below marked the spot where he plunged into the water.

"Icarus, my son, my son!" Daedalus moaned. A dreadful ache entered his heart, for he realised Icarus could not have survived such a long fall into the sea.

Tears began to stream from Daedalus' eyes. He knew he had to find Icarus. It was all too clear to Daedalus that Icarus was dead, as he flew down close to the level of the sea. He found Icarus' limp body floating on the surface. His face was terribly white and his eyes were closed. Floating nearby were the wings which had fallen from his back.

The weeping Daedalus gently lifted Icarus out of the water. There was a small, rocky island not far away. Daedalus flew to it and landed on a small patch of sand on the shore. For a few moments, Daedalus was unable to do anything but hold Icarus close to him and weep. At last, though, Daedalus realised that Icarus would have to be buried. With a grieving heart, he began to cover his son with rocks and stones from the sea shore.

There were many birds on the island and a small group of them perched on a rock nearby as if they were watching Daedalus. One of them suddenly chirruped and, looking up, Daedalus saw it was a partridge.

"A partridge!' thought Daedalus. He looked more closely at the grey bird and remembered how his nephew Perdix had been changed into a partridge by Athene. Perhaps this partridge, looking at him now, was Perdix.

"If you are," Daedalus wept, "you will see how my crime against you has been avenged."

Ancient Temple Mythology

Image copyright: Pexels

Last updated on: Sunday 20th August 2017



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