Daedalus (Δαίδαλος, Daedalos) is an Athenian architect, sculptor and artist, whose name literally means “skillful master”. Son of Euphalamus and Meropa (daughter of Erechtheus – Myth of Erechtheus here), and his descendant was the ancient philosopher Socrates. Daedalus, the king of Crete, Minos, commissioned the construction of the labyrinth in which the terrible Minotaur was (the labyrinth was a prototype similar to that of the Egyptian).

Icarus (καρος, Íkaros) is the son of Daedalus. In the famous legend of flying near the Sun, the main character is Icarus, to whom his father Daedalus made wings attached to their backs with wax and warned him not to be too arrogant to fly to the Sun, because the wax would melt. The wings were made when Icarus and Daedalus wanted to escape from the island of Crete and King Minos.

Myth of Daedalus and Icarus

Erechtheus’ descendant Daedalus was one of the greatest sculptors and builders in Athens. He was said to have carved such wonderful statues out of snow-white marble that they looked alive; one would say that Daedalus’ statues see and move. Daedalus invented a variety of tools for his work; his invention was the ax and the drill. Daedalus’s fame spread far and wide.

This great artist had a nephew, the son of his sister Perdiccas named Tal. He was a student of his uncle. From an early age he amazed everyone with his talent and ingenuity. Tal could be expected to far surpass his teacher. Daedalus envied his nephew and decided to kill him. Daedalus once stood with him on the high Acropolis of Athens, at the very end of the cliff. There was no living soul around. Seeing that they were alone, Daedalus pushed his nephew off the cliff. The artist was confident that his crime would go unpunished. Tal killed himself when he fell off a cliff. Daedalus hurried down from the Acropolis, lifted Tal’s body, and wanted to bury it secretly in the ground, but was surprised by some Athenians as he dug the tomb. The crime was solved. The Areopagus sentenced Daedalus to death.

To escape death, Daedalus fled to the island of Crete to the mighty king Minos, son of Zeus and Europa. Minos gladly accepted under his protection the great artist of Greece. Daedalus made many wonderful works of art for the Cretan king. He also built the famous Labyrinth Palace for him – with such confusing galleries that once you enter it, you can no longer find the way out. In this palace Minos imprisoned the son of his wife Paziphaya, the terrible Minotaur – a monster with a human body and a bull’s head.

Daedalus lived with Minos for many years. The king did not want to release him from Crete; he only wanted him to use the art of the great artist. Minos held Daedalus on the island of Crete as a real prisoner. Daedalus thought for a long time about how to escape and finally found a way to free himself from his Cretan slavery.

“If I can’t,” Daedalus said to himself, “escape the power of Minos by land or sea, the sky is free to escape! Here is my way! Minos rules everything, only the air does not rule!”

Daedalus set to work. He gathered feathers, attached them to each other with linen threads and wax, and began to make four large wings out of them. While Daedalus was working, his son Icarus played around his father: now he caught fluff that rose in the air from the blowing of the wind, now he crushed wax in his hands. The boy floated carefree; his father’s work amused him. Daedalus was finally done; the wings were ready. Daedalus tied them to his back, put his hands in the loops attached to them, fluttered his wings and floated smoothly in the air. Astonished, Icarus watched his father, who hovered in the air like a huge bird. Daedalus landed on the ground and said to his son:

“Listen, Icarus, we’re going to fly from Crete now. Be careful while flying. Do not go too low to the sea, so that the salty splashes of the waves do not wet your wings. Don’t get too close to the sun: the heat can melt the wax and scatter the feathers. Fly after me, don’t lag behind.”

The fall of Icarus, Jacob Peter Gowy‘s The Flight of Icarus (1635–1637)

The father and son put their wings on their hands and carried off lightly. Those who saw them flying high above the earth thought that two gods were floating on the blue of the sky. Daedalus often turned to watch his son fly. They had already passed the islands of Delos and Paros and continued to fly farther and farther.

Fast flying entertains Icarus; he fluttered his wings more and more boldly. Icarus forgot his father’s instructions; he no longer flies close, behind him. Fluttering its wings, it rose high into the sky, approaching the radiant sun. The scorching rays melted the wax that soldered the feathers on the wings; the feathers fell and flew far into the air, chased by the wind. Icarus swung his arms, but they no longer had wings. He flew headlong from the terrible heights, fell into the sea and perished in its waves.

Daedalus turned and looked around. Icarus is gone!

He began to shout loudly to his son:

“Icarus! Icarus! Where are you? Call me!”

No answer is heard. Daedalus sees feathers from Icarus’ wings on the waves of the sea and understands what has happened. How Daedalus hated his art, how he cursed the day he planned to flee Crete by air!

And Icarus’ body floated on the waves of the sea for a long time, which began to be called the Icarian Sea after the name of the deceased. At last the waves threw him ashore on an island; there Heracles found him and buried him.

Daedalus continued his flight and finally flew to Sicily. There he remained to live with King Kokal. Minos learned where the artist was hiding, left for Sicily with a large army and asked Kokal to give him Daedalus.

Kokal’s daughters did not want to be deprived of an artist like Daedalus. They resorted to cunning. They persuaded his father to agree to Minos’ demands and to receive him as a guest in his palace. As Minos took a bath, Kokal’s daughters poured boiling water on his head; Minos died in agony. Daedalus lived a long time in Sicily. And he spent the last years of his life in his homeland, in Athens; he became there the ancestor of the Dedalids, a glorious line of Athenian artists.

Exposed according to Ovid’s poem “Metamorphoses”