Daedalus was well known as a genius inventor in Greek mythology and he is both a central part of several myths as well as a side character in a few others. He is perhaps best known for two things, though – he is both the architect behind the Labyrinth and the father of the tragic figure, Icarus.
Daedalus and the Labyrinth
To say that Daedalus was a genius is an understatement. He was known as the best craftsman, the best artist, and the best inventor in all of Greece. He, along with his sons Icarus and Iapyx, could construct almost anything. It was due to this fact that Daedalus was called upon by the king of Crete, Minos.
Through a number of mishaps and god-related incidents, a creature called the Minotaur had been born on Crete. This creature was half-man, half-bull and was incredibly dangerous. The danger was so great, in fact, that Minos commissioned a massive maze, the Labyrinth, to keep the creature locked away. The story went that Minos forced the king of Athens to send seven young men and seven young women to be sacrificed to the Minotaur each year as tribute, a process that only ended when Minos’ own daughter, Ariadne, assisted the hero Theseus in killing the Minotaur and escaping the maze.
Daedalus and Icarus
After building the Labyrinth, Minos became jealous of the secret of the maze’s construction. He wanted to make sure that no one else would ever have access to Daedalus or his inventions. As such, Daedalus was imprisoned in a tower on Crete along with his son, Icarus.
Being a clever man and inventor, a tower would not be enough to keep Daedalus locked away. He created two pairs of wings, one for his son and one for himself. These wings were made with feathers, but were glued together with wax. The wings would work, with two exceptions – if they flew too high, the sun would melt the wax, while going too low would soak the feathers and cause the men to fall.
Though the wings worked, Icarus was too excited when he flew. Depending on the source, Icarus was either too foolhardy or too afraid when he was flying. In either case, he forgot his father’s warning and flew too close to the sun. The wax on the wings melted and Icarus fell into the ocean. While the island of Icaria would be named for him, Daedalus was never the same.
Daedalus on Sicily
While Icarus may have drowned, Daedalus eventually made his way to Sicily and into the friendly court of King Cocalus. While he may have been a bright man, he felt that he had still been favored by the gods in his escape. One of the first things he did on Sicily was to build a temple to the god Apollo and to sacrifice the wings that saved him in the name of the god.
Unfortunately for Daedalus, Minos realized that his inventor had escaped and searched across the Greek world for him. Minos knew that Daedalus could not resist a challenge, so he asked all that he met to run a string through a sea shell. No one could accomplish this task, of course, until Minos arrived in Sicily. Cocalus knew that Daedalus would be able to solve the riddle, and thus Minos found out that his lost inventor was in Sicily. All was not lost for Daedalus, though, as Cocalus tricked Minos and had him killed, giving Daedalus his safety and ending the threat of the tyrannical king.
Daedalus and Perdix
While Minos might have guarded Daedalus’ secrets, he certainly wasn’t as proud of the accomplishments as Daedalus himself. Later in his life, Daedalus moved from Sicily to Athens took on his nephew Perdix as his apprentice. When Perdix managed to invent a saw and a compass with relative ease, Daedalus flew into a rage. He pushed the younger man off the Acropolis in Athens, where he would have fallen to his death were it not for divine intervention. Daedalus was marked with a scar in the shape of a bird on his shoulder, and ended up fleeing Athens in shame.
After this point, Daedalus disappears from myth as a cautionary tale about pride and jealousy.
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