Athens is the eye of Greece, the mother of science and the arts, and of all her world-famed artists none is more famous than Dædalus, the sculptor, the architect, the first of air-men. It was he who taught men to carve in wood the human form divine, as the images prove that the Greeks named after him dædala. It was he who planned for Minos the labyrinth of which you have read elsewhere; and it was he who first made wings that men might fly like birds. Of this, his best and greatest invention, how he came to contrive it, and how disastrously it ended, you shall now hear.

When Theseus had slain the Minotaur, King Minos was exceedingly wrath with his architect for betraying the secret of the labyrinth—a secret that none but the king and its contriver knew. So Dædalus, and with him his young son Icarus, was cast into prison, and there they languished long. But Pasiphaë the queen, who loved not her sovereign lord and loved her favorite artist, contrived their escape and hid them in a sea-cave. Still the cave was little better than a prison. It was dark and dank, and they dared only venture out at night for fear their hiding-place should be discovered.

But though the artist's hands were idle, his busy brain was ever plotting and scheming. One day, as he sat at the cave's mouth watching the seagulls as they floated past on poised wings or mounted from the waves and with a stroke of their pinions were high in air, there flashed upon his brain the splendor of a sudden thought—With the wings of a bird I too could fly!

At once the father and the son set to work to make themselves wings. The osprey and the sea-eagle, whose aeries were on the rocky heights, the father trapped with cunning snares, and from the combs of the wild bees on the hillside the son collected wax. So with infinite pains, and after endless failures, at last a pair of pinions were made. The upper row of quills were bound together by strong threads of twine on a framework of bone, and to them the bottom feathers were joined by beeswax. Like all great inventors, Dædalus had conquered Nature by imitating her.

At first young Icarus had watched his father with eager curiosity, but like a boy, he had soon grown impatient, and, as Dædalus still persevered, he looked upon him as a harmless lunatic. What, then, were his delight and surprise when, one morning as he awoke, he beheld his father floating in mid-air before the cave's mouth.

"Father," he cried, embracing him as he alighted, "what rapture! Let me too try if I can fly. Make me a pair of wings, and together we will escape from this island prison."

"My boy," the grave sire replied, "thou shalt surely try, but flight is no easy matter, and thou must first learn thy lesson. Mark well my words. Steer always a middle flight; there only safety lies. If you fly low the sea spray will wet your flagging feathers, if high the sun will melt the wax. Keep me in sight, and swerve not to the north or south."

Icarus promised to obey, but so fired was he with the thought of flying that he listened with half an ear, and soon forgot his father's directions.

The second pair of wings were made and strapped with anxious care to the son's shoulder-blades. And, as the parent birds eye their callow nestlings when they essay their first flight, so Dædalus, as he mounted upwards, oft looked back on the boy and again repeated his warnings.

The people were stirring in the towns, the countrymen were out in the fields after their beasts, and all the folk stayed in their morning tasks to gaze at these two strange creatures that floated overhead. "It is Dædalus and his son," they cried. "They have become gods."

Minos in his palace was told of the strange spectacle. From his terrace he watched in impotent wrath the two dark specks far out to sea, that thus escaped him.

At first Icarus kept close to his father, but soon he had lost all sense of danger, and with the reckless wantonness of youth, determined to go his own way. He reveled in the strong free strokes of his great wings; he mounted ever higher and higher, till the sea was spread below him like a blue plain, and the sandy islands showed like cloths of gold.

Dædalus was winging his careful way lower down, below the scattered clouds, close above the golden islets, and shouted to his son to return. But Icarus, drunk with the delights of flight, mounted ever higher, up into the fierce rays of Phœbus, the Sun-god, who held out burning arms to the adventurous youth, beckoning him to race his fiery car across the heavens.

The horrified father, floating on outspread wings over the Ægean Sea, looked up to see his boy like a tiny speck in the sun's rays. He knew the fierce heat of those rays; he knew that the wings were only fastened on by wax that could not hold against that scorching heat. And lo! as he looked, the speck grew larger and larger, and headlong down the sky he beheld Icarus falling, falling, his limp wings sagging from his shoulders, his frantic arms struggling to spread them and stay his fall. The drooping wings could not uphold him; he came whirling down the hissing air, and his agonized father watched his helpless boy fall into the blue waves beneath. For a moment he saw him struggle feebly, and then, like a bubble, he sank, and the unruffled waters lay calm and smiling as before.

By the sad sea shore of the Ægean, where he landed after that disastrous flight, Dædalus raised a cenotaph to his lost son, and thereon he laid the wings, once the artist's pride, and now the father's bane. "Icarus, O my Icarus!" he cried; and still those waters echo the name of Icarus.