THE STORY OF DAEDALUS AND ICARUS
BY M. M. BIRD
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
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
"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
"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.