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Icarus (mythology)

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Icarus (mythology)

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For other uses, see Icarus (disambiguation).


In Greek mythology, Icarus (the Latin spelling, conventionally adopted in English; Ancient Greek: Ἴκαρος, Íkaros, Etruscan: Vikare[1]) is the son of the master craftsman Daedalus. The main story told about Icarus is his attempt to escape from Crete by means of wings that his father constructed from feathers and wax. He ignored instructions not to fly too close to the sun, and the melting wax caused him to fall into the sea where he drowned. The myth shares thematic similarities with that of Phaëton—both are usually taken as tragic examples of hubris or failed ambition—and is often depicted in art. Today, the Hellenic Air Force Academy is named after Icarus, who is seen as the mythical pioneer in Greece's attempt to conquer the skies.


Icarus's father Daedalus, a talented and remarkable Athenian craftsman, built the Labyrinth for King Minos of Crete near his palace at Knossos to imprison the Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull monster born of his wife and the Cretan bull. Minos imprisoned Daedalus himself in the labyrinth because he gave Minos' daughter, Ariadne, a clew[2] (or ball of string) in order to help Theseus, the enemy of Minos, to survive the Labyrinth and defeat the Minotaur.

Daedalus fashioned two pairs of wings out of wax and feathers for himself and his son. Daedalus tried his wings first, but before taking off from the island, warned his son not to fly too close to the sun, nor too close to the sea, but to follow his path of flight. Overcome by the giddiness that flying lent him, Icarus soared through the sky curiously, but in the process he came too close to the sun, which melted the wax. Icarus kept flapping his wings but soon realized that he had no feathers left and that he was only flapping his bare arms, and so Icarus fell into the sea in the area which today bears his name, the Icarian Sea near Icaria, an island southwest of Samos.[3][4][5]

Hellenistic writers give euhemerising variants in which the escape from Crete was actually by boat, provided by Pasiphaë, for which Daedalus invented the first sails, to outstrip Minos' pursuing galleys, and that Icarus fell overboard en route to Sicily and drowned. Heracles erected a tomb for him.[6][7]

Ancient literature

Icarus' flight was often alluded to by Greek poets in passing, but the story was told briefly in Pseudo-Apollodorus.[8] In the literature of ancient Rome, the myth was of interest to Augustan writers. Hyginus narrates it in Fabula 40, beginning with the bovine love affair of Pasiphaë, daughter of the Sun, resulting in the birth of the Minotaur. Ovid narrates the story of Icarus at some length in the Metamorphoses (viii.183–235), and refers to it elsewhere.[9]

Classical tradition

Ovid's treatment of the Icarus myth and its connection with that of Phaëton influenced the mythological tradition in English literature[10] as received and interpreted by major writers such as Chaucer,[11] Marlowe,[12] Shakespeare,[13] Milton,[14] and Joyce.[15] In Renaissance iconography, the significance of Icarus depends on context: in the Orion Fountain at Messina, he is one of many figures associated with water; but he is also shown on the Bankruptcy Court of the Amsterdam Town Hall - where he symbolizes high-flying ambition.[16] The 16th-century painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, traditionally but perhaps erroneously attributed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder, was the inspiration for two of the 20th century's most notable ecphrastic English-language poems, "Musée des Beaux Arts" by W.H. Auden and "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" by William Carlos Williams. Other English-language poems referencing the Icarus myth are "To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph" by Anne Sexton, "Icarus Again" by Alan Devenish and "Mrs Icarus" by Carol Ann Duffy.

Interpretation

Literary interpretation has found in the myth the structure and consequence of personal over-ambition.[17] An Icarus-related study of the Daedalus myth was published by the French hellenist Françoise Frontisi-Ducroux.[18] In psychology there have been synthetic studies of the Icarus complex with respect to the alleged relationship between fascination for fire, enuresis, high ambition, and ascensionism.[19] In the psychiatric mind features of disease were perceived in the shape of the pendulous emotional ecstatic-high and depressive-low of bi-polar disorder. Henry Murray having proposed the term Icarus complex, apparently found symptoms particularly in mania where a person is fond of heights, fascinated by both fire and water, narcissistic and observed with fantastical or far-fetched-imaginary cognition.[20][21]

See also

  • Icarus imagery in contemporary music
  • Jatayu, a figure in Hindu epic who also flew too near to the sun
  • Kua Fu, a Chinese myth about a giant who chased the sun and died while getting too close
  • Bladud, a legendary king, purported to have met his death when his constructed wings failed
  • Etana, a sort of "Babylonian Icarus"[22]

References

Further reading

  • Graves, Robert, (1955) 1960. The Greek Myths, section 92 passim
  • Smith, William, ed. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology
  • Pinsent, J. (1982). Greek Mythology. New York: Peter Bedrick Books

External links

  • -style accident report about the Icarus incident
  •  
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