The heroes of Greek myth are generally royalty of one kind or another. Daedalus was a member of the Athenian royal family. He was a genius craftsman, and nice to know that in those days members of a royal family were allowed to practise a trade.
He was not a nice man; it was killing his young nephew Talos that got him into trouble and sent him fleeing fromAthens. Talos, Daedalus’s apprentice, apparently invented the saw. This made Daedalus jealous, so he pushed him off the Acropolis. You can find this story, by the way, dramatised in the Greek Myths section of Jim Henson’s series The Storyteller, told by Michael Gambon. It also tells the story we know best, that of Icarus. I’ve found it on Amazon Prime, if you’re interested.
But Daedalus was a genius. When he fled Athens, he ended up for some time living at the court of Minos of Crete, where he was made welcome for his skills. He must have been there for a while, because that’s where his beloved son Icarus was born. He also had time to design the Labyrinth, where the Minotaur was imprisoned and girls and boys sent to be eaten. (Well, that’s the myth, anyway. In Mary Renault’s novel The King Must Die, the Labyrinth was the name of the palace complex)
Another commission he had, which got him into huge trouble, was from the Queen, Pasiphae, sister of Circe. Greek myths have a lot of dirty stories, not surprising in a religion that had such randy gods. There was a white bull from the sea, sent by sea god Poseidon to Minos, when he promised to sacrifice it. It was such a very pretty bull, though, that Minos kept it.
Goodness knows why Poseidon supplied his own sacrifice, but a promise was a promise and Poseidon got his revenge by making Pasiphae develop a crazy passion for the bull and... well, she was a goddess, after all, but even a goddess might find it a bit hard to do bestiality with a bull without help.
That’s where Daedalus came in. He built her a wooden cow that let her climb in and receive the attentions of the bull from the sea. By the time Minos found out that she had almost literally crowned him with horns, the baby was born, a boy with a bull’s head.
Personally I can’t see any logic in feeding a semi-bull meat, as cattle are herbivores, right? But there are man-eating horses in other myths, so what the heck.
Daedalus was again in trouble. Being a genius craftsman, he prepared for his escape with his son. This is the best- known story,of course, but I’ll tell it anyway.
Daedalus built feathered wings for both of them, with the feathers stuck to wax. He warned the boy to follow him and not fly too high, but boys will be boys and like a teenager doing wheelies he just had to fly high, so the sun melted the wax and down he came, drowning.
Daedalus had several more adventures, even ending up using some of his gadgets to kill Minos, who had followed him. He sort of had a happy ending, settling in Sardinia.
I’m including here a painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, because I love this one. Notice the 16th century landscape and ships at sea, with everybody just getting on with their everyday work while, in the bottom right hand side of the painting, Icarus’s legs are sticking out of the water as he drowns.
|Brueghel Landscape With The Fall Of Icarus, public domain|
Here is a link to Auden’s poem, Musee Des Beaux Arts, partly inspired by this painting.