The Legend of Icarus
Although the pictorial image of a mythical human flight may appear on vase-painting much earlier, the literary accounts of the escape of Daedalus and Icarus from the Labyrinth of Crete are all surprisingly late: we have nothing earlier than the end of the 1st century bc. Ovid’s account in the Metamorphoses (VIII 182 ff) is the fullest, and it is closely related to that in Hyginus’s Fabulae. An older version of the story, however, is probably represented by that recounted in Pausanias (Description of Greece, IX.11) in which Daedalus whom King Minos of Crete had imprisoned together with his son Icarus in the Labyrinth (designed by Daedalus himself at Minos’s command), escapes not by airborne flight, but by a boat rigged with his newly-invented sails which were able to outrun the oar-powered ships of Minos. Daedalus fared well, but Icarus who did not properly understand how to control his sails, capsized and drowned in the sea near Lebinthos (Levitha, 40km west of Kalymnos). His body was washed by the storm to Ikaria where, in other accounts, it was later found and buried by Hercules.
Ovid’s version—more romantic and far better known—has theenious Daedalus make wings of wax and feathers for the escape. Before embarking Daedalus advises his son, in model Greek fashion, to fly always at a reasonable level, neither too low, where humidity might weigh down the feathers, nor too high where the sun might melt the binding wax. Once out of danger, Icarus began—in a natural and understandable delight at being airborne—to fly higher and higher, provoking the inevitable consequences foreseen by his father. Calling out to his father, Icarus falls into the sea and drowns, leaving Daedalus to bury his son’s body ashore on the island which, as Ovid says, has ever since conserved his name. Ovid’s account is vivid and moving: its details inspired Breughel’s masterpiece of 1569, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus; and the painting in turn inspired W.H. Auden’s beautiful poem, written around 1932, ‘Musee des Beaux Arts, Brussels’ (where the picture is still to be seen), which begins with the lines: About suffering they were never wrong, / The Old Masters….
Ikaria Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island group
The legend of Icarus.
Ikaria’s Thermal Spa