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Daedalus

In Greek mythology, Daedalus (Latin, also Hellenized Latin Daedalos, Greek Daidalos "cunning worker" and Etruscan Taitle) was a most skillful artificer and was even said to have first invented images. He is first mentioned in Homer, where he built for Ariadne a wide dancing-ground (Iliad xviii.591). Homer still calls her by her Cretan title, the "Lady of the Labyrinth" (Iliad xviii.96), which Daedalus had also made, in which the Minotaur was kept and from which Theseus escaped by means of the thread clue of Ariadne. Ignoring Homer, later writers envisaged the labyrinth as an edifice, rather than a single path to the center and out again, and gave it numberless winding passages and turns that opened into one another, seeming to have neither beginning nor end (see labyrinth). Daedalus built it for King Minos, who needed the labyrinth to imprison his wife's son, Asterion, the Minotaur. For Minos' wife, Pasiphae, Daedalus built a wooden cow so she could mate with the bull, for the Greeks imagined the Minoan bull of the sun to be an actual, earthly bull.

Athenians transferred Cretan Daedalus as Athenian-born, the grandson of the ancient king Erechtheus, who fled to Crete, having killed his nephew, Perdix. Over time, other stories were told of Daedalus. In the nineteenth century, Thomas Bulfinch combined these into a single synoptic view of material which Andrew Stewart calls a "historically-intractable farrago of "evidence", heavily tinged with Athenian cultural chauvinism" (Stewart). Among these anecdotes, one told that Daedalus was shut up in a tower to prevent his knowledge of the labyrinth from spreading to the public. He could not leave Crete by sea, as the king kept strict watch on all vessels, permitting none to sail without being carefully searched. Since Minos controlled the land and sea routes, Daedalus set to work to fabricate wings for himself and his young son Icarus. He tied feathers together, from smallest to largest so as to form an increasing surface. The larger ones he secured with thread and the smaller with wax, and gave the whole a gentle curvature like the wings of a bird. When the work was finally done, the artist, waving his wings, found himself buoyed upward and hung suspended, poising himself on the beaten air. He next equipped his son in the same manner, and taught him how to fly. When both were prepared for flight, Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly too high, because the heat of the sun would melt the wax, nor too low because the sea foam would make the wings wet and they would no longer fly. Thus the father and son flew away.

They had passed Samos, Delos and Lebynthos when the boy began to soar upward as if to reach heaven. The blazing sun softened the wax which held the feathers together and they came off. Icarus fell into the sea. His father cried, bitterly lamenting his own arts, called the land near the place where Icarus fell into the ocean IKaria in memory of his child. Daedalus arrived safely in Sicily, in the care of King Cocalus, where he built a temple to Apollo, and hung up his wings, an offering to the god.

Minos, meanwhile, searched for Daedalus by travelling from city to city asking a riddle. He presented a spiral seashell and asked for a string to be run through it. When he reached Camicus, King Cocalus, knowing Daedalus would be able to solve the riddle, privately fetched the old man to him. He tied the string to an ant which, lured by a drop of honey at one end, walked through the seashell stringing it all the way through. Minos then knew Daedalus was in the court of King Cocalus and demanded he be handed over. Cocalus managed to convince Minos to take a bath first, where Cocalus' daughters killed Minos.

Daedalus was so proud of his achievements that he could not bear the idea of a rival. His sister had placed her son Perdix under his charge to be taught the mechanical arts. He was an apt scholar and showed striking evidence of ingenuity. Walking on the seashore, he picked up the spine of a fish[1]. Imitating it, he took a piece of iron and notched it on the edge, and thus invented the saw. He put two pieces of iron together, connecting them at one end with a rivet, and sharpening the other ends, and made a pair of compasses. Daedalus was so envious of his nephew's accomplishments that he took an opportunity, when they were together one day on the top of a high tower, to push him off. But Minerva, who favors ingenuity, saw him falling and arrested his fate by changing him into a bird called after his name, the partridge. This bird does not build his nest in the trees, nor take lofty flights, but nestles in the hedges, and mindful of his fall, avoids high places. For this crime, Daedalus was tried and banished.

Daedalus had two sons: Icarus and Iapyx.

Such anecdotal details as these were embroideries upon the reputation of Daedalus as an innovator in many arts. In Pliny's Natural History (7.198) he is credited with inventing carpentry "and with it the saw, axe, plumb-line, drill, glue, and isinglass". Pausanias, in travelling around Greece, attributed to Daedalus numerous archaic wooden cult figures (see xoana) that impressed him: "All the works of this artist, though somewhat uncouth to look at, nevertheless have a touch of the divine in them."

Daedalus gave his name, eponymously, to any Greek artificer and to many Greek contraptions that represented dextrous skill. At Plataea there was a festival, the Daedala, in which a temporary wooden altar was fashioned, an effigy was made from an oak-tree and dressed in bridal attire. It was carried in a cart with a woman who acted as bridesmaid. The image was called Daedale and the archaic ritual given an explanation through a myth to the purpose.

In the period of Romanticism, Daedalus came to denote the classic artist, a skilled mature craftsman, while Icarus symbolizes the romantic artist, an undisputed heir of the classic artist, whose impetuous, passionate and rebellious nature, as well as his defiance of formal aesthetic and social conventions, ultimately prove to be self destructive.

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