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Saturday, February 2

The Myth of Daedalus



Daedalus creating wings for his son, Icarus.
[img source: Wikipedia]
On this day of crafters, I'd like to share the story of Daedalus.  His is a story of mostly Grecian origin.  He was faithful to the goddess Athena who, similar to Ireland's Brigid celebrated at Imbolc, was a multifaceted goddess.  Daedalus drew inspiration from Athena as a goddess of crafting, innovation, and wisdom. 

Daedalus lived in Athens, so named for the goddess Athena, with his son Icarus.  Aside from being a famed architect, he tinkered and invented and sold things at the market.  He was well known as a man you could come to if you needed something repaired or a problem solved. Some myths go so far as to credit Daedalus with the invention of carpentry.   

As much as Daedalus tried to share his abilities and interests with his son, Icarus was not a thinker.  He was impulsive and heart-led with no mechanical inclination at all, however Daedalus's nephew Talus was very much a thinker.  Talus was sent to Athens one summer to apprentice under his uncle.  While Daedalus loved his nephew, he was dismayed that Talus out shined his son on every level.  There are assorted stories that show Talus's talents to be extraordinary.  He is attributed with the invention of the hand saw and scissors. 

Daedalus & his son Icarus.
[img source: Back To Classics]
One day, Daedalus was helping with reconstruction of the Acropolis in Athens.  The boys accompanied him and an accident occurred wherein Talus fell from the top of the Acropolis and died.  Many there that day felt that the accident was preventable and that out of envy over his nephew's talents and jealousy on behalf of his son, Daedalus had allowed the boy to fall.  Eventually the town turned on Daedalus and he escaped to the island of Crete with his son. 

King Minos, a cruel man and the ruler of Crete, welcomed the famed inventor to the island and invited him to stay at the palace of Knossos with his family so long as he did the family's bidding.  Minos's wife Pasiphae and their various children were in awe of Daedalus's talents and each member of the family came to him with a needs over the years. 

During a moment of doubt in his time as ruler of Crete, King Minos asked for a sign from the god Poseidon.  He received it when a gorgeous, pure-white bull came out of the sea.  He was instructed to sacrifice the bull, but greedily substituted another in its place in order to keep the beautiful creature.  This angered the gods and a curse fell upon the king's wife that she would fall deeply in love with the white bull.  Queen Pasiphae was so obsessed with consummating her inappropriate love that she ordered Daedalus to construct a device to allow her to do so.  He created a hollow wooden bull for the queen and within the year she gave birth to a creature with the body of a human and head of a bull.  The queen begged to keep the creature and the king allowed it.  However, as the unnatural boy grew he lusted for the taste of human flesh. 

Ruins of a great palace and elaborate maze at Knossos of Crete.
[img source: Martin S. at Virtual Tourist]

King Minos called upon Daedalus to construct an elaborate cage for the creature.  Thus, the famous Labyrinth at Knossos was built and legends of the horrible bull-headed creature, the Minotaur, spread.  As time went on, war was waged between Crete and Athens.  King Minos's armies won and he demanded retribution.  He required that every year a number of young men and women from Athens would be sent to the Labyrinth to entertain and feed the Minotaur.  At this point, King Minos locked Daedalus and Icarus up in a tower at the farthest corner of the labyrinth so that he could never share the secrets of the labyrinth with anyone.  

Soon, the warrior Theseus came to the island with a secret mission to kill the Minotaur.  King Minos's daughter, Ariadne, fell in love with Theseus and begged Daedalus to help him be successful.  Having designed the labyrinth, Daedalus was able to tell Theseus how to find the creature as it slept.  After the death of the Minotaur, Minos swore to punish Daedalus for having betrayed him.  Daedalus knew that leaving the island by sea was impossible as Minos was having every boat checked.  So, he hid along the rocky shores with his son Icarus and plotted an escape.  It took months, but the inventor gathered fallen feathers from birds and wax gathered from insects to create mechanical wings for himself and his son. 

Icarus falls.

Just prior to their escape, Daedalus warned Icarus of the dangers of flying too low or too high.  If he flew too close to the sea, the feathers would become wet and too heavy to support the boy.  If he flew too close to the sun, the heat would melt the wax and the wings would fall apart.  The man and his son launched themselves from the highest point on the shoreline of Crete.  They made it across the vast sea and were nearing freedom when the free-spirited Icarus soared higher and higher.  Before Daedalus could stop him, the wax melted and feathers began to fall away from Icarus's wings.  The boy plunged into the sea.  Seeing the tragedy, the god Apollo pulled the boy's body from the sea, but it was too late.

Heartbroken, Daedalus finished his journey, landing on the island of Sicily.  There, he was greeted by King Cocalus, ruler of a small kingdom along the southern coast.  Daedalus asked permission to build a temple and King Cocalus approved.   The temple was dedicated to Apollo and there Daedalus hung his wings on the wall as an offering to the god who had reclaimed his son's body from the sea.  The inventor lived quietly within the kingdom, creating puzzles and toys for the king's children and upkeeping the temple. 

[img source: Alla Expression]

Meanwhile, King Minos did not give up in his search for Daedalus.  He traveled the lands offering a glorious reward to any man who could solve the riddle of how to thread a string through a spiral seashell as he knew that Daedalus would be the only man who could do it.  Eventually Minos arrived in Cocalus's kingdom and presented his riddle.  Cocalus knew that Daedalus could easily solve the riddle and so called him to the palace.  Daedalus tied the string to an ant's leg and lured the insect through the spiral shell with a drop of honey at the other end. 

Minos demanded that King Cocalus hand Daedalus over to him.  Cocalus convinced Minos to enjoy the kingdom for a bit first, delighting him with local foods, dancing women, and ultimately a hot bath.  While Minos relaxed in the bath, he was doused with boiling water and killed.  No one knows who murdered Minos.  There are rumors that Cocalus's daughters were to blame while others suggest that the king ordered his guards to do it.  Some stories tell us that Daedalus killed Minos himself.  In the end, no matter who killed Minos, Daedalus lived out the rest of his days in quiet reflection in the south of Sicily, forever mourning the loss of his beloved son Icarus.  

Heather Jinmaku's first album, 'The Balance', can be purchased at CDBaby.


There is a hauntingly beautiful song sung by Heather Jinmaku about the mournful character of Daedalus.  Mama Stacey first heard it at a Pagan festival in southern Ohio and it is a favorite to this day.  You can preview the song via CDBaby here: Heather Jinmaku - Daedalus.  Track 3 is what you're looking for!




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