Daedalus and Icarus

Daedalus Icarus Zakros Politeia

From the dark labyrinth of Minos, to the sun! A tale about seeking freedom.

Daedalus was an Athenian craftsman and inventor, famous for his ingenuity. When Minos, king of Crete, decided to construct an elaborate building, unique for its time, he invited Daedalus and assigned him the task. Daedalus built the Labyrinth, the structure of which, full of corridors and passages, was so complex, that even Daedalus himself struggled to find the exit once it was finished.

Minos used the labyrinth to lock up the Minotaur, son of his wife Pasiphae and Poseidon’s Bull. Wishing to take revenge on Daedalus, as he was the one who had helped Pasiphae have intercourse with the Bull, resulting to the birth of the Minotaur, but also wanting to keep Daedalus' precious mind at his disposal, Minos imprisoned him in the palace, along with his son Icarus.

Daedalus, however, recalled an observation he had made while in his workshop. He had been watching the birds and thinking, how is it possible that they fly, since they are also heavier than air, like humans? He studied the mechanism that helped lift them up; then he came up with the idea of making wings for the human body. Locked up in the palace of Minos, he asked for wax, to make something that would please the king. He used the wax to make wings for himself and Icarus; with them, they flew away from the palace…

Daedalus had warned Icarus not to fly too high and close to the sun, as the high temperature would make the wax melt, destroying the wings. He had also advised him not to fly close to the sea level, as the feathers would take in the moisture and weigh down. But the young man, intoxicated by freedom and the beauty of flying, recklessly set out to reach the sun! The heat caused the wings to melt; they disintegrated and Icarus fell into the sea and drowned. Daedalus, heartbroken, picked up the body of his dead son from a small island near Samos, which, in his honor, was named Ikaria. The sea around the island was named Ikario Pelagos (the Sea of Icarus). Today, the Hellenic Air Force Academy is called School of Icarus.

Looking for Daedalus.

Minos did not let go of Daedalus’ escape, and continued to look for him. But he knew that no king would give away his whereabouts, as everyone would want his valuable services for themselves. So, Minos thought of a trick. He would carry along with him a seashell, a gift from the god Triton. This shell had a small hole at its end and, whenever Triton would blow therein, storms and hurricanes would break out in the sea.

Minos would point at the shell and challenge men to pass a thread through its coils, up to the other end. He even promised a great reward to whoever could make it happen. He knew that the only one who could solve this riddle was Daedalus. He traveled around the world with his fleet, but no one would succeed, until in Sicily, in Kamikos, he gave it to King Kokalos. Kokalos took the shell to Daedalus, and the great craftsman, having put some aromatic honey at its end, tied a thread to an ant and let it pass through the shell coils. The ant, following the honey scent, proceeded to drag the thread along and brought it out at the end.

An excited Kokalos took the shell with the thread to Minos, who instantly realized that Daedalus had taken refuge in Kamikos. “This is the work of Daedalus!”, he cried in joy. “Bring him here immediately, so I can take him with me to Crete!”.