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Icarus & Daedalus: Myth & Summary

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  • 0:01 The Myth
  • 1:45 Who Were the Minoans?
  • 2:43 Origins of the Labyrinth
  • 4:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy is a doctoral student at Virginia Commonwealth University studying media studies and cultural history.

In this lesson, we'll learn about the myth of Icarus and Daedalus, those mythic men who endeavored to escape the labyrinth by flight. We'll discover the ancient derivation of the story and its meaning in the context of the Minoan civilization.

The Myth

The ancient Greeks handed down legends that are both culturally relevant and entertaining. Along with Theseus, who slew the Minotaur, and Ariadne, daughter of King Minos who spun thread and wove great tapestries, Daedalus helps us understand what this early civilization thought about the power of invention, the will of defiance, and the role of creativity in society.

The story of Icarus and Daedalus is one of the most memorable adventures in all of Greek legend. King Minos of Crete commissions Daedalus, an architect, to construct a massive labyrinth in order to imprison the minotaur, a half man, half bull. But when the hero Theseus falls in love with the King's daughter, Daedalus helps the warrior navigate the maze in order to slay the monster. When the King finds out, he banishes Daedalus, along with his son Icarus, to the center of the labyrinth. Daedalus applies his skill as an inventor to build wings out of wax so that they can escape, but showing his bravado, Icarus takes off with the wings. However, when he flies too close to the sun, the wings melt. Poor Icarus falls to his death.

The legend of Daedalus and Icarus goes to show that human beings have always dreamed of flying. However, the legend is a cautionary tale that warns about the danger of innovation and the foolishness of defiance. The cultural significance of this legend reminds us that invention can bring devastation as well as progress. Daedalus and his son Icarus model the human ability to invent and the enduring desire to escape our earthly bonds. Daedalus, an architect, invented the labyrinth as well as the ancient precursor to the airplane in the form of angel wings reportedly made of wax.

Who Were the Minoans?

The legend of Daedalus and Icarus was passed down from the Minoans, a civilization that rose and fell between 2600 and 1450 B.C. on the Mediterranean island of Crete. The Minoans lived during the Bronze Age, a historical period that witnessed innovations in metal working, writing, and agriculture.

It was British archaeologist Arthur Evans who named their civilization after the ruler King Minos; we don't know what they called themselves. Evans led the first excavation on the site of the ancient city of Knossos in 1900, where he discovered the ruins of a great palace. Evans believed that the Palace of Knossos burned to the ground around the year 1400 BCE. But the truth is, nobody really knows what happened to the Minoans.

Archaeologists speculate that the Minoan civilization was destroyed either by earthquakes, volcanic activity, or foreign invasion. All we have to work off is the limited archaeological evidence, including art and artifacts, and the stories passed down through myth and legend.

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