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Icarus in Prose, Poetry and Visual Art Essay

What does it take for one to achieve freedom? As a father, what sacrifices can you give to let your son live the life of a freeman? For an artist and creator, Daedalus, the best of his ability and skills are his weapons in order to give himself and his son, Icarus, the taste of freedom. His sacrifice has been none other than his son.

For centuries and millenia, the story of Icarus and Daedalus has awed the whole world, and has been told and retold by different writers and poets and illustrated and put to life by various artists on stage and on canvas. This famed story is all about an inventor and his son’s attempted escape from a Labyrinth whom he himself has designed.

Daedalus, is a talented, remarkable craftsman, who was conscripted by King Minos of Crete to design a Labyrinth to confine a Minotaur, a half-human half-bull creature who is the son of   Pasiphae, Minos’ wife. To feed it, the palace will have to receive human sacrifices and thrown to the Labyrinth. In the course of the story, a hero, Theseus, came to the place with the objective to kill the beast, putting a stoppage to the brutal sacrifice. The daughter of the king, Adriane, fell in love with him and with the help of Daedalus, was able to give him the tip of the thread as a means to escape the Labyrinth. In some renditions of the story, it was said that Theseus and Adriane eloped and thus, catching Daedalus in the ire of the king.

For this, Daedalus and Icarus, his son, were imprisoned in the Labyrinth in place of the Minotaur. Otherwise, there were versions indicating that the imprisonment  was only in the light that King Minos wanted to keep the secrecy of the Labyrinth structure. In any case, Daedalus’ imprisonment has always been part of the story, alongside their escape feat.

Since the king of Crete had jurisdiction over sea and land, Daedalus found it best to travel through the skies. He crafted two pairs of wings out of feathers, strings, and wax for both himself and his son, of course, to be able to fly. Icarus has been given reminders by his father by saying, “Icarus, my son, I charge you to keep at a moderate height, for if you fly too low the damp will clog your wings, and if too high the heat will melt them. Keep near me and you will be safe.”

This reminder has been put to wste though, as our young hero has been overcome by giddiness and excitement, and his curiosity to see what lies beyond the clouds lead him to soar higher. It was to late for him to try to go back to the previous altitude for afterwards, he saw that his wings melted and he rocketed down to the ocean. What went back to Daedalus then was the dead body of his son. As a tribute to his son, he named the place as Icaria. In some versions that could be found in the web, it was said that Heracles passed by to give him a burial.

The most enduring elements that the story that existed in all versions of the story of Icarus were the presence of the wings’ exact resemblance to that of a bird’s, the construction of the Labyrinth, the Minotaur, Daedalus and Icarus imprisonment, and their escape. Also, the standard plot then begins with Daedalus being chosen as the one who would design the labyrinth to constrict the Minotaur, being imprisoned with his son, escaping from prison and seeing his son die.

These elements have been retained in the story probably because of their impact to the story. The story contain various themes, such as the sweetness of freedom, human ingenuity and ambition, the real essence of freedom, vanity of the human race.

The whole story is a puzzle, just like the Labyrinth that Daedalus made. One would not help asking what is the purpose of having Icarus’ death in the story? Why does it seem that Icarus was only made to be able to fly in order to die? Is Icarus’ death supposed to teach us that we should not violate the rules of nature? I have read this story when I was a kid, and the only character left to be remembered was Icarus, and the feat before his death. Reading it once again brought my mind’s focus again to the father: his love for the son, his craftmanship and his grief at the death of his son.

The story has taught us so much about the different sides of human nature, and our tendency to go in between. King Minos has been much filled with cruelty, and Daedalus on the other hand proved to be the softest and the most tender of all. It was the cruelty of Minos to offer humans as food for a Minotaur, on one side, and Daedalus’ compassion to give Adriane the clue to the Labyrinth to help Theseus escape and his love as a fathe r on the other.

To add to this theme tableau, we can thus witness the suffering that the oppressed people experienced. Such are the incarceration of people who only chose to be at the right side, the endless sacrifice of people of all ages by being fed to the Minotaur. The thirst for freedom, in itself, is a means to depict suffering. Icarus’ death on the other hand, makes clear to us that not all things end up happily. We cannot escape sufferings that our life can give us. Freedom is never absolute, it pays its price. The story meant well.


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