The Myth of Daedalus and Icarus Essay
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Daedalus, an ingenious Athenian craftsman, having murdered a potential rival, fled with his son Icarus to the island of Crete. There he was commissioned by King Minos to design a labyrinth as a place of confinement for the monster Minotaur. Daedalus contrived a labyrinth so intricate that escape from it was virtually impossible. By falling into disfavor with the king, Daedalus himself, along with his son Icarus, were eventually imprisoned there.
Not to be outdone, the “famous artificier,” Daedalus explained to his son Icarus that, although their escape was checked by land and by sea, the open sky was free.
He devised two pairs of wings, and father and son immediately took flight from Crete.
Daedalus warned his impetuous son not to fly too high lest the heat of the sun melt the glue and his wings fall off. But Icarus, filled with a sense of power in his flight, disregarded his father’s commands and soon his wings, heated by the sun, fell off, and he plunged into the sea, the waters closing over him.
Daedalus means “the artful craftsman.” He symbolizes man’s inventiveness and is credited with other inventions, such as the ax and the saw, in addition to human flight. Icarus, on the other hand, illustrates the dangers which beset human inventions. Daedalus and Icarus together indicate how contradictory and precarious is the human condition: we are both resourceful and very vulnerable.
To rose above the earth is an ancient human dream or desire. You know something of birds and their migrations, of the history of human flight, of air travel and air raids, of rockets to the moon and air disasters, of the eagle that stands for national sovereignty and the dove which symbolizes purity of spirit. This is a fascinating and significant subject, but complex, difficult.
In Joyce’s symbolic language, Dublin is a modern labyrinth, a place of confinement, from which Stephen must escape. To Stephen, the city represents a shabby, dusty world of restraint and spiritual paralysis.
At times, Stephen is identified with the crafty inventor Daedalus (his namesake), and at other times, with Icarus, the ill-fated rebellious son.
Think carefully about the several dimensions of the problem of human flight. There is more to it than saying we need airplanes for transportation and for military protection. Why, in your opinion, does man wish to rise above the earth? What is up there in the nature of man that makes him want to fly always farther and faster and higher? You may not be able to come up with final answers, but you should clarify in your own mind the lure and the dangers of flying, and you should be able to justify human flight.
IB AND AP FINAL ESSAY—1000-1500 words, typed, double-spaced.
ESSAY OPTIONS: (Choose ONE topic)
1. Explore the meaning of the Daedalus myth in Portrait and for modern man.
2. (AP Lit Open-Ended Question) The meaning of some literary works is often enhanced by sustained allusion to a myth. Using Portrait as the work, write an essay in which you explain all the major connections between the myth and the novel, and analyze how it enhances the work’s meaning.
3. How does Stephen embody characteristics of both Daedalus and Icarus? (Use specific examples)
4. Critics have said that the two most important symbolic clusters in the novel are those polarizing around
water/immersion and bird/flight. Discuss how Portrait draws on the myth and elaborates on it.
5. Discuss in detail the appropriateness of the title A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
6. Pick out at least three “epiphanies” that Stephen experiences and describe the degree of wisdom that he
gains from each.
7. Relate any one scene-symbolically, thematically, and architecturally-to the overall novel.
8. Trace and discuss the religious symbolism of the several meals mentioned in the novel.
9. Locate and cite the appearances of water in the novel. Discuss why you think Joyce uses this symbol and what is the effect.
10. Relate any one scene-symbolically, thematically, and architecturially-to the overall novel.