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Daedalus

In Greek mythology, the labyrinth in which the Minotaur was kept and from which Theseus escaped by means of the clue of Ariadne was built by Daedalus (also Daedalos), a most skilful artificer (he was even said to have invented images). It was an edifice with numberless winding passages and turnings opening into one another, and seeming to have neither beginning nor end. Daedalus built the labyrinth for King Minos, but afterwards lost the favor of the king, and was shut up in a tower.

Minos had to have the labyrinth to imprison his wife's son with a white bull, the Minotaur. Daedalus had built Minos' wife, Pasiphae, a wooden cow so she could mate with the bull. Poseidon had cursed her with bestiality.

Daedalus could not leave the island by sea, as the king kept strict watch on all the vessels, and permitted none to sail without being carefully searched. Since Minos controlled the land and sea routes, Daedalus set to work to fabricate wings for himself and his young son Icarus. He wrought feathers together beginning with the smallest and adding larger, so as to form an increasing surface. The larger ones he secured with thread and the smaller with wax, and gave the whole a gentle curvature like the wings of a bird. When at last the work was done, the artist, waving his wings, found himself buoyed upward and hung suspended, poising himself on the beaten air. He next equipped his son in the same manner, and taught him how to fly. When both were prepared for flight, Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly too high, because the heat of the sun would melt the wax, nor too low because the dampness of the sea would clog the wings. Then the father and son flew away.

They had passed Samos, Delos and Lebynthos[?] when the boy began to soar upward as if to reach heaven. The blazing sun softened the wax which held the feathers together, and they came off. Icarus fell into the sea. His father cried and bitterly lamenting his own arts, he buried the body and called the land Icaria in memory of his child. Daedalus arrived safe in Sicily in the care of King Cocalus, where he built a temple to Apollo, and hung up his wings, an offering to the god.

Minos, meanwhile, searched for Daedalus by travelling from city to city asking a riddle. He presented a spiral seashell and asked for it to be strung all the way through. When he reached Camicus[?], King Cocalus, knowing Daedalus would be able to solve the riddle, fetched the old man. He tied the string to an ant, which walked through the seashell, stringing it all the way through. Minos then knew Daedalus was in the court of King Cocalus and demanded he be handed over. Cocalus managed to convince him to take a bath first. Cocalus' daughters then killed Minos.

Daedalus was so proud of his achievements that he could not bear the idea of a rival. His sister had placed her son Perdix[?] under his charge to be taught the mechanical arts. He was an apt scholar and gave striking evidences of ingenuity. Walking on the seashore he picked up the spine of a fish. Imitating it, he took a piece of iron and notched it on the edge, and thus invented the saw. He put two pieces of iron together, connecting them at one end with a rivet, and sharpening the other ends, and made a pair of compasses. Daedalus was so envious of his nephew's performances that he took an opportunity, when they were together one day on the top of a high tower, to push him off. But Athena, who favors ingenuity, saw him falling, and arrested his fate by changing him into a bird called after his name, the partridge. This bird does not build his nest in the trees, nor take lofty flights, but nestles in the hedges, and mindful of his fall, avoids high places. For this crime, Daedalus was tried and banished.

Daedalus had two sons: Icarus and Iapyx.

Apollodorus. Bibliotheke. III.i.4, III.xv.8; Apollodorus. Epitome. I.8-15; Ovid. Metamorphoses. VIII.180-262; Ovid. Ars Amatoria[?]. II



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