Baring the Aegis: Hellenismos

Hellenismos, otherwise known as Greek Reconstructionist Paganism, is the traditional, polytheistic religion of ancient Greece, reconstructed in and adapted to the modern world. It's a vibrant religion which can draw on a surprising amount of ancient sources. Baring the Aegis blogger Elani Temperance blogs about her experiences within this Tradition.

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The flight of Íkaros

"...but most of all I love Icarus, who knew the wax would melt but still flew towards the sun."
 -- 'Ik hou van Icarus' - Tjitske Jansen (translated from Dutch)



One of my all-time favorite Hellenic myths is about Íkaros; Daidalos' son who escaped the labyrinth on the island of Krete with wings made of feathers and wax. He was warned not to fly too high because the sun would melt the wax, or too low because wet feathers wouldn't carry him, yet Íkaros got too caught up with the marvel of flying, and did fly too high or too low. As a result, he drowned somewhere between the Island and the main land.

Daidalos (Δαίδαλος) was an inventor, a craftsman, who had murdered a gifted student of his--his nephew--in a fit of jealousy. This caused him to flee his home town (most often referred to as Athens, although there are some timeline problems if this was the case) and find refuge on Krete. King Minos saw in Daidalos a gifted man, and asked him to draw and constructed the labyrinth of the Minotaur, son of King Minos. Because he knew the secrets of the labyrinth, and the deformations of the Minotaur, he was never permitted to leave the Island.

 
As often, many details of this myth come from the Roman poet Ovid. In earlier versions of the tale, the labyrinth is an actual labyrinth: it has one pathway that leads inexorably from the entrance to the goal, albeit by the most complex and winding of routes. In Ovid's version--and other like him--the labyrinth is not a labyrinth at all, but a maze: a design with choices in pathways, aimed to confuse the seeker. In fact, Ovid's version of the 'labyrinth' is so complex that Daidalos himself almost gets lost in it:
 

"Great Daedalus of Athens was the man
That made the draught, and form'd the wondrous plan;
Where rooms within themselves encircled lye,
With various windings, to deceive the eye.
As soft Maeander's wanton current plays,
When thro' the Phrygian fields it loosely strays;
Backward and forward rouls the dimpl'd tide,
Seeming, at once, two different ways to glide:
While circling streams their former banks survey,
And waters past succeeding waters see:
Now floating to the sea with downward course,
Now pointing upward to its ancient source,
Such was the work, so intricate the place,
That scarce the workman all its turns cou'd trace;
And Daedalus was puzzled how to find
The secret ways of what himself design'd."
(The Labyrinth)


It takes many years for Daidalos to get restless on the Island, but when he does, he goes to King Minos and asks to be set free. Minos refuses him every time, and eventually, Daidalos is forced to think of another plan. Being a master craftsman, he constructs wings of feathers, wax, and string, and creates one for his young son, Íkaros (Ἴκαρος) as well. Apollodorus describes the tale in a very compact manner in his Epitome:
 
"On being apprized of the flight of Theseus and his company, Minos shut up the guilty Daedalus in the labyrinth, along with his son Icarus, who had been borne to Daedalus by Naucrate, a female slave of Minos. But Daedalus constructed wings for himself and his son, and enjoined his son, when he took to flight, neither to fly high, lest the glue should melt in the sun and the wings should drop off, nor to fly near the sea, lest the pinions should be detached by the damp.

But the infatuated Icarus, disregarding his father's injunctions, soared ever higher, till, the glue melting, he fell into the sea called after him Icarian, and perished.15 But Daedalus made his way safely to Camicus in Sicily." [E.1.12 / E.1.13]


It's important to note that not all historians and writers in ancient Hellas quite agreed with the story of Íkaros and his wings. Pausanias mentions that it were not wings at all that carried Daidalos and Íkaros, but boats, crafted especially well by Daidalos:
 
"Here [at Thebes] is a sanctuary of Herakles. The image, of white marble, is called Promakhos (Champion), and the Thebans Xenokritos and Eubios were the artists. But the ancient wooden image is thought by the Thebans to be by Daidalos, and the same opinion occurred to me. It was dedicated, they say, by Daidalos himself, as a thank-offering for a benefit. For when he was fleeing from Krete in small vessels which he had made for himself and his son Ikaros, he devised for the ships sails, an invention as yet unknown to the men of those times, so as to take advantage of a favorable wind and outsail the oared fleet of Minos. Daidalos himself was saved, but the ship of Ikaros is said to have overturned, as he was a clumsy helmsman. The drowned man was carried ashore by the current to the island, then without a name, that lies off Samos. Herakles came across the body and recognized it, giving it burial where even to-day a small mound still stands to Ikaros on a promontory jutting out into the Aegean. After this Ikaros are named both the island and the sea around it." (Description of Greece 9.11.1.)


Daidalos makes it to the main land. The island Íkaros' body washed upon, was called 'Ikaria' (Ικαρία) from that point on. It still carries that name, and is located ten nautical miles (nineteen kilometer) southwest of Samos. Minos was of no mind to let Daidalos go, however, and so he went from court to court, knowing that a mind as sharp as Daidalos' would be noticed wherever he went. King Minos posed a riddle to every king, as described by Apollodorus:
 
"And Minos pursued Daedalus, and in every country that he searched he carried a spiral shell and promised to give a great reward to him who should pass a thread through the shell, believing that by that means he should discover Daedalus. And having come to Camicus in Sicily, to the court of Cocalus, with whom Daedalus was concealed, he showed the spiral shell. Cocalus took it, and promised to thread it, and gave it to Daedalus;

And Daedalus fastened a thread to an ant, and, having bored a hole in the spiral shell, allowed the ant to pass through it. But when Minos found the thread passed through the shell, he perceived that Daedalus was with Cocalus, and at once demanded his surrender. Cocalus promised to surrender him, and made an entertainment for Minos; but after his bath Minos was undone by the daughters of Cocalus; some say, however, that he died through being drenched with boiling water." [E.1.14 / E.1.15]


And this was the end of King Minos' hunt and his life. Depending on the source, it might have been Daidalos himself who poured boiling water over King Minos, leading to his death. What happens to Daidalos afterwards is unclear. I hope he found a place to remember his son, and build more of his wonderful inventions.

This myth encourages people to look at the consequences of their actions, even those--or especially those--with good intentions. Daidalos' genius cost him his son. On the other hand, whenever I read this myth, Íkaros reminds me that, although great risk comes with a leap of faith, it might just be worth it sometimes. Íkaros chose the dangerous path, and while it led to his death, it also led to one of the most beautiful moments of his life. I'm a cautious person, a tempered person, and remembering Íkaros is a great help in my life sometimes. It reminds me to hunt for happiness, even though the quest requires me to let go of the familiar. I live my life looking for small flights of Íkaros, and I wish the same for you.

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Elani Temperance is a twenty-seven year old woman, who lives with her partner in The Netherlands. She has been Pagan for a little over twelve years and has explored Neo-Wicca, Technopaganism, Hedge Witchery and Eclectic Religious Witchcraft before progressing to Hellenismos. Although her home practice is fully Hellenic, she has an online Neo-Pagan magazine called 'Little Witch magazine' (www.littlewitchmagazine.com) in which she and several co-writers try to cover the whole gamut of Neo-Paganism. Baring the Aegis is also on Facebook: www.facebook.com/BaringTheAegis

Comments

  • Jamie
    Jamie Saturday, 27 April 2013

    Another great post! Thanks!

    If the Apollo 13 mission to the Moon had not experienced its famous mishap, and the moon shots not been delayed, the crew of Apollo 14 would have been exposed to a solar storm of potentially lethal severity. Heck, the President of the USA had a eulogy ready in case the first mission to the Moon ended in tragedy.

    We ought to give Ikaros credit for putting on those wings.

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