Saturday, September 11, 2004

Daedalus and Icarus

11 Sept 04 Daedalus and Icarus

Just as the pigeon tries to imitate the hummingbird at the feeder, so man yearns to fly. In dreams, flying is symbolic of our wish to attain the unimaginable heights of our abilties—to rise aboove human clumsiness and the mundane to take wing to heavenly achievements. Flight symbolizes our deepest yearning to succeed, to overcome or weakness and to be unfettered by human frailty.

Daedalus was an inventor who created the subterranean maze for King Minos of Crete. Every year the maidens of Athens were sacrificed to the bull that lived beneath the island palace. The maze was created as a means of fortification to the island so that invading militia would be trapped and confused. Siimilarly, the fortress at Terezin, built during the Napoleonic Wars, also has an underground maze which was designed to trap the the invaders and confuse them.

However, Daedalus became trapped by his own trap, the snake biting back on its own tail. How ? Why? He became caught like the spy who has learned too much. As the designer of the maze, he was not trusted by Minos not to reveal the secret. Knowledge frees us, but if we learn too much, it also traps us, making us victims of our own understanding. Where do old CIA spies go? How does a spy tell his wife that for twenty years he lived a lie? True some intelligence officers do make fine novelists: Ian Fleming and Le Carre; but what happens to all the others?

There are limitations on what is socially avcceptable to know about your neighbor—or intimate friends. Listening at doors is strongly discouraged and oftentimes we find out what we least want to know. Knowledge implicates.

But the myth is also about escape—the longing and yearning that man has to esacpe from the known; to escape from his constrained environment; to flee confinement. If we know too much about a thing, it becomes psychologically repressive and burdensome, so that we yearn to forget, to escape the past. Mazes appear in nightmares, the symbols of anxiety, of confusion and of being trapped into dark places of psychological torture. Few dreams are as terrifying as those of wandering through a maze of halls in dim lighting, searching frantically for the exit, but not finding it. Read Kafka if you want to drive yourself crazy. Take up an issue regarding Freedom of Information if you want to find out the frustrations of government bureaucracy. Just try to de-classify a document.

For Daedalus, escape was imperative. His plan was risky, fraught with dangers because his materials, he knew were faulty. Wax melts and no one had ever recorded a successful flight before. There were too many what-ifs, but his situation was desperate. So often we read the story thinking, how clever an inventor without considering the extremity of his despair. What kind of person risks his life with a contraption of wax and feathers? Surely with all the materials available, he could have made something more reliable like Leonardi's invention. But, he risked it all, including his son who didn't have the intelligence to keep out of the sun—and thereby lost his most treasured possession.

And indeed, there must be terrible trade-offs and compromises for those who try to escape their own knowledge whether scientists, war criminals, soldiers suffering from combat fatigue or spies-- Certan things do catch up with a man, even if he is a president. It's virtually impossible for man to transform himself into a bird; how do you sort out all the lies? Imagine trying to live two parallel lives with one side of the face never admitting its existence to the other. How can a person forget his past or re-invent himself as an altogether different animal? What does a spy do when he retires? Sits on the front porch writing acrostics and inventing stories of wars he never fought or paper-chases that he never ran?

So many questions are raised by this myth regarding man's nightmares forcing him to flight and seek his place among the stars.

Ovid's Metamorphoses
An introduction and commentary with discussion of myths and links to sources and influences in art and literature
Larry A. Brown, Nashville, TN

University of Vermont Ovid Project
The University of Vermont
's rare book department has an extensive collection of illustrated works of Ovid, including engravings by the 17th century German artist, Johann Wilhelm Bauer, depicting 150 scenes from the Metamorphoses. Each scene has a brief description in both Latin and German. Plates by George Sandys from a 1640 edition of the translation available



University of Virginia Etext: Ovid Metamorphoses
a collection of resources for the Metamorphoses

Dryden, transl Metamorphoses

Book 8 Daedalus and Icarus

Ovid Metamorphoses
Golding complete text
The Fifteen Books of Ovid's Metamorphoses, 1567
The first translation into English - credited to Arthur Golding

Myth Web: Daedalus

Web Winds Ovid

Flight and Fancy

historical article on Daedalus and inventions attributed to him

Flight of Daedalus and Technology
has an image gallery fo famous paintings and synopsis of story

Image Gallery: Daedalus and Icarus and other Poultry


27 Sept 04 Daedalus and Icarus


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