Monday, September 27, 2004

Daedalus and Icarus

27 Sept 04 Daedalus and Icarus

Fish swim, birds fly, but men are made from clay. Genesis relates that in the beginning, God created man in his image, forming him from the clay and breathed life into his nostrils.

After completing the labyrinth for King Minos, Daedalus was trapped into a prison of his own making. Minos understood the consequences of setting the master of the secret free. Set Daedalus free and he invited an invasion to conquer his island kingdom. The mentality has remained with dictators ever since. Hitler hid in his bunker after creating a maze of bureaucratic policies and laws, that isloated him from the suffering of his fellow men. Stalin retreated to his dacha, protected by the fearsome apparatus of Central Committee enforced with KGB. Once society is perverted by a mass of confusing and contradictory turns of legal indictments against humanity, and sent enslaved to work camps to be finally annihilated in death camps, no hope is left for escape. Ask those who survived the terrors of the past, knowing that their relatives went up the chimneys. Arbeit Macht Frei was written over the door that Daedalus entered and his exit could only accomodated by his desperate attempt to fly.

Yet myth is open to different interpretations and further exploration. Man bogged down in the corruption of his time, seeks to rise above the filth in which he's born—a common theme explored by Bertoldt Brecht. He dreams of achieving the divine, of becoming the god, rather than the lump of clay that has breath. By folly or fantasy, he dreams of creating monuments, he aspires to ascend to the heavens. Similarly, in Genesis 11, the story of the Tower of Babel relates man's dream to achieve the superhuman. He wishes to rise above the daily muck of his life. Following the Deluge, people continued to populate the earth and subdue it, spreading corruption wherever they went. And in their arrogance, they believed that they could achieve the heights, become superior to their fate. They built brick by brick, a city with its tower in the heavens to glorify their own existence. Man becomes superman, transcending culture and language, supplanting God's place in the heavens.

Although the myths seem radically different, they both critically view man's mortality and limitations. In the Daedalus myth, Daedalus creates a trap for others which becomes his own prison. His only escape from the corruption that surrounds him is through the air. Only through great genius and the contrivance of artificial wings, will he escape the fate of other prisoners that are sent into the labyrinth to be devoured by the Minotaur. His genius becomes his undoing, as the artificial can never replace the real. The wax melts, the feathers fall, and his son falls into the sea. It is a warning to all who wish to achieve the distinction of being superior to their fellow mortals. Each who dreams of flight, of becoming the leader must in time confront the dangers of Daedalus' flight.

Similarly, those building their towers from ground up, believing that their egos can be fortified by walls, discover in time that stones and bricks have no resistance to the wrath of social rebellion. After seven years of war and unspeakable brutality, the monstrous bestiality of NJazism collapsed under the avenging forces of free nations. Stalin's megalomanic power ied with him and his statues torn down with the destruction of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Even taken on a personal level, those who wishing to fly above the rest find their artificial wings melting and feathers moulting as the skeletons of their existence are exposed. Kennedy glamorized as the New Arthur is criticized for his social politics; the hulk of Pavoratti dominating the stage incurs catcalls for shoddy performances. Few attain heights with their feathers intact, their golden plummage glowing in the sunlight or take their places as stars that shine through dark nights. Flight from corruption, from physical or psychological imprisonment is merely a fantasy, a longing of man's desire to attain immortality and seat himself amongst the gods on Mount Olympus.

Dryden's translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses: Bk 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

Image Gallery: Daedalus and Icarus and other Poultry
Wandgemälde im Hause des Priesters Amandus


11 Sept 04 Daedalus and Icarus


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