Icarus (mythology)
In Greek mythology
Greek mythology
Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. They were a part of religion in ancient Greece...

, Icarus (the Latin spelling, conventionally adopted in English; Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

: , Íkaros, Etruscan
Etruscan language
The Etruscan language was spoken and written by the Etruscan civilization, in what is present-day Italy, in the ancient region of Etruria and in parts of Lombardy, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna...

: Vikare) is the son of the master craftsman Daedalus
In Greek mythology, Daedalus was a skillful craftsman and artisan.-Family:...

. The main story told about Icarus is his attempt to escape from Crete
Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the thirteen administrative regions of Greece. It forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece while retaining its own local cultural traits...

 by means of wings that his father constructed from feathers and wax. He ignored instructions not to fly too close to the sun, and the melting wax caused him to fall to his death. The myth shares thematic similarities with that of Phaëton
In Greek mythology, Phaëton or Phaethon was the son of Helios and the Oceanid Clymene. Alternate, less common genealogies make him a son of Clymenus by Merope, of Helios and Rhode or of Helios and Prote....

 — both are usually taken as tragic examples of hubris
Hubris , also hybris, means extreme haughtiness, pride or arrogance. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power....

 or failed ambition — and is often depicted in art. Today, the Hellenic Air Force Academy
Hellenic Air Force Academy
The Hellenic Air Force Academy is a military academy responsible for supplying the Hellenic Air Force with professionally trained pilots, aircraft engineers and air defence inspectors. It was founded in 1919 as the Military Academy of Aviation and renamed in 1967 as the Icarus School in reference...

 is named after Icarus, who is seen as the mythical pioneer in Greece's attempt to conquer the skies.

The myth

Icarus's father, Daedalus, a talented and remarkable Athenian
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 craftsman, attempted to escape from his exile in the palace of Knossos, Crete, where he and his son were imprisoned at the hands of King Minos
In Greek mythology, Minos was a king of Crete, son of Zeus and Europa. Every year he made King Aegeus pick seven men and seven women to go to Daedalus' creation, the labyrinth, to be eaten by The Minotaur. After his death, Minos became a judge of the dead in Hades. The Minoan civilization of Crete...

, the king for whom he had built the Labyrinth to imprison the Minotaur
In Greek mythology, the Minotaur , as the Greeks imagined him, was a creature with the head of a bull on the body of a man or, as described by Roman poet Ovid, "part man and part bull"...

 (half man, half bull). Daedalus, the superior craftsman, was exiled because he gave Minos' daughter, Ariadne
Ariadne , in Greek mythology, was the daughter of King Minos of Crete, and his queen Pasiphaë, daughter of Helios, the Sun-titan. She aided Theseus in overcoming the Minotaur and was the bride of the god Dionysus.-Minos and Theseus:...

, a clew (or ball of string) in order to help Theseus
For other uses, see Theseus Theseus was the mythical founder-king of Athens, son of Aethra, and fathered by Aegeus and Poseidon, both of whom Aethra had slept with in one night. Theseus was a founder-hero, like Perseus, Cadmus, or Heracles, all of whom battled and overcame foes that were...

, the enemy of Minos, survive the Labyrinth and defeat the Minotaur.
Daedalus fashioned two pairs of wings out of wax and feathers for himself and his son. Before they took off from the island, Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sun, nor too close to the sea. Overcome by the giddiness that flying lent him, Icarus soared through the sky curiously, but in the process he came too close to the sun, which melted the wax. Icarus kept flapping his wings but soon realized that he had no feathers left and that he was only flapping his bare arms. And so, Icarus fell into the sea in the area which bears his name, the Icarian Sea
Icarian Sea
The Icarian Sea is a subdivision of the Mediterranean Sea that lies between the Cyclades and Asia Minor. It is described as the part of the Aegean Sea to the south of Chios, to the east of the Eastern Cyclades and west of Anatolia...

 near Icaria
Icaria, also spelled Ikaria , is a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, 10 nautical miles southwest of Samos. It derived its name from Icarus, the son of Daedalus in Greek mythology, who fell into the sea nearby. Administratively the island forms a separate municipality within the Ikaria peripheral...

, an island southwest of Samos
Samoš is a village in Serbia. It is situated in the Kovačica municipality, in the South Banat District, Vojvodina province. The village has a Serb ethnic majority and its population numbering 1,247 people .-See also:...

. It also has been said he flew too close to the sea and the feathers got wet, no longer working due to added weight.

Hellenistic writers give euhemerising variants in which the escape from Crete was actually by boat, provided by Pasiphaë, for which Daedalus invented the first sails, to outstrip Minos' pursuing galleys, and that Icarus fell overboard en route to Sicily and drowned. Heracles
Heracles ,born Alcaeus or Alcides , was a divine hero in Greek mythology, the son of Zeus and Alcmene, foster son of Amphitryon and great-grandson of Perseus...

 erected a tomb for him.

Ancient literature

Icarus' flight was often alluded to by Greek poets in passing, but the story was told briefly in Pseudo-Apollodorus. In the literature of ancient Rome
Latin literature
Latin literature includes the essays, histories, poems, plays, and other writings of the ancient Romans. In many ways, it seems to be a continuation of Greek literature, using many of the same forms...

, the myth was of interest to Augustan
Augustan literature (ancient Rome)
Augustan literature is the period of Latin literature written during the reign of Augustus , the first Roman emperor. In literary histories of the first part of the 20th century and earlier, Augustan literature was regarded along with that of the Late Republic as constituting the Golden Age of...

 writers. Hyginus
Hyginus can refer to:People:*Gaius Julius Hyginus , Roman poet, author of Fabulae, reputed author of Poeticon astronomicon*Hyginus Gromaticus, Roman surveyor*Pope Hyginus, also a saint, Bishop of Rome about 140...

 narrates it in Fabula 40, beginning with the bovine love affair of Pasiphaë
In Greek mythology, Pasiphaë , "wide-shining" was the daughter of Helios, the Sun, by the eldest of the Oceanids, Perse; Like her doublet Europa, her origins were in the East, in her case at Colchis, the palace of the Sun; she was given in marriage to King Minos of Crete. With Minos, she was the...

, daughter of the Sun, resulting in the birth of the Minotaur. Ovid
Publius Ovidius Naso , known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet who is best known as the author of the three major collections of erotic poetry: Heroides, Amores, and Ars Amatoria...

 narrates the story of Icarus at some length in the Metamorphoses
Metamorphoses (poem)
Metamorphoses is a Latin narrative poem in fifteen books by the Roman poet Ovid describing the history of the world from its creation to the deification of Julius Caesar within a loose mythico-historical framework. Completed in AD 8, it is recognized as a masterpiece of Golden Age Latin literature...

(viii.183–235), and refers to it elsewhere.

Classical tradition

Ovid's treatment of the Icarus myth and its connection with that of Phaëton
In Greek mythology, Phaëton or Phaethon was the son of Helios and the Oceanid Clymene. Alternate, less common genealogies make him a son of Clymenus by Merope, of Helios and Rhode or of Helios and Prote....

 influenced the mythological tradition in English literature
English literature
English literature is the literature written in the English language, including literature composed in English by writers not necessarily from England; for example, Robert Burns was Scottish, James Joyce was Irish, Joseph Conrad was Polish, Dylan Thomas was Welsh, Edgar Allan Poe was American, J....

 as received and interpreted by major writers such as Chaucer, Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe was an English dramatist, poet and translator of the Elizabethan era. As the foremost Elizabethan tragedian, next to William Shakespeare, he is known for his blank verse, his overreaching protagonists, and his mysterious death.A warrant was issued for Marlowe's arrest on 18 May...

, Shakespeare, Milton
John Milton
John Milton was an English poet, polemicist, a scholarly man of letters, and a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell...

, and Joyce
James Joyce
James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was an Irish novelist and poet, considered to be one of the most influential writers in the modernist avant-garde of the early 20th century...

In Renaissance iconography
Iconography is the branch of art history which studies the identification, description, and the interpretation of the content of images. The word iconography literally means "image writing", and comes from the Greek "image" and "to write". A secondary meaning is the painting of icons in the...

, the significance of Icarus depends on context: in the Orion Fountain at Messina, he is one of many figures associated with water; but he is also shown on the Bankruptcy Court of the Amsterdam Town Hall - where he symbol
A symbol is something which represents an idea, a physical entity or a process but is distinct from it. The purpose of a symbol is to communicate meaning. For example, a red octagon may be a symbol for "STOP". On a map, a picture of a tent might represent a campsite. Numerals are symbols for...

izes high-flying ambition.

The 16th-century painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
Landscape With The Fall of Icarus
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus is a painting in oil on canvas long thought to be by Pieter Bruegel, although following technical examinations in 1996, that attribution is regarded as very doubtful, and it is now seen as a good early copy by an unknown artist of Bruegel's original, perhaps...

, traditionally but perhaps erroneously attributed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder, was the inspiration for two of the 20th century's most notable ecphrastic
Ekphrasis or ecphrasis is the graphic, often dramatic, description of a visual work of art. In ancient times it referred to a description of any thing, person, or experience...

 English-language poems, "Musée des Beaux Arts" by W.H. Auden and "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (poem)
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus is an ecphrastic poem by the 20th-century American poet William Carlos Williams that was written in response to Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, traditionally attributed to Pieter Bruegel...

" by William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams was an American poet closely associated with modernism and Imagism. He was also a pediatrician and general practitioner of medicine, having graduated from the University of Pennsylvania...

. Other English-language poems referencing the Icarus myth are "To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph" by Anne Sexton
Anne Sexton
Anne Sexton was an American poet, known for her highly personal, confessional verse. She won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967...

 and "Mrs Icarus" by Carol Ann Duffy
Carol Ann Duffy
Carol Ann Duffy, CBE, FRSL is a Scottish poet and playwright. She is Professor of Contemporary Poetry at the Manchester Metropolitan University, and was appointed Britain's poet laureate in May 2009...


In popular culture

Allusions to Icarus recur throughout popular art forms. For instance, the spaceships portrayed in the 2007 film Sunshine
Sunshine (2007 film)
Sunshine is a 2007 British science fiction film directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland about the crew of a spacecraft on a dangerous mission to the Sun. In 2057, with the Earth in peril from the dying Sun, the crew is sent to reignite the Sun with a massive stellar bomb with the mass...

are named Icarus and Icarus II, alluding to the fact that they fly toward the sun. Icarus is also the name of Astronaut Taylor's ship in the original film version of Planet of the Apes
Planet of the Apes (1968 film)
Planet of the Apes is a 1968 American science fiction film directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, based on the 1963 French novel La Planète des singes by Pierre Boulle. The film stars Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, James Whitmore, James Daly and Linda Harrison...


Another science fiction allusion is found in Stargate Universe
Stargate Universe
Stargate Universe is a Canadian-American military science fiction television series and part of MGM's Stargate franchise. It follows the adventures of a present-day, multinational exploration team traveling on the Ancient spaceship Destiny many billions of light years distant from the Milky Way...

 in which members of the Icarus project caused a planet to explode along with the base. Military members of the base have a lapel on their left shoulder whose insignia is a feather over the sun.

Cirque du Soleil
Cirque du Soleil
Cirque du Soleil , is a Canadian entertainment company, self-described as a "dramatic mix of circus arts and street entertainment." Based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and located in the inner-city area of Saint-Michel, it was founded in Baie-Saint-Paul in 1984 by two former street performers, Guy...

's Varekai
Varekai is a Cirque du Soleil touring production that premiered in Montréal in April 2002. Its title means "wherever" in the Romani language, and the show is an "acrobatic tribute to the nomadic soul"....

is loosely based on the myth of Icarus. One of the main characters of the show is named Icarus, who, instead of drowning in the sea, lands in a mystical forest at the base of a volcano.

A red-winged mutant named Icarus
Icarus (comics)
Icarus , is a fictional character, a mutant superhero appearing in comic books published by Marvel Comics. He was a member of the student body at the Xavier Institute and a member of the New Mutants training squad....

 appears in the Marvel
-In business:*Marvel Entertainment, an American entertainment company**Marvel Animation, an animation production company**Marvel Comics, a comic book publisher**Marvel Productions, a television and film studio subsidiary...

 comic book NewXmen.

The seventh episode of the TV series Mythic Warriors
Mythic Warriors
Mythic Warriors was a Canadian-produced animated television series that was a fixture of CBS' Saturday-morning cartoon lineup...

tells the story of Daedalus and Icarus.

In the Playstation 2
PlayStation 2
The PlayStation 2 is a sixth-generation video game console manufactured by Sony as part of the PlayStation series. Its development was announced in March 1999 and it was first released on March 4, 2000, in Japan...

 video game, God of War II
God of War II
God of War II is an action-adventure video game released for the PlayStation 2 by Sony Computer Entertainment's Santa Monica division in March, 2007....

, Icarus is portrayed as a frail and insane man who is trying to use his wings to reach an audience with the Sisters of Fate. Kratos
Kratos may refer to:*The Greek word κράτος krátos, 'power', which is the second root in words like aristocrat and democracy. Its mythological personification was the god Kratos, a son of Styx.*Kratos MS 50, a tool for Electron ionization...

, the main protagonist of the game, murders Icarus and uses his wings as an in-game ability.

Kid Icarus
Kid Icarus
Kid Icarus, known as in Japan, is an action platform video game for the Famicom Disk System in Japan and the Nintendo Entertainment System in Europe and North America. The first entry in Nintendo's Kid Icarus series, it was published in Japan in December 1986, and in Europe and North America in...

, featuring a character named Pit who was inspired by the Greek myth, was a popular video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System
Nintendo Entertainment System
The Nintendo Entertainment System is an 8-bit video game console that was released by Nintendo in North America during 1985, in Europe during 1986 and Australia in 1987...

 in the late 80s and early 90s. The main character also appeared on the NBC
The National Broadcasting Company is an American commercial broadcasting television network and former radio network headquartered in the GE Building in New York City's Rockefeller Center with additional major offices near Los Angeles and in Chicago...

 Saturday morning cartoon Captain N: The Game Master
Captain N: The Game Master
Captain N: The Game Master was an American animated television series that aired on television from 1989 to 1991 as part of the Saturday morning cartoon lineup on NBC. The show incorporated elements from many of the most popular Nintendo games of the time...

and in a comic book from Valiant
Nintendo Comics System
The Nintendo Comics System was a series of comic books published by Valiant Comics in 1990 and 1991. It was part of a licensing deal with Nintendo, featuring characters from their video games and the cartoons based on them.- The comics :...


The video game Deus Ex: Human Revolution extensively references the myth of Icarus. The Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus appears in Adam Jensen's dreams as an allegory to the mechanical arm replacements that save his life, and both Daedalus and Icarus were the names of artificial intelligences in Deus Ex—an intellectual bridge to the original game. The main theme music of the game which is also featured in the trailer composed by video game composer Michael McCann
Michael McCann (composer)
Michael McCann is a composer, sound-designer and record producer based in Montreal, Canada. He is most well known for composing the award winning soundtrack to the multi-million selling Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent for the Xbox 360, PC and other leading game consoles, as well as...

 is also named ICARUS.

In episode The Blood (Seinfeld), George alludes to Icarus when discussing his attempt at the trifecta of sex, TV and food. George: "I flew too close to the sun on wings of pastrami." http://www.seinfeldscripts.com/TheBlood.html

See also

  • Icaria
    Icaria, also spelled Ikaria , is a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, 10 nautical miles southwest of Samos. It derived its name from Icarus, the son of Daedalus in Greek mythology, who fell into the sea nearby. Administratively the island forms a separate municipality within the Ikaria peripheral...

  • Jatayu
    Jatayu could mean:*Jatayu , the bird in the Hindu epic Ramayana.*Jatayu Airlines, an Indonesian airline company.*Jatayu , a character in the Feluda stories by Satyajit Ray....

    , a figure in Hindu epic who also flew too near to the sun
  • Bladud
    Bladud or Blaiddyd was a legendary king of the Britons, for whose existence there is no historical evidence. He is first mentioned in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, which describes him as the son of King Rud Hud Hudibras, and the tenth ruler in line from the first King, Brutus....

  • Etana
    Etana was an ancient, legendary Sumerian king of the city of Kish, and was, according to the Sumerian king list, one of the kings who reigned after the deluge. He is listed as the successor of Arwium, the son of Mashda, as king of Kish...

    , a sort of "Babylonian Icarus"

External links

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