Here's to a good time, a good life, and a good death.
The Tale of Daedalus is a fascinating story. It is my favorite Greek mythology story.
As the story goes, Daedalus, a skilled Athenian craftsman and artisan, in a bout of jealousy, killed his cousin, Talus, and as punishment was exiled to the island of Crete under the rule of King Minos. While serving Minos in Crete, Daedalus had a son named Icarus.
King Minos had Daedalus design the Labyrinth, a complex maze-like prison to house the Minotaur, a monster that required human sacrifices to remain alive. Minos despised the creature, but created a ritual of the human feedings to the beast in memory of his fallen son Androgenos.
Daedalus helped the Greek legend, Theseus, slay the beast by giving him the secrets to the pattern of the prison. Minos became outraged and sentenced Daedalus and Icarus to the Labyrinth.
Now here’s where the story begins to get interesting. While in the Labyrinth, Daedalus devises a method of escape. He and Icarus would build wings of feathers and wax and fly away from the island.
Daedalus carefully explains to his son that in order to maintain the constructed wings, Icarus must not fly to close to the water or too high to the sun. The water has the potential to get the feathers wet and the sun has the potential to melt the wax.
In the thrill of the escape, Icarus forgets his father’s warnings and flies too high in the skies, where the sun melts the wax. Daedalus makes in to shore and his son’s body gets washed up onto the shore.
While this is just a Greek myth, I think the story makes some compelling points, primarily in the part of the escape.
While the general interpretation of the moral of the story goes something like “carelessness can be fatal, listen to your parents, don’t test the limits of life too far” I like to take a very different approach.
When preparing to leave the island, Daedalus offers something to Icarus that surpasses the straightforward use of escaping prison. Icarus receives an opportunity to do something that no human can do – fly. What makes flying so spectacular? Well, flying embodies a series of subdued, implicit, symbolic meanings that are difficult to describe in other actions. Flying involves being above something (usually the ground) which represents dominance, superiority, and greatness. Flying demonstrates an ability to go anywhere above ground. It represents a near limitless means of accomplishing any desired travel. The higher that one goes, the more powerful their ability to fly becomes. In other words, the symbolic excellence of individual flight is demonstrated and measured in one’s distance from the ground below.
However, Daedalus gives Icarus this gift of flying with the strings of attachment of responsibility. He warns that Icarus will die if he does not fly within a certain threshold of moderation.
The question becomes will Icarus exercise the self-restraint to fly within the margins of safety?
Unfortunately, the story answers with a conclusive “no.” But why?
What is Icarus in wanting after in flying so high? And why doesn’t Icarus die from flying too low? Why does Icarus have to push the boundaries, the limits, only to discover his own death?
The story unveils this propensity in humans to push the limits of life and to find what is possible and what is impossible. It pushes the notion that humans are desperately in search of the meaning of life and that some are willing to die trying if they can find it. The story speaks to human nature at its core; at the fire that burns within us. Humans want to know. We are risk-takers and we are irrational – or at least to a point. The idea is that one’s desperation for the discovery of truth, meaning, and reality makes him/her irrational.
At least this is my takeaway. I titled the article after the Thrice song.
I highly suggest taking a glance at the lyrics if you have any interest in this idea.