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Daedalus constructs wings for his son, Icarus, after a Roman relief in the Villa Albani, Rome (Meyers Konversationslexikon, 1888).

In Greek mythology, Daedalus (/'d?d?l?s 'di:d?l?s 'de?d?l?s/; Greek?; Latin: Daedalus; Etruscan: Taitale) was a skillful architect and craftsman, seen as a symbol of wisdom, knowledge and power. He is the father of Icarus, the uncle of Perdix, and possibly also the father of Iapyx. Among his most famous creations are the wooden bull for Pasiphaë, the Labyrinth for King Minos of Crete which imprisoned the Minotaur, and wings that he and his son Icarus used to escape Crete. It was during this escape that Icarus did not heed his father's warnings and flew too close to the sun; the wax holding his wings together melted and Icarus fell to his death.


Daedalus's parentage was supplied as a later addition, with various authors attributing different parents to him. His father is claimed to be either Metion,[1] Eupalamus,[2] or Palamaon.[3] Similarly, his mother was either Alcippe,[4] Iphinoe,[5] or Phrasmede.[6] Daedalus had two sons: Icarus[7] and Iapyx,[8] along with a nephew named either Talos, Calos, or Perdix.[9]

The Athenians made Cretan-born Daedalus Athenian-born, the grandson of the ancient king Erechtheus,[10] claiming that Daedalus fled to Crete after killing his nephew.[11]

Inventor, architect, artist

Daedalus is first mentioned in roughly 1400 BC by Homer as "Daidalos" in a portrayal of Achilles' shield. The shield was said to have an image of a dancing floor like the one built by Daedalus for Ariadne.[12] It's clear that Daedalus was not an original character of Homer's. Rather, Homer was referencing mythology that his audience was already familiar with.[13]

Upper body of a Daedalic statue of a Kore, poros stone. Eleftherna, archaic period, 7th century BC.

Daedalus isn't mentioned again in literature until the fifth century BC, but he is widely praised as an inventor, artist, and architect, though classical sources disagree on which inventions exactly are attributable to him. In Pliny's Natural History (7.198) he is credited with inventing carpentry, including tools like the axe, saw, glue, and more.[14] Supposedly, he first invented masts and sails for ships for the navy of King Minos. He is also said to have carved statues so spirited they appeared to be living and moving.[15] Pausanias, in traveling around Greece, attributed to Daedalus numerous archaic wooden cult figures (see xoana) that impressed him. In fact, so many other statues and artworks are attributed to Daedalus by Pausanias and various other sources that likely many of them were never made by him.[16]

Daedalus gave his name, eponymously, to many Greek craftsmen and many Greek contraptions and inventions that represented dextrous skill. A specific sort of early Greek sculptures are named Daedalic sculpture in his honor.[17] In Boeotia there was a festival, the Daedala, in which a temporary wooden altar was fashioned and an effigy was made from an oak-tree and dressed in bridal attire. It was carried in a cart with a woman who acted as bridesmaid. The image was called daedala.[18] Some sources claim that the daedala did not receive their name from Daedalus, but the opposite. Pausanias claims that Daedalus was not the name given to the inventor at birth, but that he was named so later after the daedala.[19]



Perdix (Talus) changed into a partridge when thrown from the Acropolis by an envious Daedalus (1602-1607)[20]

Daedalus was so proud of his achievements that he could not bear the idea of a rival. His sister had placed her son under his charge to be taught the mechanical arts as an apprentice. His nephew is named variously as Perdix, Talos, or Calos, although some sources say that Perdix was the name of Daedalus' sister.[21] The nephew showed striking evidence of ingenuity. Finding the spine of a fish on the seashore, he took a piece of iron and notched it on the edge, and thus invented the saw. He put two pieces of iron together, connecting them at one end with a rivet, and sharpening the other ends, and made a pair of compasses.[22] Daedalus was so envious of his nephew's accomplishments that he murdered him by throwing him down from the Acropolis in Athens.[23] Athena saved his nephew and turned him into a partridge.[24] Tried and convicted for this murder, Daedalus left Athens and fled to Crete.[25][26]

The Labyrinth

Daedalus created the Labyrinth on Crete, in which the Minotaur was kept.

Daedalus and Pasiphaë. Roman fresco in the House of the Vettii, Pompeii, first century AD

Poseidon had given a white bull to King Minos to use it as a sacrifice. Instead, the king kept the bull for himself and sacrificed another. As revenge, Poseidon, with the help of Aphrodite, made King Minos's wife, Pasiphaë, lust for the bull. Pasiphaë asked Daedalus to help her. Daedalus built a hollow, wooden cow, covered in real cow hide for Pasiphaë, so she could mate with the bull. As a result, Pasiphaë gave birth to the Minotaur, a creature with the body of a man, but the face of a bull. King Minos ordered the Minotaur to be imprisoned and guarded in the Labyrinth built by Daedalus for that purpose.[27]

Daedalus escapes (iuvat evasisse) by Johann Christoph Sysang (1703-1757)

In the story of the Labyrinth as told by the Hellenes, the Athenian hero Theseus is challenged to kill the Minotaur, finding his way back out with the help of Ariadne's thread. It is Daedalus himself who gives Ariadne the clue as to how to escape the labyrinth.[28]

Ignoring Homer, later writers envisaged the Labyrinth as an edifice rather than a single dancing path to the center and out again, and gave it numerous winding passages and turns that opened into one another, seeming to have neither beginning nor end. Ovid, in his Metamorphoses, suggests that Daedalus constructed the Labyrinth so cunningly that he himself could barely escape it after he built it.[29]


Print of Icarus falling after his wings were broken.[30]

The most familiar literary telling explaining Daedalus' wings is a late one by Ovid in his Metamorphoses.[31]

Daedalus and Icarus, c. 1645, by Charles Le Brun (1619-1690)

After Theseus and Ariadne eloped together,[32] Daedalus and his son Icarus were imprisoned by King Minos in the labyrinth that he had built.[33] He could not leave Crete by sea, as King Minos kept a strict watch on all vessels, permitting none to sail without being carefully searched. Since Minos controlled the land routes as well, Daedalus set to work to make wings for himself and his son Icarus. Using bird feathers of various sizes, thread, and wax, he shaped them to resemble a bird's wings. When both were prepared for flight, Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly too high, because the heat of the sun would melt the wax, nor too low, because the sea foam would soak the feathers and make them heavy.[34] They had passed Samos, Delos and Lebynthos, and the boy, forgetting himself, began to soar upward toward the sun. The blazing sun melted and softened the wax that held the feathers together and they fell off one by one. Losing his wings, Icarus fell in the sea and drowned. Daedalus wept (lamenting his own arts), took Icarus's body and buried it. He called the island near the place where Icarus fell into the ocean Icaria, in the memory of his son.[35] The southeast end of the Aegean Sea (where Icarus fell into the water) was also called "Mare Icarium" or the Icarian Sea.[36]

In a twist of karma, a partridge (the nephew Daedalus murdered) mocked Daedalus as he buried his son. The fall and death of Icarus is seemingly portrayed as punishment for Daedalus's murder of his nephew.[37]

The shell riddle

After burying Icarus, Daedalus traveled to Camicus in Sicily, where he stayed as a guest under the protection of King Cocalus.[38] There Daedalus built a temple to Apollo, and hung up his wings as an offering to the god. In an invention of Virgil (Aeneid VI), Daedalus flies to Cumae and founds his temple there, rather than in Sicily.[39]

Minos, meanwhile, searched for Daedalus by traveling from city to city asking a riddle. He presented a spiral seashell and asked for a string to be run through it. When he reached Camicus, King Cocalus, knowing Daedalus would be able to solve the riddle, accepted the shell and gave it to Daedalus. Daedalus tied the string to an ant which, lured by a drop of honey at one end, walked through the seashell stringing it all the way through. With the riddle solved, Minos realized that Daedalus was in the court of King Cocalus and insisted he be handed over. Cocalus agreed to do so, but convinced Minos to take a bath first. In the bath, Cocalus' daughters killed Minos, possibly by pouring boiling water over his body.[40] In some versions, it's Cocalus that kills Minos in the bath.[41] Still, in others, Daedalus himself poured the boiling water on Minos, killing him.

The anecdotes are literary and late. However, in the founding tales of the Greek colony of Gela, founded in the 680s BC on the southwest coast of Sicily, a tradition was preserved that the Greeks had seized cult images wrought by Daedalus from their local predecessors, the Sicani.[42]

Later depictions in art and literature

Daedalus and the myths associated with him are often depicted in paintings, sculptures, and more by later artists. The myth about his flight and the fall of Icarus is especially popular in depictions. A few noteworthy pieces are included below.

There are also a number of adaptations of the myth of Daedalus and Icarus in modern literature and film, including a poem by Edward Field,[43] several books, and band or musician names. See Daedalus (disambiguation) for more modern references.



  1. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, 4. 76
  2. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae, 39 and 274; Servius on Aeneid 6. 14
  3. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece, 9. 3. 2
  4. ^ Bibliotheca 3. 15. 9
  5. ^ Scholia on Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, 468
  6. ^ Scholia on Plato, The Republic, p. 529
  7. ^ "P. Ovidius Naso, Metamorphoses, Book 8, line 183". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved .
  8. ^ "Strabo, Geography, Book 6, chapter 3, section 2". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved .
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  10. ^ The son of Eupalamus, according to Hyginus, Fabulae 39 "ATHENA MYTHS 5 FAVOUR - Greek Mythology". www.theoi.com. Retrieved 2021-06-07.
  11. ^ "Apollodorus, Library, book 3, chapter 15, section 8". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved .
  12. ^ "Andrew Stewart, One Hundred Greek Sculptors, Their Careers and Extant Works, The Sculptors, The Archaic Period". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved .
  13. ^ Robin Lane Fox, Travelling Heroes in the Epic Age of Homer, 2009:187, 178.
  14. ^ "Andrew Stewart, One Hundred Greek Sculptors, Their Careers and Extant Works, The Sculptors, The Archaic Period". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved .
  15. ^ William Godwin (1876). "Lives of the Necromancers". p. 40.
  16. ^ "Andrew Stewart, One Hundred Greek Sculptors, Their Careers and Extant Works, The Sculptors, The Archaic Period". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved .
  17. ^ "Daedalic sculpture". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved .
  18. ^ "Pausanias, Description of Greece, Boeotia, chapter 3". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved .
  19. ^ "Pausanias, Description of Greece, Boeotia, chapter 3". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved .
  20. ^ "Minerva verandert Perdix in een vogel, Crispijn van de Passe (I), 1602 - 1607". Rijksmuseum (in Dutch). Retrieved .
  21. ^ "Apollodorus, Library, book 3, chapter 15, section 8". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved .
  22. ^ Both inventions are in Ovid, Metamorphoses viii.236
  23. ^ "Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898), Circ?nus". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved .
  24. ^ "P. Ovidius Naso, Metamorphoses, Book 8, line 183". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved .
  25. ^ "Apollodorus, Library, book 3, chapter 15, section 8". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved .
  26. ^ "Pausanias, Description of Greece, Attica, chapter 21". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved .
  27. ^ "Apollodorus, Library, book 3, chapter 1". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved .
  28. ^ "Apollodorus, Epitome, book E, chapter 1". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved .
  29. ^ Penelope Reed Doob, The Idea of the Labyrinth: From Classical Antiquity through the Middle Ages, 1992:36, ISBN 0-8014-8000-0.
  30. ^ "De val van Icarus". lib.ugent.be. Retrieved .
  31. ^ "P. Ovidius Naso, Metamorphoses, Book 8, line 183". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved .
  32. ^ "P. Ovidius Naso, Metamorphoses, Book 8, line 152". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved .
  33. ^ "Apollodorus, Epitome, book E, chapter 1". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved .
  34. ^ "P. Ovidius Naso, Metamorphoses, Book 8, line 183". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved .
  35. ^ "P. Ovidius Naso, Metamorphoses, Book 8, line 183". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved .
  36. ^ "Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), AEGAEUM MARE". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved .
  37. ^ "P. Ovidius Naso, Metamorphoses, Book 8, line 183". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved .
  38. ^ "P. Ovidius Naso, Metamorphoses, Book 8, line 260". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved .
  39. ^ author, Virgil. The Aeneid. ISBN 978-0-300-25875-2. OCLC 1231607822.
  40. ^ "Apollodorus, Epitome, book E, chapter 1". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved .
  41. ^ "W. W. How, J. Wells, A Commentary on Herodotus, BOOK VII, chapter 170". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved .
  42. ^ Pausanias, viii.46.2, ix.40.3-4; T.J. Dunbabin, The Western Greeks, 1948; S.P. Morris, Daidalos and the Origins of Greek Art (1992:199), all noted by Fox 2009:189 note 9.
  43. ^ "Edward Field: "Icarus" -". www.culturalweekly.com. Retrieved .

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