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Who is Daedalus?

Daedalus stands as a figure of brilliance and tragedy in Greek mythology, an ingenious craftsman who designed the labyrinth for the Minotaur. His story intertwines creativity with consequence, as his inventions often led to unforeseen outcomes. Discover how Daedalus's legacy extends beyond myth, influencing art and science. What lessons can we learn from his tale of innovation and hubris? Continue with us to uncover his impact.
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

In Greek mythology, Daedalus is one of a group of heroes which also includes Perseus, Theseus, Achilles, Jason, Odysseus, Hercules, and Bellerophon. He was the son of an Athenian named Metion, and a descendant of Hephaestus, and like his famous ancestor, he was known for his craftsmanship and inventions.

Daedalus was credited with some of the most fundamental and far-reaching inventions ever made: the axe, the saw, the use of a plumb-line, and he added greatly to the understanding of shipbuilding with his insight into sails and masts, and most of the stories about him center around his skill in these areas.

In Greek myth, Daedalus was imprisoned in the maze he built.
In Greek myth, Daedalus was imprisoned in the maze he built.

For example, one story has him apprenticing his nephew Talos, a clever boy who inspired Daedalus to jealousy to a degree that Daedalus pushed him off the top of the Acropolis — the gods changed Talos into a partridge during his fall rather than allowing him to die — and fled to Crete. And it is in relation to Crete and its King Minos that most of the best-known stories of Daedalus take place.

The minotaur is said to have the head of a bull.
The minotaur is said to have the head of a bull.

The queen of Crete, Pasiphae, was in love with a bull that had been provided by the god Poseidon. Daedalus made a lifelike cow in which the queen could conceal herself in order to be out in the fields with the rest of the herd and the bull. When, after this adventure, Pasiphae gave birth to the Minotaur — a creature half bull and half human — Daedalus built the Labyrinth in order to conceal the creature from the public.

King Minos had Daedalus and Icarus — the son of the hero and one of the king’s slaves — imprisoned in the Labyrinth. And it was in this plight that Daedalus invented wings for himself and his son, to enable them to fly away from the prison that he had built. The wings were made with feathers and wax, and when Icarus defied his father’s warning not to fly too near the sun, his wings fell apart, and he fell into the sea and drowned. Several famous pieces of art reflect on this moment, including the paintings Daedalus and Icarus by Charles Paul Landon and Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by Pieter Brueghel the Elder and the poem Musée des Beaux-Arts by W. H. Auden.

After the death of Icarus, Daedalus flew on to Sicily, where he was welcomed to the court by King Cocalus. But Minos, hearing of his whereabouts, followed him to Sicily, intent on finding and killing him. To do this, he set a contest which he was sure only Daedalus could win. Minos challenged the general public the pass a linen thread through a triton shell, and waited for the hero to rise to the bait and expose his location.

The king, without naming Daedalus, told the king he knew a man who might succeed at the task, and took the shell to Daedalus. The hero made a small hole in the point of shell, tied the thinnest, most delicate thread to an ant, and placed the ant in the hole, putting a lure of honey on the far end. The ant made its way through the spiraled chamber to reach the treat, upon which Daedalus tied a linen thread to the end of the very fine thread and pulled it gently, so that the linen thread was drawn through the shell as well.

Cocalus congratulated him and hurried off to claim the reward, and was surprised to be met by a demand for the surrender of Daedalus. His daughters were no less upset, and warned the hero, who made a cunning plan. Installing a duct into the ceiling of the palace bath, he contrived that when Minos was bathing there, he was suddenly deluged with boiling water, which killed him. The king’s body was sent back to Crete with a tale of his accidental death, and Daedalus was free.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to LanguageHumanities about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

Learn more...
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to LanguageHumanities about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon324646

Well anon179456, it doesn't say that in the myths but in the Percy Jackson books it said so.

anon179456

He didn't. he created a machine to hold his soul in so that he would never truly die.

anon18374

How did daedalus die?

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    • In Greek myth, Daedalus was imprisoned in the maze he built.
      By: djama
      In Greek myth, Daedalus was imprisoned in the maze he built.
    • The minotaur is said to have the head of a bull.
      By: Tim Aßmann
      The minotaur is said to have the head of a bull.