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For other uses, see Icarus (disambiguation).
Jacob Peter Gowy's The Flight of Icarus.

In Greek mythology, Icarus (the Latin spelling, conventionally adopted in English; Ancient Greek: Ἴκαρος, Íkaros, Etruscan: Vikare[1]) is the son of the master craftsman Daedalus, the creator of the Labyrinth. Often depicted in art, Icarus and his father attempt to escape from Crete by means of wings that his father constructed from feathers and wax. Icarus's father warns him first of complacency and then of hubris, asking that he fly neither too low nor too high, because the sea's dampness would clog his wings or the sun's heat would melt them. Icarus ignored his father's instructions not to fly too close to the sun, whereupon the wax in his wings melted and he fell into the sea. This tragic theme of failure at the hands of hubris contains similarities to that of Phaëthon.

The Legend[edit]

Icarus' father Daedalus, a talented and remarkable Athenian craftsman, built the Labyrinth for King Minos of Crete near his palace at Knossos to imprison the Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull monster born of his wife and the Cretan bull. Minos imprisoned Daedalus himself in the labyrinth because he gave Minos's daughter, Ariadne, a clew[2] (or ball of string) in order to help Theseus, the enemy of Minos, to survive the Labyrinth and defeat the Minotaur.

Modern graffiti of Icaria island and falling Icarus just outside the village of Evdilos in Icaria - Greece

Daedalus fashioned two pairs of wings out of wax and feathers for himself and his son. Daedalus tried his wings first, but before taking off from the island, warned his son not to fly too close to the sun, nor too close to the sea, but to follow his path of flight. Overcome by the giddiness that flying lent him, Icarus soared into the sky, but in the process he came too close to the sun, which due to the heat 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 today bears his name, the Icarian Sea near Icaria, an island southwest of Samos.[3][4][5]

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 erected a tomb for him.[6][7]

Classical literature[edit]

The Sun, or the Fall of Icarus (1819) by Merry-Joseph Blondel, in the Rotunda of Apollo at the Louvre

Icarus' flight was often alluded to by Greek poets in passing, but the story was told briefly in Pseudo-Apollodorus.[8] In the literature of ancient Rome, the myth was of interest to Augustan writers. Hyginus narrates it in Fabula 40, beginning with the bovine love affair of Pasiphaë, daughter of the Sun, resulting in the birth of the Minotaur. Ovid narrates the story of Icarus at some length in the Metamorphoses (viii.183–235), and refers to it elsewhere.[9]

Medieval and Renaissance literature[edit]

Ovid's treatment of the Icarus myth and its connection with that of Phaëthon influenced the mythological tradition in English literature[10] as received and interpreted by major writers such as Chaucer,[11] Marlowe,[12] Shakespeare,[13] Milton,[14] and Joyce.[15]

Bruegel's Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (ca. 1558), famous for relegating the fall to a scarcely noticed event in the background

In Renaissance iconography, 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 symbolizes high-flying ambition.[16] The 16th-century painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, traditionally but perhaps erroneously attributed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder, was the inspiration for two of the 20th century's most notable ecphrastic English-language poems, "Musée des Beaux Arts" by W.H. Auden and "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" by William Carlos Williams. Other English-language poems referencing the Icarus myth are "To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph" by Anne Sexton, "Icarus Again" by Alan Devenish and "Mrs Icarus" by Carol Ann Duffy.


17th-century relief with a Cretan labyrinth bottom right (Musée Antoine Vivenel)

Literary interpretation has found in the myth the structure and consequence of personal over-ambition.[17][18] An Icarus-related study of the Daedalus myth was published by the French hellenist Françoise Frontisi-Ducroux.[19] In psychology there have been synthetic studies of the Icarus complex with respect to the alleged relationship between fascination for fire, enuresis, high ambition, and ascensionism.[20] In the psychiatric mind features of disease were perceived in the shape of the pendulous emotional ecstatic-high and depressive-low of bipolar disorder. Henry Murray having proposed the term Icarus complex, apparently found symptoms particularly in mania where a person is fond of heights, fascinated by both fire and water, narcissistic and observed with fantastical or farfetch´d-imaginary cognition.[21][22]

Popular culture[edit]

In season 3 of the political satire The Thick Of It, Glenn Cullen makes a reference about flying to close to the sun like Icarus. In the James Bond movie Die Another Day, the satellite weapon that focuses energy from the Sun is named Icarus.

Nickelodeon game show of the 90s Legends of the Hidden Temple featured an Icarus themed episode. In the episode, the contestants had to retrieve the "broken wing of Icarus" inside the temple.

Kid Icarus is a video game for the original NES (Nintendo Entertainment System). Several versions of this game have been released. A sequel titled Kid Icarus: Uprising was released in March, 2012.

The Hellenic Air Force Academy is called Icarus' School (Icarus in plural, meaning Icarus-like men and women, Greek: Σχολή Ικάρων, abbr. ΣΙ).

In Chōjin Sentai Jetman, the Jetmen's main robot is called "Jet Icarus".

In the Seinfeld episode The Blood, George remarks that he "flew too close to the sun on the wings of pastrami".

"Icarus - Borne On Wings Of Steel" is a single off the 1975 album "Masque" from the American progressive rock band Kansas.

Icarus is the popular nickname for the spaceship seen in three of the original Planet of the Apes films and the 1974 television series. Rise of the Planet of the Apes mentions a spaceship with that name.

Jack Gilbert references Icarus in his poem, "Failing and Flying".

Flight of Icarus is a 1983 single by Iron Maiden that is loosely based on the ancient Greek myth.

The Icarus Factor is a second season Star Trek: The Next Generation episode featuring rivalry and tension between an ambitious main character and his similarly ambitious father.

The spaceships in the 2007 film "Sunshine", which are sent to restart the dying sun, are named Icarus I and Icarus II.

Icarus is a song by French music producer Madeon released on February 24, 2012 as a digital download in the United Kingdom and on February 26, 2012 in YouTube.

"Icarus" is a track on British rock band Bastille's 2013 album Bad Blood.

The Swiss trance duo Flutlicht released a song "Icarus" in 2001.

In Deus Ex, Icarus is a sophisticated AI that replaced an older and less flexible system called Daedalus. There is also a re-occurring thematic allusion to Icarus in Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Icarus is minor character and enemy featured in God of War II. Kratos encounters him on his way to the Sisters of Fate, where Icarus tries to stop him, believing that he is destined to see them instead. After fighting while plummeting into a seemingly bottomless abyss, Kratos rips off his wings and Icarus falls to his death. Kratos can then use the wings to glide across various platforming sections of the game.

During a game of Go in the 1998 film Pi, Sol asks Max if he's read Hamlet — in the past month he was recommended to do so — who explains that he hasn't had time because he's "so close" to finding the number that underlies all the patterns of nature. Sol then introduces him to his new fish, Icarus, who he named after Max.

Icarus is also the name of the dragon that Gohan rid in Dragon Ball Z.

Ikaros is the name of the main character in the Heaven's Lost Property anime and manga. She is an angel who falls from the sky.

In the midquel as well as the spinoff TV series to Disney's Hercules, one of the title character's best friends is named Icarus. In the show, he is the boy who escaped from the Labyrinth with his father on wax wings and appears as a complete nut (the explanation is that he was "brain-fried" by flying too close to the Sun). Despite his accident, Icarus still flies every chance he gets resulting in a few more encounters with the sun.

See also[edit]

  • Icarus imagery in contemporary music
  • Jatayu, a figure in Hindu epic who also flew too near to the sun
  • Kua Fu, a Chinese myth about a giant who chased the sun and died while getting too close
  • Bladud, a legendary king, purported to have met his death when his constructed wings failed
  • Etana, a sort of "Babylonian Icarus"[23]


  1. ^ Larissa Bonfante, Judith Swaddling, Etruscan Myths, p. 43
  2. ^ clew – a ball of yarn or thread. The etymology of the word "clue" is a direct reference to this story of the Labyrinth.
  3. ^ Graves, Robert (1955). "92 – Daedalus and Talus". The Greek Myths. ISBN 0-14-007602-6. 
  4. ^ Thomas Bullfinch - The Age of Fable Stories of Gods and Heroes KundaliniAwakeningSystem.com & The Internet Classics Archive by Daniel C. Stevenson : Ovid - Metamorphoses - Book VIII + Translated by Rolfe Humphries - KET Distance Learning 2012-01-24
  5. ^ Translated by A. S. Kline - University of Virginia Library.edu Retrieved 2005-07-03
  6. ^ Smith, William (ed.). A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. 
  7. ^ Pinsent, J. (1982). Greek Mythology. New York: Peter Bedrick Books. ISBN 0-600-55023-0. 
  8. ^ Epitome of the Biblioteca i.11 and ii.6.3.
  9. ^ Gareth D. Williams, Banished voices: readings in Ovid's Exile Poetry (Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 132 online.
  10. ^ Peter Knox, A Companion to Ovid (Blackwell, 2009), p. 424 online.
  11. ^ Jane Chance, The Mythographic Chaucer (University of Michigan Press, 1995), p. 65 online.
  12. ^ Troni Y. Grande, Marlovian Tragedy (Associated University Presses, 1990), pp. 14 online, 40–42 et passim; Frederic B. Tromly, Playing with Desire: Christopher Marlowe and the Art of Tantalization (University of Toronto Press, 1998), p. 181.
  13. ^ Coppélia Kahn, Man's estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare (University of California Press, 1981), p. 53 online.
  14. ^ Su Fang Nu, Literature and the Politics of Family in Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 154 online; R.J. Zwi Werblowsky, Lucifer and Prometheus (Routledge, 2001, reprinted from 1952), p. 32 online.
  15. ^ R.J. Schork, Latin and Roman Culture in Joyce (University Press of Florida, 1997), p. 160 online.
  16. ^ E. H. Gombrich, Symbolic Images; Studies in the Art of the Renaissance (London, 1972); p.8.
  17. ^ http://www.vaguedirection.com/a-cheat-sheet-for-life/
  18. ^ Jacob E. Nyenhuis - Myth and the creative process: Michael Ayrton and the myth of Daedalus, the maze maker - 345 pages Wayne State University Press, 2003 Retrieved 2012-01-24 ISBN 0-8143-3002-9 See also Harry Levin, The Overreacher, Harvard University Press, 1952 [1]
  19. ^ Frontisi-Ducroux, Françoise (1975). Dédale: Mythologie de l'artisan en Grèce Ancienne. Paris: François Maspero. p. 227. 
  20. ^ Wiklund, Nils (1978). The icarus complex. Lund: Doxa. ISBN 91-578-0064-2. 
  21. ^ Michael Sperber 2010 - Dostoyevsky's Stalker and Other Essays on Psychopathology and the Arts, University Press of America, 2010, p. 166 ff, [2] ISBN 0-7618-4993-9
  22. ^ Pendulum - The BiPolar Organisation's quarterly journal Bipolar UK Retrieved 2012-01-24
  23. ^ Comparion noted by W.H.Ph. Römer, "Religion of Ancient Mesopotamia," in Historia Religionum: Religions of the Past (Brill, 1969), vol. 1, p. 163.

Further reading[edit]

  • Graves, Robert, (1955) 1960. The Greek Myths, section 92 passim
  • Smith, William, ed. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology
  • Pinsent, J. (1982). Greek Mythology. New York: Peter Bedrick Books

External links[edit]