- This article is about the mythological character.
For other uses see Daedalus .
In Greek mythology
(Latin, also Hellenized Latin
, Greek Daidalos
) meaning "cunning worker", and Etruscan
) was a most skillful architect, or
artificer, or craftsman, so skillful that he was said to have
invented images that seemed to move about. Daedalus had two sons:
, along with a nephew, whose name varies. He is
first mentioned by Homer
as the creator of a
wide dancing-ground for Ariadne
Labyrinth on Crete, in which
the Minotaur (part man, part bull) was
kept, was also created by the artificer Daedalus.
of the labyrinth is told where Theseus
challenged to kill the Minotaur, finding his way with the help of
Ignoring Homer, later writers envisaged the labyrinth
as an edifice rather than a single path
to the center and out again, and gave it numberless winding
passages and turns that opened into one another, seeming to have
neither beginning nor end (see labyrinth
as opposed to maze
in his Metamorphoses
suggests that Daedalus constructed the Labyrinth
so cunningly that he himself could
barely escape it after he built it. Daedalus built the labyrinth
for King Minos
, who needed it to imprison his
wife's son the Minotaur
. The story is told
had given a white bull to
so that he might use it as a sacrifice.
Instead, Minos kept it for himself; and in revenge, Poseidon made
his wife Pasiphaë
lust for the bull.
For Pasiphaë, as Greek mythologers interpreted it, Daedalus also
built a wooden cow so she could mate with the bull, for the Greeks
imagined the Minoan bull of the sun
to be an actual, earthly bull.
Athenians transferred Cretan Daedalus to make him Athenian-born,
the grandson of the ancient king Erechtheus
, who fled to Crete, having killed his
nephew. Over time, other stories were told of Daedalus. In the
nineteenth century, Thomas Bulfinch
combined these into a single synoptic view of material which Andrew
Stewart calls a "historically-intractable farrago of 'evidence',
heavily tinged with Athenian cultural chauvinism" (Stewart).
Daedalus and his nephew
Daedalus was so proud of his achievements that he could not bear
the idea of a rival. His sister had placed her son, named multiply
, Talos, or Calos, under
his charge to be taught the mechanical arts. He was an apt scholar
and showed striking evidence of ingenuity. Walking on the seashore,
he picked up the spine of a fish. Imitating it, 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.
It is also said that he invented a way to transfer the soul of a
human being into a machine, therefore creating a machine with a
soul and rendering the soul immortal. Daedalus was so envious of
his nephew's accomplishments that he took an opportunity, when they
were together one day on the top of a high tower, to push him off.
, who favors ingenuity, saw him
falling and arrested his fate by changing him into a bird called
after his name, the partridge
. This bird
does not build his nest in the trees, nor take lofty flights, but
nestles in the hedges, and mindful of his fall, avoids high places.
For this crime, Daedalus was tried and banished.
Daedalus and Icarus
Among these anecdotes, one is told in Ovid's Metamorphoses
(VIII:183-235) that Daedalus was shut up in a tower to prevent his
knowledge of the labyrinth from spreading to the public. He could
not leave Crete by sea, as the king kept strict watch on all
vessels, permitting none to sail without being carefully searched.
Since Minos controlled the land and sea routes, Daedalus set to
work to fabricate wings for himself and his young son Icarus
. He tied feathers together, from
smallest to largest so as to form an increasing surface. The larger
ones he secured with thread and the smaller with wax, and gave the
whole a gentle curvature like the wings of a bird. When the work
was finally done, the artist, waving his wings, found himself
buoyed upward and hung suspended, poising himself on the beaten
air. He next equipped his son in the same manner, and taught him
how to fly. 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 make the wings wet
and they would no longer fly. Thus the father and son flew
passed Samos, Delos and Lebynthos when the boy began to soar upward as if to reach
The blazing sun softened the wax which held the
feathers together and they came off. Icarus fell into the sea.
cried, bitterly lamenting his own arts, and called the land near
the place where Icarus fell into the ocean Icaria in memory of
Eventually Daedalus arrived safely in Sicily
in the care of King Cocalus
, where he built
a temple to Apollo
, and hung up his
wings, an offering to the god. In an alternative version given by Virgil in Book 6 of the Aeneid,
Daedalus flies to Cumae, and founds
his temple there, rather than in Sicily.
, meanwhile, searched for Daedalus by
travelling from city to city asking a riddle. He presented a spiral
seashell and asked for a string to be run through it. When he
, King Cocalus, knowing
Daedalus would be able to solve the riddle, privately fetched the
old man to him. He 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. Minos then knew Daedalus was in the court of King
Cocalus and demanded he be handed over. Cocalus managed to convince
Minos to take a bath first, where Cocalus' daughters killed Minos.
In some versions, Daedalus himself poured boiling water on Minos
and killed him.
Such anecdotal details as these were embroideries upon the
reputation of Daedalus as an innovator in many arts. In Pliny's Natural History
is credited with inventing carpentry "and with it the saw, axe,
plumb-line, drill, glue, and isinglass
, in travelling
around Greece, attributed to Daedalus numerous archaic wooden
) that impressed him: "All the works of
this artist, though somewhat uncouth to look at, nevertheless have
a touch of the divine in them."
Daedalus gave his name, eponymously
, to any
Greek artificer and to many Greek contraptions that represented
dextrous skill. At Plataea 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
and the archaic ritual given an explanation
through a myth to the purpose.
In the period of Romanticism
came to denote the classic artist, a skilled mature craftsman,
symbolized the romantic artist,
an undisputed prototype of the classic artist, whose impetuous,
passionate and rebellious nature, as well as his defiance of formal
aesthetic and social conventions, may ultimately prove to be
self-destructive. Stephen Dedalus
in Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as
a Young Man
envisages his future artist-self "a hawklike
man flying above the waves”.
- "This is the workshop of Daidalos," wrote Philostratus in
Immagines (1.16), "and about it are statues, some with
forms blocked out, others in a quite complete state in that they
are already stepping forward and give promise of walking about.
Before the time of Daidalos, you know, the art of making statues
had not yet conceived such a thing."
- Iliad xviii.591
- Penelope Reed Doob, The Idea of the Labyrinth: from
Classical Antiquity through the Middle Ages, p 36, ISBN
- Edith Hamilton, Mythology, p 151, ISBN
- Some versions say it is a serpent's jaw that is used as the
basis for dad saw
- Ovid: ' Some angler catching fish with a quivering rod, or a
shepherd leaning on his crook, or a ploughman resting on the
handles of his plough, saw them, perhaps, and stood there amazed,
believing them to be gods able to travel the sky.".
- Description of Greece 2.4.5. Pausanias listed existing
works that were attributed to Daedalus in the second century AD,