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Icarus (Greek: , Latin: Íkaros, Etruscan: Vicare) is a character in Greek mythology. He is the son of Daedalus and is commonly known for his attempt to escape Cretemarker by flight, which ended in a fall to his death.

Escape from Crete

Icarus' father, Daedalus, a talented and remarkable Athenianmarker craftsman, attempted to escape from his exile in the place of Crete, where he and his son were imprisoned at the hands of King Minos, the king for whom he had built the Labyrinth to imprison the Minotaur (half man, half bull). Daedalus, the superior craftsman, was exiled because he gave Minos' daughter, Ariadne, a clew of string in order to help Theseus, the enemy of Minos, survive the Labyrinth and defeat the Minotaur.

Daedalus fashioned two pairs of wings out of wax and feathers for himself and his son. Before they took off from the island, Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sun, nor too close to the sea. Overcome by the giddiness that flying lent him, Icarus soared through the sky curiously, but in the process he came too close to the sun, which 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 bears his name, the Icarian Sea near Icaria, an island southwest of Samos.

Hellenistic writers who gave philosophical knowledge underpinnings to the myth also preferred more realistic 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.

References in classical work

Icarus' flight was routinely alluded to by Greek poets in passing, but was briefly related in Pseudo-Apollodorus, (Epitome of the Biblioteca) (i.11 and ii.6.3). Latin poets read the myth more philosophically, most of the time linking Icarus analogically to artists.

References in modern work

  • Stephen Dedalus is the protagonist and antihero in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
  • Icarus Allsorts is a satirical poem written by Roger McGough during the height of the Cold War.
  • In the book Airman by Eoin Colfer, Conor (Finn) tries to escape Little Saltee (a prison) by flight, and makes some reference to Icarus as he is flying with an illusion of "riding the moon".
  • Used as a reference in William Carlos Williams' "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" and W.H. Auden's "Musée des Beaux-Arts", which poems refer respectively to the name and location of the painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder.
  • Used as a reference in the poem "Mrs Icarus" by Carol Ann Duffy.

References in modern music
Artist Title Date Album/Note
Alesana Icarus 2006 On Frail Wings of Vanity and Wax (album)
Angra Metal Icarus Fireworks (album)
The Back Horn イーカロスの空 (Icarus' Sky) 2006
Jen Cass Daedalus 1996 Brave Enough to Say (album)
Counting Crows Insignificant 2008 "I am Icarus falling out of the sun"
Ani DiFranco Icarus Evolve (album)
Dreamtale Wings of Icaros Difference (album)
Danny Elfman The Little Things 2008 "With a mountain of maybes And some Icarus wings"
Emperor An Elegy of Icaros 1999 IX Equilibrium (album)
Epik High Icarus Walks Pieces, Part One (album)
Flutlicht Icarus
The Forms Icarus (album) 2003
Jon Foreman Light & Heavy "I'm feeling Icarus"
Bing Futch Icarus
Hopesfall Icarus A Types (album)
Hibria Wings of Wax 2008 The Skull Collectors (album)
Iron Maiden Flight of Icarus 1983 Piece of Mind (album)
Jars of Clay Worlds Apart 1996 "I flew too high and like Icarus I collide"
Kansas Icarus (Borne on Wings of Steel) 1975 Masque (album)
Yngwie Malmsteen Icarus' Dream Suite op. 4 1987 Rising Force (album)
Nine Inch Nails Somewhat Damaged 1999 "Flew too high and burned the wing. Lost my faith in everything."
Onitsuka Chihiro 蝋の翼 (Wax Wings) 2007 LAS VEGAS (album)
Periphery Icarus Lives!
Phish The Squirming Coil "... like Icarus, who had to pay with melting wax and feathers brown."
Race the Sun To Icarus with all sincerity 2004 The Rest of Our Lives is Tonight (album)
Regina Spektor Lacrimosa "Hi, I'm Icarus, I'm falling down from the dust of earth returning..."
Santigold Icarus 2008 Top Ranking (mix tape)
Sunset Rubdown Idiot Heart "The way that Icarus thought he might own the sky"
Textures Laments of an Icarus 2008 Silhouettes (album)
The Hours Icarus "Like Icarus he flew too close to the sun"
Thea Gilmore Icarus Wind "Soon there’ll just be feathers and the quiet of the fall "
Third Eye Blind Blinded "Icarus is not a tee shirt or a swan song"
Thrice Daedalus Alchemy Index, Vol. III AIR (album)
Toy Matinee Last Plane Out "I like the part where Icarus hijacks the little red hen."
It Dies Today A Romance By The Wings of Icarus 2002 Forever Scorned (album)
Jason Webley Icarus Only Just Beginning (album)
Wolfgang Weightless 1996 "Let Icarus plummet as sun melts his wax"

Parallel in Hindu mythology

A near parallel to the Icarus story exists in the Hindu epic Ramayana. The demi-god Jatayu and his brother Sampaati, who had the forms of vultures, used to compete as to who could fly higher. On one such instance Jatayu flew so high that he was about to get seared by sun's flames. Sampaati saved his brother by spreading his own wings and thus shielding Jatayu from the hot flames.

In the process, Sampaati himself got injured and lost his wings. Luckier than Icarus, he did not die a painful death, but had to live wingless for the rest of his life.

The Ramayana is attributed in Hindu tradition to the poet Valmiki who lived about 444 B.C, and presumably the story of Jatayu and Sampaati existed in earlier versions. Thus, it is roughly contemporary with the story of Icarus. Prior to the time of Alexander the Great there was hardly any direct contact between Greeks and Indians, but both were in contact with the Persian Empire and enough trade existed for elements of myth to pass over great distances .


  1. clew – A ball of yarn or thread. The etymology of the word "clue" is a direct reference to this story of the Labyrinth.
  2. Hyginus Fabulae 40
  3. Ovid, Metamorphoses (viii.183–235), Art of Love.
  4. " To kill a demon", Museum of myth and fable at the Morgan Library
  5. Alfred Kraus, "Comparative Mythology" (in German), Leipzig, 1907, p. 24


  • 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.

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