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Daedalus

by Martha Thompson
The Athenian Daedalus, son of Metion and the grandson of Erechtheus 1, was a famous architect, inventor, and craftsman. Among his inventions and creations were the wooden cow he constructed for the queen Pasiphae, the Labyrinth at Knossos, artificial wings for himself and his son Icarus, and he was even said to have invented images.

Daedalus

His homeland was Athens. For a short time, his apprentice was his sister's son Perdix. When Daedalus feared that the boy would surpass him in talent, he murdered the boy by tossing him from the Acropolis of Athens. He was then tried at the Areopagus and banished from the city.

He fled to Crete, where he began to work at the court of King Minos and Queen Pasiphae, in the magnificent palace of Knossos. There he constructed a wooden cow for the queen to hide in to satisfy her amorous longings for a white bull sent by Poseidon, and by which she became pregnant with the Minotaur.

When the Minotaur was born, Daedalus built the Labyrinth to contain the monstrous half-man, half-bull. For years Minos demanded a tribute of youths from Athens to feed the creature. Eventually, the hero Theseus came to Crete to attempt to slay the Minotaur. Ariadne, daughter of Minos and Pasiphae, fell in love with Theseus and asked Daedalus to help him. Daedalus gave her a flaxen thread for Theseus to tie to the door of the Labyrinth as he entered, and by which he could find his way out after killing the monster. Theseus succeeded, and escaped Crete with Ariadne. Minos, enraged at the loss of his daughter, shut Daedalus and his son Icarus into the Labyrinth.

To escape, Daedalus built wings for himself and Icarus. They successfully flew from Crete, but Icarus' wings melted when he flew too close to the sun, and he drowned in the sea. Daedalus buried his son and continued to Sicily, where he came to stay at the court of Cocalus.

Minos then went in pursuit of Daedalus, hoping to trick the great inventor into revealing himself. At each city he visited, Minos offered a reward to whomever could thread a spiral seashell. Eventually, Minos came to Camicus in Sicily and presented the contest at Cocalus' court. Cocalus knew of Daedalus' talents, and gave the shell to him. The clever Daedalus tied the string to an ant, place the ant at one end of the shell, and allowed the ant to walk through the spiral chambers until it came out the other end.

When Minos saw that someone had solved the puzzle, he demanded that Cocalus surrender Daedalus. Cocalus promised to do so, but he persuaded Minos to take a bath and stay for some entertainment. Minos agreed, and was murdered by Cocalus' daughters.

1. The Athenians thought that a figure of such manifest intelligence and ingenuity had to be Athenian, and so they contrived a geneology whereby Daedalus was the son of Metion, son the Erechtheus, the legendary founder of Athens.

Daedalus served as something like a patron saint of sculptors.


Article details:

  • Also known as:
    Daidalos
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