Daedalus

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Daedalus the greatest inventor of Ancient Greece

daedalus
Daedalus, a great invetor,
with a tragic fate

Daedalus (or Daidalos in Greek, Δαίδαλος) was the greatest inventor of Ancient Greece, a man of many skills and arts, as indicated by his name, which comes from the Ancient Greek verb “daedalo”, meaning “to work cunningly”.

The Labyrinth in Minoan Crete, Ariadne’s Clue, Pasiphae’s Wooden Cow, Ariadne’s Dancing-Floor, the prow of contemporary ships and flying with wings of wax and feathers were all, according to mythology, Daedalus’ inventions.

Daedalus’ lineage

There are several legends concerning Daedalus, written down for the first time by Athenian mythographers of the 6th c. BC, under Peisistratus. Most of the myths on Daedalus’s life are set on Crete, so the myths concerning Daedalus must be Cretan in origin.

The legend of Daedalus tells us that he was born in Athens and was the descendant of Erectheus, the legendary hero and King of Athens, the founder of the Panathenian Games. Daedalus’ mother Alcippe (or Phrasmide or Iphinoe) was also of noble lineage, being descended from Cecrops, the mythical founder of the city of Athens.

According to a different version, Daedalus was descended from the god Hephaestus and inherited his ability to make almost anything.

Daedalus the architect and sculptor

Daedalus soon became the greatest architect and sculptor of Athens. It was even said that the statues which came from his workshop looked alive - so alive that when Hercules saw the statue of a man in fighting stance, he though he was being attacked and instinctively smashed it with his club. When he realised he had destroyed an elaborate statue, which was actually of himself, he was extremely embarrassed and apologised to Daedalus.

Daedalus was the first to give the limbs free movement, freeing the arms from the body and setting the legs apart. He also made the face more expressive by adding the details of the eye (eyeball, pupil and iris).

How Daedalus came to Crete

Talos or Calos (not to be confused with the giant Talos, guardian of Crete) was the son of Daedalus' sister (Perdicas or Polycastes) and he was a apprentice in Daedalus' workshop. It seems that the family as a whole was talented, and Talos was growing into an exceptionally skilled craftsman.

Rumour in Athens had it that the nephew would outstrip his uncle. Daedalus, blinded by jealousy, threw Talos off the Acropolis. The crime was soon out and Daedalus was banished from the city. His sister killed herself for grief at losing her beloved son, and Daedalus eventually ended up in Crete.

Daedalus was immediately made welcome in Crete, as his fame as a great artisan had gone before him. He became the confidant of Minos, the mythical King of Knossos. Minos put Daedalus in charge of all technical works in the Palace, and so legend has it that Daedalus was the inventor of almost every technological innovation of the time

In Crete Daedalus met Naucratis, who worked in the service of Minos, and had a son by her: Icarus.

Daedalus’ works on Crete

Daedalus made a hollow wooden cow for Pasiphae
Pasiphae’s Wooden Cow

Ariadne’s Dancing-Floor

Daedalus was the one who built the first “dancefloor” in history for the Princess Ariadne. It was admired even by the gods.

The “daedalia”

Another invention of Daedalus was supposedly the ship’s prow, which is why prows were also known as “daedalia” in Ancient Greece.

Pasiphae’s Wooden Cow

Minos had asked his uncle Poseidon, the god of the sea, to send a sign in order to prove that he was greater than his brothers.
Poseidon sent Minos a beautiful bull from the sea, which Minos was supposed to sacrifice in his honour. But Minos was reluctant to kill such a wonderful animal, and cunningly sacrificed a different bull in its place. Poseidon was furious and punished Minos for his impiety in an unusual way: he made Minos’ wife, Queen Pasiphae, fall in love with the bull.

Mad with passion for the bull, Pasiphae asked Daedalus to find her a way to lie with it without endangering her life. So Daedalus made a hollow wooden cow, covered it with the hide of a real cow, and left it in a field with the queen inside. The bull was deceived and mounted the false cow, and from this unnatural union was born the Minotaur, a monster with the head of a bull and the body of a man.

Daedalus’ Labyrinth

After the birth of the Minotaur, Daedalus was called upon to hide Minos’ guilt for this heavy punishment, by finding a way to imprison the Minotaur.

Daedalus built the Labyrinth, a maze-like building of winding corridors and complicated twists and turns, which confused anyone who entered it so much that he could not find the way out.

We have no idea where the Labyrinth was, although many people identify it with the Palace of Knossos itself. It is true that the Palace of Knossos consists of many rooms connected by narrow corridors. In any case, according to legend, Knossos itself was built by the architect Daedalus.

Ariadne’s Clue
Theseus killing Minotaur
Theseus killing Minotaur

Every nine years, the Athenians sent seven youths and seven maidens to Crete, as a blood tax for the unjust murder of Androgeos, the son of Minos. The youths and maidens were cast into the Labyrinth to be devoured by the Minotaur.

One year, one of the seven youths was Theseus, the son of the King of Athens. Brave and handsome, he fell in love with Minos’ daughter Ariadne, who would on no account let her beloved become food for the Minotaur. Daedalus’ aid was requested once more, and he gave Ariadne a clue or ball of strong thread. Theseus, following Daedalus’ advice, tied one end of the string to the Labyrinth entrance, and walked through the maze unwinding it until he found the Minotaur. Once he had killed the monster, he followed the thread back out.

Minos imprisons Daedalus

Daedalus meant no harm when he helped Pasiphae and Ariadne, but he fell out with Minos as a result. Obviously the king hadn’t wanted his wife to mate with the bull or Theseus to find his way out of the Labyrinth. Furious, he imprisoned Daedalus and his son Icarus in the Labyrinth.



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