Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Ecstasy of Icarus

Daedalus has already created a legend. He has engineered and built an ingenious mechanical cow for Pasiphae, queen of Crete, to climb inside and couple with her favourite bull. He has designed the famed Labyrinth: that bewildering maze of passageways and corridors in which callous Theseus, hero in deed but deserting the fair Ariadne who had provided him with the means to carry out that deed, had slain Pasiphae’s grotesque progeny, the monstrous Minotaur.

This master craftsman is already a legend. But to create a myth, he needs his son Icarus. To create a myth, he needs something which Icarus possesses but which he himself lacks. To create a myth, it will take an extreme bravura gesture: a gesture of bold youth which calculating, rational, cautious old Daedalus is incapable of making.

And so Daedalus busies himself with the preparations for his most ambitious invention. He stitches and glues. He fashions feathers and wooden struts and wax. He makes wings for mortal man to fly like the gods. And when these great wings are ready, he and his beloved son strap them on, march to the edge of the Cretan cliffs, and launch themselves into the blue unknown.

Choose the safety of the middle way, the craftsman tells his son. Too low, and the waves will claim you. Too high, and the fierce sun will melt the wax, and you will tumble to earth. Choose the middle way. But it is the nature of youth to be impetuous. And it is the nature of Icarus to go beyond, to seek an ecstasy of knowing which his cautious father is forever denied.

Higher, ever higher, flies Icarus in the ecstasy of this cruel light. He wants to know the sun’s bright secrets, to know the waves’ restless turmoil, to understand the flames’ voices, and to feel their tongues lick his face. He knows a passion beyond the experience of any middle way as he begins to fall upwards, ever upwards, for ecstasy knows neither up nor down. He wants to go beyond. There, at the apogee of his flight, he becomes just another spark of light thrown out by the sun. And far below he will learn all which the journeying waves have to teach him.

Do not mourn for Icarus. His body will be carried safely to shore by the waiting sea nymphs who, themselves being immortal, recognise this fallen son as one of their own.

   'Icarus' by Herbert James Draper


  1. In honour of the spirit of Icarus,

    "This is love: to fly toward a secret sky,
    to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment.
    First, to let go of life.
    In the end, to take a step without feet;
    to regard this world as invisible,
    and to disregard what appears to be the self...." – Rumi

  2. This is so beautiful! Thank you, Joseph.