Hellenic Air Force Academy
Daedalus and Icarus
The history of the conquest of the skies by man, commenced a long time ago. Having become acquainted with the mysteries of earth’s surface, humans began their attempts to break the bonds of nature and fly. Birds became a reference point and an example in these efforts while the human mind and ambition were important driving forces in man’s flying venture, which aimed at artificially overcoming the physical setbacks imposed by nature.
The ancient Greeks, always attracted by challenging and difficult goals, were pioneers in mankind’s flying efforts. Failing to achieve these in real life, they made use of myths to compensate for their failure. Thus, in antiquity, there are numerous myths relating to flights of gods and heroes. According to Hellenic mythology, Hermes and Iris were often in the air, while Daedalus and Ikarus are regarded as the first mythical airmen, who attempted to fly making use of self-made equipment rather than divine power.
According to the myth, the King of Crete Minos invited in Knossos the famous Athenian craftsman, architect and inventor Daedalus, as he was intending to build an inimitable palace. Thus the Knossos palace was constructed.
It was the largest and grandest of the palaces. It covered an area of 22,000 sq. metres and consisted from 1300 rooms of all sizes, large halls, storerooms, workshops, staircases and corridors. In the eastern wing there were four storeys of royal apartments, and in the western wing the official "Throne Room". The halls of the palace were decorated with splendid frescoes. (It is estimated that the palace was built between approximately 1700 - 1450 B.C.).
The palace was designed by Daedalus with such complexity that no one placed in it could ever find its exit. King Minos then kept the architect prisoner to ensure that he would not reveal the palace plan to anyone.
This situation did not last long since two events broke the existing status. The first was that Daedalus helped the King’s wife Pasifae to realise her wish for Poseidon‘s bull, giving birth to the Minotaur. Secondly he supplied Ariadne, daughter of Minos, with the thread with which she guided Theseus through the Labyrinth where he killed the Minotaur.
Daedallus and Ikarus were strictly confined by Minos, rendering their escape by sea impossible. Thus another way of leaving had to be improvised and the only available possibility was an escape by air, however risky. Daedalus, thus, built wings with cloth, flax-made bands, bird feathers and wax. He also made up a flight plan of the escape route over the Aegean sky. This plan seems to have involved a flight over Paros, Delos and Ikaria ending at Samos or Ephesus on Asia Minor coast.
Before take-off, Daedalus had warned his son to fly neither at a very high nor very low altitude, since either the heat of the sun or the humidity of seawater could destroy the wings. However, while flying over the southern coast of Ikaria, young Ikarus, captivated by the thrill of the flight, ignored his father’s advice and began to fly higher, closer to the sun. The wax began to melt, the feathers came loose and scattered in the air and thus, Ikarus fell to his death. He crashed into the sea which since then bears his name and so does the island where he was buried by his father (Ikarian Sea, Ikaria).
Daedalus arrived at Kimi, with broken heart, where he built a temple in honour of Apollo, to whom he dedicated the wings that gave him freedom.
However mythological, the death of Ikarus was the first sacrifice of mankind in its struggle to tame the skies. Many scholars have examined the myth of Daedalus and Ikarus and have tried to place it chronologically, concluding that the most likely date would be around 1400 B.C.
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