The Myth of Icarus

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Stories that deal with supernatural being, ancestors or heroes and are often ancient are referred to as cultural myths. These tales shape the view and perception of individuals about the world. From another aspect, cultural myths can be defined as a belief or story that has gained popularity and is linked to an individual, organization or event and is considered to be of cultural origin. In the current generation one of the most prevalent myths is the myth of superheroes. With the development of fictitious in literary works, comic book superheroes have become significant characters. As for those that have gone beyond mythological and literary they have become rather permanent in society. Greek mythologies are great examples of superhero myths and other types of cultural myths. In this paper we look at the Greek mythology of Daedalus and Icarus.

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Structure of the paper

The paper looks at the summary of the mythology itself, what happened in the mythology and then goes into deep analysis of the myth. Analysis of the myth is accomplished through semiotic theory and myth analysis. The analysis attempts to unravel the signs and symbols in the myth and different themes portrayed in the myth. The denotative and connotative meanings are also detailed in the paper. Finally, the paper discusses the cultural significance of the myth: cultural, naturally and social reflection of the myth. After the cultural significance the paper concludes with an overview of the entire content and suggestion concerning the significance of the myth.

Summary of the myth

Daedalus, a craftsman from Athens, built the labyrinth for the king of Crete. King Minos was the king of Crete during that period. Apart from being an Athenian craftsman, Daedalus was also the father of Icarus. The labyrinth that Daedalus built for the king was at Knossos and its purpose was to capture a half bull monster, half man known as Minotaur, a creature that his wife had given birth to. When Daedalus indirectly aided the failure of capturing Minotaur in labyrinth, the king was furious with him and imprisoned him in the same prison that he had made. The mistake that the king charged Daedalus with was giving the kings daughter, Ariadne a ball of string that was used to help Theseus, an enemy of the king, to survive the labyrinth and conquer the Minotaur.

When Daedalus was imprisoned, he made up his mind to utilize his craftsmanship to attempt to flee. He therefore made a pair of wings and had a test trial. He then made another pair of wings for Icarus his son. Before they took off, Daedalus warned his son not to sore too close to the sun or too close to the sea, Icarus was supposed to follow his fathers flight path. He explained to Icarus that the sun would cause the wax to melt resulting into destruction of the wings and eventually his death.

Overwhelmed by the excitement experience of flying, Icarus kept on soaring higher and higher and eventually ended up flying so close to the sun that the wax that held his wings together melted. This rendered his wings useless as they fell into pieces. Icarus fell from the sky into the sea; the part of the ocean known as Icaria- a Grecian Island found in the AegeanSeaSemiotic analysis

Semiotics can be defined the discipline that entails studying everyday speech especially the sings. According to this discipline signs are represented in the form of words, sounds, images, gestures and objects. The study of signs is generally conducted with the semiotic sign system. In summary semiotics involves exploring the conceptualization of meaning in myths and how reality is represented. It is essential to note that in semiotics, signs are not only used to convey meanings but are also utilized to construct it. This means that semiotics is not only essential for deriving the meaning not in a passive manner but is actively involved in the process of interpretation.

In this section we look at one major system of semiotics; non-linguistics sign systems. Non-linguistic sign system refers to methods of semiotic analysis that have their origin in literary criticism and have been vastly applied to field such as geography, art history, architecture and film. The approach in this system puts emphasis subjecting the object of analysis to systemic characterization. Myths and other art form such as pictures are considered to be systems of sings where the interaction of the element goes hand in hand with the letters, words and sentences. All the different interaction can, therefore, be grouped under one umbrella, semiotics; which in other cases it termed as the science of sings

Signs of the Wall Street people are another semiotic sign system of key interest. This system entails the following:

To the untrained eye, the Wall Street people who rode from the Connecticut suburbs to Grand Central were an undifferentiated mass, but within that mass Danny noted many small and important distinctions. If they were on their BlackBerrys, they were probably hedge fund guys, checking their profits and losses in the Asian markets. If they slept on the train they were probably sell-side people, brokers, who had no skin in the game. Anyone carrying a briefcase or a bag was probably not employed on the sell side, as the only reason you'd carry a bag was to haul around brokerage research, and the brokers didn't read their own reports, at least not in their spare time. Anyone carrying a copy of the New York Times was probably a lawyer or a back-office person or someone who worked in the financial markets without actually being in the markets.

Semiotic analysis and interpretation of the myth

The expressions of nature of human can be depicted through sings and symbolism. The signs are external lower forms of expressions of the higher truth. The higher truth being represented in this case is the intuitive wisdom. According to Joseph symbols are what gives expression what intellect lacks absolute knowledge about. From the myth, henry murray coined the term Icarus complex which stands for prevalent symptoms of fondness of heights, fire and water. Behind the symbolism of the myth, the message being conveyed is a warning against heedless pursuit of quick gratification.

From the above moral, the idea of the Greeks known as Sophrosyne is portrayed. Sophrosyne can be defined entomologically as health-mindedness and a sense of moderation or what is commonly referred to as self-control. This idea is based on and guided by knowledge and balance.

Interpreting the flight of the Icarus, a valuable lesson can be learned; the essence and importance of moderation. Initially before Icarus took off from the ground, his father Daedalus had warned him not to fly too high close to the sun or too low close to the sea. This was the wax would metl when subjected to the hot temperatures of the sun or when subjected to the sea-water spray, This farther emphasizes on the need to respect ones limits and act accordingly and also to heed instructions given to them especially when they know little of what they about to face.

Further symbolic interpretation shows that the moral of the story can be linked to analogy of Plato; the analogy of the divided line. In this analogy, the sun is a manifestation of the highest form (the ideology of the gods). From this perspective, it can be said that Icarus had flown too high; he wanted to surpass the Gods in terms of wisdom. In the process of trying to achieve knowledge he ended up going against the wishes of the gods and a result was punished through plummeting to his death.

An identical interpretation is found in Platos myth of Phaethon, as it appears in his elderly dialogue Timaeus.

Moreover and going further, considering Platos allegory of the cave, Icarus could be linked to the escaped prisoner, who represents the Philosopher, who seeks knowledge outside of the cave (labyrinth).

Platos analogy of the chariot might also be related to Icaruss myth. When flying high with his waxed wings, Icarus chariot was driven by the stubborn black horse, which represents mans appetites. Through the act of disobeying Daedalus advice it is evident that his rational part of the soul which should rule over appetites lacked the strength and determination sufficient to do so. In other words, the rational charioteer is beaten by the black horse.

Icarus age is an aspect of the myth that deserves a mention here, for it is a characteristic of the period of adolescence to impulsively follow the appetite for life, to rush into the unknown adventure, to chase dreams, to follow temptation and not to heed warnings of danger.-


The lessons from cultural myth of Icarus depict real life situations where individuals do not heed instructions and try to surpass the wisdom of those above them. It depicts the recklessness in most individuals in the society and the fall from the sense of pride. Through symbolism and semiotic tools the myth develops and conveys different essential themes in society.


Kohut, Miroslav. "Superheroes: The Philosophy Behind The Modern Myt". Ph.D. Masaryk University, 2014. Print.

La Audacia de Aquiles,. "IcarusAFall: "The Myth. Symbolism And Interpretationa.-". N.p., 2014. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.

Moore, Alan. "The Hero Myth & The Apocalypse In". Ph.D. N.p., 2016. Print.,. "Analysis Of Daedalus And Icarus". N.p., 2016. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.

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