Long ago in ancient Greece there lived a very clever man named Daedalus. He was a great inventor and a skillful engineer and architect. Daedalus planned magnificent buildings that even had running water in the bathrooms. He was very proud of his skill.
Daedalus left Athens, the city of his birth, and went to the island of Crete in the blue Aegean Sea. He took with him his young son, Icarus.
King Minos of Crete commanded Daedalus to build a labyrinth, or maze, to imprison a fearful monster called the Minotaur. The Minotaur is a monster that is half-man and half-bull. Daedalus built the huge labyrinth underneath the king’s stone palace. The labyrinth had so many false turns and dead-ends that no one who entered it could ever find a way out.
When the labyrinth was finished, the angry Minotaur was sealed inside it. When the Minotaur roared, the palace shook. The king was satisfied that the monster was safely locked away.
Daedalus had been on Crete for a long time. He wanted to return home. So he went to King Minos and said, “Great King, with your permission, I shall take my leave. My work is done, and I wish to return to Athens with my son.”
“You will do no such thing,” said King Minos. “You know the secret of the labyrinth. How do I know you won’t tell somebody how to find the way through the twisting passageways?”
“I pledge that I will do no such thing!” protested Daedalus.
But the king ordered his guards to seize Daedalus and Icarus. The father and son were locked in a tall tower at the very edge of the palace grounds.Despite all of the good Daedalus had done for the king, Daedalus and Icarus were kept under close guard in the prison tower. It would have done them no good to escape the tower, because King Minos also ruled the surrounding seas. The king’s soldiers inspected every ship that left the shores of Crete. And if they were caught escaping, they would be sent to the labyrinth.
“Father, are we going to be locked in this tower forever?” asked Icarus.
“I am a great inventor, Icarus,” replied Daedalus. “This certainly is a difficult problem, but I shall think of a solution.”
After days of being locked in the tower, Daedalus and Icarus needed fresh air. Daedalus climbed the stairway and led Icarus to the rooftop of the tower. Its great height made Daedalus fearful for Icarus’ safety. From the rooftop, Daedalus and Icarus watched the gulls and eagles soaring and gliding through the air. The birds flew very close to the tower. Daedalus studied with fascination the birds’ wings as they flew.
“Icarus, my son, I have an idea,” said Daedalus. “King Minos may rule the land and the sea, but he does not rule the air!”
“What do you mean?” asked Icarus. “Only birds can fly through the air.”
“That is because they have wings!” said Daedalus. “I want you to help me catch some birds. We need many feathers of all sizes.”
Daedalus watched closely the way birds use their wings to take off and fly. He studied the way feathers fit together to cover the birds’ wings. He noted the weight and the size of the wings in proportion to their bodies.
Icarus watched his father intently as he laid out a row of long feathers. Then his father laid a row of smaller feathers below that. He sewed them together with linen thread and a needle that he carried in his pouch. Daedalus laid down many more rows of feathers which Icarus held in place for him. Finally, Daedalus softened some beeswax and fastened the rows of feathers together with the wax.
At last Daedalus was finished. He held up a beautiful pair of wings! Daedalus tied the wings to his arms and shoulders with thin strips of leather. Cautiously, he fluttered the wings.
Daedalus then moved the wings up and down with strong beats. As the wings moved, he could feel himself lifting from the roof of the tower!”Stop, Father! Make my wings now!” Icarus begged.
Daedalus took his wings off and made a smaller set of wings for his son. Again he used wax to fasten many of the feathers. Then he tied the wings to Icarus.
“Just watch me first,” said Daedalus to his son. “I’ll try out the wings. If they work well, we’ll both practice flying together.”
Daedalus spread his wings, flapped them once, and caught the wind. Out he soared from the tower, lifting and falling on the air currents like a bird.
Icarus thought his father looked like a god as he flew through the air. The boy couldn’t wait any longer to fly himself.
Icarus stood on tiptoe at the edge of the tower, flapped his wings, and took off. He swooped and soared, like his father. As he flew, he shouted for joy. “I’m a bird! I’m a god!” he cried.
“Icarus! Go back!” shouted Daedalus. “Go back to the tower!”
Daedalus landed on the rooftop and called again to Icarus, “Come back!”
The boy circled around the tower twice and did a somersault in the air, before he came back to where his father stood.
“Son, we have much to learn about flying. And you have much to learn about obeying your father!” said Daedalus. “We will have to practice to become strong and skillful enough to fly all the way across the Aegean,” Daedalus explained. Daedalus and Icarus practiced flying every day. Their muscles became strong. When Daedalus judged that he and Icarus were ready to make the long trip over the sea, he sat Icarus down.
“Son, it is important that you heed my words. If you fly too low, too close to the waves,” Daedalus explained, “your feathers will get wet. Then, your wings will be too heavy to fly.”
“And if you fly too high,” Daedalus went on, “the heat of the sun will melt the wax that holds your wings together.”
“I understand, Father,” said Icarus, but he was barely listening.
No sooner had his father finished telling Icarus not to fly too low or too high, than the boy ran to the very edge of the rooftop and leapt off. He flapped his outspread wings and headed for the sea with Daedalus close behind him. When the two reached the blue Aegean, Daedalus shouted a reminder to his son. The father and son rode the rising currents of air like birds. They made long, slow turns, first one way and then the other in the brilliant blue sky. After flying contentedly side by side, Daedalus took the lead.
Icarus did a somersault in the air, then caught up to his father. Daedalus gestured for Icarus to stay at a safe middle level.
Icarus, however, wanted to fly higher, up to where the gods lived. While Daedalus flew on in front, unaware, Icarus beat his wings hard and rose up and up. The warmth of the sun felt good on his back, and Icarus rose still higher. The same warm sun melted the wax on Icarus’ wings. First only a few feathers and then many slipped off of the wings as the wax turned to liquid. Suddenly, Icarus dropped straight down, down into the cold sea.
When Daedalus looked back, he could no longer see his son. Alarmed, Daedalus flew about in circles looking for the boy. At last, Daedalus flew close enough to the water to see the feathers floating on the sea. He knew then that his son had drowned.
Daedalus wept as he flew alone. If only his son had listened to him, then they would be flying to freedom together.