Stories of the Ancient Greeks - Charles D. Shaw

Wings of Wax

The man who built the labyrinth for King Minos was named Dædalus. He was a genius and could do wonderful things. The king became angry at him and shut him up in a tower. He easily escaped, but could not leave the island of Crete because the king watched all the ships, and no captain dared take Dædalus on board.

He put together sticks of strong but light wood, and made a pair of frames. On these he fastened feathers with wax and cord until they were like the wings of a very large bird. He made another and smaller pair for his son Icarus, who was always playing around him and asking questions.

When all was ready he took the boy to the top of a high hill near the sea. First he arranged the smaller pair of wings upon his son, then fitted the larger pair to his own shoulders and arms. He thought best to give Icarus some good advice.

"My son," he said, "we are now about to try a strange and wonderful thing. I believe these wings are strong enough to bear us safely across the sea into another and more friendly land, but I warn you to be careful. When we are once in the air I can do little to help you. Follow me and keep near me. Do just what I do, and it is my hope that you all will be well."

The boy promised to obey. His father threw him upward a little way; he spread his wings, and found that he could really fly. Dædalus sprang up, darted past him, and said again, "Follow me closely, my son!"

It was wonderful and delightful. High in air, but not too high, they sailed over the land like gigantic birds. Farmers stopped their plows and looked up with open mouths. Cattle lifted their heads and started at the strange sight. Women going to the wells for water ran screaming home. Boys and men took their bows and shot arrows which could not reach the fliers.

Soon they were over the sea. The blue waters sparkled below them. Fisherman left their nets, and rowers dropped their oars, to wonder at the huge birds that cast such a wide shadow.

Icarus had never been so happy. He was not the least afraid, for he could manage his wings perfectly. His father was pleased to see him keeping so near and doing so well.

Like other boys, this one got tired of being safe and happy. Suddenly he shot up into the air, higher and higher. He could see much farther and was proud of his daring. He grew very warm, for the sun was shining with great heat. The wax upon his wings began to melt. It dripped away, carrying the feathers with it. The bare frames could not hold him up. He was no longer a bird; he was nothing but a boy.

He fell. His father could not catch him, and if he had caught him, one pair of wings was not enough for two persons.

Icarus fell into the sea. They spray leaped up, the waves danced. That was al.

His father flew down to a land which was close by, and which he called Icaria, in memory of his foolish and disobedient son.

Dædalus had a nephew Perdix, whom he taught to be a skillful workman. This boy picked up on the seashore the back-bone of a fish. Looking at it gave him an idea. He took a piece of iron, made notches in the edge, and thus invented the saw.

He took two pieces of iron, sharpened them at one end, riveted them together at the other, and made the first pair of compasses.

Dædalus was not pleased. He thought the boy was a greater genius than himself, and that was unbearable. He took Perdix to the top of a high tower and pushed him off. He would surely have been killed if Athene had not been watching him. She changed him into the bird called the partridge, which builds its nest on the ground, and never flies high in the air because it knows the danger of falling.