MYTHIC THEMES CLUSTERED AROUND:
The Greek series, "Mythic Themes Clustered
Aphrodite, Artemis, Athena,
Centaurs, Demeter & Persephone,
Hecate & Other "Dark" Goddesses, Icarus, Medusa & Pegasus, Pan
[others are forthcoming]
The Fall of Icarus
© 1982 by Sandra Stanton, used with permission
As a new millennium begins, the ancient fate of the boy, Icarus, remains deep in our collective psyche as a warning against the reckless over-reliance on Western technology. Icarus' fall is traditionally interpreted as a punishment for his arrogance, his defiance of his gods. When my friend Sandra Stanton shared her Icarus painting with me, I began to see something much less dramatic, albeit more profound, in the story of this youth. The clue, perhaps, is in the contrast between the winged horse, Pegasus (in the upper right corner), and Icarus. Pegasus was born with wings and flying was part of who he was. The man, although not born with wings, was nevertheless well within his rights to create them, to escape with his father Daedalus from imprisonment in King Minos' labyrinth, and to experience the joy of flying. There was neither arrogance nor defiance of the gods in doing this. Being creative is, after all, deeply rooted within our human nature.As I see it, the error lay in Icarus' lack of respect for the nature of his materials -- wax. He flew too close to the sun, which isn't a safe or friendly place for wax to be. His mistake wasn't in trying to fly. That comes with the territory of being a human. His problem was an inability to take seriously the essence, or "being-ness," of the natural ingredients with which he worked.
http://onlinelearning.tc.cc.va.us/faculty/tcreisd/projects/icarus/index.htmThis painting gives us a powerful metaphor for the necessity of respecting what is. Pegasus does it beautifully. Icarus doesn't. He wants to compel wax to do what wax cannot. No matter how magnificent the graceful, feathered wings, the wax that anchors them nevertheless remains wax. It melts, the feathers scatter to the winds, and the barren landscape towards which Icarus is rushing will be as uninviting to his frail body as searing sunlight was for wax. The man didn't respect the properties of earth. Earth won't respect the properties of his human body.
Creative solutions are one thing. Recklessly blinding ourselves to the urgency of accepting certain inherent limitations is another. Unless we can respect the natural qualities of the world around us (instead of, for example, genetically engineering foods and embryos to be what they are not, or using nuclear energy without first figuring out how to sanely handle its waste, or continuing to pollute and overpopulate an already stressed planet), the West may not escape the fate of Icarus. In finding a balance, ancient Greece may yet have still more to teach us.
[Stanton's "Icarus": Negativized]
"Allusion, Artistry, and the Fall of Icarus" is an intricately crafted 11 page site by Donna Reiss, associate professor in English and the Humanities in the Virginia Community College System. Her sole focus is on Icarus in legend, art (e.g., Brueghel, Matisse), poetry (e.g., W.H. Auden, Anne Sexton, William Carlos Williams), sculpture, dance, and music. She has gathered her materials with a superb eye for quality. The site is designed to demonstrate the concept of "allusion" and includes useful "how to" sections. [Click on "Next" at the bottom of each page to move to the following page. This will take you to pages not necessarily listed in the menu.]
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Page split off from the main Greek page 28 August 2000.
Latest Updates: 13 November 2000.