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Why Was Daedalus Forgotten From Common Discourse?

As my previous article presented a few points in favor of reading the Classics, I believe I should put my money where my mouth is, and provide a criticism of one of them.

We all know the name Icarus – whether we encountered it in the Iron Maiden song, "Flight of Icarus", or elsewhere, in other poems, in stories, or just in regular conversation when the topic of hubris comes up. But mention the name Daedalus, Icarus's father, and most people wouldn't have the faintest clue who you're referring to.

A quick summary is in order: after he built the maze in which the Minotaur dwelled, King Minos of Crete had the inventor Daedalus and his son Icarus locked in a tower, where they were to remain for the rest of their days (or, presumably, until King Minos desired something further from the genius inventor). Daedalus observed the birds, and slowly began to formulate an escape plan: he developed wings of feathers and wax for himself and his son, taught the two of them how to use them, and intended for them to fly on to Sicily, where they would be able to live a normal life. Daedalus warned his son not to fly too low, for the fogs would weigh him down, nor too high, for the heat would melt the wax. During their flight, Icarus forgot his father's warning and flew upwards. The wax melted, his wings collapsed, and he fell to his death. Daedalus reached Sicily, hung up his wings in the temple of Apollo, and never flew again.

We must wonder, why is Daedalus forgotten by so many? After all, the story is named after the two of them, not only the headstrong son. And, indeed, it was Daedalus that conceived of, built, and taught himself and his son the use of his miraculous wings. As the story opens, even "among all those mortals who grew so wise that they learned the secrets of the gods, none was more cunning than Dædalus." Additionally, Daedalus's flight was successful, and he arrived safely in Sicily.

So why do we, who worship success to the point of awarding those among us who achieve it with luxury, power, fame, and oftentimes public idolization then go on to forget one of the smartest, most cunning, and most successful inventors of classical antiquity?

After some deliberation, I've come to the conclusion that his achievements – which also include the construction of the maze in which the Minotaur then stood guard for King Minos of Crete – are, however impressive, eclipsed in public imagination by the hubris of his son. Put simply, we humans are more vengeful of those we conceive as prideful than we are appreciative of those who succeed.

We see it in other aspects of our society as well; the philanthropist George Soros has often been maligned as evil, ruthless or reckless after it became known he wrote “I admit that I have always harboured an exaggerated view of self-importance — to put it bluntly, I fancied myself as some kind of god.” in his 1987 The Alchemy of Finance. Billionaire Bill Gates and his wife Melinda have also recently come under attack with their promises of a vaccine for Covid-19. And there have been dozens, if not hundreds, of others who have made some kind of claim others saw as lacking in humility and were turned upon by the wider population.

So what makes us so resentful of the pride of others? Pride is, after all, something we all need some measure of, as its opposite is shame – a negative emotion which in excessive quantities can and throughout history often has driven people to suicide.

An answer may be found in our history; over the years, there have been many who made boastful claims, such as kings and nobles, all of whom we recognize today to have been oppressing their subjects. The king, who claimed to be blessed by god. The nobility, who claimed to have blue blood. And perhaps more recently, scientific experts who make the case they have the knowledge, education and training to dictate to the rest of us where we may go, what we may do, what we may purchase, how we must dress, and so forth in light of the current Corona Virus crisis.

The issue, then, is not so much with the pride of the person itself, but that over the years we humans have evolved to notice a pattern; men who claim to have some special advantage over the common man, have tended to do so for the purpose of oppressing and exploiting their fellow men. This, I believe, is something very well worth keeping in mind, especially in light of the current situation. Main picture: Icarus and Daedalus by Frederic Leighton, 1869.

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