Listening to Your Elders: Icarus’ Story Told by Ovid and Apollodor
“Travel between the extremes.” This line from the story of Daedalus and Icarus, loosely translated from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, describes the lesson learned from the tragic story and its infamously tragic character, Icarus. It was exactly this that Icarus did not do; rather, he flew higher and higher with his wax wings, constructed by his father Daedalus, and in a show of hubris he flew too close to the sun and so his wings melted and he plunged to his impending death in the sea below. Although Edith Hamilton’s Mythology prefers to recount Apollodorus’s telling of the story, both Ovid and Apollodorus are successful in illustrating Icarus in his foolishness and ignorance. Icarus is portrayed as an unwise character, as he goes against his father’s instructions of not flying too high or too low (as the sun would melt his wings or the sea mist would weigh them down), soaring “exultingly up and up, paying no heed to his father’s anguished commands. Then he fell” (Hamilton 187). The wings could symbolize an overuse of power, as it was considered immoral for mortals to be able to fly—such power should only be in possession of the gods. The idea that the sun is a representation of a higher form adds a layer to the symbolism, as it would suggest that Icarus tried to get on the same level as the gods and thus was punished accordingly. Although Icarus is not depicted as a particularly aggressive or power-hungry character, he does show arrogance by disobeying his father and flying too high, and in the end—as with most Greek tragedies—he pays the price for it.
One of Icarus’ negative traits is his pride, which ultimately leads to his downfall. I can relate, as sometimes I have a tendency to let my pride overwhelm me, whether it be trying to prove myself better than someone or simply trying to put on a bravado, although I typically try to avoid doing so in order to maintain humility. Another trait of his is his desire to aim for extremes; the instruction of not flying too high or too low demonstrates the idea of avoiding extremes and aiming for the middle, or being balanced. While it is sometimes necessary for one to give all he/she has towards a goal or project, it can also lead to self-destruction if the task goes beyond reach—being fully determined is reasonable, but exhausting oneself through such a way may prove detrimental. I am guilty of transcending this happy medium more often than I would like to admit, traversing into both extremes with equal intent. For instance, I may focus too much time and effort on a certain project that is arguably not worth such persistence, while at the same time completely neglecting another project with minimal regard. This, of course, is not apt practice; rather, one should maintain a balanced lifestyle in all aspects—a concept that Icarus had not learned, and one that I will have to with time.
While I do connect with many of Icarus’ traits, I cannot claim that we do not share differences as well; for instance, I would not have disobeyed instructions from an elder, especially not from one as a prominent as my father. Also, if I was in the same position as Icarus was, I would certainly not have done as he did and flown as high, knowing the consequences—I think that, given the situation, I would have been able to use to common sense to realize that such an action would have ended disastrously; however, this is only interpreting Icarus and his actions in a literal sense. I believe that if he had been more balanced and logical in his approach, he would have survived, as well as if he had listened to his father rather than let his pride take control of him. Despite this, the overall message behind his plight proves purposeful in presenting the idea that people should be balanced in every aspect, always keeping “a middle course over the sea” (Hamilton 187). Like Icarus, we should never let pride and hubris take control of us, nor should we aim too high nor too low in going about achieving goals or even living life, as we are all constantly reaching for a goal across the ocean, facing the prospect of extremity, and flying with wax wings.
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“Travel between the extremes.” This line from the story of Daedalus and Icarus, loosely translated from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, describes the lesson learned from the tragic story and its infamously tragic […]