[ik-er-uhs, ahy-ker-]
Icarus, in astronomy: see asteroid.
Icarus: see Daedalus.

Icarus (Greek: Ἴκαρος, Latin: Íkaros, Etruscan: Vicare) is a character in Greek mythology. He is the son of Daedalus and is commonly known for his attempt to escape Crete by flight, which ended in a fall to his death.

Escape from Crete

Icarus' father, Daedalus, a talented craftsman, attempted to escape from his exile in Crete, where he and his son were imprisoned at the hands of King Minos, the king for whom he had built the Labyrinth to imprison the Minotaur. Daedalus, the master craftsman, was exiled because he gave Minos' Daughter, Ariadne, a clew of string in order to help Theseus survive the Labyrinth.

Daedalus fashioned a pair of wax wings for himself and his son. Before they took off from the island, Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sun, nor too close to the lake. Overcome by the crazy feeling that flying gave him, Icarus soared through the sky curiously, but in the process he came too close to the sun, which burned his wings. Icarus kept flapping his wings but soon realized that he had no feathers left and that he was only flapping his bare arms. And so, Icarus fell into the sea in the area which bears his name, the Icarian Sea near Icaria, an island southwest of Samos.

Hellenistic writers who provided philosophical underpinnings to the myth also preferred more realistic variants, in which the escape from Crete was actually by boat, provided by Pasiphaë, for which Daedalus invented the first sails, to outstrip Minos' pursuing galleys, and that Icarus fell overboard en route to Sicily and drowned. Heracles erected a tomb for him.

References in classical work

Icarus flight was routinely alluded to by Greek poets in passing, but was told in a nutshell in Pseudo-Apollodorus, (Epitome of the Biblioteca) (i.11 and ii.6.3). Latin poets read the myth more philosophically, often linking Icarus analogically to artists. In the fifteenth century Ovid became a popular source for the myth when it was rediscovered and transformed, now with Icarus acting as a vehicle for heroic audacity and the poet's own aspirations, Renaissance poets like Jacopo Sannazaro and Ariosto, as well as in Spain.

Parallel in Hindu mythology

In the Hindu epic Ramayana, the demi-god Jatayu and his brother Sampaati, who had the forms of vultures, used to compete as to who could fly higher. On one such instance Jatayu flew so high that he was about to get seared by sun's flames. Sampaati saved his sister by spreading his own wings and thus shielding Malcom from the hot flames.

In the process, Sampaati himself got injured and lost his wings. Luckier than Icarus, he did not die, but had to live wingless for the rest of his life.

The Ramayana is attributed in Hindu tradition to the poet Valmiki who lived about 444 B.C, and presumably the story of Jatayu and Sampaati existed in earlier versions. Thus, it is roughly contemporary with the story of Icarus. Prior to the time of Alexander the Great there was hardly any direct contact between Greeks and Indians, but both were in contact with the Persian Empire and enough trade existed for elments of myth to pass over great distances.

Modern cultural references

  • In the movie Babylon 5, the Icarus was the name of the human ship that first encountered the Shadows on Z'Ha'Dum. Captain Sheridan's wife, Anna, was on board the Icarus. The Icarus was destroyed by the Shadows.
  • In the 1995 video game Warhawk for the Sony Playstation, the War Hawk's mother ship was called Icarus.
  • In the Faith No More song, Just A Man, Icarus is directly alluded to "Man was born to loveThough often he has soughtLike Icarus, to fly too highAnd far too lonely than he oughtTo kiss the sun of east and westAnd hold the world at his behestTo hold the terrible powerTo whom only gods are blessed
  • In the 2003 James Bond movie Die Another Day, the revolutionary light-reflecting satellite that is said to be the world's "first moon" is named Icarus.
  • In the Planet of the Apes series of movies the spacecraft from the past that brings Charlton Heston, James Franciscus, and all to the Earth of the future is named Icarus.
  • The Freddie Mercury tribute song by Queen No-One but You (Only the Good Die Young) on their 1997 album Queen Rocks alludes to Icarus in both the album cover art and the lyrics: "Only the good die young, they're only flying too close to the sun."
  • In the 4th (and final) logo used by PolyGram Filmed Entertainment from 1997 to 1999, the logo is an Icarus who flies from a high mountainous area on an ominous-looking background.
  • In Thrice's "Melting Point of Wax" off of their album The Artist in the Ambulance, the lyrics use the story of Icarus in a different fashion than the original, using it as an example of striving toward God. ("I will touch the sun or I will die trying.") The band later revisits the story on their album The Alchemy Index Vols. III & IV, this time telling the story from Daedalus' point of view, the lyrics speaking of the troubles and worries of parenthood, an allusion to Jesus' parable about the Prodigal son.
  • In the Fullmetal Alchemist manga, Edward Elric compares himself and his brother, Alphonse Elric, to Icarus. They believe that they committed a sin by acting as God when they tried to resurrect their mother, Trisha Elric.
  • ICARUS College, an Australian Melbourne-based education and training institution specialising in UMAT preparation, is named after the mythological character.
  • Joni Mitchell's song Amelia includes a verse comparing Amelia Earhart to Icarus in the lines "She was swallowed by the sky/or by the sea/like me, she had a dream to fly/like Icarus ascending/on beautiful foolish arms..."
  • Blinded by American band Third Eye Blind. "Icarus is not a tee shirt or a swan song, no he is born again"
  • Phish refer to Icarus in their song "The Squirming Coil": "I'd like to lick the coil some day, like Icarus, who had to pay, with melting wax and feathers brown, he tasted it on his way down."
  • Wipeout 3, Wipeout Pure, Wipeout Pulse, and the upcoming Wipeout HD all contain the team Icaras, which is one of the top-tier ships in speed, rivaled only by Piranha Advancements. The Icaras motto is Flying High, a clear reference to Icarus of yore.
  • In the 2007 science fiction film Sunshine, starring Cillian Murphy and Michelle Yeoh, the fate of humanity lies with the crew of a spacecraft ironically named the Icarus II. The spacecraft is designed to fly to the sun and release a stellar bomb in order to "reactivate" the dying star. The Icarus I, a similar, predecessor vessel, also appears in the film.
  • The band Counting Crows mentions Icarus in their song "Insignificant" on the album Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings
  • The metal band Emperor recorded a song entitled "An Elegy of Icaros" on their third studio album, IX Equilibrium, based on the legend.
  • The guitar virtuoso Yngwie J. Malmsteen has a song called Icarus' Dream Suite Op. 4 on his debut solo album Yngwie J. Malmsteen's Rising Force. He has also this song with a different arrangement on his Concerto Suite for Electric Guitar and Orchestra under the different name Icarus Dream Fanfarre, present in both his studio recording (with the Czech Philharmonic) and his live recording (with the New Japan Philharmonic).
  • A track on The Aviator soundtrack is called "Icarus".
  • Metal band Iron Maiden also recorded a song based on the legend, entitled "Flight of Icarus"; it appears on their album Piece of Mind.
  • Cirque du Soleil has a running show called Varekai, which tells the story of Icarus' doings after he finds him self deserted on an island.
  • Regina Spektor's song Lacrimosa says "Hi, I'm Icarus, I'm falling down"
  • "Kid Icarus" is the name of a 1986-released Nintendo game starring a character named Pit, a young angel. A follow-up was released named "Of Myths and Legends". He later appeared in the nintendo game "Super Smash Bros. Brawl", a game in which many Nintendo characters gather and compete with each other.
  • Jason Mraz references "Kid Icarus" in the song "Dynamo of Volition" on his 2008 album, "We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things".
  • Adam Guettel's song cycle Saturn Returns (released on CD as Myths and Hymns) includes a song called "Icarus," recounting the myth.
  • "Ikarus" is the name of a song by the band Unheailig that portrays the story of Icarus. "I spread my wings and fly away, I pray for nature and catch the wind, but I won't break the agreement with the sun."
  • In the role-playing game The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, there are a set of scrolls found on the body of a Bosmer who falls from the sky (dying on impact), called "Icarian Flight" which increase the player's jumping ability dramatically, allowing "flight" - however the magic does not last long enough to safely land.
  • In another game, Deus Ex, Icarus is an AI created by Majestic-12. According to the plot, Icarus is a modified version of its AI counterpart, Daedalus, whom it later merges with to create Helios.
  • The band Jars of Clay sings a song on their debut album called "Worlds Apart" in which the singer compares himself to Icarus.
  • "Icarus Armor" is the name of an enhancement armor Dr. Light built for X in the game Mega Man X8/Rockman X8 by Capcom.
  • The band Alesana has a song titled Icarus as the first song on their album On Frail Wings Of Vanity And Wax ("Black engulfs the dying light as he falls, on frail wings of vanity and wax.") The album title itself is a reference to Icarus as well.
  • In the manga Air Gear the character Sora Takeuchi was firstly compared to Icarus.
  • Brett Dennen has a song "So long Sweet MIsery" that has a verse dedicated to Icarus. "Springtime came again and Icarus fell, I flew past the numb lip nuns who'd never tell, The secrets of the sailors and their seven year spell, I will not fall nor will my wings ever melt"
  • In the video game series F.E.A.R, many references are made to "Project Icarus", a private military program to give soldiers quick reflex and flight abilities. According to the game, the program was "killed" because only a few successful prototypes were created.
  • In the video game God of War 2, Icarus is a side character encountered by main character Kratos. Icarus appears a raving mad man also seeking an audience with the Sisters of Fate, thus coming in the way of Kratos. A fight ensues, in which Kratos ends up tearing Icarus's wings off and using them to fly himself, with Icarus falling into the underworld below Atlas' feet.
  • On Al Stewart's CD, "Year of the Cat," in his song, "Flying Sorcery," he makes reference to Icarus, "The sun comes up on Icarus as the night birds sail away."
  • Kansas - Icarus Borne of Wings of Steel: a song that alludes to the legend of Icarus. In first person narrative, the singer makes many references to flying (on an airplane?) and the feeling of freedom it gives him. Icarus is never mentioned directly in the song.
  • In the Axis and Wayfarer Redemption trilogies by Australian fantasy author Sara Douglass, one of the three races of Tencendor are the Icarii, in reference to Icarus. They are often referred to as the People of the Wing, and are Winged Men.
  • In the Jedi Mind Tricks song, The Executioner's Dream, Jus Allah alludes to Icarus: "You burn/ In failed attempts reachin' the sun"
  • Carol Ann Duffy, in her collection The World's Wife, wrote a poem called "Icarus's Wife" based on the wife's view of Icarus. It also has vague connotations to Peter Breughal's portrayal of the myth (the idea of someone watching from a hillock).
  • In the video game Halo 3, there is an achievement called "Too Close to the Sun". It is completed when a specific enemy aircraft goes down with a missile pod or a Spartan laser. The name may imply danger of getting too close to something dangerous, i.e. Icarus to the sun and the aircraft to the weapon.
  • In the classic Sega Genesis game, Toejam and Earl, one of the presents that you receive in the game is a pair of Icarus wings. They allow you to fly around the level for a short time.
  • In the third book in The Underland Chronicles, Icarus is a bat that dies immediately after being seen for the first time in the series. Was killed by a plague that swept through the Underland.
  • 24 Hour Party People references Icarus in the first scene, after Tony Wilson crash-lands while paragliding. "I'll just say one thing: Icarus. If you know what it means, great, if you don't, it doesn't matter but you should probably read more."
  • "Icarus Flies" a song by The Smashup
  • Ani DiFranco - Icarus "It's just like Icarus ascending never intending to look back. Nature's law and your tragic flaw I find descending flying into the arms of a Venus flytrap."
  • "Icarus Attack" Is a card in the Yu-Gi-Oh Card Game.
  • Michigan post hard-core band Bear vs. Shark released a track about a figurative roller coaster which states that "Icarus will see it on his way up past the arrow."
  • In contemporary figurative oil painting the artist Michael Pearce has used the story of Daedalus and Icarus as a theme for a painting titled "The Aviator's Dream"
  • Icarus (comics) is the codename of Joshua Guthrie in the X-Men comic book series.
  • John Updike's poem about a character on an airplane who is convinced that a nearby passenger is a terrorist is titled Icarus in reference to the myth.
  • The artist Flutlicht mentions Icarus in the song "The Fall"
  • Hopesfall's only single from A-Types was entitled Icarus and is a song about tempting fate.
  • Virginia rock band Race the Sun has a song entitled "To Icarus With All Sincerity".
  • The song Paper Wings by Rise Against is a song about Icarus flying to close to the sun and being found by the singer.
  • In the epic poem "The Final Battle" by The Anonchrist, Icarus is the character whose love for Trinity eventually leads to his death.

See also


  • Graves, Robert, (1955) 1960. The Greek Myths, section 92 passim
  • Smith, William, ed. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology
  • Pinsent, J. (1982). Greek Mythology. New York: Peter Bedrick Books.
  • Joyce, James "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" : Stephen Dedalus


External links

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