Night of the Living Daedalus


I was trying to think of characters from mythology I hadn’t covered yet, and I thought of Daedalus, the famous inventor. While most closely associated with Crete, the Athenians thought he should be a native of their own city, so they decided he was the grandson of King Erectheus. He was famed as an artificer in his old hometown, but he grew jealous of his own nephew Perdix, inventor of the saw and the compass (the circle-drawing kind, not the navigational sort). Daedalus pushed Perdix from the Acropolis, but Athena saved the boy’s life by turning him into a partridge.

The elder inventor was banished for his crime, and ended up settling in Crete, where he became a patron to King Minos. When Minos kept the bull he was supposed to sacrifice to Poseidon, the god made his wife Pasiphaë lust after the bovine, and it was Daedalus who built a wooden cow to enable to queen and the bull to copulate.

After the birth of their son, the monstrous Minotaur, the inventor built a labyrinth in which to house the creature.

He revealed some of the secrets of the maze to Princess Ariadne, and when Theseus used those secrets to defeat the Minotaur, Minos shut the inventor either in the labyrinth itself or in a tower. Either way, Daedalus escaped by constructing wings for himself and his son Icarus (Iapyx was also sometimes said to be a son of Daedalus, but if so he apparently wasn’t locked up with his father).

That Icarus died when he flew too close to the sun is something that I’m sure even the most myth-deprived among us know, but Daedalus himself survived and took refuge with King Cocalus of Kamikos, on the island of Sicily.

When Minos arrived at Kamikos seeking his former employee, Cocalus’ daughters assassinated him in the bath. The web pages I consulted don’t say anything about Daedalus’ own death, which could be part of why Rick Riordan made him functionally immortal in the Percy Jackson series. He found a way to transfer his life force into artificial bodies, the fifth and last of which appears in The Battle of the Labyrinth.

In addition to his unusual inventions, Daedalus is also credited with some more basic creations, like wooden cult images and sails for ships. He is regarded as the father of carpentry and patron of sculptors. Overall, I suppose he could be considered one of the earliest examples of the mad genius archetype.

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11 Responses to Night of the Living Daedalus

  1. vilajunkie says:

    And he was parodied in The Colour of Magic/The Light Fantastic as Goldeneyes Dactylos. I don’t think we ever find out what happened to him, but his role was quickly taken over by Bloody Stupid Johnson and Leonard of Quirm.

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  3. lbw says:

    Hello,
    May I ask you where you got this german illustration of Perdix’ myth ?

    I knew the one of Solis (here) and the one of Eiser (there), but not the one you’ve posted and which arouses some curiosity…

  4. andrew sichel says:

    Daedalus also made the first dance floor!

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