Daedalus

Daedalus

Here at Camicos, you can be free, at least.
Back on that island, we were prisoners
at the request of the King: no way out.
But amazingly we found our way out,
and flew as fast as our feet would carry us.
Wings? No, you misunderstand ‘flight’.
We were on the run, after all.

Sadly my son, who was never good with boats,
capsized and drowned. At least I didn’t have to bury him:
it is horrible for a father to bury his child.
But flying isn’t the problem. After all, here I am.

Back home, I was cunning, I was crafty.
Then I became a fugitive, freeing a prison
of my own making. What was to be done?
My life as I knew it had disappeared.

Minos picked the youths of Athens as tribute
to feed the inhuman bull, monster born of crazed lust.
I was the architect of the prison, the home of the beast
that Minos, weak tyrant, ordered me to build
for those youths to suffer and die in
but at some point I had to say, enough is enough.
He died while taking a bath
as so many tyrants drunk on power tend to,
my cunning more than a match for his riddles.
Now I hear he’s a judge of the dead
in the Underworld.
There really is no rest for the wicked.

Note: The germ of this dramatic monologue was the euhemeristic idea that the ‘flight’ of Daedalus and Icarus from Crete was metaphorical rather than literal, and the original story (whether based on any historical event or not) became embellished in the retelling. Palaephatus, an ancient Greek author, wrote a book rationalising the classical myths, On Incredible Tales, in which he argued that the myth of Daedalus and Icarus ‘flying’ arose because of the speed with which they fled the Labyrinth (in a ship, by sea). However, they capsized, and although Daedalus survived, Icarus drowned. Other writers, attempting to rationalise the fanciful story of men flying, included Cleidemus and Diodorus. The latter maintained that Icarus was killed while disembarking from the boat he took to escape Crete.

Icarus’ early death and his father surviving him dovetails with the sacrifice of the youths to the ‘inhuman bull’ (inhuman because not fully human, though ‘bull’ is also meant to summon the slang for ‘nonsense’: a reference to propaganda), the Minotaur. After burying Icarus, Daedalus traveled to Camicus in Sicily. Minos came after him, asking a riddle in every city he visited; when Minos arrived in Camicus, he presented the riddle to King Cocalus, who was harbouring the wanted man; Daedalus unwittingly accepted the riddle and solved it, revealing to Minos his presence at the court. Minos demanded that Daedalus be handed over to him, but Cocalus (in some versions his daughters) killed Minos with boiling water while he was taking a bath. Agamemnon (who sacrificed his daughter), Marat, and King Minos were all murdered in the bath. After his death, Minos was made a judge of the dead in Hades. Two other men, Rhadamanthus and Aeacus, judged alongside him, with Minos having the deciding vote. It has always struck me as a tragedy that Daedalus survived, having been the architect behind so much suffering.

This poem © Oliver Tearle 2021