I first read the story of Icarus when I was 8. I remember being very confused. What do you mean he falls into the water and that’s the end? I flipped to the next page, and I swore my copy of the book was missing a page. I’d just convinced myself to stop being lazy, and to start reading independently. In this way, words came to shape in my mind like pictures. We all learn that way, via memory. I looked for “Once upon a time”. I looked for “Happily ever after”. It was so perplexing to me then, that the book ended where he drowned.
I looked at the illustration of Icarus. He was just a child with curly hair and robes that looked too big for him. A boy who wondered. Who liked feeling the adrenaline pulse through his veins. And that was the first story that made me feel real fear. It wasn’t scary like the ghost story of the clockwork doll that rised from the graveyard, that it wasn’t. Honestly, it was the idea that my little brother and I probably wouldn’t have listened to our Father had we had wings strapped to our arms. It was too much of a fun thought to just give up the chance to fly high above, reduce everything to tiny specks. To see for ourselves how big the world really is, and to be humbled by and in awe of it all at once. Some feelings you just don’t get when flying in an aeroplane. For a boy who grew up trapped in a Labryinth, that freedom must have been so tempting.
I wondered if Daedalus turned back for his son. I wondered why he didn’t. I wondered if he would choose to kill himself. The greatest inventor in the world, and he made something that killed his son. The greatest inventor, and he couldn’t save his son. The world is such a cosmic joke. I wonder if he went mad.
The Percy Jackson series was one of my favourite books growing up in my tween to teen years. Rick Riordan presented Daedalus as a selfish, egoistic character who only cares about his own wellbeing. Up till that point, I viewed Icarus’ death as a typical Greek tragedy. “The Battle of the Labryinth” gave me space to consider all the other possibilities. A story of karma? A cautionary tale to scare children into listening to their parents? A story of innocence, or lost innocence, of the forgotten or of the practical nature of humanity and how that selfishness triumphs over all emotional ties.
Later on in JC, my teacher mentioned Icarus a couple more times. She showed us two paintings. One that showed nymphs (I think) mourning Icarus’ death, having pulled his body up to land from the depth of the ocean. Another showed Icarus falling into the sea as a backdrop, with nothing but his foot poking out of the water as everybody else went on with their lives. Both pieces I love.
I just feel that “Landscape with the Fall Of Icarus” has a more uniquely honest point of view. Nobody would have known of Icarus’ death when he’d fallen and that is what truly makes it a tragedy. That a child or teenager had been left alone and helpless to die. And in a more literal sense, the only explanation to how anyone would have known of Icarus and his death is that his Father hadn’t turned back for him and had made it to safety, living to tell the tale.
And the truth is, no one really knew about Icarus in the first place. He hasn’t really played any important parts in other greek myths. He is known for his fall, his death. A kid who lived in a labryinth most of the time? What are the chances that complete strangers would fish his winged body out from the sea and mourn him? How many people commit suicide and drown a year? Why Icarus? Icarus was just a flawed human being like any other. Don’t get me wrong, I love the thought that Icarus wasn’t forgotten. But nobody knows Icarus for anything other than the one mistake he made that led to his death. No one knows his favourite song or food or even has any other memory of him other than his fall, so that makes him pretty forgotten in my book.
The Poem below, “Mrs Icarus” by Carol Ann Duffy, presents Icarus as a fool. Written in the perspective of Icarus’ wife, the poem is essentially one huge prickly tease towards Men. In this case, it pushed the fact that Icarus was a young man (There’s no exact stated age of Icarus in any historical record so I guess that it is possible he was 16 or 18. Either way he was a teenager, nothing but a kid.) I love Carol Ann Duffy for this almost-calling-out Icarus on his idiocy.
I’m not the first or the last
to stand on a hillock,
watching the man she married
prove to the world
he’s a total, utter, absolute, Grade A pillock.
I just think idiocy is a harsh explanation to dismiss his tragedy.
Anyone who knows me should know that I am a comic book geek and I love the XMen😂 I have to admit that some of it is absolute nonsense (Captain America was working for hydra all along? Seriously? If the story world you created has become too complicated for your own brain, then honestly, you might as well just kill off this Captain A and start a new generation.That would honestly be better.😒) and that is why I don’t follow every comic obsessively. Which is why I never knew that there was an XMen Character called Icarus.
It’s gonna be all geek talk from this point on.
Ok so basically this character is a mutant named Jay with wings that grew out of his back. He had this Romeo and Juliet backstory with the girl that lived next door. (The girl’s family objected to their relationship bla bla bla tried to exterminate him bla bla bla she thought he was dead and tried to commit suicide with him via drowning bla bla bla his wings had healing powers bla bla she died.) He was found by the XMen holding his girlfriend’s body by the river, trying again and again to spear himself through the heart with a wooden stake.
As you can probably tell by the bla bla blas, this romance nonsense isn’t really my thing. Besides, he did fall for someone else, meaning she wasn’t the only one in his life. And just because he didn’t pursue any further relationship with the Muslim Mutant character ‘Dust’, doesn’t mean he didn’t want to. What really interests me is that I don’t think it was so much love on Icarus’ part, as much as it was guilt. Survivor’s guilt, most of all. He named himself the alias ‘Icarus’ for “How far I’ve fallen”. Ironically, Jay described his rising from the water as falling. His rise was his downfall. Living is a punishment. The Icarus who didn’t drown. In many ways, a character foil to the Icarus of the myth.
The way I see it, he wasn’t being an angsty teenager, he wasn’t being melodramatic, he wasn’t trying to say that losing her was his fall. It was more of how far he’d fallen away from the image of the person he thought he would be. He probably loved her a lot, but realized he didn’t love her as much as she did him. And knowing that she’d died for him and he couldn’t do that in return for her- knowing that that’s a debt he would always owe her. The lack of courage to keep finding ways to join her in death after the surge of emotions he’d experienced in mourning her death had passed. That guilt. He expected more from himself as a person. He looked death in the eye and was humbled by how helpless he was, and in his heartbreak he just keeps going through in his mind, how things played out to that point and how he’d made all the mistakes that led them to this tragedy. That‘s what made him detached, and afraid of moving forward, and afraid to pursue Dust.
“How far I’ve fallen”. An attempt to remember how deeply in love he’d fallen for her and how he had let her down. He blames himself for being too proud, too unsuspecting, to have thought he could have a happy ending with his Girlfriend. He thought that giving himself the name ‘Icarus’ was a reminder, when it was actually a punishment. It was him beating himself up over everything wrong that happens in his life.
The story of Icarus is one about Hubris as a fatal flaw. But Jay mistook his fatal flaw to be hubris, when it was really quite the opposite.
Icarus is later killed after being tricked into sacrificing his wings, under the promise that God would return his friends their powers if he was willing to give them up. When i first read the comic I literally went “What?” But it makes sense. Icarus thought his fatal flaw was excessive pride when it was actually constantly blaming and taking up burden after burden that was not his to bear, as well as naivety. So it’s only natural that he died trying to sacrifice himself to save others. It was to him, an atonement of his sins of some sort. To the last moment, he thinks it was hubris that caused his downfall. “I was too proud to think that I was enough to save everyone. This is all my fault.” When truth is he was just a sweet, fragile kid who was easy to dupe.
Reading about this Icarus was actually what made me want to write this post.This Icarus is the complete opposite of the one in the Greek Myth, and it made me question- which brings me back to my main point- Is it really excessive pride that caused Icarus’ downfall? Or was it just plain innocent naivety? One thing’s for sure, we can’t dismiss it as idiocy. And we shouldn’t judge him too harshly either, because how many of us would give everything that is ours to give, to feel as free as he did in those last moments? And how many of us would put everything on the line for the people we love?