A mythical personage, under whose name the Greek writers personified the earliest development of the arts of sculpture and architecture, especially among the Athenians and Cretans. Though he is represented as living in the early heroic period, the age of Minos and of Theseus, he is not mentioned by Homer, except in one doubtful passage (see below).
The ancient writers generally represent Daedalus as an Athenian, of the royal race of the Erechtheidae.1 Others called him a Cretan, on account of the long time he lived in Crete.2 According to Diodorus, who gives the fullest account of him,3 he was the son of Metion, the son of Eupalamus, the son of Erichthonius.4 Others make him the son of Eupalamus, or of Palamaon.5 His mother is called Alcippe,6 or Iphinoë,7 or Phrasimede.8 He devoted himself to sculpture, and made great improvements in the art. He instructed his sister's son, Calos, Talos, or Perdix, who soon came to surpass him in skill and ingenuity, and Daedalus killed him through envy.
Being condemned to death by the Areopagus for this murder, he went to Crete, where the fame of his skill obtained for him the friendship of Minos. He made the well-known wooden cow for Pasiphaë; and when Pasiphaë gave birth to the Minotaur, Daedalus constructed the labyrinth, at Cnossus, in which the monster was kept.9 [The labyrinth is a fiction, based upon the Egyptian labyrinth, from which Diodorus says that that of Daedalus was copied:10 there is no proof that such a building ever existed in Crete].11 For his part in this affair, Daedalus was imprisoned by Minos; but Pasiphaë released him, and, as Minos had seized all the ships on the coast of Crete, Daedalus procured wings for himself and his son Icarus (or made them of wood), and fastened them on with wax. Daedalus himself flew safe over the Aegean, but, as Icarus flew too near the sun, the wax by which his wings were fastened on was melted, and he dropped down and was drowned in that part of the Aegean which was called after him the Icarian sea.
According to a more prosaic version of the story, Pasiphaë furnished Daedalus with a ship, in which he fled to an island of the Aegean, where Icarus was drowned in a hasty attempt to land. According to both accounts, Daedalus fled to Sicily, where he was protected by Cocalus the king of the Sicani, and where he executed many great works of art. When Minos heard where Daedalus had taken refuge, he sailed with a great fleet to Sicily, where he was treacherously murdered by Cocalus or his daughters.12 Daedalus afterwards left Sicily, to join Iolaus, son of Iphicles, in his newly founded colony in Sardinia, and there also he executed many great works, which were still called Daidaleia (Δαιδάλεια) in the time of Diodorus,13 who no doubt refers to the Nuraglis, which were also attributed to lolaüs.14
Another account was, that he fled from Sicily, in consequence of the pursuit of Minos, and went with Aristaeus to Sardinia.15 Of the stories which connect him with Egypt, the most important are the statements of Diodorus,16 that he executed works there, that he copied his labyrinth from that in Egypt, that the style (ῥυθμός, rhythmos) of his statues was the same as that of the ancient Egyptian statues, and that Daedalus himself was worshiped in Egypt as a god.
The later Greek writers explained these myths after their usual absurd plan. Thus, according to Lucian, Daedalus was a great master of astrology, and taught the science to his son, who, soaring above plain truths into transcendental mysteries, lost his reason, and was drowned in the abyss of difficulties. The fable of Pasiphaë is also explained by making her a pupil of Daedalus in astrology, and the bull is the constellation Taurus. Palaephatus explains the wings of Daedalus as meaning the invention of sails.17 If these fables are to be explained at all, the only rational interpretation is, that they were poetical inventions, setting forth the great improvement which took place, in the mechanical as well as in the fine arts, at the age of which Daedalus is a personification, and also the supposed geographical course by which the fine arts were first introduced into Greece.
When, therefore, we are told of works of art which were referred to Daedalus, the meaning is, that such works were executed at the period when art began to be developed. The exact character of the Daedalian epoch of art will be best understood from the statements of the ancient writers respecting his works. The following is a list of the works of sculpture and architecture which were ascribed to him: In Crete, the cow of Pasiphaë and the labyrinth. In Sicily, near Megaris, the Colymbethra, or reservoir, from which a great river, named Alabon, flowed into the sea; near Agrigentum, an impregnable city upon a rock, in which was the royal palace and treasury of Cocalus; in the territory of Selinus a cave, in which the vapor arising from a subterranean fire was received in such a manner, as to form a pleasant vapor bath. He also enlarged the summit of Mount Eryx by a wall, so as to make a firm foundation for the temple of Aphrodite For this same temple he made a honeycomb of gold which could scarcely be distinguished from a real honeycomb. Diodorus adds, that he was said to have executed many more works of art in Sicily, which had perished through the lapse of time.18
Several other works of art were attributed to Daedalus, in Greece, Italy, Libya, and the islands of the Mediterranean. Temples of Apollo at Capua and Cumae were ascribed to him.19 In the islands called Electridae, in the Adriatic, there were said to be two statues, the one of tin and the other of brass, which Daedalus made to commemorate his arrival at those islands during his flight from Minos. They were the images of himself and of his son Icarus.20 At Monogissa in Caria there was a statue of Artemis ascribed to him.21 In Egypt he was said to be the architect of a most beautiful propylaeum to the temple of Hephaestus at Memphis, for which he was rewarded by the erection of a statue of himself and made by himself, in that temple.22 Scylax mentions an altar on the coast of Libya, which was sculptured with lions and dolphins by Daedalus.23 The temple of Artemis Britomartis, in Crete, was ascribed to Daedalus.24
There is a passage in which Pausanias mentions all the wooden statues which he believed to be the genuine works of Daedalus25 namely, two in Boeotia, a Heracles at Thebes, respecting which there was a curious legend,26 and a Trophonius at Lebadeia: in Crete, an Artemis Britomartis at Olus, and an Athena at Cnossus (the χύρος (chyros) of Ariadne is spoken of below): at Delos, a small terminal wooden statue of Aphrodite, which was said to have been made by Daedalus for Ariadne, who carried it to Delos when she fled with Theseus. Pausanias adds, that these were all the works of Daedalus which remained at his time, for that the statue set up by the Argives in the Heraeum and that which Antiphemus had removed from the Sicanian city, Omphace, to Gelos, had perished through time.27 Elsewhere Pausanias mentions, as works ascribed to Daedalus, a folding seat (δίφρος ὀκλαδίας, diphros okladias) in the temple of Athena Polias at Athens,28 a wooden statue of Heracles at Corinth,29 and another on the confines of Messenia and Arcadia.30
The inventions and improvements attributed to Daedalus are both artistic and mechanical. He was the reputed inventor of carpentry and its chief tools, the saw, the ax, the plumb-line, the auger or gimlet, and glue.31 He was said to have been taught the art of carpentry by Minerva.32 Others attribute the invention of the saw to Perdix or Talos, the nephew of Daedalus. In naval architecture, the invention of the mast and yards is ascribed to Daedalus, that of the sails to Icarus33 In statuary, the improvements attributed to Daedalus were the opening of the eyes and of the feet, which had been formerly closed (σύμποδα (sympoda), σκέλη συμβεβηκότα (skelē symbebēkota), the figures of Daedalus were called διαβεβηκότα (diabebēkota)) and the extending of the hands, which had been formerly placed down close to the sides (καθειμέναι καὶ ταῖς πλευραῖς κεκολλημέναι, katheimenai kai tais pleurais kekollēmenai).34 In consequence of these improvements, the ancient writers speak of the statues of Daedalus as being distinguished by an expression of life and even of divine inspiration.35 The last two passages seem to refer to automata, which we know to have been called Daedalian images. Aristotle mentions a wooden figure of Aphrodite, which was moved by quicksilver within it, as a work ascribed to Daedalus.36 The difficult passage in Plato37 is rightly explained by Thiersch, as being only comparative, and as meant not in disparagement of Daedalus, but in praise of the artists of Plato's time. The material in which the statues of Daedalus were made, was wood.
The only exception worth noticing is in the passage of Pausanias:38 παρὰ τούτοις δὲ [Κνωσσίοις] καὶ ὁ τῆς Ἀριάδνης χορὸς, οὗ καὶ Ὅμηρος ἐν Ἰλιάδι μνήμην ἐποιήσατο, ἐπειργασμένος ἐστὶν ἐπὶ λευκοῦ λίθου (para toutois de [Knōssiois] kai ho tēs Ariadnēs choros, hou kai Homēros en Iliadi mnēmēn epoiēsato, epeirgasmenos estin epi leukou lithou).39 The passage of Homer is in the description of the shield of Achilles:40 "Ἐν δὲ χορὸν ποίκιλλε περικλυτὸς Ἀμφιγυήεις, Τῷ ἴκελον οἷόν ποτ᾽ ἐνί Κνωσῷ εὐρείῃ Δαίδαλος ἤσκησεν καλλιπλοκάμῳ Ἀριάδνῃ (En de choron poikille periklytos Amphigyēeis, Tō ikelon hoion pot᾽ eni Knōsō eureiē Daidalos ēskēsen kalliplokamō Ariadnē)."
Now the mention of a group of dancers as a work of Daedalus, — the material, white stone, — the circumstance of the poet's representing Hephaestus as copying the work of a mortal artist, — and the absence of any other mention of Daedalus in Homer, — all this is, at the least, very suspicious. It cannot be explained by taking χορὸν (choron) to mean a sort of dance which Daedalus invented (ἤσκησεν, ēskēsen), for we never hear of Daedalus in connexion with dancing,41 and a sufficient number of examples can be produced from Homer of ἀσκεῖν (askein) meaning to make or manufacture. Unless the passage be an interpolation, the best explanation is, that χορὸν means simply a place for dancing; and, further, it is not improbable that Daidalos (Δαίδαλος) may be nothing more than an epithet of Hephaestus who is the great artist in Homer, and that the whole mythological fable in which Daedalus was personified had its origin in the misunderstanding of this very passage. At all events, the group seen by Pausanias at Cnossus, if it really was a group of sculpture, must have been the work of an artist later than the Daedalian period, or at the very end of it.
From these statements of the ancient writers it is not difficult to form some idea of the period in the history of art which the name of Daedalus represents. The name itself, like the others which are associated with it, such as Eupalamus, implies skill.
The earliest works of art, which were attributed to the gods, were called δαίδαλα (daidala). Passing from mythology to history, we find sculpture taking its rise in idolatry; but the earliest idols were nothing more than blocks of wood or stone, which were worshiped under the name of some gods.42 The next effort was to express the attributes of each particular divinity, which was at first done only by forming an image of the head, probably in order to denote purely intellectual attributes: hence the origin of terminal busts, and the reason for their remaining in use long after the art of sculpturing the whole figure had attained to the highest perfection. But there were some deities for the expression of whose attributes the bust was not sufficient, but the whole human figure was required. In the earliest attempts to execute such figures, wood would naturally be selected as the material, on account of the ease of working it. They were ornamented with real drapery and bright colors. It was to such works especially, that the name δαίδαλα was applied, as we are informed by Pausanias,43 who adds, that they were so called before Daedalus was born at Athens. The accuracy and the expression of such images was restricted not only by the limited skill of the artist, but also, as we see so strikingly in Egyptian sculpture, by the religious laws which bound him to certain forms.
The period represented by the name of Daedalus was that in which such forms were first broken through, and the attempt was made to give a natural and lifelike expression to statues, accompanied, as such a development of any branch of art always is, by a great improvement in the mechanics of art. The period when this development of art took place, and the degree of foreign influence implied in the fables about Daedalus, are very difficult questions, and cannot be discussed within the limits of this article. The ancient traditions certainly point to Egypt as the source of Grecian art.44 But, without hazarding an opinion on this point, we may refer to the Egyptian and Etruscan and earliest Greek antiquities, as giving some vague idea of what is meant by the Daedalian style of sculpture. The remains called Cyclopean give a similar notion of the Daedalian architecture.
The Daedalian style of art continued to prevail and improve down to the beginning of the fifth century BCE, and the artists of that long period were called Daedalids, and claimed an actual descent from Daedalus, according to the well-known custom by which art was hereditary in certain families. This genealogy was carried down as late as the time of Socrates, who claimed to be a Daedalid. The most important of the Daedalids, besides his son Icarus, and his nephew Talos or Perdix, were Scyllis and Dipoenus, whom some made the sons of Daedalus,45 Endoeus of Athens,46 Learchus of Rhegium,47 and Onatas of Aegina.48 All these, however, lived long after the period in which Daedalus is placed. Besides Icarus, Daedalus was said to have had a son, Iapyx, who founded Iapygae.49
A demos of the Athenian phyle CeCropis (φυλὴ Κεκρόπις) bore the name of Daidalidai (Δαιδαλίδαι).50 Feasts called Daidaleia (Δαιδάλεια) were kept in different parts of Greece.
Daedalus and Icarus are depicted on many Greek vases, gem stones, and Pompeian murals (such as at the Casa del Meandro). A Roman relief shows Daedalus fashioning the wings with which they escaped. Brueghel painted the fall of Icarus. Furthermore, the painting by Brill and the group of sculptures by Canova.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece vii, 4.5; Plutarch. Theseus, 18.
- Ausonius. Idylls, 12; Eustathius on Homer's Iliad xviii, 592; Pausanias. Description of Greece viii, 53.3.
- iv, 76-79.
- Comp. Plato, Ion, 553; Pausanias. Description of Greece vii, 4.5.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece ix, 3.2; Hyginus. Fabulae, 39, corrected by 274; Suidas, s.v. Πέρδικος ἱερόν; Servius on Virgil. Aeneid vi, 14.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 15.9.
- Pherecydes ap. the Scholiast on Sophocles' Oedipus Colonus, 463.
- Scholiast on Plato. Republic, 529.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus, l.c.; Ovid. Metamorphoses viii.
- i, 97.
- Höckh. Creta i, 56.
- Hyginus. Fabulae, 40, 44.
- iv, 30.
- Pseudo-Aristotle. De Mirabilibus Auscultationibus, 100.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece x, 17.3.
- i, 91.
- Comp. Pausanias. Description of Greece ix, 11.3.
- Diodorus Siculus, l.c.
- Silius Italicus, xii, 102; Virgil. Aeneid vi, 14.
- Pseudo-Aristotle. De Mirabilibus Auscultationibus, 81; Stephanus of Byzantium, s.v. Ἠλεκτρίδαι νῆσαι.
- Stephanus of Byzantium, s.v.
- Diodorus Siculus, i, 97.
- Periplus, 53, ed. Hudson.
- Solinus, 11.
- Description of Greece ix, 40.2.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece ix, 11.2-3; Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library ii, 6.3.
- Comp. viii, 46.2.
- Description of Greece i, 27.1.
- ibid. ii, 4.5.
- ibid. viii, 35.2.
- Hesychius s.v. Ἰκάριος; Pliny the Elder. Naturalis Historia vii, 56; Varro ap. Charis., 106, ed. Putsch.
- Hyginus. Fabulae, 39.
- Pliny, l.c.
- Diodorus Siculus, l.c.; Suidas, s.v. Δαιδάλου ποιήματα.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece ii, 4.5; Plato, passim, and particularly Meno, 97, ed. Steph.; Aristotle. Politics i, 4:
- de Anime, i, 3.9. See further, Junius. Catalogus Artificum, 64.
- Greater Hippias iii, 281, d.
- ix, 40.2.
- Comp. vi, 4.5.
- Iliad xviii, 590-593.
- Böttiger. Andeutungen, 46.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece vii, 22.3.
- ix, 3.2.
- See especially Diodorus Siculus, i, 97.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece ii, 15.1.
- ibid. i, 26.5.
- ibid. iii, 17.6.
- ibid. v, 25.7.
- Strabo. Geography vi., 279; Eustathius on Dionysius Periegetes, 379.
- Meursius, Johannes. de Populus Atticae, s.v.
- Aken, Dr. A.R.A. van. (1961). Elseviers Mythologische Encyclopedie. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.