Lessons from Myths, Legends and Fairy Tales

Lessons from Myths, Legends and Fairy Tales: Part 11 Icarus

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.
~ Helen Keller

We have all no doubt heard the maxim: “Don’t fly too close to the sun”. This comes from the Greek myth of Icarus. As the myth goes, Icarus and his father, Daedalus, were trying to escape a violent fate on the island of Crete. Daedalus, a skilled inventor, architect and sculptor, built wings made of feathers and wax to escape. However, Icarus did not heed his father’s warning, and flew so close to the sun that the heat melted the wax off his wings and he fell into the sea and drowned. For many, one of the central messages of this myth is to be cautious of hubris. It also serves as a warning of the perils of blind ambition and unchecked desires.

Actually Daedalus shared two warnings with Icarus. He cautioned him to fly neither too high towards the sun, nor too low to avoid the sea. Both could be disastrous and deadly. And so we can also interpret Icarus’ story as a lesson in moderation, flying between the two extremes of hubris and complacency. That not aiming too high or too low in life may be the best road to success. Finding that balance or golden mean that I have written about before (see my Goldilocks post).

But I have always felt that is even more to this myth than that. To my mind Icarus was an idealist rather than an egotist, he was passionate. He gave his life to achieve his dreams. Perhaps Icarus was seeking something more, he needed freedom of the soul. He reaches for the sun because it burned brighter and more purely than anything he had experience before. Is that such a bad thing? Seeking to soar?

On doing a bit more research, I came across this quote by Randall Munroe ‘I’ve never seen the Icarus story as a lesson about the limitations of humans. I see it as a lesson about the limitations of wax as an adhesive.’ This really resonated with me. We should not be trying to fly further away from the sun. We just need to build better wings.

So what I glean from this myth is that yes, we do need to balance our flight. But we also need to build better wings. It is great to soar but perhaps not so high to burn ourselves. After all, life is not about one flight towards freedom, but about continuing to fly and explore the unknown. It is a lifetime of freedom that we are aiming for, not just one flight.

#soar #findthebalance