A Book of Myths
Page: 90That was a joyous day for father and son, for the father had never before drunk deeper of the intoxicating wine of the gods—Success—and for the lad it was all pure joy. Never before had he known freedom and power so utterly glorious. As a little child he had watched the birds fly far away over the blue hills to where the sun was setting, and had longed for wings that he might follow them in their flight. At times, in his dreams, he had known the power, and in his dreaming fancy had risen from the cumbering earth and soared high above the trees and fields on strong pinions that bore him away to the fair land of heart’s desire—to the Islands of the Blessed. But when Sleep [Pg 185] left him and the dreams silently slipped out before the coming of the light of day, and the boy sprang from his couch and eagerly spread his arms as, in his dreams, he had done, he could no longer fly. Disappointment and unsatisfied longing ever came with his waking hours. Now all that had come to an end, and Dædalus was glad and proud as well to watch his son’s joy and his fearless daring. One word of counsel only did he give him.
“Beware, dear son of my heart,” he said, “lest in thy new-found power thou seekest to soar even to the gates of Olympus. For as surely as the scorching rays from the burnished wheels of the chariot of Apollo smite thy wings, the wax that binds on thy feathers will melt, and then will come upon thee and on me woe unutterable.”
In his dreams that night Icarus flew, and when he awoke, fearing to find only the haunting remembrance of a dream, he found his father standing by the side of his bed of soft leaves under the shadowy cypresses, ready to bind on his willing shoulders the great pinions that he had made.
Gentle Dawn, the rosy-fingered, was slowly making her way up from the East when Dædalus and Icarus began their flight. Slowly they went at first, and the goat-herds who tended their flocks on the slopes of Mount Ida looked up in fear when they saw the dark shadows of their wings and marked the monster birds making their way out to sea. From the river beds the waterfowl arose from the reeds, and with great outcry flew with all their swiftness to escape them. And down by the seashore the mariners’ hearts sank [Pg 186] within them as they watched, believing that a sight so strange must be a portent of disaster. Homewards they went in haste to offer sacrifices on the altars of Poseidon, ruler of the deep.
Samos and Delos were passed on the left and Lebynthos on the right, long ere the sun-god had started on his daily course, and as the mighty wings of Icarus cleft the cold air, the boy’s slim body grew chilled, and he longed for the sun’s rays to turn the waters of the Ægean Sea over which he flew from green-grey into limpid sapphire and emerald and burning gold. Towards Sicily he and his father bent their course, and when they saw the beautiful island afar off lying like a gem in the sea, Apollo made the waves in which it lay, for it a fitting setting. With a cry of joy Icarus marked the sun’s rays paint the chill water, and Apollo looked down at the great white-winged bird, a snowy swan with the face and form of a beautiful boy, who sped exulting onwards, while a clumsier thing, with wings of darker hue, followed less quickly, in the same line of flight. As the god looked, the warmth that radiated from his chariot touched the icy limbs of Icarus as with the caressing touch of gentle, life-giving hands. Not long before, his flight had lagged a little, but now it seemed as if new life was his. Like a bird that wheels and soars and dives as if for lightness of heart, so did Icarus, until each feather of his plumage had a sheen of silver and of gold. Down, down, he darted, so near the water that almost the white-tipped waves caught at his wings as he skimmed over them. Then up, up, up he soared, ever higher, higher still, and when he saw [Pg 187] the radiant sun-god smiling down on him, the warning of Dædalus was forgotten. As he had excelled other lads in foot races, now did Icarus wish to excel the birds themselves. Dædalus he left far behind, and still upwards he mounted. So strong he felt, so fearless was he, that to him it seemed that he could storm Olympus, that he could call to Apollo as he swept past him in his flight, and dare him to race for a wager from the Ægean Sea to where the sun-god’s horses took their nightly rest by the trackless seas of the unknown West.