Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

Page: 115

“In days of old, there liv’d of mighty fame,
A valiant prince, and Theseus was his name:
A chief, who more in feats of arms excell’d,
The rising nor the setting sun beheld.”
Medea’s draught.

The first tidings that there reached his ear were that Ægeus had just married Medea, the enchantress; but, although these tidings were very unwelcome, he hastened on to his father’s court, to make himself known, and receive the welcome promised so many years before. Medea, seated by Ægeus’ side, no sooner saw the young stranger draw Refer to caption


Dædalus and Icarus.

This labyrinth was so very intricate, that those who entered could not find their way out; and even Dædalus and his son Icarus, after many days’ attempt, found they could not leave it. Rather than remain imprisoned [255] forever, Dædalus then manufactured wings for himself and for his son, and determined to make use of them to effect his escape.

“Now Dædalus, the carpenter, had made a pair of wings,
Contrived of wood and feathers and a cunning set of springs,
By means of which the wearer could ascend to any height,
And sail about among the clouds as easy as a kite.”

After repeated cautions to his son not to venture too high, lest the sun’s heat should melt the wax fixing the feathers to the frame, Dædalus bade Icarus don his plumage and fly to a country where they would be free, promising to follow him thither very shortly.

“‘My Icarus!’ he says; ‘I warn thee fly
Along the middle track: nor low, nor high;
If low, thy plumes may flag with ocean’s spray;
If high, the sun may dart his fiery ray.’”
Ovid (Elton’s tr.).

Delighted with this new mode of travel, Icarus flew swiftly along. Little by little he forgot the danger and his father’s caution, and rose up higher and higher, until he could bask in the direct rays of the ardent sun. The heat, which seemed so grateful after his chilly flight, soon softened and melted the wax on his wings; and Icarus, no longer supported by the light feathers, sank down faster and faster, until he fell into the sea, where he was drowned, and which, in memory of him, bears the name of Icarian to this day.

These varied details kindled Theseus’ love of adventure, and still further strengthened him in his sudden resolve to join the mournful convoy, try his strength against the awful Minotaur, and, if possible, save his country from further similar exactions.

“While Attica thus groan’d, with ills opprest;
His country’s wrongs inflam’d brave Theseus’ breast;
Instant his gen’rous soul resolv’d to save
Cecrops’ great offspring from a timeless grave.”

[256] Even his father’s tears and entreaties were powerless to move him from his purpose, and, the hour having come, he embarked upon the black-sailed vessel which was to bear the yearly tribute to Crete, promising to change the black sails for snowy white ones if he were fortunate enough to return victorious.